Checking in with virgo, sagittarius, pisces and the crew

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The Independent Online
Shelley von Strunckel's American passport is satisfyingly plump. Blue and paperback, it contains a grand total of 116 stamps recording her arrival in or departure from either Heathrow or Gatwick.

During the late Eighties she was working in her native Los Angeles as a consultant astrologer and commuting back and forth to London, where she rented a flat in Knightsbridge. The contents of her passport not only chart her love affair with the British barrister she met in London, but their engagement and subsequent marriage in 1991.

To gain her so-called "fiancee visa" Shelley had to stand in a long queue at the British Consulate in New York with the requisite and rather embarrassing letter written by her future husband which said a) that he was willing to support her, b) that he had a room for her to stay in and c) that he intended to stay married to her. Apparently, the civil servant at the head of the queue went quite mushy when she read the letter, and Shelley ended up with a rectangular stamp in her passport saying that she was given leave to remain in the UK because she was getting married.

After the wedding she had to go to Croydon for another stamp which said that she could remain in the UK for an indefinite period. But remained in the UK she has not. Patric Walker's chosen successor, Shelley writes astrology columns for magazines and newspapers all over the world. Business trips to countries like Thailand and Australia have given her exotic stamps in her passport, but she is most proud of the black stamp which says Channel Tunnel. She got it when she travelled on the Eurostar to Paris, where she French Vogue threw a party for her. Apparently, only foreigners get a stamp, EU passport holders just get a cursory nod from an immigration official.

As a foreigner - or "alien" as she is known to immigration in the EU - Shelley has endured some very long queues indeed. She has come up with a solution though - now she always travels first or business class with British Airways to take advantage of their fast track service which whizzes her through immigration. The back cover of her passport is covered with fast track stickers, each bearing a different pretty hologram for security purposes.

This year, Shelley's passport will be retiring. She has already selected her new passport photo - it is the same picture which graces her newspaper and magazine columns. Shelley readily admits to being vain and, after cringing at a succession of ghastly mugshots of herself during her early years as a columnist, makes sure that she always has a selection of decent pictures of herself to hand.

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