Travelling long haul these days is a stark reminder of how much terrorism has changed the landscape.
From the shoes, jackets and belts you have to remove, to the no liquids rule, to the extra security delays at airports. Everything’s slowed down, everything’s tightened up. We are immune to all of this these days of course, it’s just what it is, we barely give a second thought to slipping off our shoes at LAX, emptying our water bottles, or putting our liquids into plastic bags.
But on this trip to London, I saw a lot of this madness through a child’s eyes. My youngest daughter came with us, and it was a revelation as to how much of the protocols and barriers we now encounter when we travel, can be chalked up to terror.
A simple walk along Westminster Bridge became a stealth navigation around steel barriers and anti-terrorist bollards. For anyone in a wheelchair or with a stroller, this would have been even more difficult, given the crowds of people, but to get from one end of the bridge to the other, you now sashay through huge concrete eyesores blocking the way.
And not just there, but also outside Buckingham Palace, along any major street or interchange.
“What are these?” my daughter asked as we squeezed past them.
“Anti-terrorist bollards,” I replied, stopping to think about how ridiculous that sounded. “They’re things that stop a car driving up onto the pavement and running people over.”
It’s not until you say that stuff out loud to a wide-eyed child that you realise how tragic it is, and how acclimatised to it we are.
It was a similar experience at the airport, where my daughter had innocently left her school scissors inside her pencil case in her carry-on bag. The bag was quickly pulled from the conveyor belt screening line and whisked away by a burly gloved security guard, who after rustling through her bag produced a pair of school scissors and with a flourish threw them in the bin.
My daughter looked mortified. Explaining to her why sharp metal objects aren’t allowed on aeroplanes was another exercise in basically pointing out that evil exists everywhere.
Likewise, when we had to be padded down and have our bags checked entering any department store in Paris, and as we walked past armed guards lining the Parisian streets, I found myself again explaining to my bemused daughter that this was because of terror attacks.
All of this security has a paradoxical effect of making you feel less safe. It is a reminder that danger has been felt here all too often. It was also a very clear reminder of how lucky we are to live in a country like ours.