Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Day I met Elvis.


As we approached Heathrow for the 14th time and the pilot had dutifully announced that we were in fact running out of fuel, I pondered for a moment.
Here we were 14'000 feet up in serene silence, 186 of us, just wondering why the first runway at LHR was blocked when unbelievably the co-pilot announced that the second runway was blocked and we could not land.

In characteristically British fashion the co pilot intimated that as we had precious little fuel left, it would be bad manners not to make an effort to land "rather sharpish" at a suitable airstrip or Sainsbury's car park in order “not to make a complete hash of it all” and get on the front page of every newspaper known to mankind.
Quite why the pilot actually made this announcement, fuelled discussion that he may possibly be making hasty plans to parachute out, via the small opening window at the pointed end of the plane.

That we ended up in Luton gliding in on a wing and a prayer only to block their runway was the kind of irony that you could expect from Dan Brown or Ian Fleming.

However, we were towed to a stand-(still) and the drinks trolley emerged from both ends of the cabin, sharp and blunt!
The time to ponder vanished as the wine and beer flowed, to the point that we had to be careful the dancing in the aisles didn’t get so raucous that the pilot lost all control of the ship and it’s now pissed crew!

We sat and danced and sat and looked out over the vast expanse of the "in transit" portion of Luton airport for an interminable hour until the booze ran out and tempers began to flair as arguments raged over when we would in fact be able to leave and who was going to date the stewardess with the lovely legs and auburn hair…
But, leave we did after a million gallons of refined paraffin-wax were pumped into the wings.
Banking high over Luton it did not occur to us all, just quite what we were to walk into at the other end.

Resembling 17 football fields worth of people, the arrivals lounge at Terminal 5 was somewhat of a shock.  There were denominations of people there that I thought went extinct over 2000 years ago.
This would have been moderately more tolerable had it been that they were not all in the same queue for the only working security X-ray unit, manned by Government-sourced socially deprived immigrants on leave from HM prisons that should have been deported 6 months ago

Quite why people deem it ok to bring the sort of things they apparently did bring with them is beyond me.  I mean why would you take a stuffed Llama on a plane as hand luggage?  How would that ever go through the X-Ray machine?  And another one;   is a wallpaper pasting table really relevant?  And lastly;   A self assembly dugout hardwood Amazonian Canoe...I kid you not.

Losing the will to live, a nervous twitching began to take over.  It became abundantly clear that once finally through the x-ray machine this would not be the end of the ordeal stretching out before me and the others.

Once the fighting had subsided between a faction of West African Princesses and Polish immigrants, a small BA lady appeared and shouted so loud even an I-Pod connected student stopped in his tracks.
“Anyone not wanting to stay in the queue should follow her”
I suppose that it was in my favour that I actually understood the Queens English so I raised my hand and 14’000 people looked directly at me.
Unperturbed I stepped forwards. 
A night in a posh hotel, free food, beer, and anything else we wanted, providing not too many people turned up.
So and with an aplomb I am not generally noted for, I shouted; "I’ve just seen Elvis Presley, in terminal 5 departures".

Standing by as the rush buffeted me and sucked the stale air out of the security area as the hoards left, I felt pretty pleased with myself.  In silence, the BA lady and myself looked at the empty hall, as the last African Princess swept out of view and the security x-ray conveyor squeaked on, empty of Llama's, canoes and boxes of hi-fi's but strangely left with a pair of brown trousers with one leg missing, we shrugged our shoulders and realized that I had better get away from the scene before they came back.
A Witch-Doctors curse I definitely did not need right now.



I turned the corner to get the shuttle bus to the hotel and who should I meet?  ©



The Curious case of the Dragon Tattoo

The curious case of the Dragon Tattoo ©
Early morning starts can sometimes be very tedious and to some extent this one was no different.  Mid June had brought warmer nights but the air was uncommonly cool as I stepped out of the house to take the taxi to the airport.
The driver was disarmingly awake, which, in a way I was glad of.  He was driving me to the airport.
Not at my best at 3.30am, I begrudgingly conversed as he excitedly went thro his routine for the hapless traveler; “passport, tickets, money” as he grinned into the mirror.
Where was John I thought as I played dead in the back seat?  John knew early morning taxi etiquette by heart.  Polite, efficient and silent
John is 68, had a day job, a night job and still had time to taxi.  He told me all this when he picked me up from the airport one day.  John knows taxi etiquette.
With ruthless efficiency we arrived at the airport and managed for once to remain in utter calm through security into the area commonly known as “still open for beer even so it’s only 4.30am” and asked for my coffee.  I was struck by how many gamely dressed young men that happened to be at the bar.

Ryanair, Europe’s biggest low cost carrier had moved to my terminal overnight.  Thus I am surrounded by scores of young men, dressed as women and groups of young women with very risque outfits all drinking copious amounts of alcohol from three litre jugs.  My order for a Frappuccino seemed rather out of place.  Stag weekend trips had come to my terminal!
I woke as we seemed to crash land in Amsterdam, having missed breakfast..again and feeling miffed, disembarked.
What on Gods earth were so many people doing here so early? In droves spending money.  No recession at this airport I can tell you.  Diamonds to Tulips, I pads to ridiculously cheap Scotch Whiskey.
Platinum status has its benefits.  No “lounge” issues, Personal “in-your-seat” greetings, when you are sat next a group of families with children under 3.  Why do airlines allow children onto planes?  Children need to be outside with a nanny, and not be in a jet aircraft cabin.
So, after being walked to the front of the boarding queue (that Platinum again) I found myself next to an old gentleman, his hands clasped onto the top of his stick.  Good Lord, this could be me in another 20 years!!!  Surely not?
I shuddered and a cold shiver swept over me.  Did I even look like him? He looked up and his wizened eyes met mine and I smiled.  He didn't blink.
What I then saw was the medal pinned to his chest.  A Russian Star.  This signified he was “A Hero of the Russian People” and here was I stood next to him in an airport. Not a usual event.
In that moment I realised how insignificant all of this was, going on around me.  Here was this old gent mixing with us and yet he must be wondering what it was all about.
As the call to board came, I offered an arm to help him to his feet.  He declined thanked me and hobbled down the air-bridge.
Securely sat in my seat and just mulling over the encounter just, I was distracted by a darkening of the cabin.  
The Bear had only just got through the main door.  Not especially tall, he was as wide as the aisle, with arms truly as large as tree trunks. Usually forearms fit with the relative proportions of the rest of the body; you could have fitted 3 of mine into his!  Oddly though what really drew me to him was just how badly he walked. Maybe he needed the old man’s stick I thought. 
As he stopped just at the row in front of mine on the opposite side of the cabin, we all took a sharp intake of breath.  Aisle seat. ….Mm mm good choice I thought.
So close I could hear his muscles growing, it struck me that this person was very interesting.
His head was compact, his neck non-existent.  What was visible was covered by a large red tattoo reading “fight me” 
Clearly not a shy introvert then.
His hands were massive and stubby, killing weapons, his feet strapped in flip flops looked amphibian, and his eyes were so close to his nose, prescription sunglasses would clearly be needed.
He turned and caught my eye and I smiled nervously.  Then it was time to strap in.  Thirty minutes into the flight he had to move.  Like a wounded animal he got onto his knees on floor in the space in front of the seat, rested his huge chest onto the seat base and promptly fell asleep.
Lunch was served around him.  A sleeping bear is a dangerous bear and so the stewardesses went about their routine, as if it were the most normal thing in the world.
The Captain switched on the seat-belt sign as we started our descent.  This was going to be interesting.  Who would wake him? how would they wake him, would they leave him?
Motionless as a corpse he was going to have to be woken.  Then from the other side of the aisle the Soviet Peoples War Hero reached over the aisle with his stick and prodded the Bear on the side of the head and snapped what could only have been “C’mon son wake up we’re going to land”  He got the old mans stick!
250 people gasped and held their breath.  The Bear stirred, look at the Hero and grunted and sat down.
So as we all obeyed airline cabin etiquette, the Bear let the old man out first and I followed behind.  We exited the aircraft and walked up the air bridge and then the Bear turned, and in the campest and most feminine voice I could have ever imagined he said. “hi there, you have a nice smile, would you like to see my Dragon Tattoo?”
Etiquette forgotten I pushed past the Soviet Peoples Hero and lost myself in the airport throng.
History is history and so were they!