Here's another one of the pictures that Briony unearthed yesterday. It's me, in Jo and Ben's kitchen in Auckland. Perhaps I should explain it. I'll start by explaining The Fearns Rule of Airports, which is my handy rule that I always remind myself of when travelling.
The Fearns Rule of Airports: You are never funny at the airport. No matter how funny you think you are (or actually are), you are not funny at the airport. Nothing you say or do is funny at the airport and everything you say at the airport is taken entirely as an earnest declaration of the truth. At the check-in desk, when they ask if you've packed your bag yourself, there is no funny response. Stating that your cousin Osama helped you is not funny at the airport, and if you attempt to be funny at the airport, the airport will demonstrate how unfunny you are by searching your bottom for drugs or a bomb.
That's The Fearns Rule of Airports. Remember it well, it may keep you out of trouble. Here's the story behind the picture.
The people of New Zealand are rightly protective of their indigenous flora and fauna. As an island nation with many unique species it could be ecologically disastrous if foreign plants or animals were introduced. When you board a plane to New Zealand, this is made abundantly clear to you. When Briony and I checked in for our flight to Auckland at Kuala Lumpur airport we saw many signs telling us not to take fruit, vegetables, plants and animals with us. We were asked at the check-in desk if we were carrying such items. There were announcements over the P.A. system to further remind us. At one point, I turned to Briony and said "Do you get the impression they don't want us to take fruit and veg to New Zealand?" I said it quietly, of course; we were at the airport, after all. When I was changing from my shorts (it was boiling so I left it until the last possible moment) to my jeans, there was even an announcement in the bathroom. We boarded the plane, where they reminded us again. They also reminded us on descent - after spraying everyone in the plane with some sort of antiseptic spray - and on landing.
We entered the airport, there were notices everywhere to remind us that importing fruit, vegetables, plants and animals is illegal. We waited for what seemed an age for our luggage to appear on the carousel - I timed it, it took almost nine fruit, vegetables, plants and animals announcements for our luggage to arrive. Then we went through customs. Briony went through first. They checked her passport and asked her some questions about fruit, vegetables, plants and animals while sending her hand luggage through an x-ray machine. Once she had answered their questions, she was allowed through the customs barrier and into New Zealand where she was re-united with her hand luggage. Then it was my turn. They sent my hand luggage through the machine, checked my passport, gave me the fruit, vegetables, plants and animals quiz and let me through. I had arrived in New Zealand.
As I passed through the barrier, an enormous man in a uniform blocked my path (imagine a larger version of Joe Rokocoko). "Could you come with me, Sir?" he asked, in a tone that made it quite clear that this was not a request.
"Sure," I replied breezily. I pointed to Briony, who was several metres away, with her back to us, "could you let my wife know that I'm going with you."
"Oh", said Large Joe with a note of surprise in his voice, "you're travelling together?"
Remembering the Fearns rule of airports, here's what I didn't say. "No, my wife and I always travel separately, you can't imagine how surprised we were to bump into each other in an airport on the other side of the world."
Here's what I did say. "Yes."
He consented to have someone inform Briony that I was being taken away and he took me away, to a desk at one side of the main hall. Behind that desk was a stern-faced woman in the uniform of a customs officer and on the desk was my hand luggage, a medium sized messenger bag.
"Is this your bag Sir?" (You know things are going badly when you are addressed as Sir twice in a short space of time).
"Are you aware that it is illegal to bring fruit, vegetables, plants and animals into New Zealand?"
"(Fighting sarcasm) Yes."
"I believe that you may be attempting to bring such items into the country, do you mind if I search your bag?"
She opened my bag and methodically removed all of the contents, placing them on the desk. There was the usual sort of stuff - some cigarettes, a camera, a book, a rolled up pair of shorts, some tissues, an MP3 player, sunglasses, travel documents, Malaysian and English currency. She looked at all of the items and searched the bag again, it was definitely empty. She looked back at the items on the desk and examined them all individually, even unrolling the shorts. There was no contraband to be found. She checked the empty bag again, just to be sure, and turned to me. "When we x-rayed your bag, there was a long, curved item in there that looked like a banana. It must have been your shorts."
At this point, probably due to relief, I forgot the Fearns rule of airports. Stifling a smirk I asked "Did you believe that I was smuggling a banana?"
"Yes," she said, looking crestfallen.
I'm not sure that she was expecting the outburst of laughter that ensued. I couldn't contain it. Even Large Joe laughed. They allowed me to re-pack my bag and I was free to go. I soon found Briony, waiting anxiously for me. "What happened? What did they want?" she asked, with a hint of hysteria.
"They thought that I was smuggling a banana," I replied, matter-of-factly.
She glanced down at my gentleman's trouser area, and in a doubtful voice said, "Really?"