Flights of Fancy [not]

To fly anywhere these days requires surrendering yourself to a surreal experience in which you are engulfed in a dystopian world and required to submit to various practices which never occur in your normal, day-to-day life.

First you must access the airport. If you drive there you must take your vehicle to one of countless, vast car parks marked with ‘bays’. Your vehicle is spookily ‘recognised’ and allowed in. You wait in a remote shelter for a shuttle bus, which exists solely for the purpose of car park to airport, airport to car park.

If you arrive by public transport you may stay in an airport hotel. They are strange, anonymous tower blocks accommodating all nationalities, everyone staying for just one night, the hospitality focused on food, drink and sleep-with TV and WIFI thrown in and, of course a shuttle bus to the terminal. In your room, which has a view over the access road, the car park or a petrol station you may be prey to gabbling in foreign tongues as they impregnate the thin walls separating you from next door. There are rumblings as suitcases are trundled along the carpeted corridors and feverish key card insertions. Your dreams are punctuated by strange roars and muffled voices.

Next morning you rise up, shower in your en-suite [serviceable], down a quick cup of tea and trundle your own case to the lift, where you descend to the lobby. Others pulling cases may join you. It is early. Almost everyone is silent, save for the bus driver, who greets with an almost indecent jollity. There is a diverse assortment of luggage, from gargantuan, shiny designer to old, battered, market-for-peanuts [ours]. The bus rattles around the hotels collecting travellers then on to the terminal to spew you all out.

You claw your case from the rack and traipse with it and everyone else, following the yellow arrows to ‘departures’. You locate your ‘check-in’ from the screen [what did they do before screens?]. You join a long, meandering queue penned in with webbing, in which you shuffle and shuffle, shifting your wheelie case a few inches at a time towards the check-in desk.

At last you gain the desk and an unsmiling, efficient check-in clerk who scrutinises your paperwork in a brusque way and affixes labels to your case, now lolling on the scales before you bid it goodbye-praying that you may meet again at your destination.

Lightened of your burden, you join the next queue for another shuffle to be relieved of your belt, your shoes and your dignity as you are scanned and deemed non-threatening enough to fly. You are then released into the cavernous shopping outlet that is the departures lounge and set about filling the hours until the flight leaves in the most painless fashion achievable. For some this means an early start in the ‘English pub’. For others a swoop into the retail outlets.

You are called to the ‘gate’. You travel endless corridors on a moving belt. Your documents get another perusal. You wait for your seat number to be called. You walk down a ramp, along another corridor, through a hatchway into the metal tube that is your conveyance. You are greeted by the handmaidens and handmen who are to minister to you. You locate the seat and shoehorn yourself into it, fasten the belt, plug in to the entertainment, eat everything they give you, sleep a bit, get stiff, hot, yawn a lot.

You arrive. Has it been worth it? Actually yes-we are in Barbados!

London Heatwave

                The underground train is a stifling capsule of wilting passengers, staring mute into the clammy air.

                A slim, elegant woman in a long, floaty dress, large, ugly feet restrained by thin, strappy sandals. Her big toe gross, like a giant’s thumb-

                Stepping out on to the platform; a surge of cool air pursues us through the rounded tunnels.

                Heedless, purposeful travellers walk between us, barge into us or stand in the way, intent on their tiny screens.

                Throngs on the shady side of Bond Street-a forest of smooth, bare legs in the shortest of buttock-skimming denim shorts.

                I grimace when I spot my baggy knees reflected in the mirrors of the hotel lobby as I await the lift.

                We are the ‘Out of Towners’-Jack Lemmon and his wife-I am a tourist in a city where I lived for years-aeons ago-

                The restaurant terrace overhung by subway tracks-trains squealing by overhead, their wheels grinding as they round the bend, counteracting conversation; the waiter beams and his lips form a question, soundless in the train’s passing hubbub.

                Shoppers clutching bags-Dolce e Gabbana, Liberty’s, Reiss-

                The gift stalls crammed with a million items no one could want-Union Jack mugs, fridge magnets, Tee shirts, metal models of Big Ben, Buck House in a snowstorm.

                I fall exhausted on to the soft, white sheets in the air conditioned room-am asleep in seconds.

                When I wake I am sixty years of age…