August 08, 2005

Working title

Jenni Diski retails an anecdote in the latest London Review of Books:

Just after the beginning of the first Gulf War I arrived at Toronto airport to take part in a literary festival. Along with a couple of dozen others (mostly dark-skinned or from Islamic countries) I was sent to wait in a queue for special questioning when I presented my passport. After about an hour I was taken to a cubicle by a short but perfectly square woman in uniform who lolled behind a desk and looked at me long and mean. I had been on a seven-hour flight and no one had mentioned before I got to Heathrow that Air Canada was all non-smoking. I was not cheerful.

"What’s your job?"

"‘I'm a writer."

"Why are you here?"

I showed her my letter from the festival. She glanced at it.

"What are you doing at this here festival?"

"I've come to do a reading."

Nothing up to this point had got a reaction. Her eyes had remained blank as mirror shades. Now, though, her eyebrows hit her hairline and she lunged forward across the desk, her face all lit up in a smirk of triumph. She knew how to winkle out the bad guys all right.

"Oh yeah? You just said you were a writer! Now you tell me you're reading." She drew out the last word in proper third-degree style. "So which is it, huh?"

This reminds me of a not dissimilar conversation I once had with a police officer who found me hitch-hiking, or trying to, on a slip road near Northampton about fifteen years ago.

"What do you do?" he asked, having ascertained my name and address and attempting to complete the set by adding my occupation to his collection. I could see no good reason why he should need to know this, so being young and stupid I thought I would essay some dumb insolence.

"I'm a civil servant", I replied, as unspecific as possible.

"But where do you work?" he tried.

"In the civil service", I responded, no more helpful than before.

He gave it another go, trying to leave me less room for evasion: "But where do you work?"

"In the civil service."

I thought this was quite amusing at the time. Diski might have agreed, appearing as she does to share my taste for insolence to officialdom. She raised her arms in surrender and confessed all to the immigration officer:

"Officer, you got me. You’d better send me back to the UK. Deport me. I want to go home."

She got let into the country and proceeded to her festival. I was less lucky. I got fined thirty quid for hitching from a slip road.

14 Comments:

At August 08, 2005 12:34 pm, Anonymous Philip said...

"Hitching from a slip road" sounds like knitting jargon, so you probably deserved what you got.

 
At August 08, 2005 2:11 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At August 08, 2005 7:51 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At August 09, 2005 3:01 pm, Anonymous Pangur Ban said...

My official job title is 'Vaultkeeper'.

"What keeper?"

 
At August 09, 2005 10:45 pm, Anonymous David Duff said...

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At August 10, 2005 1:27 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At August 11, 2005 4:00 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At August 11, 2005 4:02 pm, Blogger ejh said...

Not only that, but your IP address is being traced.

 
At August 11, 2005 4:44 pm, Anonymous David Duff said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At August 12, 2005 3:24 am, Blogger Shuggy said...

Wow - seven comments deleted. Now I'm all curious...

 
At August 17, 2005 11:27 am, Blogger Mark K said...

short but perfectly square woman

shouldn't that be short and perfectly square?

perhaps some kind of post compiling all these deleted messages for public oversight would be in order.

 
At August 17, 2005 11:36 am, Blogger ejh said...

No, it wouldn't.

 
At August 19, 2005 9:38 am, Blogger Mark K said...

sure it would: I mean, short women are surely more likely to be perfectly square, be being a normal width but an abnormal height.

 
At August 19, 2005 10:19 am, Anonymous ATP said...

What has happened to her head and feet if she is perfectly square?
What she lacks in height must surely be gained in width for her to resemble a square.

 

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