Alice Thomas Ellis takes a flight to the Holy Land, but is cross-questioned before her pilgrimage can begin
I'M sitting on an aeroplane, wondering why. I hate aeroplanes. On the other hand they do get you from place to place nice and quickly. I went to Poland on a train once, which was a big mistake and I've been on buses to various places a mode of travel that in my opinion leaves a lot to be desired..
They always go too fast down motorways and round comers and yet take too long to get you to your destination. You can grow desperately bored on a bus unless it's overtaking something in the fast lane. Statistically speaking or so we are told by those who wish us, for whatever motive, to fly around in the airplanes offer by far the safest means of getting from hither to yon. I'll pause here for a moment while I explain this to the person next to me since we're about to take off and she's wondering, even more fervently than I am myself, why she's here.
Because it only takes four hours to get us home is the answer. Imagine how long it must have taken the Crusaders to get from Heathrow to the Holy Land and back. However they would not have been subjected to interrogation at the point of departure which must have saved them some time and they probably had someone to carry the luggage.
There is something about my appearance and demeanour which arouses suspicion in the breasts of security personnel. I phoned home to say I'd arrived safely in Tel Aviv and it was pretty surprising because for a while it looked as though I wouldn't be permitted out to the airport in England, and my son said that there was nothing new about that: I was always the one to be stopped and searched and closely questioned.
The portals through which one is required to pass to prove oneself bomb and weapon free scream at my earrings, and customs officials all over the world have patted me in the expectation of finding hidden contraband.
This time getting through security took three quarters of an hour. First I was interrogated by a young man, who, for some reason could not fathom, then went away with my passport and was replaced by two young women, who asked me the same questions and then some more.
"Why," they enquired. "was I going to Israel?" I let myself down here because there were several reasons and I proceeded to give them all. The rule should be to offer one answer, precisely as in making excuses for not going to a party: more Ifian one gives rise to doubt of your veracity. since even if it's true no one would believe that you had broken your ankle and been unexpectedly visited by old acquaintances from out of town.
Then they asked where exactly I was going and I let myself down again because I said I was going to lots of places only I.couldn't remember where, and my chum, who by now had been cleared and was sitting, waiting, tapping her foot, was in charge of the itinerary. "Are you looking forward to your trip?" asked the girls cunningly_ "Oh enormously", I said.
Their eyes gleamed with triumph and they leaned towards me, balancing on their knuckles on the interrogation table. "Why," they demanded, "when you don't know where you're going?I responded stiffly that I had been led to believe that most of the place was highly delightful and anticipated nothing but interest, stimulation and pleasure. They let me through eventually, but it was a close run thing.
I have just committed the error of looking out of the window, thus reminding myself of our unnatural situation: the secret of air travel is to forget you're doing it and pretend you're on a bus. Even if it's statistically more hazardous, ground travel seems more plausible. Here comes lunch. The other secret of air travel is never to eat the food because it always makes you feel ill.
Maybe next time I'll walk.