Guns are dangerous. I get it. I really do. But you'd have been forgiven for thinking that when I arrived at the Newhaven customs barrier in 2014 with a black powder musket, that I was trying to smuggle a low grade tactical nuclear warhead into France.
I had all the requisite paperwork with me and had even called ahead a week in advance to the ports security chief to alert him to the date and time of my arrival.
I'm pretty certain the guys name was Dave.
Unfortunately nobody at the port had ever heard of a "Dave".
I was ordered to drive into a holding area. Senior staff were summoned. A functionary in a stab vest and a "flecky" jacket arrived and demanded that I hand the weapon over to him for safekeeping. The Ferry company would send it on to me in France (at my expense) he said, after word was received from the Gendarmerie in my new locale that it was okay to do so.
I explained to him that I would love to comply but I obviously couldn't just go handing a gun over to any old johnny in a uniform. Did he have a shotgun licence?
Erm, no he didn't.
It was pitch black and raining. Somewhere overhead a helicopter began hovering.
The official seemed unhappy at my intransigence. He barked into a walkie talkie in an attempt to secure someone higher up the food chain. A little knot of border guards began to gather nearby.
I had a sudden image of me lying in a puddle of my own urine, being tazered repeatedly by the grinning bastards.
The helicopter drew closer. Perhaps I wasn't going to get tazered. Perhaps the SAS were about to abseil onto the roof of my box Luton from a special forces Blackhawk?
I was still working through scenario's of my imminent demise when an older woman from the Ferry company appeared in response to "flecky" jacket's summons. A brief exchange revealed her husband was also a re enactor and she tartly explained to her junior that I could probably do more damage using the musket as a ruddy club than firing it. We agreed that it could be locked in the ship's safe and that I could reclaim it once we reached the other side.
Of course I was never coming back to blighty so the issue was never going to rear its ugly head again was it!
And then there was the bloody referendum.
Agonising over how to approach the matter of the weapons return I Initially buried it amongst my goods and chattels but realising that even buried it'd never get past a sophisticated scanner or a trained sniffer dog I eventually just chucked it on the back of the van in plain sight. If they were going to find it, then the last thing I wanted to have to do was to unload half of my underpants onto the tarmac so they could get at the damned thing.
The remaining days in France passed quickly. It wasn't long before I found myself in another bloody Luton, making the return journey to Britain. My official license to legally possess the musket had long since expired and security measures at every port had increased significantly since those halcyon days of 2014. The circumstances did not bode well.
We pulled up at the French checkpoint in Cherbourg next to a sign that advised that failure to declare a firearm was an imprisonable offence, it was pitch black and raining cats and dogs. The Douane guy in his cosy check point didn't appear in a hurry to venture out into it. The Current Mrs Broom wound the window down and handed over our passports.
"What iz in zee van Monsieur? he enquired.
"Our whole world mate…" I replied.
"So you are leaving France for ever?"
"I sink per apps it is zee brexit, yes?" he said, comparing my face to that shown on the passport.
Suddenly he stared at me…deeply suspicious.
My face froze in a rictus like grin.
The customs man narrowed his eyes. "You are leaving France…yet you are not sad! Surely Monsieur you should be crying?"
TCMB and I looked at each other, unsure if this was an observation or a thinly veiled instruction. We decided on the latter and both of us burst into a bout of child like pretend crying which seemed to mollify him a little.
"You av sold your 'ouse?" he continued.
We nodded, through the faux tears.
"And where in France did you live?"
"In the Limousin".
"The Limousin? … Ahah! Then per apss Monsieur I sink you should stop crying and start laughing instead! he joked as he waved us on.
Bugger me… a French customs official with a sense of humour…who knew?
Well that was one hurdle crossed. But the British side was bound to be trickier. 10 hours later we landed at Poole and the size of the van meant we were immediately picked out for a "randomised" inspection. A genial looking old copper flagged us over into a special search area.
During the two day process of loading the van in France I had managed to aggravate a very old elbow injury which was giving me serious gyp by this point. Jumping down from the cab to open up the back of the truck I banged said elbow against the edge of the drivers door and nearly went into orbit. I was in such pain that I could hardly speak and I obviously looked like I was about to burst into tears.
Unaware of my injury the policeman seemed strangely affected by my distress and as we opened the two rear van doors he asked what was inside.
"Everything I own in the bloody world," I sniffed.
Leaning against a veritable mountain of furniture, the musket was on open display - but the copper was more interested in my attempts to wipe my eyes free of tears.
"You havin' to come back cos of Brexit?" he enquired sympathetically.
I nodded. In way too much pain to elaborate further.
The musket began to topple over. The copper reached in and righted it. Together we closed and locked the vehicle up again.
"Well I'm sorry for 'ow it's all turned out mate, but anyway welcome 'ome", he said as he waved us on.
I laughed with relief for a good five miles. Hell I'm still laughing now.
And so after a week and a bit of sofa surfing we have finally settled, at last, in the The Peoples Republic of Pembrokeshire, and I've got to be honest, It's well lush - as the locals say.
The place is remarkably sophisticated. They have this thing called Kahh Pet, where you don't have to wear your boots around the house and TV where, get this…you can freeze what you are watching and even make it go backwards… I know, right! Wonders will never cease.
Despite all the distractions presented by a return to civilisation I hope to be able to squeeze out a few actual wargaming posts in 2020 - so hold on in there just a bit longer if you can.
Finally, even though it's a bit late - the Current Mrs Broom and I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy Kwanza / Festivus / Whatevermus, and a great new year.