Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Postcard from Lisbon 4

There was a bit of a to-do when we tried to pass through the check-in desk at Bristol Airport. We generally try to fly with hand-luggage only, and in the past have understood this to mean "one cabin-sized bag or trundler*, plus one moderately-sized handbag or shoulder-bag".  Not on EasyJet, however, it seems.

To be fair, the EasyJet luggage restrictions do say "one piece of hand-luggage only", and I did point this out to my partner and daughter when I read it.  Nah, they scoffed, that means "one piece of hand-luggage AND a handbag" -- it always does!  Nevertheless, I obediently packed one trundler, and they packed a trundler and a bag each.

Our flight was called, and we joined the boarding queue at the gate.  When our turn came, the EasyJet person said, "One bag only!  All things must go in one bag!  One bag!"  There was no arguing the case -- the person was impervious to my partner's industrial-grade sarcasm and scorn -- and there was a frantic five minutes scrunching, bending and stuffing things into the trundlers, including the other two bags.

Later in the week, chatting with my daughter about the way travel regulations have changed over the years -- remember currency restrictions? -- I recounted the Futon Incident of 1980.

We had flown to the West Coast of the USA, to stay for a few weeks with a friend and her American husband in Oakland, California.  Neither of us had been to the States before, and it was quite an adventure, not least because of the perpetual feeling of déjà vu derived from having watched countless American TV shows and movies, and the tricky differences in vocabulary (try asking for "twenty Marlboro" in an American store and see what you get).  Not to mention the sound of gunfire at night as locals shot out the streetlights, or the occasional low-grade earth-tremor.

Shopping in Berkeley, we spotted a shop selling hand-made Japanese roll-up mattresses, otherwise known as a futon.  We had to have one: no-one in England could yet buy such a thing, and their comfort, convenience and health-giving properties were legendary.  So we ordered a lovely deep-blue cotton-filled futon, in ordinary double-bed size.

Shortly before flying home, we collected our futon.  After we had checked it over, the thing was rolled up tightly for us, tied, wrapped in black plastic and securely taped up.  We left the shop carrying it between us, one at each end of a sagging, six-foot black sausage.  We must have made a curious sight, walking into the customs and passport check area of the San Francisco international terminal, carrying what to any objective observer would appear to be a human body wrapped for disposal.

We were approached by a customs official.  Could he see our passports, please?  And might he ask what was in the package?  Oh what, this package?  Yes, that package.  We gave him the story about the futon.  He was unconvinced, and uttered the immortal, but ominous words, "I see.  Do you smoke marijuana, Mr. Chisholm?"

Now, I suffer from Smart Mouth Syndrome.  It has landed me in trouble many times, but like any sufferer of a troublesome syndrome, I have acquired strategies over the years to help me out.  I needed help, because the following responses were already queuing up in my brain like aircraft awaiting permission to land:

A. "Of course I smoke marijuana, you dolt, but do you honestly think I'd walk into San Francisco airport lugging 30 pounds of the stuff barely concealed inside a mattress?  Do I look like an idiot?"

B. "Narcotics??  I am amazed and insulted that you would even suggest such a thing! Do I look like a dope-fiend?  I demand an apology!"

C. "Is that some fancy Mexican brand of cigarette?  I'm a Golden Virginia man, myself!  Though I've been enjoying your Marlboro brand during my stay here.  Hey, listen, have you ever asked for twenty Marlboro?  No?  No, I don't suppose you would have -- no-one seems to sell cigarettes in packs of 10 over here, so why would you even think of doing that?  Well, we do, and I did, and I got given two cartons of ten packs!  Heh!  How about that?  Two nations divided by a common language, or what? Whoa, is that gun real?"

But instead I used Oblique Strategy No. 1:  play dumb.  I can do dumb very well, and it generally works for me.  Luckily it worked for him, too, but I could see he was sorely tempted to slash open the contents of our "package" just to be sure.  No-one wants to be the guy who let a six-foot long black-plastic wrap containing 30 pounds of prime weed walk onto a plane to London.  Hey, they said it was a Japanese roll-up mattress!

Oh, and then we got into how much we'd paid for the thing, and very nearly landed in some really hot water.  As I said, remember currency restrictions?

And that, child, is why your mother and I always travel with hand-luggage only.  Makes for a faster get-away.

* I'm never sure whether "trundler" is our family coinage, or a generally-understood term for a rigid, wheeled suitcase with a collapsible handle.  I'm afraid that, like most parents, we have inadvertently saddled our kids with some non-standard, private vocabulary that can, from time to time, cause them acute embarrassment.  Sorry!

No comments: