Europe sans frontieres may still be a bureaucratic fiction, but they don't make borders like they used to. Berlin's appeal evaporated when the Wall came down. Checkpoint Charlie, the most beguilingly grotesque manifestation of East-West conflict, has returned to the pages of Len Deighton. No more Bulgarian border guards rifling through your socks in search of smuggled currency or Albanian customs officials examining visitors' magazines to confiscate lingerie advertisements.
The Foreign Secretary's demand at the front of every passport that the bearer should be allowed "to pass freely without let or hindrance" seems to be having the required effect. Those who feel travel has become a bit too easy can head for those rocky islets presently in dispute. A week ago, none of us had heard of them; now the race is on between entrepreneurs ferrying tourists to meet the long-haired goats who suddenly find themselves at Europe's final frontier.
You would never get away with it at school. "The dog ate my passport", reports Ross Taylor of west London. Bobby, Mr Taylor's Border Collie, munched his way halfway through the travel document, oblivious to the fact that it is Crown property. So Mr Taylor called the Passport Agency's new national information line (0990 210410) to find out if he would still be allowed to take his holiday to Bali.
This new telephone service is interactive, which means you have to say "yes" at the appropriate moment. Since "Has your dog eaten your passport?" was not an option, he chose the final possibility, to speak to a real person. The phone rang once at the far end, then the line went dead.
Mr Taylor checked this a couple of times, then called me and I tried as well. The only advances I discovered were that the system works (or fails to work) equally well if you bark instead of speaking, and that the whole pointless telephonic transaction costs 25 pence a time. The last I heard was that Mr Taylor had set off for Bali anyway, uncertain as to whether he would get any further than Barking. He has promised to report on his progress - watch this space, and your pet.Reuse content