Adrian Sturrock: ‘The best way to defeat terrorism? Take away everybody’s shoes’

     ‘Thank you for your cooperation,’ says bag x-ray man, having, in my opinion, frisked me a little more than comprehensively. To be honest, I’m feeling slightly violated. ‘Have a pleasant journey,’ he says, as he finishes touching my trousers, and steps away.

     ‘Phone me,’ I mouth, glancing back at him as Nat drags me from the scene. I’m miming at him the placing of my phone to my ear. Sarcasm without words. I’m quite proud of myself.

     ‘It’s always you who gets frisked,’ she says. ‘Every time.’

     ‘You say that as though I put in a request along with our booking,’ I say. ‘… In other news, do you think I have a terrorist’s face?’ I catch my reflection in the chrome pillars to our right.

     ‘I’m not sure what a terrorist’s face looks like,’ she says, ‘but you clearly have a face that courts suspicion at airports.’

     ‘I’ll take that as a compliment,’ I say, thinking that maybe I do stand out in a crowd after all.

* * * * * * * *

Suspicious that I might still have more to say to the security officials who appear perched on either side of us like a row of jaded chancers surveying potential prey, Nat takes the black plastic tray containing my hand luggage, electricals, wristwatch and stated pieces of clothing from the conveyor belt of the x-ray system and places it firmly into my hands before using it as a handle with which to waddle me speedily away from the area. I say waddle because my belt is still sitting in the tray, forcing me to walk with a much wider gait than usual, lest my trousers falls down. I’m wondering whether anyone can see my underpants at this point. I’m also wondering which ones I put on this morning. I hope they’re nice ones, just in case.

     ‘Style it out, baby,’ Nat says to me, ‘Style it out.’

     Eventually, she parks us in a corner of the room and places my tray on a high stool so that I can collect up my things.

     ‘Why did you do that?’ I ask. I look at her, then back at the x-ray machine man, then back at her.

     ‘In case you were about to start up a conversation that you might come to regret,’ she says.

     ‘I was only going to say that if I was thinking of becoming a terrorist threat, there are a number of ways in which I could probably outsmart security.’

     ‘Exactly.’

     ‘Just because I have a container that says Aqua de Gio on the bottle, it doesn’t mean that I actually have Aqua de Gio in the bottle.’ I’m holding up the little plastic pouch that the airport provides for all flight passengers to cram their cosmetics, toiletries and various other bits and pieces into. Aqua de Gio is my new perfume; a Christmas present from Nat. I quite like it.

   ‘Yes, I know,’ she says, ‘they probably make a fortune out of handing out little plastic bags while stealing all of our possessions that don’t fit into them, in order to make us re-buy the same things in the pretend duty-free shops.’

     ‘Bastards,’ I say.

     ‘Bastards, indeed,’ she concurs.

     We are now standing in WH Smiths. It’s pretty much the first shop that we come to as we enter what used to be called Duty Free. These days, there is no discernible difference in price between items bought here and any other captive-audience rip-off retail opportunity, except that, here, they also want to see my boarding card before accepting payment.

     ‘Why do you want to see my boarding card?’ I ask, knowing that Nat is currently in some other part of the shop, with my boarding card tucked safely in her bag.

     ‘It’s the rules, sir,’ says the check-out guy.

     ‘Whose rules?’ I ask.

     ‘I don’t know, it’s just the rules,’ he says.

     ‘It’s a bit intrusive, don’t you think, demanding to know where I’m about to run off to with a copy of Esquire magazine?’

     ‘It’s just the … rules.’

     ‘And if I say No?’

     ‘Then I’m not allowed to serve you, sir.’

     ‘So, for the sake of finding out where Sean Penn sits in this year’s list of ‘Best Dressed Men’ (I point to the picture on the magazine’s front cover) I am required to forfeit personal information about myself? Do you not sense a certain unreasonableness about this?’

     ‘Just get on with it,’ says the man queuing behind me.

     I turn around. ‘It’s your rights I’m fighting for too,’ I say. ‘As Malcolm X said, “A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything”.’

     ‘What are you talking about?’

     ‘… I don’t know, I don’t think that was the quote I was looking for.’ I turn back to the checkout guy. ‘Anyway, I think this is a breach of GDPR.’

     ‘I wouldn’t know about that,’ he says.

     ‘How much is it? Here, take this.’ Nat has found me amongst the commotion of the queue and hands over her boarding pass and her credit card for my magazine.

     ‘Thank you, miss,’ says the checkout guy.

     As he bags my purchase, Nat turns to me and whispers, ‘I may very well decide to become a Miss if you continue to make a scene wherever we go.’

     ‘Do you think I look pretty today?’ I ask.

     She stops and glares at me, but her glare doesn’t last long and soon turns into a smile. ‘Yes,’ she says, ‘you look pretty today.’

     I turn to the man behind me in the queue. ‘I look pretty today,’ I say.

     Nat takes back her boarding card and my magazine and leads me out of the shop. ‘Let’s find somewhere to sit,’ she says.

     ‘Why did you pay for my magazine?’ I ask. ‘I was about to refuse it on ethical grounds.’

     ‘Well, it was partly because I know you actually want it, and partly so that your mouth doesn’t have to keep moving when we get on the plane. Now I come to think of it, it was mostly the second reason.’

     ‘I see how it is,’ I say.

* * * * * * * *

I’ve told everybody that we are flying to Andalusia. I’ve said Andalusia because if I say Costa del Sol anybody reading this will automatically think of high-rise apartments, English bars (and Irish ones), and the tourist triteness that Nat and I take great pains to avoid at all costs.

     Once on the plane, Nat passes me my magazine.

     I point to the picture of Sean Penn on the cover. ‘He was great in Dead Man Walking,’ I say.

     ‘He’s pretty good in all his movies,’ says Nat.

     ‘Yes, but any actor who can make me feel so acutely sorry for a murderer and rapist gets my vote.’

     ‘Tea or coffee, sir?’ asks a concerned-looking hostess whom, I fear, may have caught only the last pieces of that sentence.

     I decide to move us on from this unfortunate tableau as quickly as possible. ‘Did you know that Semtex now comes in pastel shades?’ I say.

     Nat kicks my ankle. ‘What did we agree before we left this morning?’

     ‘I, Um, do you have a hot chocolate?’ I ask the hostess. ‘And maybe a Twix?’

* * * * * * * *

On the day of our return, I do my usual reconnaissance of the airport, dreaming up ways to circumvent security (much as I have done since I entered my first airport, aged thirteen), only to be picked on by security because of a loose bottle of Aqua de Gio that is sitting in my hand luggage. I’d forgotten to put it into the appropriate little plastic bag.

     ‘For security purposes,’ our new X-ray man tells me.

     He directs me to a coin machine where I can now purchase two plastic bags for one Euro. Not wishing to be parted from my Aqua de Gio, I comply, though I don’t have any change on me so Nat now has to help rescue the same perfume that she has already spent good money purchasing for me.

     I thank her, but also feel the need to enquire how me putting my Aqua de Gio into a little plastic bag will render the 300 passengers on our easyJet flight to Malaga somehow safer. I can’t help wondering why the UK spent £222 billion on defence last year when a job-lot of little plastic bags would have sufficed. Someone’s taking a generous back-hander, I think to myself.

     ‘These are the rules,’ he tells me.

     ‘There’s a lot of rules,’ I say, though I don’t point out the questionable nature of this lunacy, partly because I’m in good spirits after a week away from the bland worlds of work and British weather, and partly because I’m standing in my socks on a cold tiled airport floor while holding my trousers up because my belt is currently busy saving the world from terrorism, in a black plastic tray, in an X-ray machine, in front of me.

* * * * * * *

 

 

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Adrian Sturrock: For obvious reasons, I’m publishing this article on a Sunday.

There is a place called Hell in Norway. And every winter it freezes over. It’s a small village of only 1,589 people, which leads me to believe that all those threats I received at Sunday School as a child were mostly exaggeration, and that you have to do something pretty fucking extreme to be sent to Hell. To learn this in later life, I’m filled with both relief and the feeling that I’d been played all those years ago.

* * * * * * * * 

As one might expect, Hell has a retirement home (read ‘has’, not ‘is’), as well as a petrol station, a grocery store, and a fast food stand for passing truckers. There really isn’t a lot to do here! Most significant, however, is that Hell’s railway station is not an end-of-line stop. A sign on its outbuilding reads, ‘Gods-expedition’, an archaic spelling of the Norwegian, ‘goods handling’.

As temperatures can be as low as -25 degrees in winter, one might be forgiven for assuming that sitting in the waiting room of Hell’s station would amount to purgatory, but, as everybody knows, Purgatory is in the United States. Maine, to be precise. (According to TripHobo, there is ‘little to do in Purgatory. It is a small place which is generally used as a rest stop before moving on to better things.’ Pretty much text book then!)

Unsurprisingly – and as I’d already secretly suspected – they play the Blues in Hell. The ‘Hell Blues Festival’ started in 1992 before being changed to the ‘Hell Music Festival’ in 2006, in an attempt to attract a more eclectic crowd. The result of this, only one year later, was bankruptcy. (Not even Goths go to Hell, it seems.) The following year, ‘Blues in Hell’ was re-instated and success returned as Hell reconnected with its true demographic. Last year, British singer/songwriter Jo Harman headlined here. (Having been born in Luton, Hell must have been an almost ‘back-to-the-womb’ experience for her.)

Those who know me understand that I’m not a fan of Blues music. In fact, I place it alongside war crimes and Morris Dancing in my list of ‘Under-No-Circumstances’. However, at a squeeze, I’d still place Blues above the questionable genre of Church Hymns, which leaves me in somewhat of a dilemma regarding my preferred afterlife destination. (Have you noticed how AC/DC fans can instinctively sing along to the entire back catalogue, while church-goers who attend their event every single week still need the hymn books? There is definitely a point to be made here.)

* * * * * * * *

One of the benefits of living in the 21st Century is that one no longer has to rely on biblical supposition when it comes to the realities of Hell – not now that Hell has its own listing on Trip Advisor. A simple click of the computer mouse will tell you that Hell “wasn’t as hot as I thought it would be” and that “the train station […] is only serviced if you flag the train down.” This latter point, I feel, throws up its own existential questions.

The problem with Hell, of course, is fundamentally an ethical one: that its existence for the punishment of souls is inconsistent with a just, moral, and omnibenevolent God. On the other hand, according to lifeinnorway.com, “despite its proximity to the E6 motorway and an international airport, the village itself is remarkably peaceful. Typical Scandinavian wooden houses, well-kept gardens, lots of cyclists, kids playing in the streets: not what I expected at all!” As some schools of theological thought define Hell as specific to the individual (rather like Orwell’s Room 101), perhaps this particular town is set aside for those whose idea of torture is a recurring suburbia.

If this is not your Hell, however, don’t forget that there’s another one in Michigan, USA, another in California, another in Montana, and further Hells in Slovenia and Grand Cayman. They’ve even installed one on the moon, a lunar crater named after Maximillian Hell. Just like the song, Hell really is all around. (I am, of course, paraphrasing.)

I looked to see if Hell, Norway © has been internationally twinned with any other towns but, as yet, there haven’t been any takers despite the fact that the town can boast the honour of having produced the 1990 winner of both Miss Norway and Miss Universe (though I’m not sure how ‘The Beauty Queen from Hell’ reads on the world stage).

Hell doesn’t have a lake of fire but it does have a river and, until 1995, there was a highway to Hell, but it now goes around the village instead. And for those of you who have ever laid awake wondering, Hell is actually 14 metres above sea level. Now, that’s something the Apostles neglected to mention. 

* * * * * * * *

 

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Adrian Sturrock: Extract from ‘THE SAT NAV DIARIES’

Chapter 5 – Feeling Jung in Kesswil – (Kesswil, Switzerland)

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 Today we enter Switzerland, home to watchmaking, chocolate and assisted suicide. I’m wondering what to take back for the relatives.

     Having left Strasbourg relatively early this morning and having now crossed into Germany, we enjoy a far too brief scenic drive through the edges of the stunningly imposing Black Forest. I’m wishing I’d uploaded some equally imposing Wagner onto my iPod as an apt soundtrack to this section of road. Instead, I am destined to listen to my wife repeating the German for ‘black forest gateaux’ over and over again—she tells me she learned the phrase at school and likes the sound of it, apparently.

     Eventually the terrain flattens out a little—as does her enthusiasm for orating the name of said dessert—which she’s been doing in a variety of voices—and we arrive at the Swiss border. Our next job is to buy a vignette, a compulsory road-tax display disc for driving on main Swiss highways. I enter the official roadside building and approach the desk to pay my forty Euros but am instantly made to feel like a child as an officious sounding man in a military hat tells me off for queuing at the wrong desk.

     ‘This is the desk for people leaving Switzerland,’ he barks. ‘Go to that desk.’ He points, equally officiously, to another desk behind me.

     This seems strange. Surely, if I were driving from Switzerland into Germany, I would now be on the other side of the motorway and ‘this desk’ would be on the wrong side of the road.

     ‘Somebody should tell that guy that he’s on the wrong side of the road, then,’ I reply, pointing to Desk One. ‘Though let him down gently,’I add, leaning in a little and lowering my voice, I’m sure he’ll feel quite silly when he realises.’

     I leave Mr Military Man glaring at me as I turn and approach the other desk.

     I buy my vignette and return to the car. I now feel very European with my shiny red Swiss tax disc adorning my windscreen. I am happy and excited. I’ve never been to Switzerland before.

     ‘The man in the traffic shop wasn’t very nice,’ I tell Nat.

     ‘Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte,’ she replies.

     ‘Yeah, you’re probably right.’

     I reach for my iPod. It’s playing ‘Take Five’ by Dave Brubeck. We merge into the traffic and make our way to our first Swiss destination.

* * * * * * * *

It’s late afternoon by the time we reach Kesswil. I’m not impressed. It’s bland and grey and nothing like the Swiss movie that has been playing in my head all day.

     ‘So, where’s the friggin’ cow bells?’

     Nat is currently failing to convince me that Switzerland is beautiful.

     In guidebook speak, Kesswil is a municipality in the district of Arbon in the canton of Thurgau. In road trip speak, it is an almost adequately placed rest stop for the night, before the new excitements of tomorrow. All I really know about it as we enter the town is that it is the birthplace of Karl Jung. And it has a lake.

     As Bernice (our sat nav—keep up!) takes us along the final road to our destination for the evening, we are slightly confused to see only residential houses. No hotel.

     ‘Ah, yes,’ says Nat, ‘maybe this one is the B&B I booked.’

     ‘What? Why a B&B?’ I ask.

     ‘It was cheaper,’ she says. ‘You said keep it cheap so that we could have two nights in St Moritz.’

     Damn, I did say that, though I was thinking cheaper hotel. I don’t reply, as we have now arrived on somebody’s driveway.

     ‘Okay, you knock on the door while I grab the bags,’ I say, as I switch the engine off.

     ‘Why don’t you knock?’

     ‘Because you know the German for black forest gateaux?’

     She looks blankly at me.

     ‘Well … it’s a start,’ I offer.

     I hand her the paperwork and move to get out of the car, my gesture intended to imply both conclusion and agreement on this matter.

     By the time I’ve retrieved our bags from the boot, locked the car and started to walk towards the front of the house, Nat has managed to drag her feet just far enough to reach the door alongside me. She rings the doorbell, but even before she has time to take her finger from the button, the door is opened by a tall, elderly man with an implausibly fixed smile.

     Eerie.

     We look at each other, and then turn our attention back to who we assume to be our new host.

     ‘Hallo.’

     ‘Hello,’ replies Nat, ‘we have a reservation for this evening?’

     Behind his smile, he clearly doesn’t understand much English. I move to step in when, suddenly …. No, not suddenly. What happens next is too weird for a mere suddenly. What happens next is that Nat, my wife—whom I have lived with for six years, been married to for nearly five—inexplicably bursts into fluent German. As if this is the most natural thing to do when in a German speaking country.

     ‘Wir haben eines reservierung für diesen abend.‘

     I have no idea what is taking place now. My mind has just pressed pause on the day, and I’m watching a random scene unfold in front of me—as though I’m watching television. But my wife is on this show. And she’s been dubbed into German. And I don’t understand a thing. When the hell did my wife learn to speak German?

     ’When the hell did you learn to speak German?’ I spit out.

     ‘Shh!’ she says and continues to discuss our documentation with Mr B&B.

     Once they have concluded their commerce, the man’s smile turns to me. I decide to sidestep the language barrier by offering a very safe ‘Hi’ and holding out my right hand for a friendly handshake. It is at this point that Mr B&B holds out his left hand. This is because, I quickly realise, he has no right hand. Or right arm. I take a step forward to distract from my slight of hand as I quickly swap, um, hands. And voilà(French, you know!), no harm is done. We have successfully greeted. Sometimes, I am very proud of my quick thinking.

     ‘I think that went well,’ I whisper to Nat as we are led indoors to be greeted by Mrs B&B, who is approaching us along the passageway. She now takes over and efficiently introduces us to the dog and the television—in that order.

     We follow Mrs B&B upstairs as Mr B&B returns to the living room where, presumably, he had come from. She is turning to speak to me at almost every step. I have absolutely no idea what she is saying but she is smiling and laughing a lot so I assume they are happy things. On the other hand, I quickly begin to irritate myself by repeating the word ‘Cool’ to everything she says. I try to answer with other things but my default setting appears to be stuck.

     ‘Cool … yeah, cool … Ha! Cool …’ God, I need a new strategy for these kinds of situations.

     I’m a little relieved when Nat whispers to me that she doesn’t understand Mrs B&B either.

     ‘She’s talking too fast,’ she whispers, ‘and I’m not sure of her dialect.’

     It puts me at ease to have someone on this side of the confusion again.

     Mrs B&B is, however, picking up on the language barrier. But where she could simply have handed us the keys to the door and wished us good luck (as I would have preferred), she chooses instead to persevere through the medium of mime.

     Firstly, she introduces us to the bed, the bathroom, the balcony and the wardrobe (with its open-and-close doors), all of which we can clearly see from where we are standing in the room. I want to inform her that we now have bathrooms and wardrobes in the UK, but I consider that Nat would probably tell me off, so I stay silent. There is also the fact that I don’t speak German, of course—unlike my wife, the MI6 spy. (I will clearly need to discuss this with her later.)

     I think that Mrs B&B is now going to leave, but she hasn’t finished yet. In her attempt to make us feel at home, she has switched on the TV and is kindly—and rather frantically—flipping buttons, eagerly trying to find us an English-speaking channel. She is getting visibly frustrated by this search. So am I.

     Eventually landing on an American music channel, she smiles and puts the handset down in order to next introduce us to her A4 wipe-clean breakfast menu.

     And this is my next out-of-body experience of this trip. I can hardly hear her over the volume of the rap channel she has chosen for us and as she points to pictures of various sausages on the menu, her words are drowned out by the Afro-Caribbean gentleman on the television warning me about how he is going to ‘fuck up my hoe’ (though I believe other gardening tools are available).

     My mind is flitting between feigned interest in what Mrs B&B is failing to communicate to me and a clutch (I shall use this collective term) of black ‘booty’ being enthusiastically wobbled at me—presumably for my pleasure—on the screen beside her.

     Mrs B&B is fast becoming Mrs R&B, I feel.

     And then yet another out-of-body experience kicks in. While I have been having my previous WTF experience, her conversation has clearly moved on (to the shower temperature, Nat later tells me), and while Mr Rapper off of the TV goes into detail about which way up he prefers his ‘bitches’, Mrs B&B is standing in this same room that I am meant to be sleeping in this evening, with one hand raised above her head and the other rubbing her chest as she wriggles (seemingly to the music) while repeating ‘douche … douche …’ I am making a mental note to sleep with the light on tonight.

     By the time we have completed our full induction to our stay and finalised breakfast arrangements, Nat has found Treasure Hunt on TV. I resign myself to retrieving the final suitcase from the car.

     ‘Well done,’ she says, as we settle down to a coffee on the little sofas by the window.

     ‘What for?’ I ask.

     ‘For saying nothing during all of that.’

     ‘How do you know I had anything to say?’

     She smiles as though she has been reading my mind the whole time. ‘Well done,’ she repeats.

     ‘So, just out of interest,’ I add, ‘of all the serial killer couples you have ever heard of/met (delete as appropriate), which couple did we just meet?’

     ‘Fred and Rose West,’ she says, without even slight hesitation.

     ‘I think Jung had something when he talked about collective consciousness,’ I reply.

     ‘I don’t want to frighten you,’ she says, but did you notice that the balcony is shared by both our patio doors and Fred and Rose’s?’ She points.

     ‘Luckily, we have been blessed by that screamingly loud freight train track just a twenty foot suicide jump from the balcony. I feel this will probably remind us to shut—and lock—the patio doors before we sleep.’

     I suggest we beat Fred and Rose at their own game by appearing silhouetted against their glass doors at 3am, dressed as The Shining twins. We both like this idea, but it is now raining outside and so, instead, decide to venture out to the small lakeside restaurant we’d passed earlier.

     Despite a great view of sunset over the lake, all foods at the restaurant taste of vinegar. So we settle back down at Fred and Rose’s, excited about the coolday we have planned for tomorrow.

* * * * * * * *

Breakfast is conducted totally in German. It is here that we meet the only other couple presently staying at the B&B. They seem nice. Nat dips in and out of the conversation (using her sudden fluency in German) while helping me along as she might a special needs child she has been put in charge of. The actual child in me is quite pleased when the guy from the other couple suddenly explodes his boiled egg over himself as he tries to cut into it. I don’t know, somehow this helps level the field a little.

     I notice that yesterday’s wipe-clean breakfast menu was more of a survey than an order, as there is little relationship between what I’d previously ticked and what is now laying on my plate. I’m not overly bothered though, as I’m excited about getting back on the road. Today, we are heading into the Alps.

* * * * * * * *

I finish packing up the car while Nat settles the bill with our hosts. As I re-enter the house to say goodbye, I find that she and Rose are engaged in some kind of mutual disagreement. I’m not too sure what the issue is. I look over at Fred. He is still sat at the breakfast table where we’d left him, though now he is waving a pastry at me.

     I eventually get the gist of the situation. Rose is asserting that we had not pre-paid 30% of the total charge. However, the printed details that Nat is waving at her asserts (unfortunately in English only) that we have.

     We conclude that being the difference isn’t a lot in terms of Sterling, and being that the language barrier is evidently too large to allow clear establishment of business understanding here—and, as I quietly assert to my wife while nodding in the direction of the living room, one should never fuck with a one-armed Swiss pensioner wielding a croissant—we duly pay the difference, and I start the car.

     Nat offers to drive this next section of the journey, and so I’m free to settle into the passenger seat, check the music, and start to enjoy the slowly evolving scenery.

     Soon, we are back on the motorway.

     ‘What are you eating?’ she asks, after a few moments.

     I’m about to answer but she cuts me off …

     ‘That’s Fred’s croissant, isn’t it.’ There is an accusatory tone in her voice.

     ‘Well I wasn’t sure if he was threatening me with it or just offering me something for the journey. I didn’t want to offend him so …’

     I tail off as Nat’s face starts to turn to a warm smile. Next stop is Davos.

* * * * * * * *

 

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IF YOU ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE CONSIDER SHARING IT ON YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA PAGES FOR OTHERS TO ENJOY TOO.  (Even us poor writers have to eat!)

YOU CAN ALSO FIND MY TWO CURRENT BOOKS, *Random* AND *The Sat Nav Diaries*  ON AMAZON: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Adrian-Sturrock/e/B07QQDZMKQ?ref=dbs_p_pbk_r00_abau_000000
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