Sunday, 5 May 2013

A British Bomb Scare and a Jacket Potato

How ironic.

After spending a couple of days in Geneva at a conference with a bunch of peaceful UN folk, I arrived at Gatwick Airport to find the place in “lock down” (yeh, I’ve watch lots of US cop shows. I know about “lock down”, having “the DA’s office on my back”, calling in “wet boys” and stuff like that).

The first sign that something wasn’t quite right was when the plane pulled up to the terminal. Despite us being 10 minutes early the pilot announced that we would be held on the plane because of “technical problems with the stairs”. Technical problems with the stairs? Come on, pilot. We know how this works. We’ve all watched 24. Technical problems with stairs is code for Major National Emergency. We all know that!

So, when they let us into the terminal and we discovered we were in the midst of a bomb scare and the terminal was in “lock down” there was only one thing for it.

I hit Twitter. Hard.

Good new, landed early at Gatwick North. Bad new, half airport shut. Security alert. My car in that carpark!

More armed police at #Gatwick North than I've seen in a while

At this stage we didn’t really know what was going on. And nor did anyone else. This was a very British bomb scare. We all milled around like naughty schoolboys. The airport officials put on brightly coloured  jackets and marched up and down with paperclips looking important. The armed police strolled around in couples, looking very relaxed, like content young lovers, who just happened to be holding automatic weapons.

Royal Logistics Corps Bomb disposal guys with a very cool remote control robot at #gatwick north now

Some armed bloke without a smile just waved me away from the window. No need to ask twice, mate. I'm gone!

Ok, now it got a little bit more serious. There were no announcements but we knew what was going on. The airport people started putting up tape and making us step back from the windows.
It was pretty clear what my next step should be. I had to take action. I made my move. Food.

#gatwick north car park still in lockdown. In other news, I'm having jacket potato and beans and waiting...

#gatwick north south shuttle closed. Barriers pushed us back further. Also potato, beans and tea cost £8.70!!

I wasn’t the only one that had realised things were getting serious. Other passengers could read the signs…

#gatwick north OH couple of ladies saying indignantly "they've even closed marks and spencer!"

Time dragged on. Pressure began to build…

Three hours at #gatwick north now. No sign of let up. May have to have another jacket potato

Suddenly a thought occurred to me. What would Bruce Willis do? Would he sit there, eating jacket potatoes? Hell, no. Yippe Ki Yay. I decided to explore. Unlike Bruce I decided not to crawl through the air condition vents. I took the stairs.

Wandered upstairs to #gatwick north check-in. Bit of a ghost town up here

It was around this time that I realised that my tweets were being “monitored” (or “read” as normal people who don’t watch back to back Homeland series would call it)

@tomilube Hi Can I call you please. I am a reporter at The Argus. 01273 544 539.
@tomilube Hi, please could we speak to you about your delay at Gatwick? If so please follow back and DM your number.

Decision time. Do I engage with the media and become their “eyes on the ground” (as John Le Carre would call me, no doubt)? Again I reached into the Homeland playbook. Who was the baddy? [SPOILER ALERT. STOP READING IF YOU HAVEN’T REACHED THAT EPISODE]
That reporter lady!!! I decided not to risk it and didn’t call them back. They gave up (but strangely they still follow me on twitter. I did tell them I wouldn’t be offended if they stopped). I continue on my search for information.

#gatwick OH bloke with badge say "they reckon it will be another hour". But who are "they"?

Finally some real news. But it raised more questions than it answered. Who are “THEY”? I watch the X-Files. Are THEY from this planet? Can THEY shape-shift? Could THEY be among us right now? I looked around nervously.

Fortunately I found a chatty policeman. At least I assume he was a policeman. But he looked very dishevelled and just stood around with his hands in his pockets chatting to people. I wonder if he was in fact in a fancy dress policeman outfit on his way back from a rugby tour. Anyway he told us some stuff.

#gatwick ok some proper info from a policeman chatting. 4 controlled explosions to blow the doors off
#gatwick lady says "it must be serious then" police chap "yeh"
#gatwick policeman says normally a lot quicker than this. One bang and gone. Taking their time on this one
#gatwick I like this policeman. Quite chatty. Says its been going on for hours so muct be over soon

#gatwick 1 ambulance and 2 fire engines waiting by north terminal. But everyone seems calm

This is where the contrast struck me. If we were in America I think police, army, agents would be running around everywhere saying things like “That’s affirmative, Ma’am” and “Step back, Sir, STEP BACK, SIR” (you know when US authorities get polite and start calling you “Sir”, you are in trouble). In England, we all just wandered about looking a bit embarrassed, chatting to the police and saying “oh, well never mind, eh? Only four controlled explosions? That's nice, dear. Does anyone want a jacket potato?”

#gatwick progress. Sofitel and Premier Inn have been reopened. Lots of people moving. Car park still closed
#gatwick hurrah car parks open. All clear. I'm outta here people. Its been real

FINALLY,  about five hours later we were given the all clear and left the airport. All’s well that ends well.

The only real damage was to my wallet. £8.70 for a jacket potato with cheese and beans and a cup of tea. £8.70 !!! Can you believe it?