Celtic Illumination, part 143, Busman’s holiday
As you may imagine it was quite a relief to get into the departure lounge at Venice airport. I was one of the first through so managed to get a comfortable seat. You would think that I would relax and enjoy the comfort of the soft seating, a great improvement on my wooden bench, however I found myself to be most uncomfortable as there was a certain bad smell that made me quite uneasy. I checked about my area to see if perhaps a child, or a dog, had been sick, or worse, but could see nothing that would cause such a pong. I moved seats as the departure lounge was still quite empty. As I sat down I could still sense the stench but I realised why the smell had followed me, because it was me.
As quick as a flash I was into the toilets and, rather than strip off and have a good scrub down at a sink, I grabbed two bars of soap from the sinks and locked myself into a cubicle. I removed the lid of the cistern and began to give myself as good a wash as I could. At that stage of my life my feet were quite healthy and didn’t half pong so I removed my socks and washed them too. I waited as long as I could as the only way I could dry myself was by air drying. My socks of course were a different matter and rather than go sock less I pulled on the damp socks and squelched my way back into the departure lounge. I must have been away for a good forty minutes as the lounge was now full of people eager to get on the aircraft.
Eventually we boarded the aircraft and I found myself sitting by a window seat with a family stretched out to my right. Mum, dad and the two point four children. I was sitting next to their son, who must have been nine or ten years of age. It was as we got airborne that I relaxed and allowed myself to believe that I was actually going back to the UK. I smiled as I allowed the good times I had enjoyed run through my mind. Once we levelled out the crew began to dish out in flight meals. My meal didn’t last long and I was angry that the little boy next to me only played with his food and didn’t eat it. I could have eaten half a dozen of those.
We landed at Gatwick and I stood by the carousel waiting for the bags to come out. I saw a porter, with a trolley, waiting for some customers, rolling a cigarette. I hadn’t had a smoke for a couple of days so went over to him and asked if he could spare me one. He very generously gave me a handmade cigarette. I lit it and drew a decent lung full of cigarette smoke in. I must have coughed for at least four minutes as my poor wee body wasn’t used to the huge hit of nicotine and gagging smoke.
I thanked the porter and took my time carefully enjoying the remainder of the cigarette however I was dying to get through and buy some tailor made ones. I grabbed my bag and shot off and with my thirty bob Stirling went straight to a shop and bought twenty cigarettes. I couldn’t wait to rip the cellophane of and light one up. As I began to smoke my first real cigarette I realised that I was at Gatwick. I had return tickets from Heathrow so I was now stuck at Gatwick. I didn’t really know much about Gatwick, I had never been there before and I couldn’t picture its location in my mind.
I saw my porter friend pushing his bag laden trolley along and went over to him. “How do I get out of here?” I asked, as I offered him a tailor made cigarette. “Where do you want to go?” “I’m not sure,” I said. “Probably London?” He glanced about furtively and then asked. “Didn’t you just come in from Venice?” “Yes,” I said. He grabbed my bag and threw it on top of the bags and cases on his trolley. “Follow me,” he said, looking very much like a man with a plan. I did as he suggested and walked out to where a coach was waiting. “This coach is for some of the people off your flight.” He explained. “So get on, say nothing, pretend you don’t speak English or something, and it will take you to London.”
I stopped him putting my bag into the hold and took it with me onto the coach. I found a seat near the rear and crouched down, hoping to remain out of sight. The coach was only about one third full when it set off. We left Gatwick and were soon on a motorway. I hoped that if I was discovered that I wouldn’t be thrown off. A stewardess stood up and began to address all the passengers through a microphone. She spoke in Italian, then French and then German. When she started to speak in English I tried to make myself as small as I possibly could, for she announced that it would cost thirty bob to travel into London. She then, beginning at the front of the coach, worked her way along collecting money from all of the passengers.
When she got to me I smiled and explained that I had no money. She sat down beside me and asked, “Are you the fellow who has been stuck at Venice airport for a couple of days?” “Yes,” I smiled. “We were wondering how long you would be stuck there,” she laughed. “You’re quite a talking point.” I didn’t know whether to be honoured or embarrassed. “Look,” she said. “Just tell the driver where you want to go and he’ll drop you off.”
This of course was too good to be true so I nipped up to the driver and told him that I wanted to go to Brixton. He assured me that he was going nowhere near Brixton, and had no intention of going there, but he would drop me off at a tube station where I could catch a tube train to Brixton. It was quite late in the evening and I knew there would be no trains to Norwich until the morning so I thought my best bet would be to stay with Mervyn and the boys who had moved from Cricklewood to Brixton.
Luckily the tricks I had learned from my summer in London with Finbar still worked and I was able to use the tube to get to Brixton and not have to pay any money. I wandered off up the hill and got to Mervyns. I borrowed a couple of bob and went to use the public telephone. I rang Eastern and explained that I wasn’t AWOL, that I had been stuck at Venice airport for a couple of days; if they didn’t believe me they could contact the British embassy in Venice to validate my story.
It would appear that no one at Eastern could have cared less; in fact it would have appeared that they didn’t even miss me, but then they were air traffickers. I played for the sympathy vote and explained that I was now broke and stuck in London and would probably have to spend the night on a park bench. I was told that the weather forecast for London that night was good so I should have no problems. I explained that I would be back the following day, if I wasn’t attacked and murdered to death in some London park when I was told oh yeah, some fellow keeps calling up for you. Says he wants his daughter back.