The City is Now Behind You, the Mountains in Front

(A diary entry from years ago...)

Gatwick Airport, Saturday morning, way too early.

A little too much 'Meze' the night before, not really in top form but off on holidays. There will be ample time to recover, if only we can get there.

The flight - a charter - is predictably delayed, reportedly because of the late arrival of the flight. What kind of excuse is that? The plane is late because it is late. We retire to a dim satellite television sampling area where the audience is snoring its way through a CBS exposé on crooked cops.

I reckon it's all a conspiracy. Flights are deliberately delayed so that you are forced to spend time in the Gatwick Village shopping tenement where the magazine shops have no real magazines and the chemist can prescribe nothing stronger than a six- pack of flavoured condoms.

Trish hovers over a magazine with a tastefully nude Sylvester Stallone on the cover. I warn her if she buys it I'm going back home. She plumps for one with Meg Ryan on - which I can live with.

I hide out in the toilet. A discarded tabloid bears the headline 'Virgin girl comes third in Miss Sussex Beauty Contest'. I'm trying to remember if I've ever been to Sussex. Then I realise the paper is an airport rag and that, in this instance, ‘Virgin’ is an airline and not a state of mind.

On the plane finally. I claim the window seat leaving Trish to deal with a round yellow old-girl with a blatant beige wig perched at forty-five degrees on her head.

She sprays her sandwich all over my wife as she pronounces her dislike of all 'Pakkies'. I ask her what she's got against camels anyway but she suffers from selective deafness.

Her partner in geriatric aviation harassment dawns over the back of my seat. She looks like Shirley McLaine devoid of her beliefs. The ladies order large Johnny Walkers to wash down their take-off boiled sweet then tumble into turbulent nasal sleep.

But now, suddenly, it's Majorca.

We fly in low over what is such a pallid landscape compared to the lush colours with which we are familiar. The hand that painted this watercolour appears to have added too much water to the paints to thin the hues. Of course, actually the opposite is true, it is lack of water which has made this portrait pale.

We glimpse windmills. A surprise.

Palma Airport is a jamboree of disorientated grannies wandering off by themselves through sliding doors and out into the afternoon sun.

The lager louts by the baggage carousel seem strangely subdued. Perhaps they sense that the great palm-rubbing period of anticipation of their holiday is now coming to an end. Now there is nothing left to do for the next fortnight except drink, read yesterdays Daily Mirror, and scrape sand from their tattooed arses. Never mind boys, it'll all still sound great when you tell the lads back home.

We make contact with our car hire lady outside the airport caff. Blonde, briefcased and businesslike with a line in patter straight from Len Deighton.

"Here is your are your keys, map and papers...We will not speak again unless something goes wrong...."

We follow her outside. I nod and smile, hopelessly hyperactive, and instantly forget everything she tells me. Eventually she slinks off to her next dead letter box and we slink back into the shelter of the terminal to take a deep breath and prepare ourselves for the drive.

You just know it's a foreign country. The signs are there. I find a 'caballeros' and duck in to 'check my makeup'. While lined up against the wall with all the other guys, the door opens and a cleaning lady rattles in. She nonchalantly dips her mop and splashes it in and around our slightly parted legs. The others don't seem rattled by this. I study the ceiling and try not to add to her work.

We get on the road. Trish has carte blanche to remind me as many times as she feels is necessary that we should be driving on the right. She reels off the directions and they present themselves and are passed in the order they are written, which is always nice.

The phrase which I took to my heart from the directions in the week before we left was, " the city is now behind you, the mountains in front." Now here we are, thrown centrifugally from the Via Cingtura and off up the Valdemossa road, the city very much behind.

"Sit back and relax," I advise Trish, "It's going to be quite a run to Valdemossa."

Two minutes later we are there.


Tam said...

Did the condoms do anything for your headache?

Dave King said...

Takes me back a bit - we do not fly any more, fpr medica; reasons, but when we did I absolutely hated large airports. Some of the very small ones were wonderful, but not the Gatwicks and Heathrows of this world. Beautifully written, a joy to read.

Debbie said...

as always, a joy to read. your style is so easy, thanks!

Anonymous said...

LOL @ tam! :)

Your story reminded me of how much I used to enjoy flying, and how very much I despise it now.

Ken Armstrong said...

Hey Tam: I didn't buy them, golly, that would have been very naughty :)

By the way, I only know they were flavoured because I read it on the packet (just before you ask).

Thanks Dave: High praise indeed, I really appreciate it.

Debbie: To say my style is 'easy' is, for me, the highest compliment. I strain quite hard to make it so. Thanks. :)

Ken Armstrong said...

Now Inspire, don't you go encouraging young Tambo. I'll do the funnies around here!! :)

Interesting, that... I've flown all round the world and loved it... and now I don't. I actually feel much happier flying alone... maybe there's a post in there somewhere? 'Flying with my keys'...

Fiendish said...

Lovely lovely piece. Since no one has already said it, I'll quote my favourite line: "in this instance, ‘Virgin’ is an airline and not a state of mind."
You are such a natural at this blogging business.

I see you even have a Digg counter now. If any of your posts ever makes front page that will be almost too much fame to bear.

Anonymous said...

I prefer flying alone too. Maybe something to do with not having to worry about the other person's comfort, so you can actually relax?

I miss the half empty planes, and more courteous flight attendants. :)

Jim Murdoch said...

Not since Dante Alighieri has hell been described so beautifully.

Rachel Fox said...

You know Ken these days it's NOT buying condoms that's considered naughty!

I used to love flying in planes but that stopped quite a long time ago. More than anything it's the numbers of people packed on to each plane that I find impossible now (who will get air rage? who will attack the stewards? who will run riot? Just too many potential disasters for the worriers amongst us...). These days it's the presidential jet or nothing. So...nothing it is then.


Ken Armstrong said...

Thanks Fiendish, I'm looking forward to a nice read over at your blog this evening! :)

Inspire: I think there is something about not worrying about other people when you fly alone.

Jim: Made me laugh :). What's interesting (and the title alludes to this) the flight and the airport(s) were a hell, of sorts, but once the city was behind us, we left the disorientated grannys and the mob of young ravers and went, beyond Valdemossa to Deya.

A little country house, high in the mountains above Deya, is an ascent into heaven. We didn't have to go back to hell again for a whole two weeks.

Thank you Rachel, for quite rightly putting me onto the old straight and narrow - yes, there is half a lame pun in there somewhere but I'm not explaining it to anyone.

R. Brady Frost said...

I read this yesterday and I really enjoyed it. The pacing was great, as was the general mood and style of the writing. That's amazing for being a journal entry.


Jena Isle said...

I kept smiling all through-out the entry. Really Ken, you've got this totally endearing style. Even when you talk about subjects like condoms and "virgins", they do not come distasteful. Your style is un-equalled in your genre of writing.

Kudos to you!

Ken Armstrong said...

Hi Brady and thanks. I would have polished-up the diary entry a little before deeming it to be fit for human consumption but not very much. This was one of the liveliest entries, things got nicely slower up in Deya.

Incidentally, our house in Deya (on loan from a great friend of mine) was next door to Robert Graves house, which helped 'the muse' no end. :)

Jen, you are just too kind to me!!

Ken Armstrong said...

Actually, speaking of 'polishing up', I even rewrote this diary entry after I posted it (something I do now and again). I swapped two consecutive words for one different one and thought it was a significant improvement.

As a bit of fun, can anyone spot it for 100EC's?

Probably not. :)

Jena Isle said...

I noticed something the first time I read it, is it "Chemist" or "expose"? Not sure this should have taken a mental note of it. Next time I will.


Ken Armstrong said...

Hi Jen, it's not those but thanks for playing.

It's funny, when I got your comment, I'd forgotten about my last post so I thought your words were wonderfully obtuse. Then I figured it out. :)

ted de stratford said...

A tastefully nude Sylvester Stallone?
I find that a little hard to believe.

Ken Armstrong said...

See, I'm kind of pleased you mentioned that, Ted. It's not the kind of detail I would tend to invent and of all the bits and pieces in that diary entry, a nude Sly would be the best way to accurately date when I flew to Palma.

So, brace yourself, cos here he is:

'Sly Nude'

(Meg Clothed was much better)

Ken Armstrong said...

I never did explain the little edit I did.

Previously the last line said, 'Two minutes later we are in Valdemossa' I changed it to read 'Two minutes later we are there." And was very pleased with my work. :)

Pam Nash said...

I'm proposing legislation that will force all the undesirables to fly together on special charters. Of course, the great danger is that someone will put me forward as being in that category.