We went to the Balearics to celebrate my son and daughter-in-law’s birthdays (four days apart): easyJet from Gatwick would never be my first choice (I live way up the M4) were there an option. But there isn’t.
There are only two types of Gatwick experience. One is the middle-of-the-night; OMG am I still awake? Was it a good idea to wear shorts in uptown Crawley? Can I find a decent coffee?-type of experience. The other is the full-on daytime trip with the heart-stopping near-certainty of seeing 40 mph signs flashing on the motorways ahead and then wondering if they mean minutes waiting for a minor prang to sort itself out, or hours while helicopters swoop in to clean up a big-time mess.
We make our plane in good time because we have decided to start our celebrations with a visit to the Caviar House and Prunier bar in the North Terminal. I love these places (there’s one at Heathrow too), first because I’m old enough to be able to afford them, but also because I’m a seafood freak and their smoked salmon and Marlborough sauvignon blanc is umpteen times better than anything you’re going to find up in the air these days.
But what a strange sort of oasis it is, this luxurious “Caviar House” surrounded by the detritus of modern airport shopping and eating – by a Boots in dire need of what my militarily-minded dad would have called “a spit ‘n a polish” and what today is called “rebranding”, and by a W.H. Smith’s where I have to show a boarding pass in order to buy a single copy of The Guardian from what must be the worst trained staff in the country.
There was a time when I was nervous on planes and fearless in airports. But times have changed. It is airports now that make me nervous and planes that make me relax. Even easyJet’s – and I do still remember once having to race across the tarmac to be assured of getting a seat next to my wife on one of the company’s early flights. (Marketing managers take note – memories like that fade slowly. I wouldn’t go near easyJet for years.)
En route I did wonder (albeit briefly – I was re-reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover at the time and not looking for distractions) about easyJet’s post-Brexit future. The airline has been the poster-boy for cheap, border-busting flights – a role its UK-based operation is unlikely to be able to maintain. That can only make Mediterranean sun ‘n fun more expensive. Or condemn all of us tight-fisted globetrotters to the shrivelled organisation that still calls itself British Airways.
Meanwhile car hire gets cheaper – and easier. I leave it to my techie son who uses http://economycarrentals.com/ to find us a special deal. We are taken from the airport at 1 am to a gloomy warehouse to collect our vehicle. There I half expect to find Marlon Brando in the shadows menacing us with nasty consequences. But I have too little faith in the amazing technology of today. My son plugs his iPhone into something or other, and all of a sudden we are in the car with the dear SatNav lady telling us reassuringly (in English) to take “the second exit” off the next roundabout.
Later she tells us, in that intent way she sometimes has, that she is “recalculating”. And then we pass a shop described as a “Supermercat” to remind us that we are in yet another pesky place where they don’t yet speak English. I have a vision of a rocket-powered desert rodent setting a world record on the Utah salt flats. Then I fall asleep. Briefly.
I wake up and see we are due to reach our hotel in 11 minutes. I think of my mother who was never afraid to say “I haven’t a clue” when asked by her bored child in the back seat of her beloved Wolseley Hornet, “Are we nearly there yet?” No need for that any more…