From dolce vita to Rabbit Hole OR How I became a human barcode

In a galaxy far away I once met a man who was working on an exciting revolutionary object to streamline our shopping experience. It was called a bar code and could transmit information through lines, or something, and the man’s name was Asimov, or something.

Fast forward to the early 1990s and a famous school for space engineers in southern France. It’s the end of year presentations, and our speaker is describing an exciting new revolutionary object called a mobile phone.

‘They will be small enough to slip into your pocket! Everyone will have them, even children! We won’t be able to live without them!’

By the time he’d finished most of the audience were rolling in the ailes.

This summer I became a barcode myself. All I had to do to prove my existence was to call up an image on that mobile phone I couldn’t live without and I could step inside the local café and sip a petit noir while the barcodeless were left outside, licking the windows.

Mind you, I was a bit worried about what might be lurking behind that image.  To be precise, it was called a QR, not a bar, code and consisted of fuzzy dots instead of lines. I learnt on an age-appropriate site called Science ABC  that ‘a QR code holds hundreds of times more information than a barcode.’

I am a human

I first flashed my dots in public when checking into a hotel. The owner, nervously fiddling with his brand new bar-code reader, eventually managed to dock his gizmo with my gizmo. His eyebrows shot up.

Oh là là! ‘He said, eyeing me up and down ‘This is SO indiscreet!’

He gave a wink.

‘Don’t worry! Your secret’s safe with me!’

Mon Dieu, what was on there? The tattoo of Patrick Swayze on my left buttock? The arrest warrant that was out for the library book I never returned when I was at Uni?

I was born and raised a ‘no ID cards!’ Brit . Now I have a passport, a French ID card and (to date) three indiscreet barcodes, some or all of which I need to travel within borders, travel across borders, enter certain buildings or order a croque monsieur at the Café du Commerce. If I worked for the French Health Service, or for certain companies, I would also need them to keep my job. It’s hardly surprising that the ‘pass sanitaire’ (EU vaccine passport) has provoked violent demonstrations in European cities throughout the summer.

In the August blog I extolled the delights of a carefree break in the rural Tarn. A few weeks later, we discovered that travelling further afield has now become a nightmare.

Our freefall down the rabbit hole began in midsummer. I was pining for my UK family, not seen since 2019. In spite of COVID uncertainty we took the plunge and booked a flight to Edinburgh. Too bad if the traffic lights changed and we lost the money.  I girded for administrative battle and hit the official websites. And clicked on the links. And hit more links, which led to…more links.

Off with his head!

Before I knew it I was back to Page 1, which warned me if I tried to get out of the country WITHOUT THE RIGHT DOCUMENTS I was for it. Headmaster’s study, handcuffs, fines, Devil’s Island… I took a look at some internet travellers forums to see if anyone had managed to pass ‘Go’.  Quelle horreur! Some still hadn’t arrived at the bottom of the rabbit hole after months!

‘I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time? ‘(Alice) said…’I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth…that would be four thousand miles.’

Others had become so entangled in red tape on the way down they were hanging mummified like the victims of Shelob’s web in Lord of The Rings.

Beware Shelob’s web

Somehow we managed to hack through the red tape. We were haggard, but poised to go with smartphones, QRs, and 5 kilos of paper backups in case our phones exploded. Then Ryanair sent a message to say our return flight was cancelled.  Next came a volley of identical emails saying we had to be at the airport TWO AND A HALF HOURS BEFORE CHECK IN NOT TWO HOURS and that it wasn’t their fault (true).

Fast forward two months.

Blagnac, Toulouse. Eerily quiet at this normally bustling airport. No sign of a check-in desk for Edinburgh. Spot a lady in a tartan scarf frozen in a traveller’s no man’s land pushing a trolley full of plastic document files .

‘Excuse me, are you waiting for the Edinburgh flight?’

After a ten minute filibuster I had learned that she’d a) only had one hour’s sleep b)arrived at the airport at dawn c) had been coming to France for 42 years and had never been so stressed even when she went all round the world to Australia on her own and d) her French friend’s printer had broken under the weight of all the forms he’d had to print out for her.

Meanwhile others had rolled up, all pushing their own trolleys full of plastic folders. An impromptu crisis cell was formed and documents compared. A man with a beard took charge.

‘Right, have you all got…’

1.Smartphone with QR showing EU vaccine passport? (Tartan lady didn’t have a smart phone. Collective gasp of horror. She feebly waved some crumpled papers.)

2.Smart phone with QR code of obligatory PCR test taken in the three days prior to departure? (Tartan lady got out her hankie.)

‘Right, next…’

The Beard read out from the official instructions:

‘Does the information on the QR code match with the EXACT names as shown on your travel documents? If not you…’

Oh dear. My turn for the Naughty Step. The PCR test taken before departure showed my name as it appears on  my UK passport. However, the EU vaccine passport QR code delivered by the French Social Security Administration back in June was in my maiden name (because they are French and that’s the way they do it). Politically correct British passports don’ t have maiden names on them. Ergo, I had also brought

-birth certificate bearing maiden name

-marriage certificate (two in my case), bearing various other names

-document bearing hyphenated maiden and married names certifying I pay property taxes in France, thus an upstanding citizen

– EU residency card (necessary to get back into France) bearing maiden and married names

– French driving licence, showing maiden name and  ancient photo of bearer looking like startled fly head grafted onto human neck.

I also had a lucky rabbit’s foot but wasn’t sure it would get through Security.

Our Leader continued.  ‘Do those returning to France, have the two-page ‘Sworn Statement’ to be filled in on day of departure saying they do not have COVID, have not been in contact with anyone who has COVID, do not have any of the following 12 symptoms?’

‘Right. Finally…’ (deep shuddering breath) ‘has everyone got (gasp gulp) their PLF????? ‘

The dreaded PLF (Passenger Locator Form) had been the subject of much on-line angoisse. Its numerous questions  can only be answered 48 hours before travelling – a nightmare for control freaks/those who live in rural areas with dodgy internet connexions.  We were now in another book, The Pilgrim’s Progress. Designed by John Bunyan’s love-child, the PLF is a virtual Slough of Despond intended to weed out the faint-hearted on their way to Palace Beautiful.  One section is vitally important – the bit where pilgrims must enter the 12 digit reference number for the Day 2 COVID test they must take after arrival. (Any readers who have not fallen into a coma by now will realise that means TWO COVID tests within a period of five days, three in our case, actually because we were so nervous we took a home test in France the day before we went to the Pharmacie for the real one.)

I had discovered at the last minute that the Day Two test for Scotland is different for the Day Two test for England – there is only one approved provider charging £68 per test. Suck it up.  I also discovered I had to provide an address in Scotland to which the Royal Mail could deliver the £68 tests. The instructions said:

‘Each test must be ordered for each travellers home address. You are not allowed to order tests to be delivered to your address for people who are not normally resident at your address’.


In the softening up queue at the airport, several passengers are now sobbing. Fortunately It is in situations like this natural leaders emerge. Within minutes we had all vowed to follow The Beard in affirmative action. If they didn’t let us on the flight we’d damned well glue ourselves to the tarmac. (The Beard hadn’t told us how to reach said tarmac from Departures Hall/ how to attain recumbent posture on it for those with dodgy hips/where the Superglue was)

Reader, we did it. Somehow our bedraggled little group made it without Superglue.  We kept waving to each other and giving a thumbs up each time we got past another hurdle – check in security, customs, arrivals.

Our troubles were over, weren’t they?

Er no, as it turned out. But I will spare those who have got up to here and are hoping this is where they meet the four virgins of Palace Beautiful. I will draw a merciful veil over our attempts to register, and post off, the obligatory Day Two test, the hours spent, the kilometres trudged up and down the dozen Difficulty Hills in Edinburgh looking for a Priority PostBox.



No it isn’t you dumbell!

Instead I will post the photo of Inspector Rebus’s Oxford Bar, where on arrival we were able to have a drink sans QR code, and gear up for a great week of fun and frolics with the family. Yippee 😉

A code-less drink at Inspector Rebus’s favourite watering hole

20 thoughts on “From dolce vita to Rabbit Hole OR How I became a human barcode”

  1. Laurette, I love how you intertwine books and quotes along with inventions within your own factual stories. Very creative! I’m so sorry you had to go through all of it.

    I should write a blog post about my adventures traveling. Since June, I had to go to the states due to the loss of my goddaughter, then drove to Spain a few days after my U.S. return, and now we just got back this week from a long drive from Italy. Let me tell you, as a Libertarian American living in Germany, I have been pretty much disgusted by all governments concerning COVID.

    Glad you made it back safely.

    1. Chère Denise, first thing to say is how sorry I am to hear about your goddaughter, that must have been hard. I knew about your Spanish trip but had no idea you’d been doing so much globe-trotting. Yes! Write a blog post, I’m missing your blog, hoping that your other writing projects have been progressing (faster than mine…) Would love to hear your American libertarian take on the COVID catastrophe as well as your travel experience -did you see comment from your fellow-countrywoman, Nancy, below with a link to HER travel experiences a few years ago, featuring a certain Billy Ray? Well worth a peek. Take care all of you, not all that sure what the situation is like in Germany (or anywhere, really 🙁 every day/media report it’s a new story) xxx

  2. Dear Laurette , you’ve done it again ! With your creative persona you manage ( easily ) to turn your recent life experiences into an account of the pitfalls of modern technology , make reference to a range of writers – Tolkien ,Bunyan , Carrol and even Asimov with suitable pics and genuine comic interludes with the woman without and the bearded man – or were they personified metaphors for modern Europe ?
    Your descriptions of the paper trail/chase should be posted at airports or in travel brochures – ” just what can a poor girl do ?”
    Your adventures in Scotland called for not ony Rebus , but for a
    resurrected Taggart or even Jimmy Perez ?
    Though I’m glad to read that you still have your British passport
    presumably with your Yorkshire endorsement and part 12 Rastrick and Brighouse attachment – or have I been reading too much into recent Dostoevsky and Kafka ?
    More please !

    1. Cher Peter F, I could really get used to comments like this…many, and sincere thanks for continuing to read and support as well as adding your own suggestions, yes, I should have given a wink to Kafka shouldn’t I. had to look up Jimmy Perez, discovered he’s the lead detective in ‘Shetland’ (will have to check out that series). As you point out, blogs are a great opportunity to slip in personal favourites, literary and otherwise. Good idea about the passport attachments, many authors who listen to music as they write publish the playlists that inspired them, mine would obviously have to include the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band – plus ‘Havin’ The Time Of My Life’ heh heh xxx

  3. Blimey Laurette, complete madness. Glad you made it over and got to see everyone. I’d have been drunk in the queue and there would have been a punch up, then I would have lost all my luggage and ended up in Iceland lol. Keep up the blogs, always wonderful to read x

    1. Oh Sheila always a tonic to hear from you…now I’ve stopped laughing, I’m thinking maybe your comment is the outline for a scene in your next book…I hope so!!! For readers who haven’t met the Bradford gang in the corner shop with magic wardrobe and glitterball -check out Sheila’s page here (warning: the stuff her characters get up to makes our trip to Edinburgh sound like a Saga cruise…)xxx

    1. Dear Pamela thanks so much for commenting. I know – what about the smart-phone-less??? I’m thinking about all of you over there in the US with family ties to Europe etc, must be very stressful. La vita isn’t quite as bella (or dolce) as it used to be is it? Have been off social media for a while, finding it hard to write at the moment, how about you? xxx
      Readers: Pamela’s wonderful fresco of life in Rome during WW
      is here:

  4. As Laurette’s brother, I can testify to the SAS qualities of endurance shown by her and the Maitre d’, forced by a lunatic system to spend 3 of their 7 days searching for non-existent addresses in Edinburgh, to post their unbelievably expensive Covid tests. I think they used them in the smallest room, back home in France. I can only say how impressed I was with her fortitude, and the way she managed to greet each day with a grin, even if it was slightly rictus…

    1. Cher frère, great to read your back up!!!What a saga – but hey, we all had a great time, didn’t we, in spite of the odd ‘rictus’ (aaargh) .
      Let’s hear it for The Oxford Bar, and vive la famillexxx

  5. You do have the most magical way of turning the most torturous of experiences into a wonderful humor-filled tale, Laurette! Wow–I can’t imagine having to plow through all of what you had to, although I just had a flying adventure of my own. Mine pales in comparison to yours–for one thing, I was staying within one country, which did have its definite advantages. Despite that, I took my recent experience as a reminder that I am not to fly anywhere ever again. This was the lesson originally presented to me three years ago, when I last flew before this most recent escapade. Obviously, I didn’t learn the lesson, so it came back to try again to teach me. I do believe it has succeeded this time.

    Meanwhile, I hope your trip back was less fraught….oh, but wait, you did get back, didn’t you, or are you still holed up in Scotland? Regardless, you have turned it all into a wonderful and most amusing story–“amusing” to us the readers only in that none of us had to actually go through what you did, at least I don’t think…

    1. Thank you so much for your comment dear Nancy, and YES! I vividly remember your adventures from 3 years ago – do you have the blog link? I couldn’t stop laughing, seem to remember you ended up in a tow truck with a guy called Hank or Chuck or something (am I embroidering?) Is your latest adventure on FB? Have been off-line for a while. Hope all is wellxxx

      1. Wow, Laurette–what a great memory you have! I did indeed end up in a tow truck with a guy named Billy Ray. And that was after I’d driven myself home in the middle of the night (arriving at 4:30 a.m.) from the Atlanta airport from which there were no more flights that night and no more rental cars to be had–except for the cargo van (!) that miraculously turned up just when I’d been told there was nothing, As I mentioned in the piece, it was like driving a bubble as it was empty and all but flew off the road with the slightest breeze or bump. I have not documented this latest fiasco–it’s not nearly as colorful as your adventure or as mine of three years ago, but suffice it to way, it was just as frustrating.
        Again, very impressed with your excellent memory! Here’s the link:

        Hope all is well over there…I think we need a catch-up chat. (FB has made it free and easy.)

        1. Billy Ray!!!! That’s the one! Readers click on Nancy’s blog link to get the full story, talk about a road trip 😉 Is it a message indeed, thanks Nancy xxx

  6. Never mind Alice in Wonderland and certainly not Pilgrim’s Progress ( always hated that book ) this sounds more like Nightmare on Elm Street! ( I know that’s a film so maybe it doesn’t count.) Congratulations on jumping so many hurdles but I don’t think I will dare try. Mind you now that Covid numbers are so high in the UK, I don’t think I want to risk it health wise.

    1. Merci chère ami, not just for your comment, faithful as usual, but also for alerting me tonight that there were indeed comments on the blog – I had no email notification, I don’t want to sound paranoid, but …WHY???? 😉 😉 😉 Nightmare in The Cowshed…xxx
      PS I hated The P’s P too.

  7. Brilliant! You are way braver than we are. Thankfully work has kept us (safely) in France with no option of being mad enough to break for the border. I really don’t think I’m UK comparable anymore. Have a super fun family time xx

    1. Merci merci Jacqui! The gremlins are still at it, I’ve had no notifications of comments on this piece so am just catching up, so pleased to hear from you. ‘Break for the border’ indeed… I’ve been off social media a bit but loved your pieces on Carol Drinkwater:

      and of course watching the series, what a treat! Just finished the last episode of the new TV version of ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ , loved it! xxx
      Francophiles, check out Jacqui’s blog at link above.

  8. After all that you arrived at the right place, The Oxford Bar. And a needed drink! Great post, my friend, too bad it happened but the writing was terrific. Your magical gift-to entertain.

    1. Thank you dearest Paulette! The saga continues as my two mail addresses have sent no notifications of comments (why?) so now catching up with five of them! – now wouldn’t it be lovely if one of those new revolutionary inventions could beam us all up to the Oxford Bar? 😉 Cheers xxx

      For readers: Paulette’s latest 5-star read available here:

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