Now what? - Lauren Booth reckons George Bush owes her £75
They suspected I might be abducting my own (or someone else's) daughter
I was flying from France to London to attend Ken Livingstone's peace reception and the bugger-off-Bush march in London. Bergerac airport was packed with Brits of a certain income leaving their second homes in the region. I was kissing my husband and elder daughter au revoir, when uniformed men came over.
"Are you Ms Booth?" they asked.
"Yes," I said, ignoring my husband's gleeful mime of rubber gloves being snapped on to big hands.
"Follow us, please." Craig and the girls tried to come with me but were told to stay put because "it's cold where you're going". An old woman behind us made an "ooh" sound. Suddenly I felt nervous. I didn't like the use of the word "cold". It made me think of Siberia, or worse, Calais.
In a small room with a large X-ray machine, two customs officers pointed at my bag and asked me if I had packed it myself. I had. I don't like suitcases, and since backpacking days have stuck to using a military rucksack called a Bergen every time I travel. It was leaning in the corner, a menacing army green. I knew what the men wanted to know.
I smiled in a silly-old-you type of way and pulled out a dozen or so Stop the War and "Fuck Bush" leaflets I had downloaded from the internet. "These are what you're worried about, aren't they?" The officers studied the flyers then exchanged a look.
I laughed again, slightly shriller. And unzipped the front pouch of the backpack and pulled out a Palestinian headscarf, to be worn on the march as a symbol of support with their struggle.
"This. You're probably wondering why I have this?" My mind was working overtime by now. They looked from me to my passport. In the picture I have blonde, short hair; before them stood a woman with longish, purplish hair. And glasses. I couldn't look less like the passport photo if I were Osama Bin Laden himself. They let me stammer on about being a journalist and about France being brilliant in its refusal to buckle to US pressure on the war in Iraq, then a hand went up.
"Just take the computer out, please, and switch it on."
Once they'd checked the laptop, things relaxed. We started talking about the US president. Like most of the French they were less than adoring. Words like "idiot" floated merrily between us as we chatted. Finally, I got to the departure gate. I handed over my passport and Holly's to more officials.
"Your name is different from that of the child's. We might not be able to let you on the flight. Where is the father?"
"He's in the car park. He's just waved us off! Look, I'll go and get him."
They suspected I might be abducting my own (or was she someone else's?) daughter. They let me go through with Holly but held on to my passport to make checks. By now the other passengers were convinced that I was either a terrorist or a nutcase. In a packed room, a space developed around me.
I'm glad to tell you that with minutes to spare, I was allowed on to the flight. However, my nightmare continued at Stansted, where I was unceremoniously left on the tarmac in the dark and the rain with a baby, a car seat and a buggy, and then had to try to get up three flights of stairs. Other passengers came to my rescue. It was 7.30pm when I was finally ready to get a coach in to London. Then a fellow Ryanair refugee asked me if someone was meeting me at Victoria. If not, he said, I would never be able to get a cab because "London's a nightmare. Streets closed, huge traffic jams, chaos." Why? I asked, holding a wailing and hungry baby in exhausted arms.
"Because George Bush needs to be 'safe'," came the reply.
Now I have another reason to loathe the toxic Texan. The cab fare from Stansted to Islington was £75.