Some years ago (when I still had a life) an American man who looked a lot like Paul Simon walked into my workshop, having been sent to me by a top London fire-place dealer. He wanted to fly me to Paris to give him advice about a huge (13 foot high), 18th century surround which he was going to buy. He also wanted to fly me to Orlando, USA, to install it in his brand new home on a high-security residential golf course just up the road to Kissimi.
It was a shame that he did not spend the money on sending me to France, because I would have told him not to buy it, but he had to learn the hard way. He had it shipped to London, and the plan was that I would go to the shippers to take a look at it before it was crated and shipped off to the States. Unfortunately, the shippers called me up after they crated it and the day before it was due to sail, so I didn't bother going.
I decided not to bother with a work-permit also, and bought an old suitcase to put the 50 pounds or so of steel chisels and hammers in, and I strapped a 3 foot stone saw to the side of it. It was the day after the first Gulf War had broken out, so I was expecting tight security at Heathrow, and I was not disappointed.
At the first checkpoint of Heathrow airport, the guard stopped me and asked if I was carrying anything that could be used as a weapon. I replied that pretty much everything I was carrying would make a good weapon, and he said, "Thank you Sir. You may carry on to the x-ray. Have a good flight".
I heaved the huge suitcase onto the x-ray conveyor belt, then stood behind the operator - I was really interested to see how this box of tricks would show up on her machine. When it came into view, there was a tangled mass of black, sinister looking metal, and she panicked, hitting the 'stop' button and wildly looking around for help. From behind her, I said, "It's mine."
She asked what the hell was in the suitcase, and I said 'tools', then she seemed to relax a bit, and let me carry on to the next process. Soon, the heavily laden plane was over the Atlantic with me on it. So much for security.
The stop-off for Orlando was La Guardia in New York, and after about 8 hours, I found myself being screamed at by a Jamaican airport official for putting one toe over a red line in the queue to the immigration control desk. This was not looking good. I was arriving for a so-called 'holiday' in Florida, carrying about a hundredweight of masonry tools. Luckily, you collect your baggage after you have been through immigration, so I was not too worried.
As I approached the desk, however, I started to worry again. The desk itself was a dark wooden box with a bullet-proof screen about 6 feet off the ground. Behind the screen was a uniformed woman who would have made a good understudy for 'Nurse Ratchett'.
"Where are you headed for, Sir?" she asked.
"Orlando", I gulped, as she looked through my passport. She paused a while, then gave me a long, hard stare.
"Do you like Mickey Mouse?'
This had to be a trick question. How should I answer? I had about 2 seconds to make up my mind.
"Neither do I." She bought the stamp down on my passport and handed it down to me. "Have a good flight, Sir." Phew.
So I made my way through and waited for my luggage to come waltzing round the carousel. And I waited... and waited... My clothes had arrived, but not the suitcase full of tools, and I began to panic again, until the carousel was empty. I rushed over to an attendant and asked if he could tell me where it was.
"Where are you going on to?" I told him. "It will be waiting there for you when you get there." I asked him if he was sure, and he said, "Yeah, I'm sure man, now hurry up. You gonna miss your connection."
Sure enough, when I arrived at steamy Orlando at about 11.00 at night, it was there on the carousel. It had obviously been thrown from a great height, and the suitcase - being that fake leather cardboard stuff - had burst into pieces, spilling out dozens of chisels, mallets and trowels. Someone had spent about half an hour putting it all back, and wrapping about 100 feet of string around it so that it looked like some sort of mad, Victorian parcel. Unbelievable. Now all I had to do was get through Orlando immigration, and I was safe. There was still a strong possibility that I would be put on the next plane home. I walked up to the armed, uniformed guard at the desk, and he took a long look at the wrapped suitcase, and the sheathed stone saw attached to the side of it with another 20 feet of string. He pointed at the saw.
"What is that?"
"It's a saw." (gulp)
"No, a SAW."
"Oh, I see," He smiled broadly, "my Grandfather used to have one a bit like that. "Have a good trip Sir."
I staggered - tired but triumphant - through to the car-hire depot.
to be continued