Friday, 11 January 2008
Waiting in line in the check-in queue at glamorous Gatwick airport, I am engaged in conversation by an old-ish gentleman wearing the interesting combination of a tweed suit, flat cap and tracksuit top. He questions me gently but thoroughly about the auto check in machines that we have all had to use and which are new to him. We agree that they clearly don't make check-in any quicker but just break one large queue up into two large queues with a lot of confused old people, while saving money on staff. "You'd be in trouble if you couldn't read or write", he offers, which is true, although if you're resourceful enough to have booked a ticket, then I'm sure you'd find a way to overcome this little hurdle. We continue chatting and he tells me that he came from the Caribbean a long time ago and has now retired back there, which sounds like a good plan if ever I heard one. He asks me what I do, so with my usual slightly cautious chuckle, I tell him. "Wowee", he says carefully, "A juggler. Wowee".
At that moment, we hear raised voices over by one of the check-in desks and we all glance over to see a middle aged man sweating and flushed in his blue suit, shouting at a resolutely calm and curly-permed check-in girl. He has been told that he's only allowed to check in one suitcase. He has two. "How long has there been this stupid rule?", he bellows without looking at the girl behind the desk. "More than a year, sir", she smiles back. "Where does it say that on the ticket? It should say it on the ticket. It doesn't say it anywhere on the ticket", now he's looking at her, which is great as it means he sees her hold up his ticket and point with a long perfectly manicured pink nail to exactly where it say it on the ticket. Then he whirls around to face the queue, sees me with my two big suitcases and points angrily, "What about him, he has two cases". I respond with my most winning-est grin, safe in the knowledge that as someone working on a cruise ship I have a special sea-mans exemption and can carry twice the amount of luggage that you plebs are allowed. I am special. The man next to me in the line that I was talking to giggles.
"Fine", says the angry man, "FINE", and starts to unzip one of his suitcases. Now pretty much the whole queue is looking. There is little more intoxicating than the opportunity to see inside someone else's suitcase. We all peer at it as inconspicuously as possible, which isn't very. Then he opens it. It's full of bubble wrap. Completely full. There is nothing else in the case at all. Just bubble wrap. He starts to unload it. Dumping armfuls of it onto the floor by the counter, it's unfolding and unrolling as he unpacks it, so that the pile on the floor next to him is much bigger that the size of the suitcase it came from. Finally he's done, the zips the full suitcase inside the now empty one and throws it onto the conveyor belt. "OK?", he snaps. He gets given his boarding card and storms away. We all mutter amusedly to ourselves and continue to gawp at the huge pile of bubble wrap, which must be at least three feet wide by two feet tall. A little bubble-wrap mountain. Mount Pop. Now the check-in girl is peering over the front of her counter and looking at it too. She ponders for a second, picks up her phone, says a few words, smiles and hangs up. Within a couple of minutes a particularly large member of the airport staff has frog-marched the now very angry man back to the counter, dragged a trash can over to him and now stands over him as the furious man realises what he has to do and starts to put all the bubble wrap in the trash. Now my part of the line are laughing openly, and the check-in girl smiles sweetly at us while we all watch the man clear up his mess and slink away, completely defeated. "Wowee", says the man next to me, between little wheezy laughs.
The rest of my flight is uneventful and fairly pleasant, until I reach Barbados, my destination. There's some problem with immigration - they need to know what hotel I'm staying at, but I have no idea as I just get picked up at the airport and taken there. Clearly this means that I'm attempting to stay in Barbados illegally, or forever, or I'm a terrorist, or something. Either way I get lead to a little office and told to wait while they make some phone calls. I lean on the side of a desk and immediately get told off and told that chairs are for sitting. I giggle and mumble "Settle down Beavis" under my breath and sit in one of the blue plastic school chairs. There's a TV in the corner of the room showing "The High Chapparal" and above it, on the wall, a notice that says "All human interactions are an opportunity to learn or teach". I wonder which one is being done here. I take out my phone to make a note of the the sign, a move which attracts the response "No phones". I guess the assumption is that I've had enough and have decided to call in an air-strike or something. If I had the power to call in air-strikes I would have used it a long time ago and not on somewhere as gorgeous as Barbados. Are you listening Stevenage, Swindon and Peterborough? Anyway, they confirm that I am not a danger to the Barbadian way of life, but I am, in fact, just a snarky juggler, so the let me go.
By the time I get to my hotel I'm starving. Having been to this hotel before, I recall that the vegetarian food wasn't much of anything, so I set off up the road to investigate the pizza place I saw from the taxi window on the drive it. There it is, in the middle of a bunch of pre-fab shops and pastel coloured bungalows, "Mamma Mia's Authentic Italian Deli and Pizzeria". Looks like it could be promising. On entering, I realise that it's more than promising, it's great. Full of cocky Italian folk ("Do you take visa cards? Yes. Do you do take out? Yes. Can I have a large Aosta pizza? No. I JOKE!"), it's actually like being in Italy. Shelves full of big sausages, cheeses, wines, breads, lots of good-looking little snacks wrapped in twists of paper and stored in big jars. And Chinnoto, my favourite non-Coca Cola fizzy drink. Back in my hotel room I sit on the bed, open the pizza box, flick on the TV and take my first bite. "Wowee", I say to myself, "Wowee".