From Home to Heathrow.
“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”
Well, sometimes you do know what you have got, but the leaving of it enhances the feeling that it is, indeed, very very precious.
As a young man, leaving Cornwall was an exciting adventure. Mostly by train, I used to head ‘up country’ and beyond, with a light step and a thumping heart. Standing on the ‘up’ platform at Camborne, one could aways see the Diesel engine approaching from Penzance, grunting and smoking as it pulled up the slope from Penponds. Back in the 70’s British Rail’s finest blue and grey coaches rattled limpingly towards you. Once on board, one of the best views was out of the window of the railway carriage just as the train left Redruth. The train curved around the bend in the tracks to present a view of Carn Brea rising above the houses and slowly retreating into the distance. The granite capped Carn, with its castle at one end and the tower of the Basset monument at the other, was a touchstone, a marker of home both in its going and its appearance upon return. Whenever that might be.
Today was different. No Carn in view as it was still two hours before sunrise. No railway station either as due to a little issue with a virus, railway travel is very much curtailed. So, instead the car was loaded and in the dark we were off. Grant, me and some luggage. A four and half hour journey to Heathrow along an eerily quiet M5 and M4. It was also different because this time, I did not really choose to go, or to seek out the opportunity. It sought me. It came as a seductive invader promising heaps of gold in Arabian nights if only I’d rub the lamp. The genie had escaped and granted wishes beyond the dreams of avarice. It is often said that everyone has his price, and so it is. All the better if that price involves first class travel and accommodation.
I guess all of us, unless we are independently wealthy, sell our souls to the highest bidder in exchange for a modicum of financial security. Most of us have little choice in the matter. When the temptress bids you to eat gold, when the lure of the dollar dims your senses, when the oil well spouts its bounty, many of us will succumb. There is little morality in earning many a crust. Those who have only their ‘labour to sell’ must maximise the opportunity in a faustian pact dressed in a thawb, the long white coats of Saudi Arabia.
That is why I found myself on a Qatar Airways fight to Dubai via Doha before eventually, in two weeks time, landing in Jeddah on the Red Sea coast. Apparently the Royal House of Saud require a little help in developing their health service. And it seems I am the very chap to help out, along with many others of course.
Given the current pandemic context it is a wonder I’m on the flight at all.
Heathrow terminal 5 in a gloomy January morning, when the sun is a misty shadow of itself hiding behind a damp layer of low cloud, is a grey, metal box. About as welcoming as a diagnosis of syphilis but not as much fun. Grant had done the driving up from Cornwall. While in the car, this was a journey like many others but with less traffic and less stupidity exhibited behind the wheel of fellow drivers. However, getting out of the car and unloading the luggage was another dimension.
Suddenly the enormity of that I was doing hit me like an electric shock. What the actual fuck was I doing here? I had spent the last two nights safely tucked up with Ann. Absolute heaven. And a pasty too. I even had a pint of beer in front of the reassuring TV madness of Midsomer Murders (we know how to live). And now I’m about to do my own stint as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.
I don’t think watching 15 episodes of Rick Stein touring Cornwall over the past two weeks helped to prepare me for the wrench I now feel. And my God it is a wrench. It tears into your gut and threatens to engulf the senses.
Life in Cornwall can be a bit predictable, living in predictable places with predictable routines and of course very predictable weather. But its wonderful for all that. It is a truism of course that its the people that matter, not the fancy sights and sounds of far flung places. “You can have gold in your pants and gold in your socks, but if you ain’t got folks, gold is just rocks’ “ goes the old negro spiritual that I just made up.
The first class lounge was ok. Comfortable. Clean. Quiet. Better than enduring the loud hen party totally pissed on Prosecco on its way to Magaluf, or the drunk Stags intent on upsetting anyone within earshot on their way to catching a dose of the clap in a back street bar in Ibiza. One avoids the family of screaming kids and vomiting baby whose dysentery arrived early as it explodes in a vile stream of steaming faeces into a nappy designed to hold only a quarter of what it is now expected to absorb. Perhaps I’m exaggerating.
No none of that.
However, I was bitterly disappointed by the low standard of sartorial elegance. Given the price of the tickets these folk must have paid, one would expect at least a bit of, well, ‘effort’. Instead we are treated to the standard uniform of the Saturday night out in Manchester but without the sparkles and the tits. Trainers, T shirt and Jeans. Is there no imagination left in the world? This is an international lounge, so one would have expected to see feathers, glitz, pizzaz from all over the globe. Instead, Sandra from Salford has taken all of a minute to choose an outfit so uninspiring it resembles a wet Sunday in Scunthorpe. Then into view comes a muffin top, white plastic trainers and a ‘gold’ handbag so cheap you could not give it way, I thought ‘Mate, No. Have some respect for yourself, this is not what being ‘metrosexual’ means’.
Buy a suit.
If this is the first world, mired in its affluence, then I can’t wait to be back in Camborne. Really.
Boarding time soon arrived, obligatory glass of fizz as one is shown to one’s ‘booth’. Yes. A booth, not a seat. Now this is flying. The food was delicious given we are 5 miles up. A mezze selection of tabbouleh, mamatha and hummous…olive oil dip and flatbreads. Followed by lamb prepared according to islamic principles it helpfully informs me on the menu. I suppose that means, indeed of being stunned with a bolt to the head just before one’s innards are ripped and separated from one’s consciousness in a good Christian time honoured and blood soaked fashion, that one’s throat is cut and bled to death while invoking Allah’s will? Either way it was delicious. After a 6 and half hour journey we touch down in Doha where I will make my connecting flight to Dubai, inshallah.
At about 0340 local time, my body tells me it is about twenty to one in the morning back in the UK. I disembark and attempt to find the hotel. Hot, tired, thirsty I am accosted by a taxi driver and whisked away to the Sheraton. My mind is telling me that this bloke is dodgy….well, I know this because a tripadvisor guide stated that one should only take the official taxis just outside the airport. First of all he said he only accepts cash not a card. I’m in no mood or have the energy to argue. Upon arrival at the hotel lobby he charges me 200 dirham – I have no idea what this amount means. He cannot give me a receipt because he says something in broken English that I just don’t have the energy to interpret. I suppose all would be ok if I did not enquire rat check in on reception what the usual fare to the airport is. Well, that would be 50 dirham. The receptionist apologises profusely on the taxi driver’s behalf, who by this time was no doubt laughing all the way to nearest whore house. This is what world travel is all about. Its not just sightseeing and eating in fancy and exotic restaurants or sampling the dysenteric street food. Its about getting lost, being at the mercy of some local – begin or others – and being ripped off for losing like a ferkin tourist. Well the next time yer man from the local pasty shop charges an emmet an extra 50p for his traditional steak, he is only doing what locals do to the stupid, tired and disorientated.
A sadder and a wiser man, I went to bed. Knackered.