by Alan Watkins
I was manhandled the other day – and I don’t mean by a crowd of ruffians looking to spill blood.
It was (how can I put it delicately?) intimate. I was ordered to loosen my trousers and remove my belt.
A man then approached me with his hands encased in rubber gloves.
As I stood there he slid his hands over my body touching places where no man should ever touch another man.
What was so embarrassing was it was in full view of crowds of others, and he did it as he idly chatted to someone over my shoulder.
It was degrading – as bad as those classroom inspections of pubescent youths by the school nurse.
She was checking that things that should have dropped had descended, and that things that should stay where they were did so (to our intense embarrassment whether or not it did).
At least we boys knew each other and together changed once a week into PE kit.
Meanwhile, that casual groping passed without a thank you, an apology or an embarrassed smile.
This is how we send people on their way from Heathrow Airport.
Who are these people that think… no, know ….they can invade your privacy with impunity? They are state officials.
I had passed with flying colours – or so I thought. But no.
Having failed to find any unspecified misdemeanour, I had to have my overnight bag inspected.
That went through a scanner – and was stopped. It went through a second time. Then it was placed in a growing number of bags in the middle of the search area.
I was told to wait “over there”. At first I recalled teachers’ punishment of classroom misbehaviour.
There was no explanation. It was my bag. I was therefore at fault (or at least suspected of some unstated failing).
I stood clutching my trousers, still segregated from my belt. “You’ll be some time,” I was told.
I thought I would get a cup of tea. I couldn’t. My cash and cards were with my belt, bag and dignity – in sight but out of reach.
This is Britain 2012 – tourist attractor to the masses, Olympic venue, Diamond Jubilee celebrator, Dickensian destination, the world’s CCTV spy centre, and now – grope capital of the world.
My encounter with twanging gloves, “please relax, sir” and legalised public molestation was at Heathrow Terminal 5.
I was off on what we press boys call “an educational.” It was certainly that.
Scanned, intimidated, intimated bags opened for the whole world to see, your underwear, medication, reading material (not dubious), cash, cards, socks, razor and spare shirt emptied out and carefully examined, then wiped with some secret marker before being scanned yet again.
The whole world watched as men and women took it in turns to be treated in this way.
With me were a mum, dad and increasingly frustrated toddler in a pushchair (was that chair a cover for something unacceptable to our government?), an Indian businessman on his way to the States, a Scots businessman in transit (and about to miss his connecting flight), an Indian lady, another young woman from South America who for reasons best known to herself seemed surprised and suspicious that a tall man should want to handle her underwear.
For me it went on for an hour – well, apart from wanting some breakfast I had nothing else to do, other than worry that I would miss my flight.
Finally, they found something in my bag that was unacceptable to old Hope and Glory.
It was a partly-used tube of petroleum jelly used to stop those parts rubbing together that intimate searches sometimes cause to perspire.
“This is more than 150 ml,” I was told.
“You can’t take it through.”
That was it. Banned, barred and confiscated without another word.
I had placed it in the obligatory plastic bag to be seen, but not touched.
And for an hour I had been among literally hundreds who last week, in some cases spent three hours being harassed by security officials at Terminal Five.
I know because I saw it on the TV in Spain. It made the BBC World and Sky international services.
Ahh, Britain, Fortress Britain. What a joyful welcome (and farewell) we shall offer our guests here to spend tens of billions of pounds this summer.
The memories of gum-chewing, gun-totting, underwear sorting and crutch-invading Brits.
Come on, you visitors – you’re welcome to Britain in 2012.