It's not easy this Tintin lark. I'm filming a documentary for Channel 4 on the Belgian boy adventurer and I've been up in Scotland, trying to find the Black Island that features in the Tintin book of that name. We flew to Glasgow and spent the first night in one of its many glamorous airport hotels. There's something particularly depressing about airport hotels – a lot of hanging around in lobbies waiting for shuttle buses starts to chip away at your sanity. I was, therefore, very surprised to see the competition offer on the reception desk. "Leave your business card," it read "and you could win a two-night break at this hotel that includes one free dinner and use of all the hotel facilities." I doubted that anyone had ever stayed there for two consecutive nights. Why would you? The point of airport hotels is that you're waiting to go somewhere nicer. As for the "facilities", as far as I could see, these would be the lift, a rack of leaflets suggesting things to do in Glasgow, and a coin-operated quiz game which, I kid you not, flashed the legend "Eat pies, drink beer, play crazy football" when not in use. We didn't leave a card. Tintin doesn't carry one anyway. If he did it might read "Tintin – adventurer and sometime journalist. Address – Marlinspike Hall."
I'm writing this while squeezed into a tiny two-prop plane bound for the isle of Barra whose main village, Castlebay, Hergé used for the village of Kiltoch in the book. It's very difficult tapping away on a laptop in this bumpy, confined space. The irony of having to file a column while dressed as Tintin, a journalist who seemingly never writes a word, is not lost on me. As in the book, on arrival in Barra I shall adopt "traditional" Scottish clothing to "blend in". We have hired a kilt and all the trimmings, including a homemade beret with red pompom, which should ensure I get a thorough kicking in every pub I visit.
Airport security is a problem for Tintin. First, the X-ray machine showed up the replica knife that traditionally accompanies Scottish garb, which was immediately confiscated. This led to a thorough search of Tintin's suitcase. The official tried not to look too closely at the bottles of orange hair dye and the copy of Men's Muscle Weekly.
"We're doing some filming," I muttered weakly.
"Is this your bag or not sir?" The humourless automaton demanded.
"Well... it's Tintin's technically... it's a prop suitcase...."
"And which one of youse is Tintin?" she asked, staring at our group in which only one of us was wearing plus-fours, a sky-blue jumper and had dyed orange hair. She was clearly not a fan.
"I am... well... I'm playing him for the purposes of this film."
"And did youse pack your bag or did Mr Tintin?" This was all getting very surreal.
"I packed it, that is my hair dye, and my muscle magazine...." I expect to read about all this in the Scottish tabloids.
After an excitingly intrusive body search, Tintin/I was finally allowed through security. We were off on our adventure. As we walked towards the departure gate, a Media Stand-Off ensued. This is when two film crews meet each other in a public place. There is an instant mutual status assessment. How many people on their crew? What cameras are they using? Who has the biggest tripod? We won on all counts; our opponents surrendered quickly. They looked like a regional news crew, and the credit crunch had reduced the well-groomed presenter to almost having to film himself on a long pole. We marched on triumphantly.
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