What do the following items have in common? Three sets of cutlery, two bottles of suntan lotion, and an Indonesian tribal blowpipe?
Answer: they are all things I have had confiscated trying to go through customs.
I could almost add to the list a large wooden lobster, but I successfully managed to argue its case and, as readers of Resting Easy will know, it now sits proudly on top of a bookcase at home.
But the cutlery, suntan lotion and blowpipe never made it. Where are they now?
The blowpipe was taken off me at Ngurah Rai International Airport, Denpasar. It may sound like I was asking for trouble, and that it was rather obviously a dangerous item to take through customs and, indeed, that was the view of officialdom but, in my defence, it was clearly ornamental rather than operational, and it was not as though I was smuggling in any poison-tipped arrows alongside it. As weapons go, I maintain it was a fairly harmless one but, in Bali it remains.
Losing suntan lotion is becoming something of a regular occurrence; I persistently forget to pack it in my main luggage; constantly fail to recognise it as a bottle of over 100ml, which is not permitted in my carry-on bag. The latest confiscation happened at Oslo Gardermoen Airport, where I was obliged to play a game of Twenty Questions with the customs officer before I twigged what offence I had committed.
“Are you sure there isn’t anything in your bag you wish to declare?”
“Just tell me what it is. You can see it on the X-Ray screen. Don’t keep me guessing. Just tell me!”
The three sets of cutlery set off an alert at Paris Gare du Nord as I was attempting to board the Eurostar back to St Pancras. They were quite small sets, each comprising a single knife, fork and spoon, and they had been a gift from my mother-in-law. An unwanted gift from my mother-in-law, I might add. I just knew that they were going to cause a problem as soon as she presented them.
This time, rather than wait for the distinctive metal shapes to show up on the X-Ray machine, I ‘fessed up and declared the three sets, hoping that the Eurostar staff would recognise them for their culinary rather than their killing purposes, and simply wave them through.
Not a bit of it. A lengthy process of form-filling ensued; the cutlery was wrapped, labelled and stowed, and I was given a docket to present at the end of my journey and instructions of where to collect my possessions. Only then was I also told the bill for this service: £35.
Now, this was not expensive cutlery; £3 a set at most. What had started as a gift was suddenly proving to be a liability. I told the young douanier to keep the cutlery herself. I like to think of her and her family using it, sitting down to Sunday lunch in their Paris apartment.
© E. C. Glendenny
E. C. Glendenny tries to travel light whenever she goes through customs.