E Jane Dickson: 'At the airport, I have clearly graduated from suspect terrorist to comedy dominatrix'

"Oh please, Mum," Conor begs. "I'll buy them with my own money. Please can I buy them?" I hesitate, because I'm not sure a pair of steel handcuffs is a very nice kind of toy for a six-year-old. My hesitation is taken for a grammatical prompt. "Please may I buy them?" tries Con, who knows that, when all else fails, his old mum is a sucker for the subjunctive.

Displayed in the window of an Italian toy shop, flanked by alabaster mice and Pinocchio dolls, the handcuffs don't, I suppose, look so bad. And at €5, I reckon they can't be terrifically robust. So Con gets to buy the cuffs and three minutes later I am manacled to an iron ring set into the wall of a palazzo.

"Wow! There's certainly no getting out of these," I assure him as I feel for the safety catch. But these cuffs, it turns out, are the genuine article and I am held fast. Happily, Con is pleased to release me (not least because we are en route to the gelateria), but I insist that the spare key to the cuffs is given to Grandpa for safe keeping. Quite soon, everybody but Conor is getting a little bored with the handcuffs, and, after an incident in which Clara is found fastened by the ankle to the chain-link fence around Lucca Cathedral, I confiscate the bloody things and stuff them into my handbag.

Five days later, on our way through security at Milan airport, I am, to the children's delight, led behind a screen and questioned closely by two guards with buzz cuts and Gucci shades. Am I aware that there is an offensive metal object in my bag? "Oh God, of course! The manette," I say, producing Con's cuffs with a flourish. But it must come out wrong in translation, because I am the only one laughing.

"They're my son's," I explain, as the guards call a female colleague over to effect a full body search. "Only for fun," I insist.

At the word "fun", a new gleam comes into the guard's eye. "What kind of fun?" Clearly, I have graduated from suspect terrorist to comedy dominatrix.

But just to be on the safe side, they want someone to open the cuffs. Presumably there is concern that, having handcuffed the pilot to the joystick, I plan to blow up the plane with an incendiary device hidden in the mechanism. I call Con, who, though delighted to be part of the action, has lost his key. My father, somewhat less delighted by his walk-on part in the family burlesque, produces the spare key and is awarded a man-of-the-world wink from the guards.

Eventually, we are waved through, but the handcuffs are consigned to a tray full of nail files, nose-hair clippers and other essential pieces of terrorist kit. Conor is disconsolate.

"Well," I ask him, "would you rather lose your handcuffs or see your mother locked up for real?"

It's a tough call, obviously. After much chin-rubbing, Con makes his judgement. "Grandpa," he says sadly, "we'd better throw away the key."

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