So then, where were we?
The Fish Smuggler
I believe I had just successfully achieved my task of chopping up large volumes of tuna and managed to get all of it to fit into one Tupperware container, which would prove to be most convenient for shipping it over to Switzerland. I know, I know… My life can get pretty wild at times. The things I get up to. I just take each day as it comes, you know? Accept the lifestyle on the edge, accept the danger. How else would I ever cope? Anyway, back to the matter at hand: following on from my operation with the fish, I had considered the possibility of running into trouble in either Barcelona or Basel airports’ customs – or both – given that I was attempting to ferry fresh produce across international borders. Yet, I had it on good authority (again, read as: my dad) that I would run into no such problems and that there was nothing to worry about in that respect. I trust my dad but I wasn’t sure of what to make of everything he was telling me, whether he was reassuring me in order to ensure that I remained a cool customer going through security checks, or simply, as he’d said, that there really would not be any trouble with me packing fresh fish in my bag and smuggling it into Basel.
Either way, on the Friday that I was due to fly, I grabbed my bag laden with the potentially illicit tuna and rushed off to the airport. I hopped on a train, sat back and relaxed. Drawing ever nearer to my destination, I honestly hadn’t thought too much of my contraband in tow. After all, I figured, even in the absolute worst case scenario, what were airport staff likely to do; cuff me, inform me that I was ‘nicked’ and then march me off to a Spanish or Swiss prison (or both… somehow) after discovering my banned cargo? No, they would most likely give me a slap on the wrist, if even that, confiscate my contraband and send me on my way to Basel minus one Tupperware container’s worth of Barcelona’s finest tuna. That, I thought to myself, was an outcome I could live with. So, yes, in a way, I was relaxed about pursuing my new career as a smuggler. Nothing to it. Any drug lords, leaders of rings or cartels, or even small-time dealers who happen to be reading this blog and are currently looking into the recruitment of a mule: sign me up! I’ve got this smuggling business all figured out. Send me over to Colombia, Thailand (etc.) or wherever you want and I will get the package to your business associates. I’m that much of a pro these days… What’s that? You want to see some of my qualifications? Well, I’ll have you know that I smuggled some fish from Barcelona to Basel once and no one even asked me about the contents of my [hand] luggage! I’m not quite sure how I’ve suddenly started applying for more smuggling jobs from the leaders of the criminal underworld, but hey: C’est la vie, or es la vida, should I say.
Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, the recently arrested Mexican drug lord, or me after a few years in the smuggling game?
Moving on, I did indeed manage to fulfil my smuggling duties without even so much as a hiccup. Granted, I had a moment of brief nervousness as I set down my belongings, bag included, at the El Prat airport security check and saw them all disappear behind the rubber curtains of the X-ray machine. Trying my best to appear calm and collected, I am almost certain to have failed as I could feel myself acting in a shifty manner, eager to collect my bag full of the contraband. The alarm went off as I stepped through the detectors myself and I was searched. Standard procedure, of course, but I suspected that my card had been marked. It hadn’t. After a few nervous laughs as I attempted to exchange a casual joke with the staff member responsible for frisking me, I had made it through security. I had made it through with my tuna! Like I said, nothing to this smuggling game. The only problem which I would now have to confront was more of psychological one as, lest we forget, I am still afraid of flying.
Don’t ask me why but on this particular evening, I was nervous. That doesn’t quite do it justice, I was really nervous. Really, really nervous. Perhaps with all the excitement from the smuggling gig I was undertaking, I had let my imagination run too far ahead of me, always a dangerous idea for me prior to a flight. As usual, I had entertained thoughts of catastrophe, doom and all the others which I tend to associate with flying. Only on that day, these thoughts would simply not cease and desist, they were all that was on my mind. As I boarded the plane I began to feel deeply unhappy, as I typically would, but normally I would expect this to subside after a while. Certainly before take-off, only for me then to begin a new process of freaking out. But on this Friday night, it did not and was only confounded further by waiting a good half an hour on the tarmac in anticipation of take-off. I literally died. *Note to self: develop further understanding of the term ‘literally’*. Waiting around watching other planes take off from the very same runway which my own flying vessel would soon be using to lift off the ground is my personal hell. You may think of the Catholic depiction of Hell, with demons poking out sinners’ eyes with fiery pitchforks, but if that’s where I end up when the time comes, I know exactly what I’ll be doing. The fear I experience in the aforementioned scenario is like no other I’ve experienced. I do not like it.
Anyway, there I am on the plane, fearful for my life as ever as we finally take off, at which point – and I have no shame in admitting it – I buckle under the pressure of it all. I leaned over to my fellow passengers sat beside me, and asked them that, kindly, they take a moment to talk to me, so that I do not have a full-on meltdown. They turned out to be a very likeable Catalan couple who made it their mission to ensure that I was OK, which I appreciated very much at the time, as you might imagine. Soon, I was calm for having spoken to some rational folk who obviously knew that we were going to be fine. I thanked them for their time, slumped back in my seat and remained diligently nervous and alert, of course, to ensure that the engines didn’t fail. This is my rationale, question it at your peril. As you may have ascertained by now, flying brings out a deeply troubled, and frankly, disturbing side of me and I am not proud of that. I really must remind myself to fly less. Either that, or simply, to man the f*** up!
Cruising at 38,000ft, I was more comfortable than I had been prior to or during take-off. Still getting over how on edge I had been previously, but settling down at least. That is, until I heard the pilot’s voice come on over the tannoy, at which point, as always, I removed my headphones from my ears, leaving my music to play without an audience in order for me to devote my full attention to this most important of professionals. A note to this man and to pilots in general, for that matter, in the interest of passenger wellbeing: please, for the love of all that is holy, do not under any circumstances begin your opening sentence of your announcement with the following:
“Ladies and gentleman, we are struggling…”
That was it. I knew it, I was finally on that flight! My worst nightmares had now become a reality.
“…to serve you your requested drinks and snacks as the cabin crew is running low on loose change[!!!!!!!!!!!]”.
I was most vexed by proceedings. If ever I were to seek reassurance from someone during a flight, my first option would obviously be the pilot, and for this individual to start his sentence so carelessly as he did… Well, needless to say, I died again. Literally. However, sure enough, despite my conviction that we were doomed, we proceeded safely, only for the flight attendants to be donated the change they needed from the passengers and for the next incident to illustrate to me that, surely, I had actually lost the plot; that my nerves were shot and my fear had caused me to become delusional. A brief 30 minutes before landing, the tannoy sounded again, only this time for the voice of a member of the cabin crew to be projected:
“Ladies and gentlemen, with 30 minutes remaining of this flight the crew will shortly be passing through the cabin, offering you the chance to buy boutique items”, exclusive this, top-of-the-line that, the usual, blah blah blah… “Cigarettes, fragrances and CHICKEN FILLETS…” Pardon me. Come again? What had I just heard? I’ve been partial to the odd piece of poultry from time to time, but offered some on a plane??? Don’t think so. Equally, I quite enjoy the effects of the silicone breast-enhancing tools oft used by women these days but surely, there’s a time and a place! Of course, I’m sure I completely misheard but this led me to wonder what had actually been said in the first place. I was honestly ready to be cuffed by men in white coats and driven off to the nearest Swiss institute upon landing. After all of this, mercifully, the flight came to an end and I decided that, in hindsight, I thought myself quite silly for being so scared, as I always do.
Notwithstanding, waiting at a Basel bus stop to be taken into the city centre, I was sincerely shaken, relieved and, above all, confused after all that had occurred during the flight. As I stood there slowly recovering my status from ‘nervous wreck’ to ‘gratefully content’, a duo in uniform awaiting the same bus as me, I assumed, caught my eye. It soon occurred to me that these two must have been the pilot and co-pilot of the plane that I had myself just been on moments beforehand. Using my considerable powers of observation, I deduced from each of the pair’s blazers that the man stood directly to my right was the pilot, based entirely on the greater number of accolades decorating his arms. What I noticed next shocked me to the core. Bear in mind that I view the professions of pilots and flight attendants as those that, of all vocations in the world, tempt fate most. Don’t these people doing these jobs realise that they are putting their lives at risk each and every flight? I mean, I’m aware that the popular daredevil, Evil Knievel, was prone to a fair amount of danger in his life but, really, he had nothing on the brave (crazy) men and women who make a living from being on a plane all day, every day.
Onto the shocking sight, then: the pilot, the man who so daringly carries out his work, was stood casually at the bus stop with his colleague looking generally at ease – chatting, smiling and… smoking! There he was, equipped with a lit cigarette, dragging away and apparently thinking nothing of it. Well, I thought, this man clearly did not value his life as I do, as many other non-smoking, non-pilots do. What a truly audacious individual. In the initial moment that I noticed the cigarette between his fingers, I could feel myself screaming (internally) at him, “What?!” What do you think you’re doing? Don’t you think you’ve got enough on your plate as it is?” I was unsure of whether to condemn or applaud this man’s life choices. Beyond any shadow of a doubt, he must have been one crazy character, what with all these perils that he would inevitably confront on a daily basis. That was about it for me after all of the evening’s events. I officially gave up. I stepped on to the bus and proceeded to have a great, danger-free weekend with Dad and Emm.
Based on all that went on cruising through international airspace and, subsequently, at a Swiss bus stop, I consider it safe to say at this point that, perhaps, contraband smuggling may not be the career for me. Whether that contraband might be tuna and/or cocaine or heroin. What a promising career prospect that now lies in tatters. Oh well, I’m sure something will come along eventually. Maybe I’ll look into training as a pilot…
Just so you readers know, I sat writing the final sequences of the second instalment of The Exclusive Account of a Fish Monger-Turned-Contraband Smuggler (Watson, 2014) aboard a flight to London, where I am currently to be found for a few short days. A flight that, might I add, I seemed to actively enjoy! What is it with me? I have concluded that I quite simply must be a strange person. I imagine that many of those reading this who happen to know me arrived at that same conclusion long, long ago, but at least now I can finally acknowledge it myself. I really have no idea why, on one flight I can fully lose my cool and, with that, evidently my sanity and on another I can grit my teeth and bear it (or even enjoy it). I guess that’s just the way I is.
Well friends, thank you for accompanying me on my emotional roller-coaster that was travelling from Spain to Switzerland with a few lumps of tuna in my bag. It’s been a blast. Until next time… Hasta la próxima.