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Lorna Hoey: Writer blocked

June 14, 2011

So there I was, sauntering towards Departures, when Mumsy phoned. An announcement drowned out almost every word, but I caught ‘cream’ and ‘bites’.

‘Don’t worry about food,’ I shouted. ‘I’ll pick up something when I get there.’

‘No, no,’ she crackled, far away, ‘could you pick up a tube of sun cream, and maybe some stuff for insect bites? I’ve been bitten.’

I did a quick detour into Boots, a ‘hello, how are you?’ to the woman at the till, and then headed for Security. The small dark man was on the gate. ’Hello, how’s things?’ I said, waving passport and ticket. He grinned in recognition, barely glanced at my boarding pass and waved me on.

‘Hi there,’ I smiled at the tall chap with glasses who was usually on the X-ray belt.

‘Hullo!’ he smiled back. ‘Another trip?’

I squashed my small rucksack into the tray and sent it off along the belt. ‘Yes, going to see Mum again!’ I chirped, pulling off my shoes and jacket and piling them into a second tray.

‘Lovely weather over there, I believe,’ he remarked, sliding my trays into the X-ray tunnel.

‘I know, can’t wait.’ Moving on to the frisking-woman, I walked jauntily through the metal doorframe and didn’t bleep. ‘Nice to see you again,’ she smiled. ‘Have a good flight.’ I quickly took up my position at the X-ray belt to wait for my trays to emerge from the tunnel, sighing contentedly. In a couple of hours I’d be home, sitting having tea with Mumsy.

Except that the trays didn’t appear.

A man in a grey suit walked towards me on the other side of the belt. He was carrying one tray containing my shoes, jacket and rucksack. ‘Would you open this please?’  he asked, pointing to the rucksack. I was so shocked that I grabbed the bag and unzipped it too fast so that everything fell out into the tray, including my notebook. Each item was then carefully scrutinized by the man, and most of the other passengers filing past me. Then the man went away, taking the notebook with him.

After a long few minutes the man came back, followed by the tall man with the glasses from the x-ray belt. ‘Come with me, please,’ he said curtly, and turned smartly on his heel.

‘My stuff…’ I protested.

‘’We’ll look after it,’ he said over his shoulder. As I followed I could feel The Glasses man’s breath on the back of my neck. We covered the ground through Security at a fairly fast clip until we pulled up sharply at a door, and I was marched into a dazzlingly bright-white room. Surprisingly, my rucksack, jacket and shoes had beaten us to it and were spread out on a small table.

‘Please take a seat,’ the grey-suit said politely. By now I’d recovered my wits and blurted out, ‘Why ? What am I doing here? What’s the problem?’ Grey-suit looked at his companion.

‘We appear to have located an illegal substance in your luggage,’ The Glasses announced, sitting down opposite me.

I felt a tingle of cold fear. ‘What? What do you mean, illegal substance?’

‘We have sent it for re-testing,’ was the quiet reply. ‘But there’s this.’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘My notebook.’

‘Could you tell us what is in it?’

‘Er, yes – it’s my writer’s notebook, it’s where I write things down that might be useful – you know…’

‘We have noted that you have made quite a few trips recently. Regularly, every four to six weeks. Always the 1300 flight. Hand-luggage only. And the same seat, 22A.’

‘Look,’ I tried to use a light, happy and somewhat incredulous voice, ‘ you know me.’

‘I don’t know you,’ said The Glasses sharply.

‘But you do! I come through here every few weeks, going home to see my mother. I always say hello – you do too.’

‘Why 22A?’ he said.

‘Well,’ I sighed.  ‘It’s not over the wing, so you get a good view. And it’s not so near the back as to be bouncy when there’s – ‘ I couldn’t think of the word for a moment – ‘turbulence.’

The Glasses mulled through my notebook, sniffing every now and again. Did it perhaps smell of illegal substance? Suddenly he whacked the notebook onto the table and looked straight into my eyes.

‘There are descriptions of passengers here, aren’t there?’ he snapped.


‘Yes indeed! Why?’

‘Well, it’s a writer’s notebook. I jot down little thumbnail sketches – thoughts, descriptions, when I’m waiting, like in an airport if I’m early, in case they might be useful …’

‘Useful? For what? What do you do with these thumbnail sketches, as you put it?’

‘Er – for my writing.’

‘What writing?’

‘Just – my writing.’

‘Just your writing? Who do you work for? Which paper?

‘I – I don’t. I’m a novelist – unpublished, as it happens.’

The two men looked at each other. Then the one with the glasses stood up, his place immediately taken by Grey-suit, who leaned conspiratorially across the table. ‘If there’s anything you’d like to tell us, now’s the time,’ he said gently, almost smiling.

I shot bolt-upright. ‘Me? I’ve nothing to tell you! You need to tell me – why am I here?’

‘Have you ever had anything published?’

‘No. I told you already.’

‘An article? Letter in a magazine?’

‘Well, yes…’

‘Then you’re not unpublished, are you?’ Grey-suit’s tone changed. ”So why lie? What is it, yes or no?’

‘It’s – yes, I’m not unpublished, but…’

‘Right. And this is for your work.’

‘Anything you want to ask?’ The Glasses asked from behind me.

I whirled round, indignant. ‘Yes! Why all these questions? My flight goes in’ – I glanced at my watch – ‘now, actually. Look, my mother’s elderly.’ I added plaintively, ‘ She’ll be very anxious. Very worried indeed.’ Now they both stared at me, solemn-faced , stony-eyed. Silent.

Then behind me the door creaked open. An arm came over my shoulder, and a piece of paper was thrust at The Glasses, together with a small tube which I recognised as insect-bite cream. The door closed again.

‘Paraffin,’ he read. ‘Still a banned substance.’

‘Not illegal,’ I said.

‘Can’t let you travel with it, I’m afraid.’ said The Glasses.

‘Huh, well, I’m not travelling, am I?’ I retorted, glaring at both of them, although it was lost on Grey-suit, who was busy texting on his phone. ‘The flight’s gone. My mother will be frantic.’ My shoulders slumped. The Glasses opened the rucksack and dropped the notebook inside. He flicked a hand towards the jacket and shoes, and I grabbed them.

Then: ‘Follow me.’

Oh, heck, what now, I thought, thrusting feet into trainers and stumbling after him along a dim passageway that seemed to be lined with stained concrete. Through a set of heavy black doors, then another, and suddenly we popped out into sunshine. There was the plane, sitting on the tarmac.

I gasped. ‘What…?’

‘They’re waiting for you,’ he nodded, handing me the rucksack. ‘ Have a good trip! See you again soon!’ He stepped back into the building and closed the doors behind him.

Settling into seat 22A, the thought struck me: in little over an hour this will seem like a dream. I’ll be home with Mumsy, having tea. ‘And how’s London, dear?’ she’ll ask me.

And I’ll say, fine, just fine. The weather isn’t as nice though.

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