Londoners too sharp to let knife slide by

October 18, 2005|by TIM ROWLAND

Editor's note: Tim Rowland is on vacation. This column was first published Oct. 18, 1999.

If anything, I figured it would be at least Greece, or more likely Turkey, before I got into any trouble. I had no reason to believe I'd get hassled in London, which is of course exactly what happened.

I'd thrown my backpack onto the X-ray conveyor at Gatwick airport, and was waiting absent-mindedly for it to emerge from the other side, when all of a sudden the technician shouted at the top of his lungs "KNIFE!" to which two other operatives also shouted "KNIFE!, KNIFE!" and pounced on my pack like dingoes on a wounded calf.

Intensely, they searched my pack. No knife. They ran it through the machine again. Obvious knife. Another search. No knife.

Slowly, it dawned on me what was happening.

I'd been camping in New York the week before and had included a knife among the camping gear in my pack. But one day on the trail it failed to show up when I needed it, and I assumed the knife had been lost. In fact, it slipped between two layers of nylon, where it was visible to X-ray vision, but not normal vision. Naturally, that made it look not only as if I had a knife, but also as if I were trying to hide the weapon.


Being a professional wordsmith, I decided I could talk my way out of it. "Oh, come to think of it, I bet there IS a knife in there somewhere, ha ha ha. You see, I thought I'd lost it when I was camping last week and, well, I just can't thank you enough for finding it for me because I thought I'd never see ..."

About this time, I saw that all three Brits were staring at me with flat, stony eyes. I've never been particularly talented, but just then I found myself blessed with the ability to read three minds at once and they were all thinking the same thing: "How stupid does this Yankee goober think we are?"

With renewed vigor, they searched the pack again, and this time found the feared dagger - which, incidentally, hadn't seemed to trouble authorities at Dulles or Newark airports. Gotta love the old US of A. The only thing I had to worry about here is that they would have confiscated the knife and melted it down into a gun.

So anyway, this Special Agent BAA-8357 issued a Declaration of Surrender of Prohibited Articles, Serial No. 324606 in quadruplicate, one copy for me, one for the agent, one to be retained with confiscated property and one to go on file in the annals of London crime forever.

"We could destroy this," said Special Agent BAA-8357. "But we'll give it to the flight crew and you can pick it up in Athens."

The only benefit was that the stewardesses gave this crazed, weapon-wielding American a pretty wide berth during the whole flight. I could see them looking at me and whispering behind hands held up to their faces.

Like, "Yes, there's the terrorist, sitting right there in 21-A. They call him Tim the Jackal."

I didn't pick up the knife in Athens. I didn't want it. And, gradually, I forgot it, as for the next two weeks I went on to study the Oracle at Delphi, the site of the ancient wonders at Rhodes and the ruins of Ephesus near the Turkish city of Izmer, and the more modern wonders on the secluded bays on the island of Mykonos.

"Yes," I assured the airline clerk in Athens as I handed her my passport, "it was a fine trip. How remarkable to see the cave where St. John wrote the book of Revelations; what awe to stand on the rock outside the Acropolis where St. Paul stood and beseeched the Athenians to give up their gods for Christ and lay eyes on the same columns he must have lain eyes on 2000 years ago; how wondrous to ..."

"Ah, Meester Ruh-land, I'fe been whaiting for you," smiled this beautiful foreign woman with the exotic accent. "Oh really," I said, instantly deliriously happy.

"Yes," she said. Then, smugly, she held up a quart plastic bag with three stickers and four sheets of paper stapled to it. At the bottom of the bag rested the accursed knife.

"Nakes dime," she cooed, "Dun't boot theese in yar kharry-on bak."

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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