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Notional security

My sister and her family came over from Norway and stayed with me over the weekend. They bought loads of things—books, clothes, cosmetics, and some toys for her husband's two young sons from his first marriage. They'd been in Camden, and got two tiny plastic elaborately curved Chinese-looking "blades", and two three-inch-long solid pewter Walther PPKs. (Look, they're boys, they love toy guns, and they would be able to do more damage with a whoopee cushion.)

At Heathrow tonight they were detained by security on the grounds that they were attempting to board a plane with weapons in their hand luggage. (Incidentally, the plastic will have shown up as plastic on the scanner, and the "guns" as entirely solid.) Their initial fear was gradually supplanted by a sense of how idiotic the whole situation was, a sense exacerbated by the fact that when the police had failed to turn up fifteen minutes after they'd been summoned by security, the "would-be terrorists" were allowed to go free and board the plane after all (although their luggage will only join them tomorrow). What's so fucking secure about that, then?

I have a cousin who is a nun. People who know me but didn't know that: Hello! She belongs to an order which (like many) demands that you surrender all personal items but one, and don't accrue any more. One of the elderly nuns had elected to keep a pair of nail scissors, the only remaining piece of a manicure set she had been given as a small child, and thus of great sentimental value. Then, one day a couple of years ago, this short, elderly nun was about to embark on a flight out of Heathrow, taking her nail scissors with her.

Now she doesn't have any personal items.

And what about the parents who were detained and nearly charged over the miniature Peter Pan plastic-bow-and-rubber-arrow kits for their small children—what goes through these security guards' heads? "Peter Pan... wait, Peter Pan can fly... my God, they're planning to bring down the plane then fly to safety... Arrest them!"

All this is as much for public reassurance as it is for actual security, but when I hear about incidents like these I'm forced to admit I'm not particularly reassured. When I hear they've successfully detected explosives in a moron's shoe, or they've spotted a grenade in a Venezuelan jihadi's suitcase before it falls out and rolls along the floor, then I can proudly pin on my "I'm Reassured!" badge. But otherwise, airport security, bloody leave the toys alone.

(I have to admit, one of the reasons I'm so pissed off about this incident is that I feel fractionally responsible: my sister showed me these toys yesterday, and while I marvelled at their shoddy design and at how exotic gifts can seem when all they've done is cross a stretch of water, the thought that they could get my sister, her husband and their nine-year-old daughter held in custody and interrogated by Wing-Commander Plod never even entered my head.)

Related item from the future: The 7 Dumbest Things Ever Done By Airport Security



( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 18th, 2005 08:55 am (UTC)
What damage could you do with a whoopee cushion?
May. 18th, 2005 03:21 pm (UTC)
Just one of the questions we're hoping to answer at the Miles Institute summer camp!
May. 18th, 2005 03:23 pm (UTC)
Probably as much damage as one of those novelty grenades. You know, like the ones you have on your desk.
May. 18th, 2005 03:37 pm (UTC)
Just like the novelty babies.
May. 18th, 2005 03:41 pm (UTC)
You don't let the novelty baby play with the novelty grenades. But you do let the real baby play with the real grenades.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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