Since I’m about to apply for a new passport, I was reminded of why I had to get a new passport several years ago due to the big black “X” that was drawn inside of mine on a cold February morning upon arrival into Stansted airport in London.
My band had played a super fun, rocking show in Stockholm at Debaser the previous night. We were out until 3:30 or so, and stumbled tipsily back to our hotel and slept for an hour and a half before leaving. It was a cold walk to the central bus station that would take us to the flybussarna (airport bus) that would drive our sleepy selves to the Vasteras aiport so that we could continue our tour with 5 shows that had been set up for us in England. The bass player perhaps needed more sleep than the rest of us. To his credit, he was the last man standing every night on tour so that is perhaps why he seemed like he needed more sleep. As we crammed onto the bus, backpacks, suitcases, guitar cases, etc. in tow, we sat close and decided to have a band meeting upon settling in.
The promoter in England had sent me an email a couple of days before we left the U.S. (tickets had been bought and tour booked for several months prior) to say, that they did not manage to secure us work permits for the shows in England but it would be no problem to just come in and claim that we are coming as tourists and to do some home recording with friends. This made me super nervous. Past experience had educated me about the importance of work permits when touring to other countries, but this man was so sure, and said, that “people do this all the time.” Since it was late to cancel, we went with it.
As the bus rumbled on toward Vasteras, the drummer, my husband, the drummer’s wife and me all sort of huddled together around the bass player, who had his eyes closed, but we were sure was listening. We talked about our stories for going through customs and how we are going in as tourists, what places we are visiting, etc. With our stories straight, I felt confident. We started to look forward to the upcoming shows. They sounded good, and we had been receiving emails from fans who were excited to see us play. A good time was on the horizon.
The airport was small and efficient. We were flying Ryanair, which is cheap but will get you where you are going. The flight was uneventful and we all looked forward to the coming five days as we disembarked from the aircraft. We gave each other knowing looks as we approached customs. I know I gave the bass player a wink and a nod. In retrospect, he was probably confused by my display. We got into different lines, my husband and I in one, the drummer and his wife in another, and the bass player in yet another. We started to go through, my husband the quickest since he is from Norway. As we were all on the other side, we looked over at the bass player who was speaking to the customs agent in animated gestures. More customs agents came up and were conferring. Suddenly, the bass player scans the room and then points to us! SHIT, SHIT, HOLY FUCKING SHIT is playing over and over in my head as customs agents march toward us and surround us. The questions start at rapid speed and it becomes obvious that we are in deep trouble. The bass player had apparently been sound asleep during our conference and had marched up to customs to say that he was entering England to play 5 shows with his band. He had told them, “No, really, you can check our website for tour dates.”
Suddenly, bass player, drummer and I were separated from my husband and the drummer’s wife. Even though my husband is in the band, he is safe since he is eligible to play shows in England without a work permit due to his Norwegian citizenship. I completely start to panic as custom agents separate the 3 of us and take us to a holding area where they start to rummage through our baggage while questioning us separately. The agents asked me all sorts of questions and then started to read my notebook and recite my song lyrics and diary entries to me. They tried to find hidden meaning, and criticized some of my cultural observations all of which was not only confusing to me, but it made me completely infuriated and embarrassed. After the ridiculous interrogation, we were walked back together and told we are being taken to a containment cell until we can be shipped back to Sweden. Great. I walked glumly with tears streaming down my face wondering what my husband was doing and how the hell we would all meet up. My cell phone and personal items were taken from me so I would not be able to call him. The customs guards were now trying to lighten up the mood, but I was still furious with the way they handled me and my belongings. One of them asked, “So, have you been to England before?” the drummer and I said nothing. The bass player responds, “This is my first time.” The customs guard says to the bass player, “well, what do you think?” The bass player looked around the aging back area where we were being taken and responding with “well, looks like it needs a coat of paint.” I always remember this exchange with great clarity for some reason.
We were taken to a small room with several chairs and a bathroom, and are promptly locked in. We had nothing to do since they took all of our stuff, and we are told we will be sent back to Stockholm on the last flight to Stockholm at 10:00 p.m. at no cost to us. Yep, we were being deported from England. Great. I was so stressed that my husband and the drummer’s wife wouldn’t know what was happening and I wanted to try to get in touch with them. For some reason, the drummer got to use his phone quickly and called his wife. She and my husband had been informed about what was happening, and she told of the dilemma on their end. She said that the flight back to Stockholm only had one seat left. The drummer told her to please make sure my husband got on it instead of her because I was freaking out and he didn’t particularly want to deal with me in this state. She is an airline pilot in the U.S. and was not worried about it. She knew she’d get back over, so my husband bought the last ticket. We sat in that room for over 12 hours. At times, immigrants from Africa were brought in and treated poorly because they didn’t speak any English. They had tried to come in illegally. This one woman was African and spoke French. I connected with her and spoke to her in whatever broken French I could remember from High School. She had come in with her kids and husband. They had gotten through but she hadn’t. She was going to be sent back to Africa in an hour, and she was completely panicked. Her family had saved up for a long time to get here and she didn’t know what was going to happen. My heart ached for her. The guards treated her badly and I tried to advocate for her. The guards ended up liking us a lot and thought we were funny so they brought us tea, sandwiches and chocolate. We were treated much better than the African immigrants, which was totally unfair. We also stayed a lot longer though. When it was time for the plane to board late into the evening we were marched across the tarmac from some back entrance of the airport onto the plane by guards. Everyone stared at us wide eyed as we were seated. One of the guards I guess had taken pity on me and arranged that I would be seated with my husband. As I realized this I started to cry uncontrollably. I was so glad to see him, I can’t even tell you! He held me and comforted me on the flight back. We arrived back in Stockholm slightly broken but not defeated. I started calling hotels on my mobile as we took the Flybussarna once again, this time back to the city. I had found us a really nice hotel that was relatively close to the bus station. When we were off the bus and walking through the station with our gear, I told everyone that I found a hotel and that it was on me. I wanted to just stay somewhere nice, not worry about it and have some nice warm food and a drink.
The hotel was welcoming and the woman at the desk was matronly and accommodating. She took us under her wing and settled us into the restaurant and brought us food and beer and much needed comfort and kindness. After everything that happened, Sweden seemed like the best place in the world to me at the time. I was in love with Scandinavia all over again. As we retired to our rooms, I don’t remember much of anything besides my head hitting the pillow and then the sunlight filtering in some 10 hours later. We were exhausted and slept a good sleep. We would use these next 5 days where we suddenly didn’t have and gigs to play, to lighten up and have fun. In retrospect, even the following day, the whole thing was quite humorous. I even have a beautiful certificate on that special kind of paper they print diploma’s on. It was from the United Kingdom, officially calling me a deceiver in beautiful majestic script. I suppose I should frame it and hang it on my wall.