London Gatwick Airport North Terminal. Wednesday afternoon in April. What are all these people doing, where are they all going? Judging by the coats and scarves all are off somewhere cool, although the extra clothing may simply reflect the rainy weather outside. What I can never get my head around is that this number of people, from everywhere within a radius say of 100 miles, are here today, just like the similar number who were here yesterday and will probably be tomorrow; we just happen to be seeing them today ….. as we join them on a short break.
We got here two hours before the advertised departure time as the traffic was slight; never want to be stressed before I fly! So now we sit, temptation at ever glance; for instance – ‘world duty free’ – but how do you know if it’s a good deal or not? You know from your local bank that their currency exchange rate is worse than the travel agent along the street, and they tell you that the rates at the airport are dreadful. So we continue to sit, wondering about a cup of coffee, people watching – families with children, the elderly in a special area as if they need protecting from the unseemly rabble, people in business clothes contrasting with those in shorts and flip-flops. I am not a shopper, hate ‘shopping malls’, but when I have time to kill I wander into shops I would not normally visit – Jo Malone, Swatch, WH Smiths, ‘Duty Free’, Boots, Dixons – with its confusing display of every available new technology known to man. It goes on; Pret a Manger, Sunglasses Hut, Estée Lauder and the other scent outlets – eventually having tried them all you smell like some third rate brothel.
“Last call for passengers Brian Walker and Louise Br..w ..te, flying to Lanzarote with Thompson Holidays, please make you way as quickly as possible to Gate 201 where your aircraft is waiting to depart.” The airport tannoy can be loud and intrusive …… and unintelligible sometimes!
Last call to the loo for me as I’m in the middle seat and the loo is the end of the aisle. I resist drinking too much water as I’ve sat on board after take-off, looking at the illuminated seat belt sign, praying it will be turned off and I can dash to the loo – and the more you look at it, the longer is seems to stay on. On a short break you can make do with one ‘carry on’ but I’m pleased it has wheels.
A coach out to the aircraft and we load. When flying became affordable for all, luggage went in the hold, passengers embarked and were seated quite quickly. Nowadays it takes 20 minutes or so, as people struggle to lift their ‘cabin baggage’ into the overhead lockers and when they’re putting it up there, they’re blocking the aisle! Some bags are just too big; so how were they allowed on? I get the advantages of not having hold luggage, as we didn’t, and on EasyJet they charge you for each piece of hold luggage, but the time saved in loading the aircraft with passengers would easily offset the time waiting for your bags at the other end. We take off, a little late due to the aforementioned problem!
After two hours plus we start our decent and touch down, that little squeal of rubber touching concrete the sound of ‘relief’. If you didn’t go to the loo on the flight because of the trolley blocking the aisle, now is the time. Before or after passport control? ‘After’ you decide …… and then find the cleaners have closed it off. And at the ‘Ladies’ the queue is snaking out onto the concourse!
We grab a taxi to the Sabóia Hotel in Monte Estoril, dump our bags and walk off to the nearest restaurant for supper with Celina’s brother and sister-in-law. Back in the hotel, we’re on the top floor; it’s windy on this coast most of the year and there’s something on the roof that bangs and scrapes all night. And the loo seat wouldn’t stay up!! To my female readers this doesn’t mean anything. To us males, you need a hand to hold one’s appendage and if the seat doesn’t stay up, another to hold it up! You could always sit down I suppose.
On our second night we ate in Cimas, a Irish Manor House replica from the 1940s; the current family have owned it for over 50 years. Old hunting prints and social cartoons cover the walls – one entitled: ‘A Day Trip to Brighton’! Home from home you might say! Portuguese waiters attend, I think, the same school as the Italian ones. They are all male, all over 50 and all impeccably well mannered. Good grub too!
I sat on the 6th floor balcony on a white plastic chair in the weak morning Spring sun, looking at the view. To the west, my right, the old town of Cascais and its modern marina denominated the view. The wind was strong and the tops of the waves of the Atlantic were whipped into a fine spray. To my left, far away on the shimmering sea, I could just make out the lighthouses guarding the entrance to the Tagus River and the Portuguese capital city, Lisbon.
Short breaks are, er short and suddenly we’re in the taxi returning to the airport. It’s Friday evening and the European school holidays are coming to an end; the airport is crowded, people finding food or running to get to their gate in time. Easyjet post their departure gate and we join the queue; we’re still in the queue when the scheduled departure time comes and goes, with no apology! We board, we taxi and we wait, another queue (!) Half an hour before midnight we touch down at Gatwick and taxi ……. and taxi ……. and taxi …… 15 minutes to find a parking slot (a little like finding a parking spot for your car on a Friday evening in busy Hove!). You have to have the patience of a saint. I join the small queue for the ‘eye recognition software’ passport control; fortunately I’m recognised and ‘in’. Off to call the car parking valet service, and find that my iPhone battery has suddenly decided to show ‘10% remaining’!! We get the car and head home; a refreshing couple of days in a different country. Just a short break, just a short scribble!!
Richard 21st April 2016 firstname.lastname@example.org
PS If you think I have a fixation about knowing where the loos are, you’re right. One of those irritating physical aspects of middle age!!