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I had been snowed in for three days in a row. First for two days at Gothenburg, Landvetter, where along with hundreds of similarly marooned passengers and all hotels full I had to sleep on airport benches or concrete floors. Then at Amsterdam, Schiphol for a day plus one interrupted night. I was meant to be on my way back to Rennes, Brittany, via Paris Charles De Gaulle but inclement weather had closed around half of Europe’s airports.
There are worse things than being holed up in the Schiphol Hilton. Yoko Lennon can testify. Regrettably her late husband John can’t, having been murdered a few years after his well publicised ‘Love -In’ there and by a piece of **** whose name isn’t worthy of pressing keys here on my keyboard. But I digress. As I said, there were worse places to be holed up. I was keen to get home though. After thousands of aircraft carting me, long suffering, for twenty odd years and millions and millions of air miles I’d had enough. I had invariably always been keen to get home as soon as possible on such trips after just a couple of years of embarking upon a career as an international salesman. 'Globe-trotting' isn't all it's cracked up to be!
Thus when my favourite KLM girl telephoned me to tell me she had found me a seat to London rather than my scheduled route direct to Paris I leapt at the chance. At least it would get me a little closer to home and family. It would help relieve the boredom of the last couple or so days too, if nothing else.
"There’s one seat available on a Nigerian Airways jet coming in from Abuja at 4:00 am. It has to land here despite the weather and it leaves again at 5:00 am for Heathrow.”
Though curious as to why it had to land at Schiphol, thinking that discretion being the best part of valour I decided against asking. When it made its controlled crash some would laughingly describe as a landing I then understood more fully. No other airport in Europe had a runway strong enough or long enough!
Now don’t get me wrong. The Lockheed Tri-Star is a very fine aeroplane. Lockheed made quite a few of them too. Right up until the time Lockheed packed up making passenger jets way back in 1984!
This particular one was a very fine examples too . No, ‘examples’ in the plural is not a typing error. This plane was the sum of many parts. Mostly from different aircraft! The port wing was a mucky white colour. To starboard it was a nice shiny silver. Undoubtedly a brand new replacement after the sister to the one on the other side fell off!
It taxied through the slush up to the standing next to the passenger departure lounge which for the past half hour I had occupied all by myself. Lots of shivering but very brightly coloured passengers disembarked and joined me in the lounge.
I’m not a small person by any means. However I generally only require one seat at a time upon which to park my backside when I sit down. This bunch didn’t! Two hundred and fifty passengers needing around four hundred seats in the departure lounge. They would make the ‘six-fifteen’ from Calcutta to Barrackpore look scarcely up to half capacity. It did not raise my spirits of what the ‘cigar tube’ of an outdated passenger jet might look like when they all lumbered back onboard.
With me somewhere in the middle!
I was right. The plane was heaving. I had been allocated the only remaining seat. This was between two ladies who if I described them accurately I would certainly be arrested by some hand wringing loony liberal ‘PC’ nutter for being chauvinistic, racist, sizeist and everythingelse-ist. Despite my being anything but. Thus you will have to use your own undoubtedly ample imaginations in these challenging times for freedom of speech. They were FAT OK? There now. I’ve said it. Part of it anyway.
I quickly established that neither of these ‘Mammas’ spoke any more English than I did Igbo and equally as quickly established there was very little room for me to sit between them. I thus hastily improvised a sign language in order to suggest that maybe they would prefer to continue their squabbling and chatting sitting side by side one another.
The lady nearest the aisle eased herself into the aisle. The plane groaned a little and lurched slightly to starboard. I got out of my centre seat of the row of three and stood beside her. The lady moved across the aisle seat and attempted to lower herself into the middle seat. The plane groaned some more and lurched back to port. Except she couldn’t lower herself into the middle seat. Her advesary in the window seat was overlapping it by much too large a margin!
The whole pantomime was re-enacted except in reverse. I resigned myself to my fate, took a deep breath that I hoped would sustain me for at least forty minutes then sat down and started to think of England.
Whilst waiting for what God willing (and more importantly engine makers - Rolls Royce) might be a take-off I had a quick squint around the cabin. Not only were there no two seats with matching upholstery, most were different shapes and sizes to one another. ‘Your Life Jacket is Under Your Seat’ appeared in a total of fourteen different languages from my viewpoint. I tried to find a gap between my thigh and my ample neighbour’s in an attempt at retrieving my seat belt. I don’t know what Igbo for ‘This honkey is trying to rape me!’ but this lady’s bellowing sounded like it might be close. So I gave up. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway. Had the plane suddenly decide to invert itself then providing the ladies either side of me were securely bolted to the floor then there was no way I could leave my seat. I consoled myself with the thought that not many scheduled air passengers get to travel with personal, heated airbags.
The old plane lumbered, creaked and flexed its way down the runway. For quite a long time too. Just as I was beginning to wonder if we might be going by road I swear I heard a crew member up front yell “jump!” and then we were airborne.
Flying time from Schiphol to Heathrow, allowing for ‘stacking’ time and Socialist governments, is only about forty minutes. Little time therefore to serve refreshments but bless ‘em, they tried anyway. A curtain separating cattle class from 'Economy' was thrown back and through the gap walked a steward. Again I must check myself against risk of inquisition by the PC Brigade but what other way is there of describing a non Asian, non Caucasian, non Inuit man - with a bone through his nose? OK? Read on or not. You may prefer not to believe what I write and that's up to you but I swear it's true. Every word. As I say. It’s up to you.
There. So you did then? Carry on reading that is.
Anyway, the tall not white man with the face decoration was pushing a standard airplane catering trolley. He politely asked each passenger in turn whether they would care to partake of - “Hey, coffee man. You want?” and to my astonishment, despite the fact that the recent rapid ‘turnaround’ at Schiphol hadn’t afforded the luxury of restocking the plane’s galley with clean and freshly washed crockery, everyone was replying “Hey, man. Coffee yeah. Gimme, gimme. I want!”
Our friendly Witch Doctor performed a ritual each time of wiping each previously used cup with a dripping, coffee soaked and disgusting ‘dwile’ before filling from a percolator flask and handing to each of his victims.
My turn came. I declined.
Then the public address system crackled and hissed into life.
"Helloo dere! Dis am da capitan what is talking. I is da pilot o' dis ‘ere airplane. An' I is gonna land it at Gatwick Airp... Ah sorry, I mean da Heefrow Airport. Assoomin’ dere is room fer me to park it dere. Ho, ho, ho!"
"We is flyin’ at an altitood o' half past six an' we shall be arrivin’ soon. Please put out all da yor smokin’ an yor chillun what on yor laps. We is goin’ down. Ho, ho, ho!"
We landed. safely. Otherwise of course I wouldn’t be telling this story.
No moral and no funny punch line. Except perhaps just to leave a message. For Tax Inspectors.
To the Tax Inspector who visits our offices, uninvited, without warning and who uses their State granted powers of thuggery to disrupt our work. Forcing us to open our books. Who after three and a half days of examining them and finding nothing whatsoever to be wrong. Whilst drinking our free coffee and using our free toilet facilities and who then says -
“It’s all right for some swanning round the world on these junket trips. I’ll see if I can’t slap a ‘Benefit in Kind’ tax on you for that!" Then doing just that.
That, if it ever happens again, is the Tax Inspector with the black eye!
You know who you are Matthews, if you're reading this!
I've finished throwing up now.
For the day anyway.