We went to America a couple of weeks before Christmas.
It sounds like a very Celtic Tiger thing to do in these straitened times, but really it was a kind of convoluted stinginess. We've family in New York who we haven't seen in years. They can't travel, and when Conor turns two, we'll have to pay full whack for him. So we booked a return flight, due to come back six hours before his birthday. Anyway, that's the apology.
They now have US Immigration pre-clearance in Shannon. So after herding the three children through normal security, there's this whole other building with a whole other security process. "Why do you have to take off your shoes?" Annie asks.
"Because they have to make sure your feet aren't smelly. They don't like smelly feet in America." This makes perfect sense to my children.
On the other side, we have to queue to have a chat with a Customs person who is surrounded by equipment with which they take our fingerprints and photographs.
Because my wife is an organisational genius, we have a bag loaded with foods our children eat. So when the Customs woman asks us if we are bringing any food into the US, she gets a shopping list. All of the foods listed are acceptable except the banana.
"You will have to surrender the banana ma'am. You cannot bring a banana into the United States."
The general air of tension is getting to my wife, who's feverishly digging in the bag looking for the offending banana.
"We've chicken sandwiches too, do you want them?" she asks.
"No ma'am, chicken sandwiches are fine, just the banana."
"What about croissants?" she asks, remembering that relations between the US and France haven't been too good of late.
"Croissants are fine, just the banana."
Eventually she digs out the banana. "Here you go," she says.
The woman is busy with her computer. "Do not give me the banana," she says.
But my wife, now thoroughly flustered, doesn't register this. "I have the banana now," she says. "Will I leave it here?"
"Do not give me the banana at this time, ma'am. Please keep the banana. Someone will be out to you directly."
Sufferin' ducks, I'm thinking, it's Guantanamo Bay for us and our bloody banana.
A burly Customs guy materialises. "These the people with the banana?" he asks. "This way please."
So we shuffle like refugees into another room. "Please wait here," the guy says. So all of us cluster in this waiting area until a third Customs person shows up and says. "I understand you have a banana."
"Yes. It's true." I babble. "My son. It's my son who eats bananas. I don't care for them."
"You cannot take a banana into the United States. Do you wish to eat the banana or do you wish to abandon the banana?" We all look at Mike, who's five.
"What?" says Mike.
"Do you want a banana?" we ask him. "I hate bananas," he says.