So, finally, after a four-year wait, it was Wednesday 29th June: D(eparture/éménagement*) Day.
When you’ve looked forward to/dreaded the arrival of a red-letter day like that (delete as applicable, depending on what you’re currently happy/worried about) you always imagine there’s going to be a dreadful feeling of anti-climax ―Well, is that it, then? But it never arrived ―
I’d gone to bed worrying about whether the flight was going to be delayed or not (something closely approaching a ‘general strike’ had been called for only the following day)… whether the hand/hold luggage would meet with Ryanair’s peculiarly nit-picking definitions of acceptability (I’d never flown with them before)… whether the apartment had been burgled, or, if not, whether all the windows had blown-in during the winter storms (we’d not been there in nearly a year)… and so on and so on and predictably so on. Quite ridiculous, really. Well, at least the dawn light seemed to have dispelled most of that little lot (or, perhaps more accurately, parked it on a distant back-burner, to be fretted-over at leisure when I had more time). But I’d still finished up with a knot in the stomach that felt bigger than a cricket ball; and pouring ersatz coffee into my mouth wasn’t doing anything to alleviate that.
So what do you do when all else fails, and life is generally p***ing you off? Well, if you’re me, you go outside for a smoke. So off I went into the chilly (though, thankfully, clear, dry and blue-skied) morning air.
When I came back the TV was on, with Breakfast burbling on about (as usual) not a lot. But suddenly, through the miasma of drivel, there sounded a name I’d not heard in nearly fifty years: Duane Eddy. The old maestro of the ‘Twangy Guitar’ was sitting there ― where ‘there’ was somewhere in deepest Sheffield, of all unlikely places ― and telling me that he’d come over to the UK in response to a request from the Sheffield Duane Eddy Appreciation Society to play a few gigs. He then twanged away for a while, and it was an absolute blast from the past: he still plays no better than he used to play in the late ’fifties. But who cares! They were happy days. I can vaguely remember having hair then…
When we’d gone for a walk, the previous afternoon, it’d taken not much more than five minutes to get from the Travelodge to the airport gates (they’re even on the same road). Today it took us a little longer ― and a good deal more effort ― mostly because yesterday we hadn’t been trundling two heavy suitcases and a couple of pieces of hand-luggage: where the former clocked-in at a grand total of 32 kgm, and the latter at 15 kgm. (And, yesterday, we’d somehow failed to notice that the walk was uphill…) But, at that moment, it didn’t matter (though I’m not at all sure my left leg wholeheartedly agrees with that sentiment even now): we weren’t in a hurry… we were about to leave England for the foreseeable future… the sun was shining… and, to be utterly mundane, we had literally nowhere else to go and nothing else to do! So keep putting one foot in front of the other (we told ourselves)… turn left at the gate, go on towards the terminal building, then stop!
I’d never been processed at Leeds-Bradford airport before. (I always think of flying in those terms: you become nothing more than an expensive package, the minute you walk through the door. I think it was Dorothy Parker who said “When you go by train you travel; when you go by air you’re sent”. And whenever I do fly, I’m always amazed at how much I’m prepared to pay for the pleasure of being serially insulted.)
L-B is a good deal smaller than the now-megalomaniac Manchester International Airport ― more the sort of size that MIA used to be in the days when it was only good old Ringway ― and, thankfully, I found no resemblance whatsoever to the gargantuan Charles de Gaulle, Paris (if I go to hell when I die, which seems more than likely, I’m convinced it will look ― and feel ― exactly like CdeG). On the one hand, that didn’t seem a bad thing: big has never turned out to be beautiful where airports are concerned. On the other hand, however, it did occur to me that perhaps its traffic had now outgrown the ability to handle it. Mm. “OK,” I thought, “let’s see which it is. Eyes down for a full house of nasty surprises!”
But there were no nasty surprises. The check-in process was entirely painless. We did then manage to get ourselves into the wrong queue for Passport Control (not difficult, I find, when you go through a set of gates for the first time). But nobody got up-tight about it ― nobody seemed to mind at all, in fact. Contrary to expectations, we weren’t treated like suspected terrorists. The lady on the desk pointed out our error… but then said she’d just go ahead and process our papers anyway. And she smiled when she said it. Unnerving, that.
So, on to the dreaded Security Checks. There it became even more uncanny. I asked the venerable gentleman who was dishing out the plastic trays whether each of our laptops would require a separate one; and he replied (again with a smile): “Oh no, Sir. You just put them in the same one. That’ll be fine.” All this sweetness-and-light was beginning to make me nervous.
And it got worse. As we passed (sonically unmolested) though the archway, and went to collect our stuff on the No Man’s Land side of the X-ray paraphernalia, the Security Staff were actually cracking jokes with the passengers. That was too much. I mean, come on! Even the inhabitants of Looking Glass Land could only manage to believe six impossible things before breakfast. I threaded my belt back through the trouser loops as fast as my by-now-very-nervous fingers would allow, and then fled in the general direction of the Departure Lounge.
We were early, of course. We always are when we fly (you somehow get a sneaking suspicion that they’ll bring your flight forward without telling you ― just to spite you ― and then promptly disappear into the blue yonder without you). So a couple of specimens of Bacon Butty seemed called-for as the ideal way to pass some of the waiting time. We duly found an emporium where these items could be purchased (the going rate, as usual, seemed to be the price of more limbs than we had between us… but you sort-of get used to that at airports, don’t you?) and I went and queued up at the bar.
Let me set the scene for you. It is now about nine-thirty BST in the morning. In front of me, in the queue, is a gaggle of teenage girls (I use that collective noun in view of the fact that they are all talking at once at the tops of their voices)… ordering a round of straight vodkas. And, from their general demeanour and deportment (or lack of it: the links between their knees and feet seeming irrevocably to have broken down some little time ago) this isn’t the first such round: my guess would be at least the third. As they are downing-them-in-one (an action which is fully finalised, I might add, before they’ve even get their change) a flight announcement for somewhere in Cyprus comes over the loudspeaker system, and off they rush, in a collectively-panicking body. So they’re about to get on a plane, already rat-arsed… will almost certainly consume further doses of various alcoholic beverages during the flight… and will then alight in a country where the current temperature will be in the high thirties… And the best of British Luck! (I direct that heart-felt wish to the Cypriots, of course, not to the gaggle…)
Moralising in your old age, Jones? Definitely not! As anyone who knows me well will doubtless confirm, I am totally un-averse to the odd drink or three. But I do know my limitations ― which include stopping before my nose begins to take a sudden and unilateral decision to dive-bomb the bit of floor directly in front of my feet…
Meanwhile, it appeared that I needn’t have queued at all: a very pleasant, smiling young man (quite obviously a student trying to pay for his upkeep by doing a few hours behind the bar ― a thought which made the smile even more disquietening) told me that all I’d needed to do was sit down, and he’d have come and taken my order at the table. But, as I was here, he would, of course, take it now, and then bring the food over when it was ready. Could Sir please tell him where he would be sitting? Indeed Sir could. But no: Sir didn’t have to pay now. Such mercenary matters, it seemed, could be postponed until the consumables arrived.
More stupefied than ever (you really need to have tried to order food at MIA before you can fully appreciate the depth of the stupefaction) I reeled to the table and collapsed into a chair. I told Hache what had happened. She didn’t believe me ― well, not the first time, anyway. And I’m positive she only believed me the second time because I crossed my heart and prayed for death as I said it.
And the bacon butties? They were, of course, wonderful.
* Déménagement: The French word for ‘moving home’.