Trains, planes and automobiles provide you with any number of opportunities to reflect upon the vicissitudes, banalities and embuggerancies of everyday existence. Waiting at check in, security, in departure lounges and in platform tea rooms on a cold foggy night in Crewe affords time to observe ordinary and extraordinary folk, if one can be arsed to lift one’s gaze up from the screen for a moment. The rich variety of individuals on display nonetheless morphs into patterns of attitudes and behaviours, and extreme levels of fuckwittery last heard when “It’ll be all over by Christmas” was exclaimed by a squiffy Field Marshall over sherry before dinner at Number 10 in 1914.
Travel takes us mentally into zones of discomfort, of disquiet and of stress. You have given over control over your whole life to strangers who hold your destiny in the palms of their hands. The pilot, the train driver…and yes the taxi bastards of Dubai who deserve a special place in hell, one in which the demon’s trident is particularly pointy and the scrotum clamps are spectacularly efficient ‘on the press’. The pilot and the train driver may well share your fate should they stray into misjudgment. The taxi driver however thinks they are immortal. They’ll find out they are not, when I stick the end of my nail file into their jugular from the back seat the next time they decide lane discipline is for losers.
Security Staff, Border Guards, and policemen should be given the respect they demand, even if they do not deserve it. It is amazing how the possession of a gun provides one with a certain ‘authority’, especially if that is backed up by the State. There is of course a proportional relationship between the possession of a gun, a uniformed testosterone fuelled machismo and the likelihood of a ‘mishap’ should one be ill informed enough to question the patrilineal lineage of a peak capped, shiny booted, ill educated but eager officer of the law. You must remember that they are armed with batons, boots and lubricant.
Airline officials also have the power to make or break your day simply with one wink or phone call to the assembled cohorts of law and order lurking in the background. A smart suited airline official may be pretty and helpful, but say the wrong thing and you’ll find yourself naked, with bag over your head, chained to the wall in a cold room, being shouted at in a language you don’t want to understand while an Alsatian takes a hungry sniff of your testicles (if you have them). This scenario only seems to apply to men. Women seem to get let off with histrionics at a security gate with a “Calm down dear, its only an internal examination” before being led away to a quiet room in a nearby psychiatric institution specialising in psychotropic medications as a first line treatment.
Don’t mention the war. Any war. They are not funny and you have no idea whose side they were on. Sod’s law dictates they were on the other side. Even in the UK, I think you’ll find officials tend to be recruited from those with an ‘Authoritarian Personality’ whose childhoods were spent picking the legs off spiders, using a magnifying glass to burn a wood louse and keeping a collection dead birds in a box in the attic. You can tell them by the unblinking eyes, a barely perceptible tic and lack of an ability to put more than two words together without the veiled threat of bodily harm. Innocuous phrases such as “May I help you?”, “Please stand there” and “Bend Over” all have sinister undertones.
We all know this, and I think this is partly why we carry a subconscious fear or sense of unease when travelling. We have all heard the stories about over exuberant, pissed or arrogant relatives detained in foreign airports. Shouting at officials at Passport control, in an attempt to get your point of view across in a language they don’t understand, with an attitude of imperial arrogance and unfounded entitlement rooted in a complete ignorance of history and then expecting respect, attention and understanding, is a folly of such enormous size as to equal the opening of a children’s home during the reign of King Herod. You’d be better off standing in front of a tank in China, founding a Gay Atheist Society in Alabama or expecting the French to make you a decent cup of tea.
“What did happen to Uncle Jimmy, Mum?”
“Sush, darling, some things are best left to God”.
At Bahrain check in, I dutifully turned up with the relevant documentation which in all good faith should see me safely across the border. “Das Paperien, Bitte!” purred the dark brown eyes behind the mask at the desk. Gulf Air, as it seems all airlines, seems to hire only beautifully uniformed women to do the first dirty work of sorting out who has the right to cross the frontier. I handed over my passport, my check in details, my negative PCR test certificate, return flight details to Dubai, my bank card, RAC membership and my Gold Card Membership for the “I’m Sorry I haven’t a Clue Appreciation Society”. Ironically, she did not see the funny side of the last one.
Another airline official was called for. This time a beautifully besuited young chap whose smile belied the power he had to make your day an absolute fucking nightmare with just one phone call. “How long have you been in Bahrain, Sir?” The use of ‘Sir’ in a five star hotel is mandatory and is often said with seeming sincerity. The use of ‘sir’ by anyone whose services you have not asked or paid for can be a precursor to “walk this way” “may I have your passport” and “I vill ask ze questions”. In the same way that you just know that the wonderful, hedonistic, reckless, short but erotic experience you are currently enjoying will be followed by years of regret, servitude, a large mortgage and a slow descent into decrepitude spent alone in your own hovel, then you just know ‘sir’ can be the gateway to sorrow, pain and repentance.
Turns out that I was checking in on the 14th Day. The rules state I was to have 14 days of quarantine in Bahrain before being allowed to fly into Jeddah. So, a minor discussion with Saudi officials in an office somewhere to check what 14 days actually means resulted in a decision that 14 days means…14 days. Not 13 and most of 14 days. Not 13 days, 23 hours and 15 minutes. I already knew this. So did the company that booked my flight out of Bahrain. But we don’t count. In the end the only things that count is what officialdom thinks count.
Arguing with officialdom is as useless an enterprise as Canute’s tide bending exploits, the Charge of the Light Brigade or expecting a coherent answer from the orange skinned Ex President of the United States. What Trump shared with officialdom is that they can both be factually wrong in your eyes, but it matters not one tiny jot.
As I stood awaiting the answer, I overheard a ‘discussion’ at the next check in desk between…yes, a Brit and the Gulf Air check in official. It was not necessary to hear exactly what was being said, suffice to note the rising volume and pulsing neck veins. The sense of jeopardy started to increase. I foresaw a consulate being contacted, letters to MPs and a family mourning the disappearance of a much loved father, husband and beer mat collector.
My decision came through. It seems that they agreed with my assessment of the situation in that although I was checking in on the 11th hour of the 14th day, that because the flight was at 0230 on the 15th Day, I had indeed spent 14 whole days in Bahrain. It’s great when there is agreement on such basics as calendar interpretation and simple sums. Suffice to say, all papers were in order and off I went.
As for my neighbour, well it seems all was fine in the end and he strolled through to the next step of security.
As we left, I thought I saw the Gulf Air chap wave away two burly policemen, batons at the ready, who turned with, I swear, a disappointed look on their faces.
Such are the things one sees in transit.
4 thoughts on ““I say, you there…””
Ha ha so true.
Love it- keep them coming dear boy!
“ You must remember that they are armed with batons, boots and lubricant.” 😄
Yet another belter mate. I too have experienced the fear and intimidation you vividly describe. I lived this one with you.
I was only exaggerating a teeny bit. it was a bit arse clenching for a moment!