Life used to be so simple. Once, I knew that there were a couple of places in the UK where I was not welcome – Swindon, Weston-super-Mare, a Chinese restaurant in Burford. All these places got a little angry when I'd written something impolite about them. Apparently Weston-super-Mare even burnt an effigy of me, which was pretty special. Now, however, things have moved up a level.
I was supposed to be going to Libya this week for a flying visit. It's a country that I've always wanted to go to. It ticks all my boxes – hardly any tourists, hot, elicits a little sucking of the teeth when you tell people that you're going there and, most importantly, has some of the most fabulous Roman ruins in the world. For years I've dreamt of going to Leptis Magna and everything was arranged until ... the Libyan embassy refused me a visa. I was persona non grata in Libya.
I went back to check. Did they mean that I, personally, was persona non grata or just Brits in general after the recent Scottish fiasco? They confirmed that it was me personally. The reason given, according to my visa guy, was that they had Googled me and not been happy with stuff I'd written about Syria and the secret police there. I was flabbergasted. There can be nobody who loves Syria more than I do. It's one of my favourite countries in the world. But it's difficult not to write about the secret police when they assign a man to travel with you everywhere and constantly take photographs of everything you're doing.
Back to the Libya situation – it was a definite no. It's the first time that I've been refused entry to a country and it's a very weird feeling. I actually got a little petulant about it. "What do you mean you won't let me in? I want to come in and I shall thcweam and thcweam until I'm thick!" They hung up and that was that.
I'd been told before I applied for my Libyan visa not to even bother applying if I had an Israeli stamp in my passport. As it happened I've never been to Israel so this wasn't an issue. About half an hour after I'd been refused my Libyan visa I got a call from my agent – was I free this weekend? Now that I wasn't going to Libya, yes I was very free, what did she have to offer? "Somebody wants you to go Israel for three days for some filming, are you up for it?"
This was getting very weird, but since I had nothing else to do I agreed to the Israel trip. "Your passport is OK isn't it?" She asked. "It's up to date, if that's what you mean," I replied. "No. You don't have any weird stamps in it that might cause entry problems?" I thought long and hard for a moment. "Well, I've got Iran, Syria, Lebanon and North Korea for starters." There was a long pause. "Oh. Right. Let me look into it ...."
This was starting to be a bit ridiculous. If I was not allowed into either Israel or Libya then somebody had better make their minds up as to whose side I'm on. It's either one or the other but I surely can't be persona non grata in both?
Then I started to panic about the next time I want to enter America. When I was in North Korea I visited the demilitarised zone on the border with South Korea. Some American soldiers on the other side started taking long-range photographs of us from their watchtower. I couldn't resist giving them the bird. I just know that, one day, a photo of this will be slipped across the immigration desk for me to comment on.
I wonder if I apologise to Weston-Super-Mare whether they'll forgive me? I might need a summer holiday destination pretty soon.Reuse content