A Cat’s Tale, Parts 3 & 4

Part Three: Getting In

Jason & Garbanzo

Woken at 2 am by programmed wake-up call. Dressed and went out to look for Mark, tried calling his cell phone but couldn’t get through (I found out later he’d turned it off). After half an hour wandering, I gave up and came back to bed.

I was woken at ten by a call from Mark. He was in Calais. He had arrived around 3:30, and slept in the car. He came right over and met Garbanzo. We went downstairs and had a French breakfast, then took Garbanzo and my stuff to the car, parked around the corner. The baggage went in the boot and I put Garbanzo in his box behind the passenger seat, on the floor.

Mark wanted to visit a French hypermarche and stock up on exotic goods, and with some help we found one. We filled a cart with champagne, soft cheeses, salamis, French baguettes, and Belgian chocolate. I bought some bic biros because I needed a tube to administer some valium to Garbanzo so he would be sleeping when we went through customs. One peep out of him and the whole gig would be up.

Together Mark and I force-fed Garbanzo a crushed half-tablet of valium, and Mark went off to get a sandwich. The valium seemed to have no effect on Garbanzo whatsoever, and I began to consider taking him to a vet and having him knocked out for a few hours. I felt that if Garbanzo was asleep and silent, we had a good chance of smuggling him into England, but that otherwise the odds were against us. While Mark had been getting his sandwich he said he’d received “messages” that Garbanzo was going to be calm at customs. I told him about my idea for the vet, and he mentioned a pet shop in the shopping center. They were closed but a lady inside let me in and gave me a vet’s address.

We drove around Calais a while, trying to find it. Mark pointed out a lady with a dog, and moments later we spotted the vet’s. (When we went in the lady and her dog were there too.) The young assistant told me they couldn’t just knock a cat out on request like that, that the vet needed to keep it under observation, etc. Very unlike in Guatemala, then. The best she could do was give us some animal tranquilizers, which she said wouldn’t put him to sleep but would only calm him down. I asked about a higher dose, and she warned me not to give him more than one tablet, saying he could die. I bought the tranquilizers and we went back to the car. We gave Garbanzo one and a half tablets, once again crushing them to powder and filling the plastic tube with it, opening Garbanzo’s mouth while Mark held him by the scruff. Garbanzo wasn’t happy at all by now, however. He was making a lot of noise when I put him back in the box, considerably more than usual. I was worried I might have killed him with all those tranquilizers, but I was even more worried the stuff wouldn’t work at all, that Garbanzo would carry on making noise while we passed the border, and give himself away. There was no way to explain it to him, however, though I tried.


I began to wonder if it might be a better idea to take the ferry. Mark’s descriptions of coming over, via the tunnel (on train), were less than encouraging. They had been quite thorough at both ends, he said, opening the boot and using some kind of pointing device to pass over the luggage, as if detecting for bombs. (For all we knew such devices were also designed for finding live animals.) Overall, I had a strong feeling the ferry would be our best bet. We drove to the dock and Mark went and investigated, making sure we could drive right on without going through the same security I had attempted to best the night before. When he came back he joked that they all sent their regards. I was too far gone to appreciate irony, however, and simply asked how they had known. Mark said it was OK, that we just drove right onto the boat, showing passports and passing through customs on the way. I gave the go-ahead, and he went back to get our ticket.

By now Garbanzo was finally quieting down. Mark came back with a ticket for the 3:25 ferry, on P & O, which was about 45 minutes away. It was time for boarding already. I said a prayer to the angels. Mark giggled, then chastised himself for “mocking them.” I said he was only mocking me, which was OK. He denied it.

We got in the car and put some music on (jazz from Mark’s brother Keith) to cover any sounds Garbanzo might still be making. We drove to the embarkation point and showed our passports. The young guy there leaned down to give me a closer look, I looked back at him and he nodded. He ran a check on my passport then (which since it was issued in Guatemala, lacks a bar code), taking maybe three minutes in all, during which time we sat and waited and tried not to get nervous. Finally, he gave us our passports and waved us on.

Up ahead, two officials in dark clothing were standing by the side of the road. I opened the window and held out my passport and our boarding pass, but one of them waved us on. Mark said, that was customs. I could hardy believe it. The next thing I knew we were waiting behind a long time of cars, in lane 38, and the ferry was up ahead. The car in front of us had HOD on its license plate. I pointed it out to Mark. In Kabbala “Hod” (meaning splendor) corresponds with Mercury, the planet of travel, communication, deceit and trickery. It seemed the gods were with us.

Although I felt a huge sense of relief, I knew the toughest part was still to come: the other end. We waited in lane 38 (behind car HOD) for maybe 20 minutes, talking. Garbanzo was entirely quiet as we finally drove onto the ferry. We were among the very last cars on. Mark and I stayed in the car talking, while everyone else got out and went into the ship proper. Finally, some parking guys spotted us and asked what we were doing. A few more minutes and we’d have had to stay there; instead they took us on up in the workers’ elevator, and left us in the club lounge. The woman at the bar wanted to see our club lounge passes, so we went down a floor and bought a lemonade drink. Mark wanted to go on deck, so I agreed. It was extremely cold and he lent me his army coat. I said goodbye to France, then added, “I hope it’s goodbye.” The ocean was huge, unbound; it felt and looked like freedom, but I knew it might be illusion.

Mark and I sat and talked by a window as we cut through the water towards England. Mark suggested that, if it came to it, I could jump overboard with Garbanzo and swim the last bit. I doubted that Garbanzo (or I) would survive such an attempt, but admitted that I would certainly try it, if it was the only option left. Mark said it wouldn’t matter if I still got caught, because the TV crews would show up and people would know all about me and my cause to get Garbanzo into the country.

Mark commented on how fast the boat seemed to be going, almost as if something was accelerating the process. It was difficult for me to relax and enjoy the ride, however. My whole being was suffused with apprehension, uncertainty, dread.

I knew I didn’t want to live in France or Spain again. I also knew I could not be parted from Garbanzo. Amsterdam was the only feasible fallback option I could come up with, if this my final bid failed. It was far from ideal, but I could just about live with it. There was no guarantee I could get Garbanzo into Holland either, however. I felt so sure I was supposed to be in England. We would soon find out.

The speakerphone announced that we were nearing Dover. I went to use the toilet, then Mark did the same. I gazed out the window at the water whizzing by and said a last prayer. I felt a sudden surge of energy, the certainty that we would make it through. The angels were with us. God was with us. It had all been arranged from the beginning.

I had been jumping through the hoops placed in front of me by the Universe these past two days, simply to prove my intent was pure. Now I had proven it and the Universe had taken over. Yet there remained a tiny shred of doubt, like a splinter in my brain. I needed to surrender the last remaining traces of personal desire before divine will could do its thing. Surrender.

While we waited to be let down to our cars, we were instructed not to smoke or start our engines until indicated. We found the car easily enough, climbed inside and waited. There was not a sound from Garbanzo, making me wonder if he was even still alive. He was inside his box, inside the black bag, buried underneath bars of chocolate, cheese and champagne, a black coat and a duvet (though not so deeply he wouldn’t be able to breathe). On the back seat, there were more cheeses and things, and two large baguettes I had leaned upright against the seat, like twin towers. They sent a subliminal message: tourists.

As the last ones on the ferry, we were also among the last to get off. There were so many cars it didn’t matter, however. As we drove off the ferry I found the road map and began to check our route. It was something to be doing to help calm us both down. We drove through a huge, open area that I knew was contained by checkpoints.

We were in the slowest lane, heading towards passport control. The lane on our right moved fast, but not ours. As we reached the control point, I noticed a white van in front of us had been pulled over. Good. Let the white van keep them busy.

There were two or three officials in bright yellow reflecting jackets on our right. As we were about to pass them, one of them stepped out in front of us and held his hand out in a stop signal. We stopped. This was it, the moment of reckoning.

But the man carried on walking: he was merely crossing in front of us, and the other guy waved us on. Perhaps it was a test to see if we betrayed any fear? If so, we passed it. I felt totally calm. There was no other option. Nothing I could do would influence the outcome, except negatively—by showing fear or panic. There was no reason to be anything but relaxed. Also, I think that the suspense was so terrible that I blocked it out entirely.

The previous few days had entailed more internal anguish, despair, turmoil, and sheer dread than I had ever experienced. Yet outwardly, perhaps for this very reason, I had felt more contained, controlled, and composed in my outward manner than ever before in my life.

There was one more control point to get thought, the worst of them all: custom check. Mark kept changing the station on the radio because he didn’t like the song. I told him to just leave it alone, for Christ’s sake, that any music will do.

We reached the final checkpoint. A guy in yellow gear stopped us with his hand. Mark opened his window with a push of a button. The man looked in at both of us and asked where we had come from. I looked at him but kept quiet, instinctively letting Mark do the talking. “France,” he said and left it at that. The customs man asked where we were going. “Bedford,” said Mark, and laughed. It wasn’t a nervous laugh, but light and cheerful, as if there were something faintly ridiculous about our going to Bedford. The official glanced in the back seat, at the baguettes. Garbanzo made no sound. The man nodded his head and signaled for us to carry on.


The moment. The moment I had been waiting for after what seemed like an eternity of hours.

The moment hit as we moved on. It was over. We were through. We had made it.

I didn’t react. I was tempted to go Tom Cruise and start yelling, but I was scared that it was too soon for such histrionics. I couldn’t believe we were really through. After all this time. What a feeling! What a feeling.

One desire. I was reduced, over the past few days, to one single, all-consuming desire. During this period, the gods could have offered me a tender and loving reunion with my partner; they could have dangled world fame, Hollywood success, all the riches in the world in front of my face, and I would have shown not a trace of interest, would have turned my nose up at it all. Just let me return to my homeland with my cat, dear Lord.

That one, single desire was all that was left of me. It had taken over so completely and utterly that there was hardly even a “me” left to desire it, just the desire itself—the intent, pure, unbending, intent, absolute focus.

This goal of smuggling an illegal feline into England had been, without exaggeration, the greatest single challenge of my life; and somehow, with a little help from my friends, I had pulled it off.


Part Four: Aftermath (Sacrifices & Things)

Even once we were on the motorway, and the cliffs of Dover, the customs officials, and all the rest were far behind us, I still didn’t feel quite in the clear. It was as if we were still inside the gravitational field of that area and it could pull us back any moment; I imagined a police car chasing after, megaphone blasting, “You with the cat! Pull over and come out with your hands up!”

Despite this feeling, I dug Garbanzo’s box out from under the champagne and luxury items, and brought it over onto my knee. I opened the box.

“Is it alive?” said Mark.

It was like Schrödinger’s Cat. Two universes, and until I opened the box, the cat was neither alive nor dead.

Garbanzo was alive. In fact, he seemed not even remotely sleepy after all those drugs. His box smelled of pee, however, and was full of little turds. No wonder the poor guy has been making so much noise! It goes against a cat’s nature to shit where it sleeps.

Shortly after we were reunited, as if answering my fears, we heard sirens and saw a police car racing up from behind us with its lights flashing insanely. I felt my heart beating faster as the police car wove around us then pulled over on our right. As we passed, a cop climbed out of the car, and for a moment I expected him to actually flag us down. We passed him slowly, and Mark commented that there must have been an accident. “A sacrifice,” he said. I knew exactly what he meant.

Sure enough, ahead we could see more police cars and lots of activity on the partition in the center of the motorway. We approached slowly and as we did a cop walked towards us in the middle of the road and shone his flashlight straight through the windshield at us. Mark let out a gasp as I waited for the cop’s arm to raise and flag us down. For a second neither Mark nor I breathed. The cop’s arm stayed down, and we passed him; but from what we could see looking back, he flagged down the car behind us!

We passed an almost capsized Avis van on our right. The sacrifice. (Avis, Latin for “warning” or “omen,” from Ave, meaning “bird”; it also spells Siva backwards, the god of destruction.) We kept on going, going, going, no longer looking back.

Soon after, we both saw a bright light in the sky ahead of us, descending over the road then vanishing. It was moving too slowly for a shooting star.

I asked Mark to stop at a service station so I could change Garbanzo’s bedding. Only once we were off the motorway did I feel completely in the clear. Whatever force it was that was trying to stop me getting to England with my cat, that even once we were through seemed to be trying to pull us back, had finally receded.

Garbanzo was in the UK, safe with his human, and there was nothing anyone could do about it.

Where there’s a will, there’s a cat.



4 thoughts on “A Cat’s Tale, Parts 3 & 4

  1. In the mid seventies I was visiting family in Marseille, my brother in law’s aunt had had a parrot for years but it had developed a love for children and would fly on their shoulders and she would have a devil of a job to get him off, this tended to freak her grandchildren out. One day, trying to extricate Loretto (his name) he bit her which was the last straw and she said she was going to get rid of him, I volunteered to have him. I went to a vet to get his wing clipped so he couldn’t fly off,this visit entailed myself and the vet chasing Loretto round the vet’s surgery as he flew out of his basket thing as soon as I opened it, and the vet continuously asking me if he was “dangerous”. To cut a long story short I decided to take the Calais ferry back and hide Loretto in the back of the car. The ferry arrived and we started heading for customs, my girlfriend placed Loretto’s cage on the floor in the back and threw a coat over him. Loretto didn’t like this at all and started making an infernal racket, beating his wings and making noises like someone was trying to throttle him. All this was happening as we were filtering into the “Nothing to Declare lane, the thought “Now we are fucked” ran through my brain in a sort of slow motion dreamy way, and at the same time I saw the customs man just wave us through without even stopping us, what a relief. I know just what you went through.

  2. It’s interesting how I ended up reading your ordeal to get Garbanzo to England, on the week that Richard Dawkins whined about the loss of his honey jar due to airport regulations. Your account made me sympathetic. His did not.

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