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Danny's Reading: On Travel

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You may remember me, a few months ago, writing about how restless I was feeling, how bored with the same old, same old I was, and how I had suddenly become overcome by the desire to travel. If you do, then well and good. If you don't, then don't worry too much about it - there's no test at the end of this article. I'm merely pointing it out to serve as both a reminder - despite having spent a wonderful two weeks in Switzerland since then, I'm still feeling restless, bored and so on and so forth - and as an explanation as to why I spent a major portion of last night trawling the Internet in search of a cheap flight for four to America. Specifically, Denver, Colorado.

The one thing I learned from my exploration of cyberspace is that there is no such thing as a cheap flight for four to America, regardless of your definition of 'cheap'. However, being the kind of person who is as flexible as you please up until the moment I set my heart on something, and then as stubborn as a mule from that second onwards, come March the thirty-first, I shall be embarking on a four-thousand Euro, twenty-one hour, four-airport, three-airplane Transatlantic journey with one happy wife and two young children in tow. Two young children, might I add, who have the collective attention span of an absent-minded fruit-fly.

I am slightly apprehensive about this trip.

Not, as you may be forgiven for thinking, about the flight. It's long and tedious, true, and half a million things could go wrong, but that is not for me to worry about. That's the pilot's job, and he gets paid a hell of a lot for doing it, so I'm quite content to let him worry about keeping a 223,000 pound mass of aluminium and steel airborne. I'm not even too concerned about my fidgety and generally noisy children driving everyone on the flight insane and getting us all booted off the plane as we soar over France. My wife has a fantastic bag of distractions that she takes with her whenever we need to travel for longer than an hour, and it contains enough games, colouring books, puzzles and the like to keep our children occupied until they are eighteen years old and ready to move out.

No. What's worrying me is that I will finally arrive in America only to be immediately turned around and put directly on the next flight back home. Well, that...or - worst-case scenario - thrown unceremoniously into the nearest prison cell with a bunch of other suspicious-looking types.

I suppose that round about now might be a good time to clarify...

You see, this will not be my first trip to America. I've been there twice before. The first time around was relatively straightforward and painless, except for a little incident where I was instructed at the airport in Florida, quite pleasantly, to sign a form acknowledging that I could be arrested if the authorities at Heathrow discovered the eight-inch diving knife secreted away in my suitcase. Which I did, although I wasn't, because they didn't. So all fine and dandy.

It was my second visit to the states where everything took a slightly surreal turn...

Upon my arrival, I was detained for two hours in a large room full of people who were probably not terrorists, but who wouldn't have required much from the make-up or costume departments had they been about to appear in a film about, as it were, terrorists. Eventually, a pleasantly plump - let's call it pleasantly plump, shall we? - lady wearing a uniform whose button-holes were being tested to the limits of endurance came into the room, glanced around, then pointed at me and summoned me into another smaller room off to one side. There, I was asked a number of questions, ranging from the usual 'Why are you visiting America?' to the slightly less familiar and more ominous 'Have you ever spent any length of time in the Far East?'

To this day, I still have no idea why they singled me out. Nor do I care. All that matters is that they let me go an hour later, with an obligatory - and absolutely contradictory - 'have a nice stay!'

Two weeks later, it was time to fly back home. Unfortunately, two seconds after thumping my hand-luggage down onto the conveyor belt and watching it glide serenely through the x-ray machine, I was taken to one side by a very polite yet incredibly serious-looking man who informed me that I would have to take a seat and wait while my luggage was inspected. I demanded to know why.

"The scanner detected explosives in your case, sir", came the reply, which was odd, because I certainly didn't remember packing any.

"Oh dear", I said, wondering if the pleasantly plump lady from two weeks earlier was suddenly going to pop up from out of nowhere, point an accusing finger at me, and roar triumphantly "I knew it!"

Fifteen minutes later, the serious-looking man returned, and asked if I had been skiing during my stay. I nodded, and they let me go.

This doesn't mean, of course, that it's okay to carry a bomb onto a plane provided you've been skiing, by the way. It simply means that, sometimes, in order to avoid avalanches on ski-runs, the authorities set off a series of controlled explosions wherever the mountain looks dangerous, to render it a lot less dangerous. And if you happen to be on the mountain soon after, traces of nitro-glycerine from the explosives may adhere to your clothes...ausing panic, chaos and delay at the airport.

So, in short, America seems to have it in for me. And here I go again...

This time, however, it gets better. You see, I recently applied for a new biometric passport, mainly because it is required for entry into the USA. And one part of applying for a biometric passport involves getting your fingerprints scanned...

Here's a fun fact for you. Guess who doesn't have fingerprints?

Yeah, I know. The doctor didn't believe it either, although after much frowning and shaking of head he did eventually write me the medical certificate saying that, no, I don't have fingerprints. Don't ask. And hopefully the Americans won't either.

I'll let you know.

By Danny, teacher at EC Malta English school