Celtic Illumination, part 141, Dick Turpin did it with guns!
For the more independent and adventurous travellers among you, the Illuminati, I can highly recommend the ticket office at the car park at Venice airport. It is a compact room, quite dusty and the concrete floor is smooth enough so that you don’t rip yourself to pieces while tossing and turning through what can only be described as a torturous night of half sleep. Despite the fact that it is how ancient orders of devout monks would sleep, on a rough concrete or stone block, I can assure you that a religious experience it is not. I can also recommend a generous nightcap of grappa which will ensure that you couldn’t care less about where you sleep or wake for that matter. I would strongly recommend a blanket for warmth and a pillow for comfort. You will not find anywhere more reasonably priced in Venice.
The moment I woke I got out of the cabin and made my way to a spot of sunshine for I knew I was shivering in the grey light of dawn. I was tempted to take a nip of grappa but resisted and knew that I should wait until the terminal had opened for business. There would be no hot tea or toast for me, only whatever was available in the gentleman’s toilets. Hopefully some warm water to wash and cold water to drink.
It is again with hindsight that I can look back on these incidents and understand why I was forced to endure them. A king has everything and I suppose the double top secret cabal, who were preparing me for the throne of Ireland, needed to know how I would react to untold riches and wealth. So how better to determine a person’s moral fibre than to take everything away from them and see how they react. This specific incident was almost perfect, for not only had I no money and no food or no accommodation, I had the language barrier to contend with and a deadline. Being in the air force meant that I had to report back to my unit, on time, the next day, or else.
With the airport open I went in and used the facilities. I was quite hungry but was able to put that to the back of my mind. I saw that the British Airways desk was open, so went over and began to enquire about flights to the UK. I was told that a single flight to London would cost one hundred and twenty pounds. As a return with Freddie Laker had cost ninety eight pounds I wasn’t impressed with British Airways and reminded them that Dick Turpin did it with guns. Rob people that is. I didn’t really have much choice though.
I knew that the British embassy should be able to help me, I wasn’t sure how but I decided to give them a call. The telephone set up was a strange affair. There was a bank of telephone cubicles but this was controlled by a receptionist, secretary, type lady. I asked to be connected to the British embassy and she pointed at a cubicle. I did have one or two Gettone coins in my possession which were specifically used for the public telephone system.
I managed to get to get to speak to someone at the embassy. “Hello,” I said. “Sorry to trouble you, but I need a bit of help.” I explained my situation and was quite surprised to hear the fellow ask, “So what do you want me to do about it?” This wasn’t an offer of help as, in how can I help you, this was more along the lines of ‘I think you’ve mistaken me for someone who actually gives a shit.’ “Look,” I said. “British Airways want one hundred and twenty pounds for a flight, lend me the money and I will pay it back when I get home.”
The fellow on the end of the phone informed me that they were not a bank. I could see that I was getting no help from them but decided to cover my six o clock as I was speaking to a public official and knew that some record of the conversation would be recorded. “I’m in the air force,” I said. “If I don’t get back to my unit tomorrow, I will be AWOL, so I am reporting to you, to inform you that I am not intentionally AWOL.” Being AWOL, Absent without leave, was quite a serious charge and if I could sidestep that before it came hurtling at me, I would be doing myself a big favour.
“Oh! You’re in the air force,” said the fellow at the embassy. “Why didn’t you say so?” With the tone of his voice, I expected him to now say that he would send a car to collect me and everything would be taken care of, instead he said. “Why didn’t you tell me you were in the air force? Air force chaps are renowned for their resourcefulness and their initiative, use them. If you’re still here in four days’ time, give me another call.” With which he hung up.
I’m sure that the double top secret cabal were close by, monitoring my reactions to these people. With every person I spoke to, the chances of my return to London were diminishing. I went back to the British Airways desk. “Look,” I proposed. “Can I take a flight and pay you when I get to the UK?” “No,” they said, “Company policy and all that. More than my job’s worth. But tell you what, make a note of all the flights to the UK, come in when each flight is boarding and if there is a spare seat, we’ll let you on board the aircraft.”
I think that there were four flights on my first day. I found a bench near the water edge where I could sit and watch the water taxis zoom in and out, whisking tourists to and from Venice. The boats looked lovely and had a fantastic throaty roar. The weather was perfect and I found that a small sip of grappa every fifteen minutes or so, kept the hunger pangs at bay. I suppose I was quite keen to get back to the UK so at check in time, for each flight, I would get in to the terminal and sit and wait as a long line of people would be processed through to the departure lounge.
I would wait and wait and hope and then the stewardess would look at me and shake their heads. It wasn’t their fault and it was very kind of them to offer to help me at all. I would wander back out to my bench and sit and watch the water taxis. They were lovely looking craft, wooden with smooth lines, real Italian style. I wondered if there was a red water taxi with two good ol Italian boys thundering around the canals shouting ‘Yee haa!’ or whatever the Italian equivalent is. Probably something like ‘Ciao Bella!’
I was much more prepared, both mentally and physically, for my second night in the ticket hut, at the main car park, at Venice airport. I had kept my eyes open for a rogue blanket or overcoat that I could have liberated, but as it was late May, and the weather was perfect, there were not many people wandering around in heavy overcoats, or blankets for that matter. I had sorted my clothes and wore the heaviest jumpers I had with me. My grappa supply was dwindling and I calculated that I only had enough to last another three days.
I promise you I didn’t worry. Whether I was totally stupid or completely laid back about the whole affair I can only leave that determination up to you. I didn’t feel depressed or down at all. I was quite enjoying myself. Tell me, where you would rather be right now, sitting where you are, or sitting on a bench at Venice airport, in bright warm sunshine, watching the water taxis zoom in and out. Be truthful. See? I wasn’t in any sort of predicament, I was in heaven.