By Luke Robinson
Sometime back in the mid-1980s, yours truly went on a church youth group trip to jolly old England. I know, I know; I don’t go to “church” enough, my “youth” has long since deserted me, and I am probably too self-absorbed to ever be with a “group.” Nonetheless, I went on this trip and have the passport stamp to prove it. Anyhoo, the trip itself was British enough. Lots of politeness, sly sarcasm, chivalry, and dense fog. And, man, there was history out the wazoo. Even more bad teeth and worse food. You know—typical English fare.
Most of those British stereotypes were on display when, after discovering that the hotel we were in charged her exorbitant exchange rates, my mother confronted a manager of the establishment. When she asked if she could have her money back to exchange up the street, he replied very calmly and English-ly, “I beggon your pardon, Miss Budget Lips, but there are no refunds. Good day to you.” He actually called her “Miss Budget Lips.” I guess that’s better than what she would have been called in New York.
During the rest of the trip, we saw all of the traditional must-see sites and eventually, our Tallapoosa County crew made its way to the famous Dover Castle. Perhaps my Harrad’s-purchased Kangol hat was stretched too tight on my oversized noggin, but I hardly remember a thing about the castle itself. What I do remember is the antique store adjacent to the castle that sold my good friend and I some weaponry delights from centuries earlier.
My friend bought himself a mace (essentially a stick with a spiked ball at the end) and a dagger. I procured a mace for myself as well as a flail (just a different variety of mace). Prepare to be stunned, but at the time my friend and I were not the dashingly handsome men you see today. He and I were card-carrying, Dungeons-and-Dragons-loving, comic-book-collecting nerds of the highest order. Our whole sense of self-worth was determined by 12-sided dice. (Spoiler alert: my charisma was only a “2.”) Therefore, just holding some medieval trinkets was a thrill. Taking some back to Alexander City was downright intoxicating.
A few days passed and we went to see Big Ben and the Thames River, yadda, yadda, yadda. It’s all a rich tapestry that deserves its own article. However, the real drama started on the plane ride back across the Great Pond. You see, airlines were a little laxer back then. In the ’80s, all you needed was a good smile and a quick wink to the security agent in lieu of a driver’s license. But there were still X-ray machines for the carry-on luggage. In fact, that’s where this story really takes off.
So there I am on the other side of security at Heathrow Airport waiting on my friend, his brother, and both of our mothers. I had my members only jacket, my Kangol hat, and the touristy look of an American jackass. Most importantly to me, I had a carry-on with my new D&D weapons gripped tightly by my side.
All of a sudden, out of nowhere, there is a very loud and very British scream of terror. “GOODE LOURDES!” said one of the airport agents as a black and bluish image of a medieval mace slowly slid right to left across his X-ray screen. Immediately, security agents were surrounding and hounding my friend and his mom. There were at least 20 Bobbies, 10 James Bonds, and one Sherlock Holmes firing questions. And though they technically do speak English, it becomes really difficult for American Southerners to understand the Brits when they are angry. “Juss wh’r duh ya think yer agwine wid theez now, madame?” they said. The mother wanted to respond, but it would have been embarrassing to look at her “English to Really English” dictionary at that moment.
There I am, just standing like a fried fish on a pile of chips in the middle of the chaos. As another agent walked by me to join the fray, I asked him what the commotion was about. He was very annoyed that I held him up, and he quickly said something about a little boy trying to sneak contraband onto a plane. In what was not my most brilliant moment ever, I said, “Pffft…what’s the big deal? I have two of those here with me now!” and I proudly reached down to show the man my own collection of weapons. The next thing I knew, my mom had joined the others in the verbal firing line. Both looked scared and confused, like present-day me watching an episode of Downton Abbey.
In the end, our group was somehow able to avoid the stockade by convincing Captain Longshanks and his Merry Men that it was not our intent to hijack a British Airways plane with four rusty maces from some dingy arsenal. Where would two moms, two preteens, and a 9-year-old go if we did hijack it? Disney World? Obviously, we eventually made it back to the States. Over the years, I learned that my shenanigans are tolerated much more easily in a domestic setting.
For your information, I have long since lost my mace, but the flail is stashed away in my closet for protection against intruders (or perhaps the minions of a tyrant).•