I was at my tennis club a few weeks ago, having a late afternoon drink with other exhausted players when the subject of travel came up. I have observed that when you clearly have one foot in the grave you are expected to tourist-travel until you run out of money, or are unable to walk, or can’t escape from the nursing home.
Our after-game discussions solve the problems of the world every week. The tennis club members could run the country if only the country would let them. And so into this boisterous, good natured and noisy conversation I quietly announced that we were plannng to travel. Ah, I had introduced a favourite subject. The volume of the babble rose. They all wanted to tell travellers’ tales. Through the uproar somebody asked me where we intended to go.
“New York,” I replied above the din. That spawned nods of approval. “You see, I’ve never been to New York,” I continued.
The clubhouse immediately fell silent. Everybody was staring at me. The president, who was sitting at the next table, stood up.
“What did you say?,” he snarled, ashen faced.
“I said, I’d never been to New York.”
“Lying bastard!” somebody called from the bar. “Do you expect us to believe that you’ve never been to New York?”
“It’s true,” I said, “but I had a stopover in Los Angeles once. And I’ve been to Melbourne several times.”
“That’s not New York!” the spritely captain of the club screamed, and ran outside to shout at the players still on the courts, “Fraser McEwing has never been to New York!”
The president, still standing, picked up a racket and pointed it at me. “Pack your bag and get out of here, right now,” he warned through gritted teeth, “before I beat you to death.”
After the tennis club episode, I decided to have a quiet Saturday night at home. I was in my tartan flannelette pyjamas fixing myself a stiff Southern Comfort when powerful blows shook the front door. I opened it to find four policemen on my porch, two with pistols drawn.
“Are you Fraser McEwing?” the front one with the headlight eyes asked.
“I am,” I said.
“Good, then I am arresting you.”
“I am surprised you don’t know, sir. You are being charged with never having been to New York.”
“You’re surely not taking me away with you.”
“Yes sir, we are, to a cell, immediately. Hold out your hands so I can cuff you.”
“But I’m in my pyjamas.”
“You should have thought of that before.”
I could feel my wife behind me. “What’s going on?” she cried.
“I’m being arrested.”
“I can see that, but what for?”
“For admitting I’d never been to New York.”
She stepped back, her hand to her mouth. “You idiot,” she hissed between her fingers, “you never tell anybody that. It’s a very serious hate crime.”
The hearing was over pretty quickly. I refused Her Majesty’s offer of a barrister and threw myself on the mercy of the court. I thought about pretending that I had once been to New York but I didn’t have a passport stamp, or unused traveller’s cheques or a Big Apple tee shirt as proof. I would have had perjury added to my crime, so I decided to shut up and take my punishment.
The judge gave me five years, commuted to six months community service in a travel agency on the proviso that I visited New York within one year and one day of the sentence.
We’ve booked for next April.