23rd June 2016 and 23rd June 1979 – Big decision days

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On a sleepy, summer Sunday evening towards the end of July 1979, a couple, in late middle age, were disturbed by a ring of the doorbell. After a day in the garden, they had settled down for a quiet night  and the very last thing that they were expecting was a visit from the police. But there they were – two police officers enquiring about the whereabouts of their newlywed daughter and her Greek husband. After the first moments of blind panic that some awful disaster had taken place, the couple gradually realised that this was an enquiry of a totally different nature. This was a check to establish wether their daughter’s marriage was bogus …or not.  The middle-aged couple were, of course, my parents and the marriage was mine. This had been no hasty registry office wedding, this had been the full works – church, bridesmaids, hundreds of guests and a marquee in the garden. My fiancé had been studying in England for four years and we had been ‘going out’ for most of that time. But even so, despite all that, we still had to have the Home Office prompted check.

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The fun and games didn’t end there – we had several trips to the immigration centre in Croydon and an awful lot of correspondence with the Home Office, before my husband was given a visa to remain permanently in the UK – not British nationality, just a visa.

And then we decided to have a try at living in Greece, which was fine untilI we found that things were not going to be simple there either. There was an enormous rigmarole to move our household effects across Europe- everything had to go through a very complex Greek customs import procedure. Then, if I wanted to stay in Greece for longer than three months, I would need a residence visa. So off I went, British passport in hand, to the  ‘Aliens Department’ in Athens.

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After more paperwork and laborious Greek bureaucracy I obtained my three month residence permit – so I would have be back in another three months to do it all again. On that next visit to the Aliens Department I met a lady who, although I never saw her agin and don’t know her name, I will always remember. She must have been in her seventies, she was French, married to a Greek for over forty years and had been coming to get her visa every three months for all those years. In the end I took Greek nationality … It seemed simpler! Those were the realities of life outside the European Union.

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In the intervening years we have run a small business selling beautiful things from Britain and Europe – the single market made that really easy, There was a real buzz when some lovely jewellery ordered at a trade fair in Europe, on a Sunday, arrived before the end of the same week in our shop in Sheffield. No tariffs, no customs, no fuss just pure pleasure. Both my sons had the opportunity to study in France on the European Erasmus programme, their student accomadation subsidised by the French government – a right of all European students – it’s not just a one way flow !

So today, 23rd June 2016, my husband and I will be celebrating our 37th wedding anniversary – I think we can safely assure the authorities that it wasn’t a sham marriage – and for the last 25 we have been living in Britain. On our anniversary I will be voting in the referendum and I will be voting for Britain to remain part of modern, inclusive Europe. I hope you do too….

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