I’m standing in the scanner thing the security gestapo put people with pacemakers into after they’ve informed everyone in the entire airport that you have a pacemaker.
It used to bother me, but it doesn’t any more. But nonetheless, I still remark to the last person to yell, ‘He’s got a pacemaker!’ that somebody in terminal three may not have heard them.
‘Am I all right?’ I reply. ‘All right?’ I assess my current mental status, and find it wanting in several things, mainly positivity. ‘Except,’ I reply, ‘for the fact that I detest crowds, airports and flying… and this is my second flight of the day… yeah, I guess I’m all right.’
She looks at me with a troubled uncertainty.
‘’Cos if you’re not all right, love, I’ve here to help. My name’s Holly, and I’m here all day.’
Is this a joke, I wonder? Since when have airport security staff been responsible for mental health issues.
I’m at Stanstead airport. I’ve just flown in from Wroclaw. I say “just,” but as it took over an hour to get through passport control, it’s a good job that my onward flight to Malaga doesn’t depart for another three hours.
Entering Britain through Stanstead is as joyless an experience as one can find. Everywhere are stark, threatening posters warning you what will happen if you treat a border official – or any other member of officialdom – with anything less than almost deific revere. The word “respect” is everywhere.
Respect those who work here.
Respect the queuing system.
Respect the acknowledgement that the method of entry into the UK is imperfect but a work in progress, and so please be patient. And respect those whose job it is to improve it.
Respect the fact that there is no evidence of this actually happening, and there are – I counted this during my shuffle to the front line – twenty-nine unmanned (or unwomaned) kiosks where human beings could be inspecting your passport.
Respect the fact that all border officials have been replaced by automated e-passport technology. And respect the one hatchet-faced, obese woman, whose sole purpose seems to be to admonish anyone who dares to step on or over the yellow line before the green arrow on the e-passport booth ushers them forward.
She wears a badge that says “here to help.” Everyone, apparently, is here to help. The British are good at irony – just look at Stephen Fry.
The only thing that entry to the UK through Stansted is missing is a sign saying: “Welcome to Little Britain: the world’s largest multi-cultural toilet.” This could be augmented by another reading, “Britain welcomes Economic Migrants: queue here for free money and a fast-tracked council house.”
Back to Holly.
I realise that Holly is still looking at me with the sort of concerned curiosity that Mick Jagger might display if he was asked what his favourite Beatles song was. She’s – at a guess – in her early thirties, and would be borderline attractive were it not for the lumps of metalwork welded into both sides of her nose.
‘Here’s my number,’ she says, thrusting an official looking flyer into my hand. ‘If you need help, give me a call.’
Is this a side hustle, I wonder? Do I care? No, not really. I thank her, and go to look for my security scanned possessions. About a week later my boots arrive, I find my pacemaker certificate, and eventually I discover a perch on which to put them back on.
Jean Paul Sartre once wrote, “Hell is other people.”
I am not so keen on random other people, but I sure as hell enjoy observing them, listening to them, and making up narratives for them. I know… narrative is such a cliché, but it is appropriate here. I also give them nicknames. Yes, I do. I give nicknames to people I do not know, but whose paths cross mine on a regular basis; at the gym, in my café-slash-office, in bars I visit. There’s Fast Feet, there’s Robocop, there’s Mafia Guy, there’s The Urinator (a local drunk who regularly pees in the flower bed in our square), and there’s Furtive Dave… I could go on, but I won’t.
I find a sea of wooden islands – slatted circular benches that resemble exhibits from the natural History Museum – amid the host of shops, cafes and bars, just beyond the half mile snake of duty-free stalls and park myself. Only one sales rep makes the mistake of trying to engage me.
Do I look like I want to buy something?’ I retort. And that puts an end to that.
I’ll sit here for a bit, because it’s surprisingly comfortable, too early for a Guinness, and the longer I sit here the more it becomes a sanctuary, the more I observe people, and the more this entertains me and takes me away from what I’m doing – being with people.
Let’s start with the guy opposite me, Richard Dreyfuss. He’s a bearded university lecturer, reading a weighty tome on the Holy Roman Empire and desperately looking for an electric socket what will charge his phone. Having tried several, he frustratingly concludes that only one of the twenty or so sockets on our “island” works, and gives up.
To my left, is Albert Camus, an elderly French gentleman dressed in a tweed jacket, checked cotton shirt and a lime green tie. He has no problem charging his phone, which only serves to annoy Dreyfuss. Dr Dre, sitting opposite Dreyfuss, says he’s going, and perhaps his socket might work, but before Dreyfuss can get to it, a Muslim couple, both dressed in traditional Islamic clothing and flip flops, occupy Dre’s seating area and plug a phone into the socket, which works.
This only serves to annoy Dreyfuss even more.
The Muslim couple, with broad Birmingham accents, are the only people I’ve seen who actually look happy. They are enchantingly excited about wherever it is they are going, and this serves to soften my veneer of negativity just a little. They’ve also given me an idea – next time I have to fly (which I hope will not be for a very long time) I’m going to wear flip flops. That solves the boots-off-slash-boots-lost-slash-boots-on problem.
‘I’m just going to have a quick word with the lads,’ says Mr Brummie to his wife, and off he skips in the direction of Wetherspoons. As if… but who knows? Perhaps he does enjoy a shady pint of Brew Xl with “the lads” after a Villa game, and why not?
‘I fuckin’ love onions rings, don’t you?’
‘Yeah, they’re fuckin’ sick.’
That’s two fat Scottish birds, waddling through my oasis, en route to Burger King.
You can learn a lot in an airport lounge. I’ll bet you didn’t know that Burger King have been flame grilling since 1954? Nope? Neither did I.
Dreyfuss gets his shit together, packs away his uncharged phone, and departs. A trendily dressed man, wearing deliberately too-short turned-up jeans and Doc Martins, accompanied by a girl who’d I’d imagine is his daughter, fill the free booth opposite. I’m guessing he was a Bay City Rollers fan before he lost his hair. He’s got oversized glasses and a bit of a gut on him, and these booths are perfectly designed for one and a half people, so it’s just as well that his daughter is shaped like a stick insect. It could be his mistress, but I very much doubt it, and in any case, all doubt is removed by his subsequent phone conversation.
‘Oh, hi mate… oh yeah, I’m actually at Stanstead airport… yeah, I know. Oh, Gemma, you know, my daughter? Yeah, well, she’s starting Uni in Edinburgh and we’re flying up there… yeah, cool… going to help her settle in.’
I bet Gemma is thrilled by this moribund introduction to student life. If she is, she bloody well shouldn’t be.
‘Yeah, well she did really well in her As… all straight As… oh…she did as well?’ there’s a little disappointment in his voice, and I’m thinking that maybe his mate’s daughter got more straight As than Gemma? Doesn’t everyone get straight As these days?
‘Yeah, she’s doing medicine. Another doctor in the family, ha ha.’ He’s a doctor and he dresses like that… WTF? Where are his Clarkes’ faux suede brothel creepers? Had I to place money on his occupation, it would probably been Social Worker. Wrong again.
I also find myself pondering whether Gemma will get laid during Freshers’ Week, and I’d put money on the answer being no, unless – that is, she’s a complete hound. But I wouldn’t put money on that either. I can’t see Gordon from Glenalmond College, or the other Public School Rugger Buggers at Edinburgh Uni, foregoing a pint of heavy and a dwarf throwing contest for her. But I’m happy to be wrong about that.
The thing with my fantasy narratives is that I never know how near the truth they turn out to be.
It’s 17.00 and I’m the Ryanair “Speedy Queuing” queue, waiting to join a longer queue to board a plane that is probably still crossing the channel.
I should have stayed seated, but my wife likes queuing, and by now I suppose it’s become a conditioned response for me, even when travelling alone.
I clock two blokes who are still seated. They appear to be together, but there’s something about them that suggests that they’re not together by choice. One is in his thirties, skinny to the point of gauntness. He’s a dead ringer for Jesus with long, greasy hair and a beard. He’s scruffily dressed in jeans, a tee shirt and a bomber jacket that looks as if it’s not seen the inside of a washing machine for a very long time.
The guy with him is dressed in a smart casual fashion. His head is fashionably shaved and he wears his stubble a little too long. He has a broken nose and in contrast to his companion, there’s a sort ruggedness about him, so I name him Jason Statham.
We’re about forty minutes from landing at Malaga and I’m feeling pretty relaxed.
This is mainly due to the fact that the plane isn’t even a quarter full. There’s barely a row of seats which is fully occupied and I’d say there are fewer occupied seats than Ryanair has had five-star reviews.
I decide to have the Thai Green Chicken curry, as I was so absorbed with people watching at Stansted that I’d forgotten to eat, and it was surprisingly good. I wash this down with a couple of small bottles of Merlot, and I’m listening to a spot of music and almost enjoying the flight. It reminds me of the Good Old Days of Covid when no one flew for fear of catching a bit of a cold.
As I clamber from my window seat, I’m aware of a commotion behind me. And as I reach the aisle, it’s become louder. This isn’t the sort of stag-do banter antics that are de riguer on most Ryanair flights to Spain – this is something entirely different, and I know this because I clock the look of concern on the faces of the trolley dollies who’re gawping down the aisle behind me. Have we lost an engine? Are there snakes in the overhead lockers? Are there Klingons on the starboard bow?
Before I can look behind me, I hear the thud of someone running up the aisle and turn to see Jesus in full flight sprinting towards me. I’m trying to process why anyone should be sprinting up the aisle (was it the Thai Green Curry?) when I hear Jason Statham yell, ‘Hey! Stop him!’
Jesus is about two metres from me now, and the fact that someone has yelled ‘stop him’ suggests that there’s more to this than an urgent need for the toilet. So I turn towards him, position myself in as wide a stance as possible, and point my right shoulder straight at him, which is precisely what I would do to take contact in the days when I played rugby. Jesus is about eight stone wet through and I’m thinking my stance should be enough to stop him, but it isn’t, because seconds later, he clatters into me with a surprising degree of force for a small guy, and I need to respond by driving him backwards through what may have been deemed a “no arms tackle,” propelling him into a vacant seat in row 10.
My shoulder has connected squarely with his sternum, and I must have winded him, because it takes him several seconds to recover and get to his feet, by which time Jason Statham is all over him, and has restrained him with a set of hand cuffs.
‘Bueno! Good work, amigo,’ says Statham. ‘Nice one,’ he adds in a Spanish accent.
Jesus hasn’t given up the flight yet, so two other guys join the maul, while the male trolley dolly minces down the aisle with some seat belts with which they manage to secure him to the seat. The fact that there are loose seat belts on the plane suggests that the need to restrain a passenger is not an uncommon occurrence on Ryanair flights.
‘What’s this all about?’ Asks one of the restraining team.
‘He’s going back to be facing a trial,’ says Statham. ‘He is criminal that is being extradictated.’
‘Extradited?’ I suggest.
‘Yes, that as well.’
‘What has he done?’ Someone asks.
‘For that I cannot tell you,’ says Statham. ‘’For sure that would compromise his right to singularity of trial, and also the data collection.’
‘Date protection?’ Someone says.
‘Naturally. Of course, that too.’
By now everyone is gawping at Jesus, who has been given some water and has a sort of ‘did I really do that’ angelic expression on his face.
Statham has flashed a badge to all and sundry which confirms that he is in the business of law enforcement, and restraining a passenger with a set of handcuffs is all in a day’s work.
We land at Malaga without further ado, and it is a welcome surprise to discover that the police are going to let all “normal” passengers off first, before they process Jesus. They’ll probably give him a good kicking first.
I’m more than a little relieved because Jesus has been giving me daggers, and no doubt his narrative would be that my “no arms tackle” was a form of assault. And if that held up, I’d get more than a yellow card.
Don’t you just love them?
But were it not for people, I’ll grudgingly admit, the world would be a pretty dull place.
As Bukowski once said, “I just feel better when they’re not around”.