We Have A Problem
My husband took me up the Stubnerkogel last week. That won’t happen again, I can tell you.
It was the cherry on a schnapps-medicated week of icy face-planting, hanging off T-bar lifts like a pig’s carcass on a butcher’s hook, and being carved up by Austria’s Olympic squad at 85% gradients on the longest ski run in the Eastern Alps. Hopefully, some of those speed freaks learnt a new bit of English vocab as they spurted snow in my face at 90 mph.
So I was overjoyed as our taxi dropped us unscathed at Salzburg Airport, and Austrian efficiency swept us to security. Here, having completed our Generation Game-style of speedy tray-loading, in our socks, we entered the body scanner zone. J cleared it no trouble, but I triggered a ping and was called aside by a friendly security lady who stroked my body with her paddle. It was rather nice, actually.
Then, using a metal strip to wipe my fingertips, she slid it into a machine which counted down from 0-100%. It hit a hundred, flashed red, and blared UH-UH! – the Family Fortunes’ WRONG ANSWER sound effect. Raising an eyebrow, the Paddle Lady repeated the process, only for it to happen again. Now the friendliness disappeared.
‘We have a problem,’ she announced. ‘Follow me, please.’
I was led past passengers who had completed security - which included my bemused husband - towards a glass booth in which a member of Austria’s finest sat resplendent in his Politzei uniform, adorned with walkie-talkies, handcuffs, a large baton and a 9mm Glock pistol; he reminded me of a well-fed Donald Sutherland. There was an intense exchange of German between him and the Paddle Lady; clearly I was a subject of concern, although neither one of them made eye contact with me.
I decided to get British and take control.
‘Um … Surely, there’s been some …’ I tried, only for Donald Sutherland to glower down at me from his lofty perch, his eyes bulging over his FFP2 mask. As my now terrified eyes widened over my own mask, the Paddle Lady softened a little.
‘It’ll be okay,’ she almost smiled. ‘Maybe it’s hand cream …’
Yes, yes! It’s fucking Clarins’ fault! I was about to yell. Stuff I’d slavered on all sodding week in a bid to moisturise my poor chilblained husks of hands. Blame their Crème Jeunesse des Mains for trying to bring down a plane!
‘But I guess it’s probably not,’ countered Donald Sutherland, as the Paddle Lady disappeared, and I was left like Oliver Twist stood in front of the Master as he picked up a phone to have another intense exchange about the Semtex-smeared terrorist they’d caught.
J loafed nearby, clearly finding the situation amusing, but I wasn’t; maybe six days of terror had unhinged me, but quite frankly, at that moment, I’d rather have been back up the Stubnerkogel. As I waited, doubts began to sneak in. Was I innocent? Or, in an Aperol Spritz-steeped moment of après-ski madness, had I actually taken part in a bomb-making class?
‘Passport!’ demanded Donald, re-employing the effective not-making-eye-contact-technique. My passport photocopied, it was then put into a machine that gave it a nuclear blue glow. Having commanded me to write out my home address, and instructed an underling to re-x-ray all my items twice, he announced,
‘I am waiting for a colleague to escort you.’
Escort me? Oh, that’ll be for a strip search then, I thought.
‘Can I put my boots on, please?’ I said.
We waited, Donald doing something important at his desk, me in my socks, J trying to reassure his neurotic wife from a distance, until another Politzei arrived – Scarlett Johanssan with a high pony tail. She wasn’t a fan of eye contact either. After another solemn exchange, Donald nodded at me.
‘Please. Go with her.’
Whereupon, with Scarlett and her 9mm Glock pistol flanking me at two metres, I was marched past the flight gates rammed with Moncler-adorned Rafes and Yolandas and their privately-educated offspring, waiting on their flights back to Fulham and Berkshire.
‘Straight ahead,’ instructed Scarlett.
It flashed through my mind that I could get through the sliding doors out onto the tarmac and hide behind a Boeing. But not wanting a bullet in my back (which would have been a bad way to end the week) I kept walking.
Then through Duty Free we went, (which, I noted, had some really nice Guess handbags) I was shadowed downstairs to the ladies’ washroom, where Scarlett instructed me to wash my hands.
Now. Have you ever washed your hands under armed guard? No? Well, I can tell you, at this point, I needed more than a basin, but thought it would look suspicious if I went into a cubicle. Plus, I think Scarlett would have followed me in, which wouldn’t have been pleasant for either of us.
Having washed my hands like Lady Macbeth, I re-trod my walk of shame past the stares and nudges from the British gilet’d-classes to be delivered back to Donald with a curt nod from Scarlett. Then Paddle-Lady was re-summoned who did her body and fingertip stroking on me again, but it wasn’t as nice as the first time. Then she disappeared into a room behind Donald’s glass booth, whereupon we waited for my test result …
After several minutes, Donald frowned, and disappeared into the same room.
I waited. I couldn’t escape, because another Politzei – (Bernard Cribbins) was lurking nearby. Finally, Donald reappeared.
‘We have a problem,’ he said, at last looking me directly in the eye.
Christ, I thought, glancing in fear over at J. Was this goodbye? What were visiting hours like in an Austrian clink?
Then, with a tiny twinkle of his eye, Donald handed me my passport.
‘All clear. Have a nice flight,’ he said.
Bloody hell. Bloody Clarins, I thought. And nice flight? It’s certainly going to be a pissed one, I don’t care if it’s only nine in the morning.
So I was free, but the fact is, having already caused alarm on a previous visit to Austria [see Blog: Virginia’s Rage] I am now officially in Austria’s Federal Police’s criminal system, so I really shouldn’t go back there.
Still, happy days, no more Stubnerkogel for me.