Delayed reactions

Stag weekends are traditionally repositories of events of the ‘what goes on the road, stays on the road’ category. They occur, embarrass, and then are slowly manipulated as the group folklore goes into overdrive, turning what was a relatively trite incident into the great escape. In fact, the point of a stag do is to generate stories which can be returned to at the wedding in conspiratorial fashion by those who attended, if only to lend the party an air of greater manliness. After all, a bunch of thirty and forty-somethings going for a curry and a few clubs after a day’s ‘activity’ is really quite daring. But, part of the joy of the stag do is the hangover – the delayed reaction which tells you you must have had a good time. And if you’re lucky, some sort of altercation with the police.

The ‘do’ itself was quite standard. A bunch of not really lads any more have dinner, spend a day quad-biking and clay pigeon shooting and getting unfeasibly muddy, then have dinner again and hit the clubs in Newcastle where they behave as if they were far younger and better looking, before eventually fragmenting and pouring themselves back into their guest house.

Now, police stories tend to start with the sudden realisation of a misdemeanour following the initial protestations of innocence, just as a hangover always seems to wait until you’re convinced you’ve escaped before creeping over the horizon with its dull ache … here, the hangover was the brush with the authorities, and boy, was it delayed. So delayed, in fact, that it hit me several months after the actual wedding!

It was December of last year, while I was travelling to San Francisco. I was neatly bearded, hair down, wearing a white, hippyish shirt – the check-in guy at Gatwick simply said ‘it’s Frank Zappa!’ I was in Charlotte, South Carolina. I had cleared customs, re-packed and was in the long security line for the internal flight. I had joked with the security guards, talked shop with a fellow queue-ee, and all was well. Then, however, things became strange. After my hand luggage has gone through the machine, I’m about to pick it up when I’m directed into the holding pen. For those of you who have yet to have this delightful experience, it’s a perspex corridor slap-bang in the middle of everything. They stick you in, and you feel like a sheep being dipped. I just thought to myself, well, I guess I do look a little like a muslim …

Then, nothing. No instructions, zip. Nada. I’m about to walk out (thinking I may have been meant to do this all along, when a security man opens the door, and gestures that I should bear right. At this point, I hear those delightful words, ‘it’s the full monty for this one’ (was I meant to start dancing to Diana Ross?), and I’m pointed at a desk to the left with two rather more serious-looking guards.

Naturally, much goes through one’s head at this point, and quite plainly, the tight-sphinctered fear of, well, not having quite so tight a sphincter quite soon.

They ask me whether I’d like the interview to be carried out in private. They wouldn’t, surely? Not in public? Public, public, public … there will be no rubber gloves.

So, smiler no. 1 asks me a bunch of questions while smiler no. 2 takes my stuff and swabs it and rootles about. Now, I’m actually unconcerned, so when they’re about to search my bag and ask if I have any drugs in there, I say yes. Sudden, serious, stoney face. Prescription! I blurt. Do I have the prescription, they as? Of course not, but I explain what they’re for, and that they can google it if they fancy checking (they look suspicious when I mention it), before pointing out the problem with not taking them (see ‘side effects’, forthcoming). They acquiesce.

What’s your connecting flight? They enquire. I state. Well, you’ll be missing that, sir.

This as the machine goes ‘beep’. Not loudly, but almost malevolently. Smiler no. 2 has swabbed my boots. He doesn’t look happy. In fact, they both look as if they’re preparing to restrain me. This doesn’t look good.

I rather nervously say ‘oh, I know what you’ve found … gunpowder on my boots’. They ask more questions, I explain about the stag do, the quad bikes, my boots, the clay shooting (or skeets, as it is there). Smiler no. 1 seems happier with this manly talk of shooting things, before his demeanour drops again. No, sir. Not gunpowder.

Well, I say, what was it. If I know what it is we may be able to work out where it’s from.

‘It’s not the kind of thing a professor of english literature would understand’, say smiler 1, plainly thinking my story is rather dodgy, and …

Smiler no. 2 says something like ‘we’ve found pete on the boots’, and, trying not to giggle at the idea of their finding traces on me on my boots, I recognise the term, and am about to say ‘how on earth did …’ when he says, simply, ‘plastic explosives. Can you explain why there are traces of plastic explosive on your boots, sir?’ Hmm. This in not good. Visions of guantanamo waft over me, alongside the certainty of my being arrested, and if I’m lucky, merely never being allowed in the states again.

They interrogate me further, finally decide I’m straight up, and I’m soon running for my flight. It seems funny now, but at the time I was, well, perturbed would be a reasonable word which fails to come anywhere close!

As with life, there simply are things beyond our control. They simply appear, grinning, quite often hefting a piece of 4×2 … and do what they will. There’s no point in complaining, whining, or moping. Roll with it. You have no choice.

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