News & Insights 6 November 2006

“Is that a home-made pipe bomb in my pocket or am I just pleased to see you?”

Monday 6 November, 4.45pm (TK Maxx Clothes Outlet, Clapham):
I am in TK Maxx in Clapham Junction. Where all the rock stars hang out. There is an extremely valid reason for me to be in here, namely that I am searching for an appropriate travel bag to carry my sound module (the flashing box that stands next to me at gigs) to the United States Of America for our upcoming tour. To my astonishment, it doesn’t take me that long to find the perfect bag for the job – I mean, it’s absolutely ideal. It’s exactly the right size to take on an airplane and even has a handy pocket on the front for cables and plugs.

Unfortunately for me it also happens to be a designer ladies handbag.

Oh, sod it. If David Bowie can get away with it then so can I.

Tuesday 7 November, 3pm (32,000 feet above sea level, Atlantic Ocean):
Not that surprisingly, I have spent most of today on the receiving end of a merciless ribbing about the handbag. Still, UK customs allowed me to take my module on the plane without administering a full body-cavity search first so as far as I’m concerned the bag was a triumph. We are, as I write, enjoying the third of a great many Gin & Tonics that will eventually see our passage through into The New World. The U S of A. America.

It occurs to me that I’ve been dreaming of this moment ever since I first formed a band with George when we were 13. A small, glistening tear forms in my eye. Although this may be more to do with the fact that I’ve been trying to watch Date Movie for an hour now and it’s still, still, really really awful.

Tuesday 7 November, 6.15pm EST (Customs, Detroit Metro Airport, USA):
This is it. We’ve arrived. Problem is, we haven’t truly entered US territory until we penetrate the notoriously hard-ass last defence that is US Customs. We wait in line for a long, long time. Innocent old ladies in anoraks are dragged away, screaming, into smoky, poorly-lit basement rooms, uniformed men stalk the corridors wielding massive cattle prods, fresh blood drips from the ceilings. Well, perhaps not, but it’s a bit bloody scary nonetheless.

My turn comes to step up to the heavily-shielded examination booth containing a bank of blinking computers and a straight-faced Customs Official who, I think, looks like the kind of guy who’d be unlikely to appreciate jokes of the “Is that a home-made pipe bomb in my pocket or am I just pleased to see you?” variety. I hand him my passport. He eyes it for a while, giving nothing away. There is a pause. He stops, looks at me, and pauses again. As if by magic, another uniformed official arrives. They both look at me.

“Etta”, he says. “Do you have a stick?”. Do you have a stick?! These are not words I was hoping to hear at this point in proceedings. Etta produces a 4-ft battering pole from her trouser-leg. My testicles crawl up inside my body. This is it. This is the opening line from one of those horror stories you read about Brits on holiday. I swear I can hear the rubber slap of latex gloves being donned in a nearby interrogation room.

The male official waits. And waits. I struggle to keep my eyes off the big stick. Finally, he says, “You’re free to go”. Heart thumping, I proceed gingerly out the other side. Fearfully, I turn back and see Etta using the stick to adjust the OPEN/CLOSED sign hanging from the ceiling.

Tuesday 7 November, 7.30pm (Airport Bar, Detroit Metro Airport, USA):
Just to clarify, the reason that we’re in Detroit Metro Airport is that we are flying to New York via Michigan. This – for those of you not familiar with the geography of the US – is a bit like stopping off in Uganda on the way from Bristol to London. Still, we’re in a foreign country now and have a few hours to kill so we may as well make the most of it. Which is why we’re on our third pint of Budweiser in the Airport Bar. We have fallen into conversation with Steve, an American businessman on his way back to Washington DC, who has turned out to be an absolute diamond.

“Seriously,” he’s telling us, pint in hand, “you British guys can say anything over here and Americans will immediately think you’re charming and intelligent. Everyone loves the accent”. This turns out to be true. Steve is very much on the ball, which is a relief, given the nature of his opening gambit, “So what part of Australia are you guys from?” (he was teasing us, of course, but it took on a particularly humorous resonance for me the following day when somebody actually asked me that question for real). Steve takes our business card and promises to look out for us in the charts, whilst we, slightly tipsy, head onwards to Terminal 46 to catch our connecting flight.

Wednesday 8 November, 2am (Newark Airport, New York, USA):
Finally, after many, many delays, we reach our destination. Question is, have our instruments? Furthermore, has Jon Clifton, the living legend that is our American tour manager, asphyxiated from boredom waiting in the airport parking lot for our massively belated arrival? We turn the corner into the luggage retrieval area. Outside the rain is lashing down. Bags…? Instruments…? Tour Manager…?

You’ll just have to wait and see.

Chris Lightyear

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