Andrew Hearn: Escaping the airport police

Posted on March 13, 2012

Every evening after work, I get on a bus to Gatwick Airport to catch the train home.

As I walk through the airport, I enjoy observing all sorts of people from countries high, low, hot, cold, near, and far. It affirms the melting pot’ness of Britain – that we’re all different but the same.

I’d say the South Terminal forecourt is a modern version of the street Dickens observed while sat in a coffee-house.

I see women applying last minute touches to their make up, re-checking their poses trying (and failing) to appear relaxed; bored taxi drivers half-heartedly holding up name signs; clean-cut chauffeurs keeping their printed and laminated signs squarely in front of them; young men nervously clutching flowers; and other men looking at those flowers, regretting not doing the same.

More interesting than those waiting are those just arriving.

Sleep-deprived parents trying for the umpteenth time to keep their young children from running amok; holidaymakers disappointed or relieved to be back home; people with exotic dresses being bewildered by escalators; tourists excited at the beginning of an adventure; sharp people in tailor-made suits, clutching briefcases with white-knuckles, mobile phones permanently attached to ears, making most of these precious few seconds in-transit.

My real curiosity however is usually reserved for those burnt red, strolling far too slowly, in what only would just pass as an excuse for clothing (it’s surprising that there isn’t a pile of them unconscious at the exit of the airport during the winter months).

My stroll from bus to train hasn’t always been smooth, however. The police have stopped me on a number of occasions.

Being Deaf, the first I know of it is when they grab my arm in a manner that suggests I’ve been singled out from the throng, not just on a random stop-and-search.

The strange thing is, I’ve been through Gatwick hundreds, maybe thousands of times, and I’ve yet to see this happen to anyone else.  You’d have thought that the so-called laws of probability should also apply here.

So it is perplexing to why out of this variety of people, from all walks of life, I get pulled away from this flow of humans to one side.

They then back me into a wall, gently forcing me into a star shape in order to search me. This is when do my “I-am-deaf!” many times per second until they gesture for me to be quiet.  I never dare to take out my wallet before they ask me for ID (I’ve seen plenty of actors in clichéd films to do it slowly, very slowly but I’d rather not take the risk, since the police always carry machine guns with a calm menace).

The searcher always gives my wallet to a lesser officer to radio to someone else to verify whatever it is that they want to verify.  I imagine that in a dark communications room tucked away in a safe corridor somewhere, my mug shot comes up on a screen, where the word “DEAF” in bright green flash across (!)

Afterwards the police are always very courteous, wishing me something along the lines of having a safe journey, thanking me very much when handing my now-disorganised wallet back.

There are many others at the airport looking shiftier (at least, I’d like to think so); others wearing sunglasses in artificially lit environments; others walking with “rhythm”, shouting at each other, and jeans halfway down their legs.  So why aren’t they stopped?  Especially the latter.  Baffling.

Recently though, the gun-toting law-enforcers have left me alone. In fact, they haven’t given me even a second glance.

The reason for this might be that I now walk straight ahead, no longer doing what is natural for a deaf person – looking around and taking in my surroundings. Instead, my gaze is fixed in front of me.

Presumably before I started doing this, the fact I used my eyes to take everything in amounted to very suspicious behaviour.

Yep, the horror of it, I now walk like a hearie.

All’s well these days, but I’m forever watching in case someone swivels around suddenly, which would be my cue to do the same thing, put my hands up and yell “I AM DEAF”

Though my moderate-ish speech impediment might render the last letter as a “D” rather than an “F”…

Andy is a fourth-generation Deafie and father of two, masquerading as a senior software engineer for mission control systems and test harnesses.  He still doesn’t know the meaning of ‘boredom’, having interests too diverse to list in the space of a few lines(!), although genealogy, history, and culinary pursuits seem to be the recurring ones lately.  But his real passion is for Linux while trying his best not to appear evangelical about it. He works for a company located near Gatwick Airport.

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