Jeremy Clarke Jeremy Clarke

Low life | 4 February 2012

Exeter airport. Check in. I’m booked on a domestic flight to Glasgow International and I’m travelling with hand luggage only. It’s a small, cheap rucksack. It contains a phone charger, a toothbrush, a plastic bottle of Head and Shoulders, a copy of the Sun, two tubs of Devonshire clotted cream, a pound of Devon cheese and three books.

The books are: a paperback biography of Robert Burns; a 1903 cloth-bound collection of Schopenhauer’s essays; and a Norton edition paperback anthology of English poetry. The Burns biography and the Schopenhauer are gifts for my hosts in Paisley, one of whom is a Schopenhauer devotee. The poetry anthology is for me to select a suitable poem to read aloud at their Burns Night supper. (I chose ‘The English Are So Nice’ by D.H. Lawrence.) The Schopenhauer cover is slightly tatty, and the spine is flapping, but it’s still a lovely thing in itself. The Burns biography is tightly wrapped in Christmas gift-wrap depicting an ecstatic Santa and his laughing reindeer careering across the night sky.

Well, the clotted cream doesn’t even make it past check-in. The woman has it off me there and then, before the stuff explodes, presumably. She kindly disposes of it in her handbag for me. ‘We have to take loads of clotted cream from passengers,’ she says, well pleased already with the day’s haul. ‘What else have you got?’  I say I have a pound of Devon cheese. ‘Soft or hard?’ ‘Hard,’ I say. Her doubtful grimace tells me that the airport rules governing cheese are largely unfathomable and that I must take my chances when I go through the security screening process. ‘Oh, and the shampoo will have to go in a plastic bag.’

She helpfully points behind me to a sort of self-service sweet machine.

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