It’s not so much the ‘Hampton Court Maze’ of a queue that confronts you when you get to the control area (what happened to straight line queues? I blame the post-office for starting that palaver) with their eye contact issues - you know, you pass the same people twenty-five times as you criss-cross the hall, so you try not to look at any one individual too much but you are surrounded by people so there’s nothing else to look at unless you stare at the floor (if you do that, the customs control people will pick you up on CCTV as a very dodgy person of interest who warrants a full body strip search) and in the end you almost feel obliged to invite some of your new found acquaintances round for tea later. So, no, I can almost handle the ‘maze’. It’s actually the scanning machine that concerns me.
There’s that moment when you are now in the last line behind the poor suckers who have already had to step forward and enter the scanning gate. You’ve watched the ‘how to scan your passport’ video at least ten times. You fumble with your passport to make sure it’s open at the right page. You step forward, the last step before you have to commit to a scanning gate. You are very aware that there are 2,759 people behind you, all travel weary and wanting to get home. You check the video again. You stare at the yellow footprint images ahead in the gate, the footprints that make the automatic assumption that you are stupid and total trepidation sets in. You feel the perspiration on your brow as your mind says, ‘please let me get this right’ and you begin to overthink a simple task so much so that you fail to see a gate become available. You then become aware of the muttering behind you and one of the officials ushering you forward. Your mind kicks into urgency mode, not wanting to hold up the show and hoping you can look like a slick, seasoned traveller.
You step forward and drop your passport. You grab it off the floor, hoping nobody noticed. You step into the gate, the moment of doom, the point where you will be judged by the crowd at your back as the cool traveller or the total dickhead from Dicksville. You position your feet on the markers, aware that the sliding glass barrier in front of you is fixed closed and you’re going nowhere until you get this right. You focus on the display that has a ‘look, it’s this bloody’ simple instructional graphic on how to scan your passport... and then you go for it. You slap your passport onto the reader and stare at the camera, trying your best not to look like a gangster but in doing so, you create an expression that has you marked out as ‘Britain’s Most Wanted’... and nothing happens. The glass barrier stays closed; the graphic keeps telling you you’re a ‘dickhead’; you check your passport and realise that you’ve got it on the wrong page; you find the right page and slap it back onto the reader holding it in place as shown and hoping your hand isn’t being fried by radioactivity... and again nothing happens - wrong way round; you can feel the stares of the 2,759 burning a giant ‘D’ on your back, but you daren’t look round. Then you become aware of the official approaching and realise you have qualified indeed as the ‘Dickhead from Dicksville’ but in that moment, knowing that you are already branded, your fear evaporates and you manage to swivel the passport round, the camera scans your mugshot and, like the gates of heaven, the sliding glass panels ease apart and... you’re in!