16 FEBRUARY 1991, Page 40

High life

Savage customs


Aif flying Olympic Airways from Athens wasn't bad enough, on this trip I had to endure the added burden of a Customs and Excise bully who did every- thing but plant stuff on me in order to bust me. In fact it got so bad that for a while I thought my publishers, Viking, had de- cided to get some cheap publicity for my upcoming opus by denouncing me as a drug-runner. Let me explain.

The day started off badly when there was a bomb scare at Athens airport just as I was being escorted through by the head of Athenian security, a Taki fan. When everyone was asked to point out their bags and put them through a second security check, my protector said everyone but yours truly, as he vouched for my impecc- able credentials. This did not sit well with some Greeks, in fact a couple of them complained.

Things got worse once inside. Although I was the only one to have paid for club class, once airborne the section filled up with various friends of the crew or of the non-flying staff of the airline. Olympic loses more money than any other company in Greece, and I'm not surprised. When Onassis owned it he employed 6,000. Now that the state does, there are 26,000 employees, some of whom actually work. When I asked a couple of freeloaders to put out their ciggies because they were smoking in a no-smoking section, my popularity plunged further.

Needless to say, they had their revenge as soon as we landed. My bags were the first ones out, and as I went through the green channel a young whippersnapper type asked me if I had been to England before. He was smiling, the way a fisher- man does when he thinks he's about to hook a fat one. He then proceeded to go through my things in the manner the Special Branch people do when looking for clues to an IRA murder. 'Do you have any cocaine with you?' he asked smiling. 'Have you been stopped many times?' were some of the things he asked.

This took more than an hour, and then he asked me to follow him into a room where he and a rather rude type gave me a body search. Now I know they were doing their job, but it seems to me that once they have found nothing, it is useless to try and trip someone up with moronic questions like, "How much do you travel and why?' Being innocent I felt humiliated, and when he tried to humour me about the Greek islands, I told him I wouldn't know about them as I'm always on my yacht. So he kept me for a much longer time for no reason at all, and I hope he feels a bigger man for it. All I can say is how boring of them. Why don't they try someone new, maybe a dealer for a change?

At one moment I was sure he was about to plant something on me, because he had already searched me and my clothes and then asked me if I had something in my pockets. 'If I do, you've put it there,' I told him, and soon after I was allowed to leave.

The reason for coming here was to catch a flight to Larnaca and then to Amman. Had I known, I would have flown to Gstaad instead, which I might do now. Pfeifer has not come through for the desert and the 82nd Airborne, and Charlie Glass — who last week woke me up in the Big Olive and suggested we go to Baghdad — has also failed me. Suddenly the place seems full of silly people, none sillier than Customs and Excise and the royals, starting with Linley and Fergie. And that surly Greek of Edinburgh. With Mrs Thatcher gone, I think I will take my business elsewhere.

Jeffrey Bernard is unwell