Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I am in South Africa for a couple of months.

Monday 26 July 2010 The Trip Over

The journey down to Heathrow from Basingstoke after Adrian, Jacquie and Sandra left was remarkable mainly for its lack of incident. I can understand why people who are not computer literate get confused. Maybe a booklet in simple terms could be made available for them.

At Reading I decided to go down to the Railair Lounge to buy a ticket – a wise decision as it turned out – for I was over 30 minutes early for the coach I had selected to take me to Heathrow, rather buying my ticket from a machine. The guy down there was a new-comer to me although there were two others whom I knew slightly.

When I proffered my card for the machine it was rejected, which caused me a momentary qualm. The chappie was trying to stop the earlier coach so I could get to it. With the card being declined this was of course not possible. He fetched another machine and I told him that I worked at the FGW ticket office at one time. It took a further 5 minutes to initiate the new machine – a driver's model – and he then decided that as I had missed my coach – which I didn't want to catch anyway – I had been inconvenienced and discounted the price to that of the Geriatric Ticket Holder's price. This was a saving of £5.45!

The drive down was also uneventful although we either passed a silver Bentley with the last 3 letters VRO three times or we passed 3 Bentleys with the same letters on their plates. At Terminal 5 the route took us through the buildings and I must admit that they are impressive.

Arriving at Terminal 3 I was now two hours ahead of schedule for, having booked in online and already in possession of a Boarding Pass I only needed to be there 45 minutes or so before take off. Lugging the case and the backpack around was a nause so I went to the Bag Drop off counter to check in the case – twelve kgs – and then go somewhere for coffee. The very charming Spanish girl at the counter informed me that there was a strike of air traffic controllers and this had delayed my flight for at least an hour, perhaps longer. Once again serendipity had come to my rescue. There were a couple of seats available on an earlier flight and as I was the first person to check in she allocated one to me. “Best that rather than miss your connecting flight,” she told me.

The earlier flight, supposed to be leaving at 17h35 finally took off at 18h20 some 30 minutes after the original flight was supposed to leave. As ever luck seemed to be on my side when I travel. I went through the Security also well before time and here the only untoward event of the journey took place. I was wearing my money belt and took it off at the barrier. As the guy checked it the buckle swung below the table. It caught on something and, instead of releasing it, he yanked it up, tearing the buckle from the belt, just giving me a shrug as he put it back in the tray.

As I went through the barrier it screeched. I had been watching the belt and had left loose change in my jeans. I was hauled out of the queue and searched, having to take my boots off and these were handed to another guy. I then had to place my feet, one at a time, onto a raised platform. When I asked why the guy just said, “Because I said so”. He then told me to empty my jeans pockets and this I did as well. Two hand kerchiefs and then the handful of coins. I showed him and he became quite cross. “Don't do anything unless I tell you to!”

At this I had had enough. I raised myself up, looked down my nose at him and said quietly, “If you were paying attention you would recall that you asked me to empty my pockets. I was showing you what I had in them.”

He looked at me and I just stared at him – glared maybe? - anyway, he looked away and then gestured me to carry on.
I picked up the two trays but no boots. My jeans were loose so I took over a chair and tried to fix it. No go. So I finished sorting out everything and put on my jacket. Then I went to find my boots – they had been put aside, presumably because of the insert. I just looked at the girl at the table, daring her to say anything, picked them up an checked them and walked off. She just watched me. I assume that I was now vibrating at a rate that intimidated her.

I did say that this wasn't an untoward incident and this I believe as, 1. I had to change my belt buckling system, which I did at Mike's and it works in a much better way, and 2. I felt completely in control of the Security staff and was able to intimidate them without shouting or leaving the moral high-ground. I think that in fact I was just the 1 in 10 passenger that they randomly pick.

At Heathrow I bought a big bottle of water that was on special at less than the price of the smaller bottles. I knew from my experience in Paris that I would have to buy more water in Madrid plus I wanted some deodorant and would have to go through Security again.

There were a whole bunch, about 5000 or so school kids waiting at the gate and they boarded first. When I got to my seat I found that I was seated in the midst of about 500 girls aged from 15 to about 17. They were very well behaved and apart from the odd calling to a mate a mile or so away were quite quiet.

We took off and all was very peaceful. Then the Fasten Seat Belts sign was switched off and pandemonium broke loose. I was on the aisle and the two girls next to me immediately jumped up and would have climbed over me except that I realised what was happening and jumped up first.

From then on and for the next twelve or so hours there was unceasing noise and chatter that sounded like a conference of Shona Umfaans at a market place. At last we arrived in Madrid and they all went back to their seats. I sat back and closed my eyes allowing the noise to subside to a muted roar that resembled the cry of a thousand vuvuzelas at sunset. We touched down and there was a sudden spontaneous outbreak of applause and clapping. I thought at first that it was a celebration of the youngsters safe return to Spain, but on reflection believe that it was the other passengers applauding the potential end of their ordeal.

Now came an interesting event. Anyone with transit tickets had to stay seated. Then we all left by the rear door, down some steps to a bus. This took us to a different part of the airport.

I ditched the water I hadn't drunk and went off to find my gate and security before having a bite to eat. Oops! We were behind security. Only one shop selling food was open – and no water or a chemist in sight!

When I booked my seat online I chose an aisle seat next to the galley and toilets. This paid off. I was able to just walk around the partition to get as much water as I wanted, and I had a luggage compartment to myself. In fact it was a good flight all round only marred by the Spaniards propensity to sleep. We had dinner - the site said NO DINNER - at 01h30 and then the lights went out. I woke as usual to 06h00 WET (07h00 Zulu.) and was full of the joys of spring. Everyone else started waking up at 09hooZulu and then came the rush to the loos. For two hours I had had the whole galley etc to myself. At 09h30Zulu they served a sort of breakfast with super coffee and we landed on time.

I was not the first to get off but was one of the first at Passport Control. The young girl was very efficient, I told her she was, and she re-instated my Resident's Permit that had been cancelled three years ago. The bag took forever but I didn't see Customs so not sure if I went out the right way.
Mike was waiting outside and here I am!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:46 PM

    Hi Rob, your journey to stay with Mike in SA made for excellent reading!! Enjoyed your interesting conversation today. Allison