1. The same highly unlikely thing never happens to the same person twice.
Just over two weeks after my rapid 25,000 feet plummet above Venezuela and on the way Colombia, I left for a week’s holiday in Alicante, Spain. Accompanying me was my son Gabriel and my daughter’s friend Rosie. Booking online we encountered a choice. A flight on easyJet from Southend Airport, fifteen minutes earlier than the one leaving from Gatwick. “Southend Airport” I repeated to Gabriel, who was kindly managing the booking, “does it actually exist?” Apparently in the sixties it was the UK’s third busiest airport. EasyJet started operating from the airport in 2012. I decided to take the plunge, arguing with myself that it was fifteen minutes earlier than the Gatwick flight plus it was some pounds cheaper. As we made the 53-minute journey by train from Liverpool Street Station, we joked about it being a ploy, about us being kidnapped- we played with the idea that there was no Southend airport at all. Famished we looked forward to clearing customs and finding sustenance quickly. Arriving at the low-rise miniature looking version of Stanstead, in the rain, minus the shopping facilities, our collective disappointment was palpable.
The only reasonable looking food outlet, and strangely named, Anorld & Forbes, did the regular Panini’s and tired looking sandwiches. We still had at least two hours to kill. I bought a novel. Gabriel bought chewing gum and a football magazine. Rosie bought bags of sweeties. We did the usual checking of mobiles, text messaging, reading of kindles and so the time passed. As we queued up it was clear the flight was full. The officious looking easyJet agent checked the size of bags in the device that sees the passenger squeezing their bag into the metal compartment certifiably legal to fit cabin requirements. It always elicits feelings of guilt and thoughts of “why the hell did I pack that extra tube of moisturizer or that unnecessary pair of dress up shoes,” having slipped them in last minute.
Happy to leave the wind, the drizzle, the grey behind we boarded the big plane adorned with the screaming orange and white logo and the uniformed stewards of the same color, alongside the excited children, the buggy wielding families and the other sun seeking trippers. Settled into our seats, we were given the first update. Apologies but there was a delay. We would soon be on our way. Then came the next update. Unfortunate incident – the flight had been struck by lightning on the way back from Geneva and on the way to pick us up. It needed to be examined. Engineers may be able to fix it – hopefully a quick fix. It sounded like an exercise in polyfilla’ ing to me. Either way they had to refer the situation to the necessary airport-easyJet authorities. Now I had time to finish my book Americanah which had accompanied me on all my travels. I read fitfully as I thought about the tortuous process completing the edit of the work for the FXB exhibition opening at the OXO Gallery mid August. Thirty minutes passed. The next announcement. We would know in the next half hour. And by the way we could unstrap ourselves if we needed; we could visit the restrooms if need be. My mind wandered back to the barrios of Colombia, the mud dwellings in China and Africa. I glanced down at the bookmark in the novel and the scrawled note in my handwriting. “P149 Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on poverty. India as seen by westerners.” I paged back and read this paragraph: “ Ifemula would also come to learn that, for Kimberley, the poor were blameless.” The intercom system wheezed into action again. We are so sorry but the damage is more intrusive than we thought and it is in all of your interests that we get you off the plane as soon as possible. We will update you when we can. Americanah still in my lap, I read on: “Poverty was a gleaming thing; she could not conceive of poor people being vicious or nasty, because their poverty had canonized them, and the greatest saints were the foreign poor.” An hour later we disembarked.
It took over two hours to discover our fate. That was followed by a crucial bit of misinformation. One of the easyJet stewards told the assembled pissed off looking passengers that the flight would be leaving at 11.30 a.m. Half of them appeared to leave as soon as the announcement was made. Immediately after that an email from easyJet fell into my inbox. The flight was in fact leaving at 9.30a.m. It was clear that some unfortunate passengers were going to miss the flight the following morning. It took a further two hours to sort a bus which would transport us to the local Skylark Hotel, a fifteen minute drive away. I bet the Greek manager normally welcomed business type conference parties not sad looking, enraged, stranded and grounded airport passengers. However, he cheerfully offered us thermos flask coffee and pointed to an array of assorted pastries. To be fair he was the light at the end of the dark tunnel and he was coming up trumps. Except that the croissants ran out pretty quickly. In truth I wasn’t hungry. During the lengthy update wait I had accompanied Gabriel and Rosie on a hateful walk to MacDonalds. I ate a tasteless chicken wrap out of exasperated rage. The rain and the prospect of vile fast food had served to definitely dampen my spirits as I imagined the glorious sunset over Villa Estrella that I was missing. It was hard not to compare my easyJet-Southend experience with the Avianca-Caracas one. In terms of time and services, Avianca came out on top with the five star hotel, the tasty food as well as getting us to our destination on the same day, albeit sixteen hours late. Either way I lost a day – in Colombia it was work; in Spain it was a night and half day of pure R&R.
On the easyJet plane en route back to the UK from Alicante, my daughter pointed out a full page advertisement in the inflight magazine. The background illustration was one of exploding fireworks. The caption read ‘Visit Southend……town, shore and so much more.’
Travel tips (scroll down) :
I thought I would share this little diary note I made soon after I arrived back in the UK from Colombia in mid July:
I am back in the familiar terrain of North London. The crows are making a din outside – now I associate that sound with the ‘corbeau’s of Rwanda and, I think, the macaws of Colombia and the last daredevil trip I made to the mangrove swamp on my last day there in spite of the Dengue fever warnings.
Aside of that, I thought I would share a few tips from my experience and travels of many weeks. A sort of ‘don’t forget to pack’ list when going into unfamiliar, often remote regions.
Here you go:
Dental floss. Expecially if you are visiting Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda. No amount of searching produced a dental floss kit. After every meal is served in any restaurant or hotel, a pot of toothpicks is served up. It is a common and acceptable sight to see a communal tooth picking session. Good for bonding and rumination.
Hygenic baby wipes. These come in handy when there is no running water, soap or napkins available.
Mini bags of kleenex. How many times I went into the latrines of China, India, Africa where there was no loo paper. How happy was I to have my tissue pack handily tucked into the corner of my handbag.
Nutritional energy bars. In Africa and Colombia we often ate lunch at around 3 or 4 o’clock. I was reminded of the convenience of my local Tesco or Waitrose as I bit into a Macadamia-Quinoa bar and felt my sugar level rise and the chi flowing again.
Overrated Avon Moisturizer. Urban legend or not. Before I left I was told to invest in said product in order to stave off all manner of Mozzies. That’s all fine but the stench of the product is wildly unattractive and I wonder why Avon don’t produce it as the anti insect repellent it is clearly meant to be.
Toilet roll. Essential for restrooms, loo’s, bathrooms that lack these facilities.
Own set of earplugs. For happy ears. Often the ones that come courtesy of ,and bagged by the airline companies, are so uncomfortable. Especially the ones that you have to fit onto and over your earlobe.
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