As we pull into Bristol airport it becomes apparent what the boys have been whingeing about for the past week. A large sign looms ahead, telling us prices for the different parking areas – including pick-up and drop-off. It’s only £1, but it still rankles to pay for what amounts a two minute drive-through. I’d assumed when the boys had said that you had to pay a quid to get out of the airport that it was when you actually parked, but apparently not. “Bugger that!” exclaims Mum. “I’ll just – um – turn around here …” – she swings the Golf into a side road, executing a wide U-turn – “and then I’ll stop here …” – she pulls up at the side of the road (Strictly No Stopping) that runs along the front of the terminal – “and you two can hop out.” We do so, pulling luggage out of the boot and onto the kerb while keeping a beady eye out for airport security as Mum gets out of the car to say goodbye. Davide delivers his thank-yous in carefully-rehearsed English: “I felt very welcome.” Mum smiles and gives him one of her trademark bear-hugs. “See you again soon!”
As the car pulls away from the kerb, Davide and I look at each other. “Your mother is nearly Sicilian!” he whispers, referring to her refusal to pay for parking. I laugh, then shiver as a gust of wind barrels along the road towards us. “Brrrr! I’ll be glad to get back to the sunshine in Sicily.” I look sideways at Davide and smirk a little. “Good luck with your minus three temperatures in Sweden, yeh?” He gives me a withering look as, chuckling to myself, I pull my scarf closer against the biting Bristolian wind; it seems even colder than usual after an hour in the hermetic, overheated metal box that is my mother’s car. We pick up the pace, hurrying to get into the terminal and out of the cold.
Once inside, we head straight for the nearest coffee bar. A girl in black leggings, scuffed shoes, and an official-looking lanyard is sitting with a bored expression on her face opposite a boy wearing dark office trousers and a button-down shirt. He’s only about 18, and he’s ruined the effect of his smart clothes by shrugging an enormous, shabby parka on over the top of them. The boy and girl are sitting at one of those tables which are designed for people to stand at, and which have uncomfortable high chairs bolted to the floor either side of them almost as an afterthought. The sleeves of the boy’s parka droop over his hands as he picks up a pen to write on the form which the girl has just pushed across the table at him. He fumbles the excess material back, looking nervous. Davide nudges me. “Is he doing an interview? Here?” I nod. “I think so. I assume for one of the shops …” I trail off as I look around the terminal. It’s got more to it than the last time I flew out of Bristol a few years ago, but it’s still not exactly buzzing. “Well – maybe for one of the ones inside the departure lounge, after Security.” I knock back my cappuccino, which is pretty good as English airport coffee goes. “Speaking of which – shall we?”
I fly four to six times a year these days, and have become accustomed to the security process. However, flying out of Italy is very different from flying out of England. In Italy, you could take a hippopotamus as carry-on luggage and no-one would turn a hair. And putting laptops, electronic equipment and liquids into separate bins to be scanned? Nah. Who cares? In the UK, however, rules are enforced. And Bristol, as a newly expanded, up-and-coming airport, is following every single one. To. The. Letter.
When we get into the queue there’s a family – Grandpa, Mum, a toddler and a babe-in-arms – just reaching the scanners. As we wait, they strip off all outer clothing, including Mum’s boots and Grandpa’s belt, lose the toddler under the conveyor belt, reclaim her, unpack all the bottles of baby milk, lose the toddler through the metal detector gate, get her back again, and send three rucksacks and a nappy bag through the scanner. Mum folds up the pushchair to pass it through as well; it’s at this point that the jovial security guard realises: “Ah. Sorry love – you’re in the wrong queue.” Mum looks at him in distracted disbelief as she calls the toddler to heel yet again. The security guard nods. “Yeah, they should have sent you to a different one for the chair. Don’t worry, though.” He grins at her. “You just need to take it over there.” He points at a different scanner. Mum, who by this time is holding the baby, holds it out to Grandpa. Grandpa, however, is doing his best to contain the toddler. He looks up helplessly, hands full of squirming, giggling child. Mum, still holding the baby out at arm’s length, wheels around and shoves it at the security guard with a disingenuous shrug. Baby dispatched, she grabs the pushchair and scoots over to the larger scanner in stockinged feet, leaving Grandpa and the guard in charge of the children. The baby looks up at the guard thoughtfully and the big man grins. “Whaddya say we just put you down here, eh?” He pantomimes putting the baby onto the conveyor belt to be scanned; a titter passes through the queue of people waiting.
A couple of girls pass through security between the family and us. As they do so, I pull my laptop and Kindle out of my suitcase and hand them over to Davide to hold while I zip the bag up again. We reach the front of the queue and he dumps them into a bin, along with his coat and belt. The guard points at his feet. “Are those shoes or boots?” Davide takes a second to process the rapid English but then realises. “Oh! Boots.” The guard gives him a wide smile. “Gonna have to come off, I’m afraid.” He pats a bin. “In here.” The guard chats as I pull off my jacket, scarf and belt and drop them into a bin. “Any electronics?” I have a moment of panic as I scan around for my laptop. “Yes! Somewhere …” The guard searches through the bins, and calls a satisfied exclamation over to me: “Here, love, found them! They need to go through on their own, though.” He pulls another bin from the pile and moves the electronics into it. “OK, off you go.” He starts to wave us through, but then puts up a hand to stop Davide, while pointing at his jeans with the other. “Hang on a minute, mate – are those jeans new or old?”
Having travelled through Italian airports alone at varying stages of linguistic ability, from zero to now, I know all-too-well that feeling of panic as you hope that what’s just been said wasn’t along the lines of, “Oi, dodgy-looking individual, go straight to jail without either passing Go or collecting £200″. However, I’m on home turf here, with full understanding of the language, and I’m no more clued-in than he is as to why Davide’s been stopped. We gape at the guard in confusion. He gives Davide a serious look, before asking again: “Your jeans. Are they new or old?” Davide pauses and looks to me for help. I’m just as befuddled as he is, but translate into Italian for him so at least he knows what’s been said. We both then start to explain to the guard, our words crossing and tumbling over each other, expounding the confusion even more. “They’re quite old, maybe? / Well, they’re not really *new*, as such … / They’re old, but not very … / A few years, I think …” The guard nods gravely. “Yeah. OK. I see.”
He pauses and looks at us, one after the other.
“They’re gonna have to come off, mate. Sorry.” Davide’s lost in translation hell and the guard – who’s clocked the situation and is playing it for all it’s worth – is still giving him and his jeans the most forbidding of looks. I, meanwhile, am roaring with laughter. Davide gives a nervous giggle and turns to me for clarification. “Amore …? What’s happening?!” Still laughing, I translate what the guard’s just said. “It’s OK, though, amore – he’s taking the mick. I hope …” The guard winks at him, his fun and games for the morning well-executed. “Go on, mate. Through you go.” Davide doesn’t need asking twice.
On the far side of the scanners there’s a machine with five different coloured buttons. Each one has a cartoon face on it: a smile, a frown, or somewhere in between, depending. A sign above asks, ‘How was your experience today?’ I hover my hand over frowning reds and straight-faced yellows, irritated by the inequality of security procedures in different airports. “If it’s necessary,” I tell Davide, “it should be the same everywhere.” I flutter my fingers, undecided, above the buttons, then press hard on the grinning green face at the far right. I turn to smile at Davide. “Still, at least we had a laugh, eh?”