As a rule, I like to deal with life in facts and absolutes, especially in relation to getting from one place to another. If I need to travel from point A to point B, I will always research in advance exactly where point B is, what the options are for getting there, how far away it is, and how long it takes to get there. I then calculate that back to work out precisely what time I need to leave in order to get there… and therefore what time I need to get my arse out of bed.
While this works well when I am travelling under my own steam, locally, it is needless to say a largely flawed way of thinking when travelling internationally or with other people. Never was this more evident than when Melissa and I travelled to Montpellier last August, with a day’s travel that can be most accurately described as “a bit of a cluster fuck”.
We were flying from London Luton airport, which is not very far away – a simple drive down the M1 with my sister as chauffeur, and at that time of the morning the traffic would be negligible. We’d checked in online, and we’d printed our boarding passes, so it was going to be essentially a case of walking in the front door of departures and straight onto the plane. This suited me perfectly, because the less interaction I have to have with people that I don’t know, the happier I tend to be.
We left on time (I had previously applied the Melissa Organisational Time Differential, which involves moving the stated departure time forward by 10 minutes, + 1 minute for every hour before 9am). The journey was uneventful, we arrived as planned and strolled on in for a relaxed coffee. Oh! How smug I felt, laughing at the plebs queuing to check in! Well, that was all about to go tits up.
We eventually drifted off towards security, me in my happy travel bubble while Melissa argued with the staff about her contact lense solution. We strolled up the stairs, handing over our boarding passes for scanning… which mine wouldn’t. More properly, it scanned, but wasn’t valid.
“…have you already been through?”
No, no I hadn’t. At this point, my sphincter started to flutter. They told me that I had to go back to the main Easyjet desk and get another boarding pass printed. I felt a cold sliver of panic in my stomach, because our flight was starting to board.
It is worth mentioning here that at that point in my existence, I had what medical professionals politely refer to as ‘a sedentary lifestyle’. Anything faster than a brisk walk to the bar with an empty pint glass was pretty much unheard of. I smoked 20 a day, drank way too much and had a somewhat laissez-faire attitude towards raising my heart rate.
Bearing that in mind; I ran all the way back downstairs, back past the café and the clothes boutiques, back past the queuing plebs I had previously been lording it over, and straight up to the check-in desk, with all usual British reserve going completely out of the window.
I explained the problem, and the nice lady sat and scratched her arse for a bit before printing me a new boarding pass. I then ran all the way back past the aforementioned plebs and shops and up the stairs. I like to think that I bounded up them like some kind of curly haired antelope, and I refuse to be disabused of this idea.
When I got back to the security staff, the new boarding pass still wouldn’t scan properly. My levels of alarm and frustration were really starting to escalate now, but the staff shuffled off to one side, agreed that I probably wasn’t planning on blowing anything up and thankfully let me through anyway.
The queue to go through the scanners was immense, but they escorted Melissa and I to the front of the line since the “For The Love of God, Will You Just Get To The Boarding Gate??” announcements were starting to go out across the PA system. The couple in front of us let us go ahead of them, which was probably a testament to the wide-eyed manic state we were in.
Then – of course – Melissa got stopped for a random security check. I was frantically trying to stop my trousers falling down while re-threading my belt and scanning about for a departures board. Gate 2. Fine, last obstacle passed, we just needed to get there now. For reference, I will include a map of the departure gates;
Gates 1 – 18 are off to the left as you past through the departure lounge. At this point I was running again; my thinking was that if I could just get there, I could hold the gate until Melissa could catch up. My legs were burning, and I was making a horrible wheezing sound like some kind of dying herd animal.
I got to Gate 2, and slid to a stop; there was no indication that there had been any flights going out recently. I was struck by abject confusion. A sympathetic looking lady in a high visibility jacket suggested that I double check the gate number. To my utter horror, I realised that I had misread and it was actually Gate 20 we needed, not Gate 2. If you take a brief look back at the map, you will notice that where we needed to be was all the way back along the way we had come, and then halfway back towards the very opposite end.
We were left with a handful of minutes to get to the gate. I was already on the verge of throwing up my own small intestine, the chances are they had already closed the gate and we were too late…but I knew that I just HAD to keep running. I could NOT let us miss the flight because I had read the departure board wrong. And besides, there was no way I was expending that much energy to then not go anywhere.
So, back on my toes. All illusions of graceful deer-like leaping were well gone by then. I was thumping down the corridors loudly enough for people 20 metres ahead to be looking back in terror and clearing a path.
I eventually got to the gate…to see two people in front of me, still waiting to go through. I cannot begin to describe the absolute joy and relief that welled up in me at the sight. Melissa and I managed to get through in a calm and orderly fashion, albeit huffing and sweating profusely. There was a woman with two small children proceeding very slowly across the tarmac to the plane, and while small people under my feet would normally make me rage, I was grateful for someone else to take the heat of the other passengers’ disdainful gaze.
I spent the next 30 minutes in a state of mild hysteria and adrenaline comedown, shaking and steaming slightly, with my heart purring away in my chest. Eventually, it started to become ridiculous and funny, as a lot of retrospective horror stories are.
Fast forward to France. We landed safely, got through passport control and out into the fresh air…where I of course proceeded to have a cigarette. I had – as is my standard M.O. – already researched and printed out copies of the bus routes and timetables, and I already knew where we had to go and what bus we needed to get in order to land right by our hotel. We took the airport shuttle into town, where it was very quiet and very pleasant. We quickly found a tram stop, and bought €15 weekly travel tickets, and felt very pleased with ourselves.
After wandering around some hot and suspiciously deserted streets near the tram stops, we decided to head on up to the stop we needed to catch the bus onwards to our hotel… where we waited. And waited. And then waited some more. Over the period of what I recall to be at least an hour, plenty of buses went sweeping past… just not the one that I had figured we needed. While remaining outwardly calm, my stress levels were rising again – I thought there was no WAY I could have possibly fucked up that badly twice in one day.
After numerous rotations of other buses, and wandering up and down the station trying to figure out if we were perhaps at the wrong stop, we jumped onto another bus and waved the timetable at the very nice bus driver, who pointed at the Sundays/Holidays section.
We assumed that it was Summer, and therefore school holidays, that was probably why it was a different timetable. We accepted that we just weren’t going to be able to get the bus we wanted, unless we were prepared to take the chance of waiting in the beating sunshine, hot, tired and thirsty with no guarantee that one would actually turn up. I Googled a local taxi company, but called the number and couldn’t understand the recorded message on the line; to be fair, I was 15 the last time I did French, I think I can be let off.
We took the decision to go back down the tramline, find some form of civilisation and ask for some assistance. There was a café where the lady was very nice, but not a lot of help. We then rang the hotel that we were staying at and asked if they could call us a taxi. They couldn’t (or more likely WOULDN’T), but did find a phone number for us; it turned out to be the same number I had called earlier, so I just took the plunge and rang it again.
Long story short, we eventually made it to the hotel – dusty, sweaty, aching and several pounds lighter. After checking in and collapsing in our room, the whole ‘Sunday/Holiday’ thing started to make us twitch, because if it was due to school holidays then we were in all likelihood boned.
Referring to Google again, we discovered that it was a fucking French bank holiday. On a fucking Thursday. Mary’s Ascension to Heaven. Seriously.
We then proceeded to drink the hotel out of bottled lager on the first evening and I began to re-evaluate my whole approach to travelling abroad.