The build-up was long, and I have to admit I was little nervous about my trip back to the UK. Would there be hover-boards? Would people be wearing smart watches and talking in to their wrists? What are google glasses? Obviously I am being a little bit flippant, but this was my first trip back in five years. What was I nervous about? Well, to be honest I am not really keen on social occasions so a party and a big family barbecue were what I was worrying about. But you know what? I really enjoyed seeing everyone. Catching up, chatting and not having to think about electricity and water for a few days had its benefits. What I wasn’t expecting was to be completely freaked out by the sheer number of people and daunted by having to cope with simple things like going through passport control and security at the airport.
On Friday morning Lorna dropped me off at Cordoba station to start my journey. My main concern all along has been that all would be ok at The Olive Mill while I was away and that Lorna would be ok here on her own for the first time in about six years. The first part of the journey was pretty routine, having bought my ticket, I found my allocated seat and relaxed in air conditioned comfort for the journey of just over an hour. Once I reached Malaga airport (having stopped for a much needed MacDonald’s breakfast), I queued up to check in for my flight on Monarch Airlines. Check in was a breeze, so I headed for security. A few minutes wait and I was ushered through, and then it hit me. There were people everywhere. The airport has changed since I was last there. You are now forced through one of those massive duty free shops (which could be anywhere in the world), and once out of the other side, I just stood there, mouth agape trying to get my bearings. “Where do I go?” “Where have all these people come from?”
The screen reported that there was an hour until the gate number was going to be displayed, so I found a seat and sat down for a while. What did I see? Beards, tattoos and Trunkies.
Firstly, beards. Not just goatees or something trim and tidy, we are talking full, soup straining beards like those sported by Jim Royle or Brian Blessed. These are smart, young men and I don’t know where it has come from. Every group of young-ish people had one of these beardies in it. It looks as though they have picked a tramp up from the street and given him some nice clothes. Please people – just don’t.
Secondly, the tattoos. They were everywhere. I am not talking about a subtle little name to remind you of a lost parent, or a tribute to a child. Big, in your face things, popping out of shirt collars and stretching up the necks of the (rather scary) men (and some women) sporting them. I understand that it is fashionable, and a statement of individuality to get tattoos, really I do, but has it got to the stage that they have to be on show all of the time? And it is really individuality now everyone has them?
Now for Trunkies. I remember seeing them on Dragon’s Den a few years ago and thinking “Wow, what a fab idea.” Almost every other family must have had one these branded, miniature suitcases for children, but without exception, the look in the parent’s eyes was telling you they regretted it. I saw small children pulling them along by the supplied strap weaving in and out of elderly ladies with zimmerframes, and crossing the paths of businessmen in a hurry to get on their flight. Then there were the ones who insisted on using it as a kind of scooter, sitting on the top and pushing themselves along at a snail’s pace, while their exasperated parents huffed and puffed with suitcases, pushchairs and bags full of duty free alcohol!
Soon it was time to head to the boarding gate, where I joined the queue. I didn’t want to be one of the last on to the plane and have to have my hand luggage checked in. Surely the whole point of only taking hand luggage is NOT having to wait at the other end. “No, I wouldn’t like to check in my hand luggage for free!” The queue behind me grew, but then the lady manning the desk made an announcement. “Everyone who has paid for advanced boarding will be boarding first, followed by those who have a Monarch card.” A wave of people from the back of the queue surged forward and formed a queue to the right. One of the desk attendants started checking their boarding cards and letting them on. “Those who have children under five may now board.” Another wave of people surged forward from the back of the queue I was in. Some of the children’s age was questionable, but no one seemed to ask. By now a few people in the front of my queue were getting itchy feet, but we had to wait while people with special assistance were checked in next. Finally we were starting to move, but now, other people who were just turning up were joining the smaller queue next to me and getting on first. After being about 15th in the queue, I must have got on the plane about 115th. Thankfully I was lucky, and the seat next to me was empty. It was a good job too, as when I sat down I realised that my knees were just about able to squeeze in behind the seat in front. I’m sure last time I flew Monarch there was more space.
All around me people were firing off last messages using Whatsapp or boring old text messages, presumably saying goodbye to loved ones just in case the flight went missing over the English Channel. The phones were turned off once the plane actually started moving on the runway. We were informed that the flight would be 2 hours and 10 minutes, a pleasant surprise, but of course that meant only two hours to fit in all the trolley selling the airline needs to do to make up their money. My flight was 13.30 Spain time, so of course, full justification to consume as much alcohol as humanly possible during that time. Beer, wine, miniature spirits were all being gratefully received by the masses. Then followed a selection of magazines – OK or Moshi Monsters, if they are your cup of tea? Nothing for the men, only the need to keep passing over the credit card. Then followed watches and perfumes, and yet more money being handed over.
Very soon we started passing over the Channel and I was pleased to see the clouds clear (I was sure I was going to be landing in a thick, grey mist, complete with drizzle). We flew directly over what I assume was Southampton harbour and turned right heading for Gatwick. I could see Worthing, Brighton and Eastbourne piers, and for the first time in about five years I had a couple of pangs of homesickness. Do you know what set it off? Grass! For about twenty minutes, I had real feelings of missing the rolling hills of the South Downs, and it might even have crossed my mind that coming back at some point in the future might not be too bad. But that evaporated on landing, as, as soon as the pilot switched off the seatbelt signs and we stopped moving, the phones came back out and the little tunes played everywhere – du-du-du. Back to Whatsapp and texting loved ones to tell them we hadn’t in fact gone missing over the channel, and they would see them in five minutes!
I don’t mind admitting that for the next hour I felt like I was in a science fiction movie. Approaching passport control, I was ushered to one end of the room, where I was confronted by some unmanned booths. I must have looked quite a sight, trying to put my passport in to the reader turning it around and around, maybe slightly starting to panic as a queue formed behind me. Eventually a lady came over and talked me through, and the machine spat me out the other side. Apparently, it recognised my face. I followed the masses though the green channel and past one last opportunity to grab some discounted alcohol and exited in to the arrivals area. I looked around briefly just in case anyone had had the foresight to order me a limousine, but there didn’t seem to be anyone waiting for me, so I made my way to the train station.
By now I had a splitting headache, and was being buffeted from side to side by hundreds of people, all in a hurry to be somewhere else. My train to Eastbourne was showing on the board as being in twenty minutes, and there was a queue with loads of people and only two cash desks open. Right behind me in the queue was a beautiful Irish girl being chatted up by an American guy claiming to be the producer of movies in the US. I don’t know if she was buying it, but he was persistent. Once I got to the desk I bought my ticket. FIFTEEN POUNDS for a train to Eastbourne! And guess what? I had to stand up all the way!
On leaving the station I was feeling a little shell shocked, so I decided to wander slowly down to my Mums house, stopping at Sainsburys for a drink. What was the first thing I saw? Two drug addicts stumbling across the zebra crossing. And yes, they had beards! I wasn’t sure I was ready for this. After looking around Sainsburys and nearly choking at the price of £1.25 for a small bottle of Sprite, I opted for a bottle of water, and wandered slowly to my Mum’s. On arrival her first reaction was “Are you ok?” knowing I might be a bit daunted.
Over the weekend I met up with Frankie and Kaci (one day Kaci will speak to me as soon as I see her and not five minutes before she was due to leave), spent the day in Brighton, attended my Grandparents 60th Wedding Anniversary, with a family party, played football with my mates on Sunday morning and had a barbecue with my Dad’s side of the family on Sunday. I very much enjoyed myself at all these occasions but I am still suffering from the football, and I fear the end of my football career has passed me by this weekend. I also discovered that I am not very good with a smartphone. Fat fingers and on screen typing do not mix, particularly on a bus! (I would have included a picture from the Anniversary party, but they were taken on a disposable camera and need to be developed in Boots!)
My good friend Simon offered to give me a lift to Gatwick on Monday as he was going to a course in Crawley, so I limped around to where I had arranged to meet him, and strapped myself in for a bit of a hair raising drive to Gatwick. Not because Simons driving was particularly scary, but it made me miss the quiet motorways of Andalucia. At one stage he did say to me “Hold on, you might not like this bit.” As he overtook down the middle of a road.
On arrival at Gatwick, I made my way to the check in area for Norwegian Airlines. I queued for 20 minutes, only to find a sign saying “Please check in using the self-serve machines”, so I left my spot in the queue and went to the machines. I needed my booking reference, which I didn’t have, so I re-joined the queue at the back. “No problem” the lady said at the desk, so why was I getting mad?
I was once again thrust in to being the rabbit in the headlights as I tried to navigate the security area. (Please note – this is only my experience and not meant to upset anybody, particularly friends of mine that work at the airport). New, unmanned machines were there to scan my boarding pass. Then I was herded to a numbered place at a table, where I spent a panicked few seconds trying to work out where the trays were. Underneath, by my ankles of course. I then had to explain this to the person who came through next and tried to put her stuff in with mine. There seemed to be a lot of shouting and herding going on, and this did result in me getting through the system quickly, and unscathed, but I did emerge the other side feeling a bit like someone had beaten me around the head with bottle of duty free vodka. I was tempted to write a comment on their comments board, but my legs were in no state to carry me any further than they had to. I do appreciate that this is a quick and efficient way for the staff to manage this process, but, from my point of view as someone who was a little bit freaked out by the whole thing, it was all a bit too ‘in your face’. I wonder how I would have felt if I didn’t speak English?
From then on it was almost plain sailing. The flight on Norwegian was much better for leg room and comfort, and there was free in flight wi-fi, so I do admit to joining the masses and being on Facebook for most of the journey. On landing I was on a schedule to try and get on an early train, but I was held up by first a bus trip to the terminal, and then the eternally slow Policia Local man checking the passports without even looking up. Ah Spain, welcome home.
I missed my train, for which I had a return ticket already bought. No problem however, the man who sold it to me at Cordoba assured me it was no problem to change it. So I went to the desk at Malaga and asked to cambiar the ticket for the next train. The man laughed at me. “Noooo. You have missed it. You can only change the ticket before the train goes.” What good is that? Another 27 Euros and I had to wait around for two hours.
I was so pleased to finally see Lorna pull around the corner at Cordoba Station, after she had negotiated her hospital appointment on her own, due to me missing the train. Another hour later, and I was home, back in the peace and quiet of the olive groves and surrounded by the animals and The Olive Mill.
Despite what you might think, I did really enjoy my trip, and finances allowing, I would like to do it once a year, but, I urge those scientists to hurry up building those teleporters. I am not sure I can cope with the journey again!