We're in London. Be afraid, be very afraid.

We are finally in London after a gruelling 44-hour journey from door-to-door. It didn’t start off so well as there was a five-hour-delay for our initial flight out of Auckland. This in turn meant we missed our connecting flight in Hong Kong. They fortunately put us up in a hotel overnight in Hong Kong but on arrival there at 1am in the morning, there were no rooms available immediately. It was at this point we unleashed our children in the hotel lobby so with Elizabeth tearing about and Daniel playing with the iPad farting app on full volume, we were given a room before too long.

Then it was back onboard another greenhouse gas-emitting flight to London. The kids were fantastic on both flights, especially Daniel who loved having free rein of the TV and iPad. Elizabeth slept a fair bit on both legs.

We were all thrilled to touch down in London but our excitement was somewhat short-lived because we were detained by immigration for over three hours. They took us to an interrogation room where they took mugshots of all of us and fingerprints of me and Ben. I’ve never had my fingerprints taken before.  The problem arose because Ben is here as an academic visitor, which is perfectly fine and he does not require a visa and nor do the rest of us.   Daniel will attend state school while he is here – we already have confirmation of this from the school he will attend but immigration felt that we should be required to pay to send him to private school for the duration of our stay. Neither of us wants to send our children to private school for financial and philosophical reasons so if necessary, I would just home-school Daniel for the 6 months that we are here. But because state schooling was mentioned, they detained us and this set into motion a series of questions and requirements which took forever to fulfill.

Ben and I had researched the UK border agency website long before our arrival to see whether Daniel was entitled to attend school. We both felt that we had read somewhere that he was entitled to attend a state school. So it was at this point I pulled out my iPhone and searched Google for “academic visitor uk home office children schooling“. The very first result is for academic visitors and included information about dependents and schooling. It was as we had thought:

VAT12.6 Schooling

The requirement that a visitor must not intend to study at a maintained school may be waived in respect of a dependant of a person who has entered the United Kingdom for the purpose of an Academic Visit, regardless of the period of leave for which they are admitted.

Note: Admission to maintained schools is not an immigration matter. The Department for Children, Schools and Families has policy responsibility in respect of admissions to schools in England.

So I showed this page on my phone to one of the immigration officials handling our case and she was somewhat surprised and disappeared to talk to someone else about it. When she returned we were finally waved through. It seems very odd to me that if you arrive in the UK on a non-EU passport then you need to bring a print-out of the relevant contents of the UK border agency website to show immigration officials. Either that, or have a phone with web access.  Thank goodness for modern technology.

I should add that the immigration officials were all very friendly and treated us well. I find it very hard to believe though that none of them had come across academic visitors bringing their family on sabbatical with them before us. We know lots of people who have done or who are planning to do exactly what we’re doing. Our own home in Auckland is being rented by an academic visitor from the United States and she is bringing her family with her and her two children will attend a state school in Auckland. My own father, who is also an academic, went on three such trips with his young family over the course of his career and one of these was to the UK.

When we finally left the airport it was late and we were all tired and flagging. We chose to catch the tube to our hotel which in hindsight, was probably a bit too adventurous. Trains are just such a novelty for New Zealanders. Ben and I must have looked like desert camels as we struggled with all the luggage. We were loaded up with three suitcases, four smaller bags, a stroller, two children and  partridge in  pear tree. When we emerged from underground it was raining and quite heavily for London. Not the torrential rain you get in Auckland or Brisbane but quite heavy nonetheless. It seemed like quite a long walk from the tube station to our hotel and the gutters and parts of footpaths leading to crossings had flooded from all the rain. At one point, a car swerved around the corner near to Daniel and me and sprayed an arc of water all over us just like you see in the movies. You know when the heroine is having the worst day imaginable and just when you think it couldn’t get any more dreadful, a car drives by and drenches her? Fortunately Daniel was in really good spirits because there were red double decker buses everywhere and he was overjoyed by the sight of them.

The trip finally ended 44 hours after it began. We were all very grateful to be staying in a very comfortable hotel and we had a relaxing night except that Elizabeth woke at 2am full of beans. The advantage of this is that we were the first people at breakfast this morning and so missed the rush. Daniel told us during breakfast that he loves London better than Auckland. I think the reason for this is because he gets to eat bacon and sausages for breakfast rather than his usual boring cornflakes.

It looks like a lovely day in London today. Not too hot (hopefully) and sunny but cloudy. Time to go exploring!