Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Immigration D-Day

Of course, we only actually look at the letter in detail, mulling over its consequences, the night before my interview, which is at 10am the next day.

‘Passport?’ Check.

‘Birth certificate?’ Check.

‘Driving license?’ Check.

‘Selection Certificate of Quebec?’ Check.

‘Hundred of dollars?’ Check.

‘Special photograph?’ ... What?

Ah, that special photograph. The kind that has to be taken by particular photographers in a particular way for a large sum of money - the only kind that are accepted by the immigration people? Yes, that kind.

No, we don’t have one of those. So it’s 7pm and everywhere is shut. All answering machines when we try some numbers. I spend perhaps two hours searching the web for photography shops that will be open early in the morning, and that might do immigration pictures. At the end of some very frustrating time I have a list of four, one of which opens at 8am. My interview is at 10am. Maybe I’ll make it.

Next morning, 5:30am. My wife is up at this time to go to work, so I get up and stay up too. This way I can maximise the time I’m awake and worrying about getting there on time. I pack my bag full of documents about five times and pace up and down for a while, drinking coffee. I leave early, at perhaps 7:20am.

There is a queue of immense proportions at the metro as it is 1st December, the day when everyone buys their monthly passes in the morning. I thank my lucky stars as I discover two old metro tickets in my pocket, and walk past the queue.

Half an hour later, the Photo shop is closed and I sit on a wet bench outside, waiting until they open. Ten minutes later I’m not smiling and having my picture taken. It is a digital camera, and it is printed in a minute and dried with a hairdressing blow-dryer. I pay my $12 and head back to the metro, past the lengthy queues and use my last metro ticket.

It’s now rush hour and the platforms are full of commuters. I manage to cram my way onto a metro much to the disgust of the other people (as Montrealers seem somewhat polite and will actually wait for the next metro rather than squeezing every man woman and child into every available space). Well, I’m used to London, and so I pushed my way on.

I pop out of the metro carriage at Berri, which is the busiest station on the Metro I think, and consult a map. Ah, I have to continue on the metro I just got off. I look back at the swarm of humanity, queuing patiently for the next metro and realise I’ll never get back on within the next half hour. I decide to take another tube which runs parallel and then walk at the end. I have a map, how hard can it be?

I don’t know the time because of course, I have no watch. I have to consult telephones for the time - they flash up the current time, lazily, every so often.

The other platform is crowded too, but I’m in no mood for waiting, so push my way on again, leaving confused looking people on the platform wondering why they can’t do what I just did.

It takes longer than I thought to get to the road, but I arrive eventually anyway after stopping to feed a friendly squirrel some nuts (there’s always time for that). I’m looking for number 1010, and according to Microsoft’s web map I know where it is. Except the building they point to seems to contain cafes and other such non-governmental businesses. I ask the reception desk if I’m in the right building for 1010?

The bored looking girl merely raises her eyes towards a huge xmas display on the wall which reads simply ‘1000’.

‘So do you know where 1010 is then?’ I ask.

She gestures vaguely back to the road, in both directions, ‘Somewhere around there.’ And turns away from me.

I try not be upset, as I want to retain a positive attitude today.

Back on the street I walk for a few blocks, looking in vain for numbers and when I find one it is shockingly 896. I walk back, more quickly. There are no phones, I don’t know what the time is. Anyway, would knowing the time actually help me find the building? I think it would just induce panic and not help at all.

I’m checking all the buildings on the way, and having no luck at all, with mildly rising panic. I then stumble across a small family of Indians who are clutching a bit of paper from immigration with an address on. The same address that I’m looking for.

‘Yes, I’m looking for it too!’ I tell them.

They have a better strategy than me for finding the building - they humbly hold the paper out to passing strangers, pointing at the address tearfully. A busy looking woman takes pity and look at the paper. She points across the street at a building that obviously had been hiding from us all this time.

I lead the dash, the Indians following close behind.

It’s actually all very nice once you’re inside. After the gun check, you meet lots of smiling, happy looking people who work there, and a lot of anxious, crazed looking people who don’t.

I pay my large amount of cash to a man who takes literally forever to count it out, and then take a seat.

It is a large room, with uncomfortable plastic chairs. All nationalities are here, it is the U.N. of Montreal perhaps. So everyone speaks in twenty languages and everyone has a child that screams too. In amongst this din, the counter officers whisper difficult to pronounce (for them) names which are transmitted through a device which turns them into electronic, tinny noises that no-one can understand. The officers will wait for a moment and then try another pronunciation.

A Chinese couple in front of me sit there, smiling blissfully for ten minutes whilst their names are shouted, incorrectly, from the counter window. In desperation the counter-woman tries what I imagine should thought was the least likely way of saying it, at which point the couple leisurely rise, smiling, and walk to the window.

An hour passes (I steal time from looking at the wrists of strangers) and I’m finally collected by a man and taken into the bowels of the office. No tinny speakerphone and Plexiglas for me. As we walk to the officer’s desk I wonder if this is a good or bad thing.

Well, it’s good. He’s jolly and spends all his time ca-va-ing and shaking hands with people, including me. It’s all going very well until he asks for my picture.

I hand it over.

He stares at it, pulling the kind of Galic face normally reserved for my attempts at French speaking.

‘Oh no, zis is no good.’

‘What?’ My stomach sinks.

He explains that the photographer has cut off too much of my neck and shoulders. It is useless. I get an old passport photo out of my wallet and offer it, like the Indians outside had their paper. He looks at it and sadly shakes his head.

‘What happens now then? I ask, imagining expiring visas, deportation and police cells.

‘Oh, well we will just take another, no? Come with me.’

They have photography facilities there, and it’s free. Good to know.

So I sign my form and gain the rights of the nation (except voting) and he gives me a list of things I should do today with my new paperwork. He shakes my hand and propels me, good naturedly, out of the door and onto the street.

I’m a resident. I don’t feel very different.

First stop, Quebec’s immigration service. These are the people to speak to if you want a social security number or French lessons. I can’t get a SS number yet, but do want some French lessons.

It takes perhaps 45 minutes to walk there and find the building (which is cunningly hidden by scaffolding).

The extent of this fine service is two security guards and a few telephones on some hastily erected tables in a room where the walls are made from untreated gypsum board. After explaining what I want to the security guard, he points me to a phone and tells me to pick it up, without dialling, and explain it again to someone else.

The table has a fetching lamp (of the kind perhaps found in your grandmother’s home) casting a homely orange glow into the unfinished sterility of the room. I pick up the phone it rings and then goes dead. I try again, it rings and goes dead.

Third time: ‘Allo?’

I explain my request and she listens patiently.

‘Can you ‘ang up and call again please?’


‘Can you ‘ang up and call again please?’ She repeats.

‘I have the wrong number?’ I ask confused. How you can you get the wrong number on a phone that you don’t dial?

‘Yes.’ She says and hangs up.

I try again.

‘Allo?’ A man this time.

‘Ah bon, vous-parlez Anglais monsier? Je ne parle pas bien Francais.’ I say.


‘Never mind, I’d like some French Lessons please.’

‘You are Canadian Citizen?’ He slurs.

This call goes on for quite some time. He can’t understand my English or French and I don’t really understand him very well either. We spent a long time spelling things, for example, my road:

‘De Rouen. D-e-r-o-u-e-n.’

‘Diaoin? Where is that?’

‘No, no, De Rouen. D-e-r-o-u-e-n.’


‘No, D-e-r.....’

And so on.

So, I have French lessons in some unknown part of the city, sometime in February. Quite a result I think.

Next on the list is the Health Card. This building takes an equally long time to find -- the department being hidden inside what looks like a hotel.

I manage to painlessly acquire a ticket and take a seat. I wait perhaps an hour before my turn. The woman is nice and helpful and takes all my details and gives me a list of all the things I have to do before they’ll give me health card, which includes getting my house-mate to swear an oath in front of an ‘oath-taker’. All sounds rather dramatic to me.

So she gives me some papers and I leave, destination: Pub.

I reason that I deserve a pint.

I have an Irish pub in mind, so walk for fifteen minutes towards it when I start to have a sinking feeling. The feeling that all is not well in the world. I stop and look through my bag. My Selection Certificate of Quebec and my newly acquired Residency Papers are missing. My heart sinks for the second time today.

I indulge in some swearing and find a place to sit down and check the papers properly. The bag was closed, so how could I have lost them? I check every paper, then all my pockets. Not there. The woman in Health Canada must still have them. She didn’t give them back to me! I could see a visual image of her photocopying them and then leaving them on the scanner bed for the next user to find, and discard.

I practically run all the way back and arrive, puffing and panting in the office. The security guard lets me in and takes me to her desk. Empty, closed up, locked, void.

‘Ah, she is at late lunch. You come back.’

‘But when?’ I splutter.


I walk around the block for an hour in the snow, cursing my luck, and standing in phone boxes frequently.

Well, I got them back. Eventually she returned and, smiling to me, handed them over, apologising and smiling some more.

I went to the pub, finally.

Football in the Park

I haven't played football since I had the ball kicked in my face by a smiling Indian several years ago, on a beach in Goa. And the time before that had to be when I was forced into playing at school as a child – uneasy memories of frozen playing fields, football-studs in the face and communal showering. In Goa I had been out of breath, red-faced and never getting even a kick of the ball. At half time, just before I had the ball slammed into my face, I was told,

'It's because you're chasing the ball.'

Ah, I thought, and then the memories of the sadistic child-scaring teacher I had when I was 8 came flooding back – he wanted to stop us chasing the ball, so arranged a demonstration. We stood in a group and he said to us,

'What will happen if I kick the ball over there?' And pointed to some open space on the field.

We, confused, said we didn't know. Nothing perhaps. So he kicks the ball into the space, and from nowhere, a boy we hadn't seen storms up to intercept it, kicks it on, and is suddenly in front of the goal, he knocks it in with his second touch... I was impressed, and, as I ran onto the sandy pitch to put this into action (space is the key, don't chase the ball), I had my facial incident, and went off in a huff, to have a beer.

So, I had misgivings about playing again, something that is always suggested in the summer, when you have enough people together. I thought, perhaps, I would be safe in Canada, as not much football is played here (yes, football = soccer for me), but, my peer group is made up of a lot of ex-Euros, so it was only a matter of time.

It was suggested in a bar, of course, after beer had been drunk. I was naturally resistant, unwilling to break my own rule about never arranging anything (especially sports) in bars with people.

But it gained momentum, and before I knew what was happening I was standing in the park, in the sun, wearing an old t-shirt, trainers and some Thai boxing shorts that make me look like I'm in the wrong decade, somehow.

Kicking it about is okay – I can do that – it's drilled into you during your youth in England. I actually enjoy the kicking it back and forth bit.

Then follows the inevitable difficulty of dividing up the players into two teams. Obviously everyone is wearing an assortment of colours, so we try for 'light vs. dark', but this provides an uneven team, so, perhaps one yellow moves to 'darks', and one red too. There, simple. Now when you're about to pass you just have to look for black, blue, green, yellow or red, but not (under any circumstances) white, pink, grey, or the other red player.

Confused? You bet. The imaginary whistle goes and we all run about like bees around a queen - in a big ball, and kick at each other's shins for ten minutes until we all get tired and start to hang around in the magical, zen-like space that my teacher was trying to bring to our attention all that time ago.

After two minutes I'm panting, red-faced, my legs are wobbly, and I have a stitch.

'You're very red,' says someone, as they run by.

'It's the sun...' I shout back, lamely.

There is (unlike school) a queue of people who want to take a turn in goal, to relax a little and stop wheezing like a chain smoker. Lax defenders run by and shout, 'When you've had enough in goal, let me know, eh?'

I don't play too badly, after I recover from my stitch and get my second wind. I play the ball into the magical space when I get it, and my team-mates intercept it and run away with it. Great. I don't score, but create a goal, which is almost as good.

So, after two hours or so in the afternoon sun, with little water consumed, the latino boys arrive and just start playing.

'Who the hell are these guys?' I ask.

No-one knows. And no-one wants to tell them that they can't play with us. We're all too tired.

The latino boys obviously play football more than we do... they also seem to take it rather seriously. They shout and scream for the ball and never pass it once they have it. They push and barge and tackle like their very lives depend upon it.

At some point one of our team neglects to pass the ball to one of them and the latino boy comes running over to shout at him,

'I was here! Why didn't you pass the ball to me?!' And throws his hands into the air in disgust.

Talking about in disgust, I walk of the pitch in it, to sit down and worry about my hurting legs, dodgy knee and weak ankle.

Then there is the pitch invasion.

A group of footballers, after finishing their game, decide to walk through the middle of ours, to leave the park. Right through the middle. Well, they did have real football tops and shorts, so they must be allowed to walk through our game. The match is stopped and they are glared at as they cross the pitch, but don't seem to notice, or care perhaps.

We pack up and go the pub for a pint. Someone actually thanks the latino boys.

It took me two weeks to recover the proper use of my legs. No, really.


So I'm washing up. This is something I must have done, oh at least 1,000 times or more. And I'm surprised I haven't cut myself before actually. Think about it – a sink full of sharp knives and glasses. Not a very safe thing to be plunging your hands into, really.

So Boreale is a type of beer over here in Montreal, and they give away free glasses every time you buy 12 bottles of their 'finest'. Needless to say, we have a cupboard full of them. But now I suspect that they aren't the f
inest of quality glasses I've ever owned, as they tend to spontaneously explode if you look at them at them from the wrong angle.

Splish, splash, wash-wash, I pick up a Boreale glass and it just falls apart in my hand, and slices, neatly, a large chunk out of my middle finger. 'Oh shit,' I say, as blood fills the sink. Hmm, that's curious I think, it's bleeding quite a lot. So I look and there's a big gaping chasm in my finger, pumping out blood. I can see organic white nodules and other such things that normally stay inside your body.

'Aagh.' I say, and run to the bathroom, spurting blood all over the cupboards, floor, carpet, and finally toilet and wall. I apply a wad of toilet paper and press, trying not to get blood on my new jeans.

Now is the time that I realise a couple of things:

1. I hav
e no idea where to go in an emergency in Canada. 2. I should really have gotten around to getting my medical card.

After five minutes I figure the blood will have stopped, so take off my wad and am disturbed to find that it's still pumping out at full flow. I decide that it's fairly serious and that I'd better do something. I apply new tissue and bind myself up with sellotape (we don't seem to have any first aid in the house for some reason, apart from peroxide and woefully small plasters).

I decide to call my wife to ask advice about clinics and emergency rooms and so forth. But she has her phone turned off at work, so I decide to send a text message via email. It reads something like this.

Urgent. Call me as soon as you get this. Important.

I re-read it a few times and decide that it'll frighten her to death, sounding like a major trauma has occurred, so modify it like this:

Urgent. Call me as soon as you get this. Fairly important. xxx

And send it.

I'm now bleeding through my tissue, so change it and think that I can call my mother-in-law, who was a nurse, and might know some things. So I call her and she tells me to go to a clinic quite nearby that she knows, I take the address and struggle to put on my shoes and coat. I'm about to leave when I notice all the blood.

I have an image of my wife running home after getting the message and finding an empty house, covered in blood. She'd probably panic. I know I would. So I mop up all the blood and send another text message. I try and make this one calmer:

Have gone out to find a clinic - I cut myself quite deeply washing up! Wish me luck! xxx

And I leave. The place my mother-in-law told me to go turns out to be a pharmacy. I enter anyway, they're full of vaguely medical people I suppose. I go in and wave my bloody finger at a poor girl behind the counter. Her eyes widen and she sends me to the back of the shop. At the back of the shop everyone looks worried and tell me to go to a doctor.

'Yes, but where?' I ask.

'Why, the doctor next door.' They say.

Ah, so there is a clinic here, I just didn't see it. So the clinic is closed, but I go in anyway. The receptionist tries to stop me with a verbal assault as I walk in, saying such things as 'closed', 'go away', 'tomorrow' and such like. I wave my bloody finger at her and she stops talking. I'm in no mood for trying to speak in French, so tell her I only speak English. She seems upset at this.

'You only speak English?' She says, rolling her eyes, and then, 'You want to see the doctor?'

'Yes please,' I say.

I wait half an hour. The man sitting opposite me stares at my bloody finger the whole time.

Eventually the doctor arrives and looks at me. 'What's wrong?' He says.

I wave my bloody finger at him.

He peers at it, 'Hmm.' He says, 'Do you have your medical card?'

'No, I'm a new resident, they didn't give it to me yet.' This is true.

His attitude changes now. 'Oh, then I can't help you.' He then tells me that if I want to pay, then he may be able to do something.

I don't have any money. I tell him this. He shrugs and gives me a bit of paper, 'You should go here, he says, they will probably help you, even for no money.'

He now looks at my finger and says, 'You should take this ring off,' Pointing to the ring on my bloody finger, 'that should be your first priority, taking that off. If your finger swells up, you could lose it!'

'I can't get it off,' I tell him, 'whenever I take the bandage off it bleeds to much.'

'Well then, you should go to a jeweller and have it cut it off.'

I can't believe I'm having this conversation, so just turn and leave. I'm actually quite upset at this point. Emotional, I'd say. When you want help and people who could give it to you turn you away, it's upsetting.

I would like to share this feeling, caring doctor's identity with you – Dr. Robert Beaudoin, of the Clinic Medicale Aylwin, Hochelaga Road. May he be refused medical help when he needs it, because he doesn't have the correct card.

So I walk for ten minutes, feeling sorry for myself, in what I thought was the correct direction, then I'm all lost, and it takes me forever to find out where I'm supposed to go. And it's cold and my finger hurts and I can't find a taxi, and don't have change for the bus. So I walk and walk and walk for maybe 45 minutes until I get to Rosemont Hospital, and eventually find the Emergency Room, after wandering around the hospital for fifteen minutes, lost (after entering the wrong way).

Everyone is nice in the hospital, you just have to wait a long time. I explain the situation with my card to the girl at the desk, and it's not a problem. I hand them my residence card and they take that instead. In a few minutes I'm waiting with the rest of the ill world in a peeling 1970s time warped room.

I hate emergency rooms. They're full of sick people. Although, the majority of people there looked fine. I began to wonder what on earth they were there for. Sick notes?

And then there are the coughers. There is actually a part of the waiting room set aside, with barriers around it for all respiratory illness-suffering-people, along with cold and cough-ees. But does anyone use it? No, of course, they'd rather sit amongst the rest of us and cough, and hack, and sneeze and sniffle and spread their nasty illness to everyone else.

So I sit for an hour or two, breathing in various pathogens and trying to read and listen to the PA at the same time until my name is called for a particular door.

Inside is a doctor, who smiles. I give him my id and he looks at me. I tell him that I don't speak very good French, and he asks me what language I speak. I figure my accent must be getting better if people are stopping to guess that it's English.

'So, what's the problem?' He says, finally.

I laugh, thinking he's joking, but he isn't. I wonder if he can't see my blood soaked tissues on my right hand. Just in case, I hold it up and say, 'This.'

I take off the wrapping and blood starts to gush again. He takes my hand and presses, very harshly indeed, on my finger.

'Does this hurt?' He says.

Of course it bloody hurts, I want to shout, but instead say, 'Yes, quite a lot.'

'Hmm. Does it feel like there's any glass in there when I do this?' He begins to press and rotate his thumb, as if playing Gran Turismo.

'Agh, I'm not sure.' I gurgle.

'Okay, I'm going to wrap it up tightly to stop the blood and then we'll send you to triage for some stitches...' He pauses, and then says, 'This might hurt...'

Back in the waiting room, little has changed. The doctor warned me that there was a two hour waiting time for triage at the moment. I read my book and waited. After an hour or so, my wife appeared, frantic, imagining lost limbs and the like. I had left another message explaining that I was just waiting for a couple of stitches, but this didn't reassure her as much as I thought it would have.

So we wait four hours more, surrounded by weirdoes, idiots and sick people, before being called into triage.

We wait another fifteen minutes and then another doctor appears, looking like a gringo-mexican-cowboy, somehow. But he's nice and professional and soon we have a table full of knives and needles, a big lamp, and lots of green cloth everywhere.

'Okay,' He grins, 'we're going to clean it up a bit first.' He then splashes some kind of pain-inducing liquid all over my wound, causing me to pull faces seldom seen before.

'Now, I'm going to give you some lidocaine to numb the area. This is going to hurt. It's the worst part.'

'Oh right,' I say, and then add, foolishly, 'it's okay, I don't mind injections.'

Never again will I say such a thing. It did hurt, and seemed to go on for a terribly long time. But, I kept my lip stiff and didn't say anything.

I must say, lidocaine is great. My finger ceased to exist in just a few seconds and I watched in fascination as a large curved needle was pushed roughly through my skin, like sewing leather.

'Four stitches.' He said, as he finished and threw all his bloody rags into the bin, 'take out the stitches in seven to ten days.'

A nurse then came in and applied a rough-and-ready bandage to my finger and we were on our way home, at midnight.

Poor me.

Bandages Off

I was all for taking the bandage off the next day, but my wife insisted on calling some kind of Medical Helpline, which advised against it. Faced with such medical opposition I had no choice but to comply. The full advice is as follows:

1. Leave bandage on for two days.
2. Don't get it wet.
3. Don't stretch your hand.

So, last night I got to take the wrapping off, in a kind of perverse xmas mood, fully expecting my gift to be rotting flesh and a putrid odour. But no, all was fine and a blotchy kind of pink. Some swelling, but not too much.
The new advice from the Medical Helpline:

1. Don't get it wet for a week.
2. Don't stretch your hand.
3. Don't go outside without sterile gauze on it for a week.

So, no washing up for a week, and showering with my arm above my head too.

When I told my father about my accident he paused, thinking for a moment and then said, 'Well, I suppose you'll have trouble wiping your arse then?'