Friday, 22 January 2016

The joys of a winter break. Even without the sun

Luton, where we live, boasts an airport.

In fact, many only know the town for that reason. “Oh, the airport, right?” they say.

Some who are better informed, think of it as the home of that enlightened organisation, the English Defence League. It stands for… well, you don’t need me to explain, do you? The word “League” is a bit of a giveaway, isn’t it? To say nothing of “English” and “Defence.”

Another group think of it as “Stab City.” Trainee emergency doctors love our hospital, as there are few places that offer such an exciting variety of knife wounds. They even get quite a respectable number of gun shot victims – I mean, nothing like a US hospital, of course, but still quite substantial by more civilised standards.

The airport is one of those cheerful little ones. The kind you might expect to provide reasonably good regional services – human in scale, unhurried, uncrowded, generally comfortable. Sadly, it has given way to ambitions way beyond its natural limits and become a major international centre. You know the sort of thing: flights to places whose names contain far too many consonants to be real.

Why, it’s even changed its name to London Luton, because if you don’t mind a ten minute bus trip, a forty minute train ride, a twenty-minute tube journey, and probably another ten minutes in a cab at the other end, it’s really quite convenient for London. And the experience won’t set you back anything like the cost of your first night in then hotel.

Well, not a lot like it.

Because it has the aspiration to be a Sylvester Stallone despite having the body of a Woody Allen, it’s always struggling to make better use of its space. Which it means it spends an inordinate amount of time making lousy use of its space, as building workers close huge areas off to transform them into something much more efficient and comfortable. In other words, something delightful which we’ll all enjoy, at some far off day in the future. Like Conservative economic policy, for instance.

They’re doing it right now. I’d been impressed by the way the airport had hugely improved the security check area. After a false start when it took about 45 minutes to get through, they managed to reduce it to under fifteen, which I feel is a reasonable amount to ask for, as the price for not getting blown up at 30,000 feet. Now, sadly, the pursuit of progress has led to massive regression. There has to be a PhD thesis waiting to be written how often that happens, if there haven’t already been several.

The ruthless pursuit of efficiency means that you now wait about twice as long in the queue. When you get to the front of it, you use a huge tray into which to place your things, so big that the number of people who can be dealt with at a time is cut pretty much by half. If you’ve brought a laptop, you need two of them things, one of which looks empty with a MacBook Air in it.

You then shuffle along in a forlorn little line reminiscent of the newsreel film of refugees trying to get into Hungary. Eventually, you get through to the other side to wait in another queue to collect your gear from the oversize trays at a counter far too small for them.

Next one walks through acres of spacious rooms, wide and high-ceilinged and palatial, all screened off for the builders. Eventually, you reach the departures area where the handful of seats have been taken and you’re left standing in front of a board which, for ten minutes, announces cheerfully that the gate for your flight will be displayed in 1 minute.

Still, that’s the price you pay if you want a winter break. I’ve often felt their beneficial effects. A great way to recharge the batteries. Of course, most people use such a break to go in search of sun and warmth, but we have more original and unorthodox ways. I’m on my way to rejoin my wife in Cracow, Poland. I’m glad to say that the clouds have cleared from the view I’m enjoying through the window next to me. It’s been replaced by a delightful pattern of snow-logged fields interspersed with snowbound cities. I’m glad to say that the pilot has just announced that the temperature at our destination has risen significantly, and has now reached -four degrees of frost. Nighttime’s going to be fun.

Cracow. Or Krakow.
Not exactly Luton. Not exactly hot, either
Talking about announcements, I did enjoy the safety briefing from our cabin purser. She delivered it in sentences that alternated between English and Polish, but it took me a while to work that out: at first I didn’t realise that every other one was actually in English. Not that it mattered: I think I remember about pulling the mask over my face, fixing it with the elastic band and breathing normally; I also fully intend to deal with my own mask first before helping others with theirs, if the situation ever arises. There didn’t seem to be much talk about lifejackets but, hey, unless we land in the Oder or the Vistula, I don’t see how there’d be much call for one.

Not that I want to be ungracious. I’m happy to admit that she was, at least, making the attempt to speak my language. I certainly couldn’t have replied in hers.

Anyway, I’m on my way to Cracow. Should be fun. A break. A new experience.

I suspect I’m unlikely to regret having forgotten to bring the sun cream. The scarf I left at home, on the other hand? I might need a new one.

No comments: