“Bristol airport is like a giant branch of Debenham’s department store – a tasteless bazaar with a runway attached”
It generally takes me three weeks to decide how I’m going to get to France for my annual week’s treat, attending ‘boot camps’ – workshops for jazz musicians, held in agreeable chateaux .
The problem is, there’s no direct or cost-saving way of getting to the places I need to get to, which tend to be a bit out of the mainstream of holiday destinations, from where I live; which is to say, a remote backwater of the UK poorly served by transportation.
The other problem being, travel websites can’t seem to tell you which airline or train service goes to where you need to go, from where, when, at precisely what time and for how much – and if there’s a seat available – until you have correctly guessed all those things for yourself.
There’s a stopping train, two crowded coaches taking three hours just to ‘sprint’ as far as Birmingham, 90 miles away. From there, changing trains it’s still another two hours to London, and another sixty miles or so to the Channel Tunnel. I’ve used the grimy Eurostar service a few times, but it’s difficult to find a seat on the day and at the time I need to travel unless I book months in advance, long before I finally know that I’m even going to have the money to travel at all; while the fares continually whizz up and down depending on the time of day, making budgeting impossible.
Or you could drive, but once you’ve managed the seven hours to Portsmouth and the five-hour crossing and back again, assuming you could easily navigate through the backstreets of Caen (I don’t get SatNav, the sun suffices) it’s going to cost around £800 minimum, on top of the fee for the week, your food and the bar bill.
It can’t all be done in a day, whichever route you choose.
Three times, I’ve tried introducing flying as part of the mix (it’s no quicker). Twice from Bristol, a four hour drive away, to Bergerac, a tiny local airstrip served in summer by two Ryanair flights a week. Bristol airport is like a giant branch of Debenham’s department store with a runway attached, that you reach only after a mile-long walk through the perfume department. That reminds me next time to get one of those wheely case things.
Airports are increasingly like abattoirs, aren’t they. You go in and it all looks friendly and well lit with glossy stuff everywhere you think you’re going to be pleasantly rewarded with, cake shops and coffee bars; until you’re dragooned through a hidden doorway at the back and prodded onto an industrial-looking ramp that leads to almost certain doom, helpless in a pressurised cigar tube, jammed into the tiny space between a sweating fat man reading a broadsheet newspaper and a child with jam on its face playing a noisy video game on a handheld device you know you couldn’t afford if you saved for a month, being flogged prize draws and more perfume by stressed cabin crew while drunken women shout and laugh and run up and down, dangerously unbalancing the plane, fumbling with heavy stuff in the locker above your head.
It’s like a flying wine bar. And they wanted me to pay double to take my guitar.
The last time I flew, I got drunk, overslept and missed my return flight. Luckily I got a lift to Bordeaux, where I managed to get the last seat on an afternoon EasyJet back to Bristol in exchange for driving my rescuer 90 miles home in the middle of the night.
And once from Heathrow to Lyon: a saga I have previously recounted, as St Exupéry airport was where we had to call out an engineer at 2 am to release my phone from a charging dock, only to realise it wasn’t my phone, which was still in my pocket, and I spent the rest of the night hiding under a flyover while they called my name on the tannoy.
I don’t travel well, to be honest.
Which is why I’m hard pressed to understand why on earth we need more airport capacity in Britain? What we have is awful enough.
I lived for a couple of years in Hounslow, West London, not far from the airport. It was intermittently horribly noisy. Even in Central London you’re not spared the roar of Emirates’ 777s descending from their holding stacks and thundering along the Cromwell Road at 600 feet. It’s easy to imagine, isn’t it, one of those falling out of the sky onto Hammersmith, the horrific aftermath. You’ll have seen photos, I don’t doubt, of 747s approaching over Staines at rooftop height, how anyone lives there and at those prices it is impossible to comprehend.
Building an airport on marshland outside London was a wartime necessity, but as the city has expanded and overflowed it looked more and more like a terrible idea; and not just because it’s fogbound practically 363 days of the year. That’s why they built more airports, at Luton, Gatwick, Stansted, London City Docklands… while Charles de Gaulle is only 90 minutes away by TGV. And we still have the MoD airport at Northolt; Biggin Hill, Marlow, Blackbushe…. London is awash with airport capacity already!
Now however the Government – by which, I mean Mrs May – has finally shut its eyes and stuck a pin in the various plans to create yet more capacity in the Southeast of England; got bulb-headed Grayling and his PR baboons to spin up some crap about showing the quaking world that Brexit Britain is Bropen for Brizness, or whatever; bowed to the as-ever selfish and cretinous business lobby, and decided once-and-for-all (lolz!) after fifty years of arguing, in favour of flattening half a dozen ancient villages and their historic English Perpendicular churches for a third runway – at an airport that is already so busy it can barely cope – at a cost of (more hollow laughter) only £18 billion.
It’s insane, the worst possible decision. And so much for the vaunted ‘Northern Powerhouse’; Heathrow being (as politicians seem to imagine – one even said so on the Today show) in the Midlands. As far as Mrs May is concerned, that’s near enough the North as makes no difference.
I’m both flattered and dismayed that the Government – which is to say Mrs May, most of her immediate subordinates, and even her own Maidenhead constituents soon to be under-the-flightpath being virulently opposed to the plan – has adopted my own method of deciding how to proceed with travel arrangements:
…spend days consulting all the mutually contradictory oracles, take far too long dithering until your best opportunity is lost, heave a sigh of frustration and eventually just plump for the worst designed, most expensive, most environmentally damaging, most likely to go wrong arrangement that Tripadvisor can come up with.
She knows too, doesn’t she, that she can muzzle her sock-puppets all she likes; we are in for years of legal arguments and protests. Local elderly vicars and WI members will be chaining themselves to the porches of their beloved churches and lovely C18th Regency buildings, having to be cut loose and dragged away by G4S goons in the full glare of the media; the spirit (or maybe even the tenacious person) of Swampy* will return, along with thousands of environmental protestors marching through Whitehall; up in the trees and burying themselves in holes in the ground; and it’s all going to be one fucking huge mess.
What is the point? I mean, really?
I’m starting to think our unelected Prime Minister is a bit of an idiot, really. Or maybe not, maybe approving Heathrow is the best way of burying this madcap scheme for another 50 years.
*From The Telegraph, September 2013; “Seasoned environmental protester Swampy (real name Daniel Hooper, of the Newbury Bypass campaign fame) has retired from protesting to a life of picking acorns and planting trees to support his four children. … Now the father of four spends his days living on the self sufficient Tipi Valley commune, which has no mains electricity or running water…”
Where are you when we need you, mate?
Glad EU-le tidings
At long last, I no longer need feel depressed and bereaved.
Britain’s Christmas-tree growers have hailed the Brexit vote as a boost to their home-grown produce, on account of a 15% increase in the price of a Danish tree. Hurrah! I knew there was a reason for abandoning our treaty partners and selling out to the Chinese. It almost makes you want to stand up and sing the national anthem.
If only anyone could remember the words.
Beating everyone to the counterpunch
NATO is reportedly deploying troops, ships and aircraft to the Baltic region to counter a buildup of Russian forces ‘on manoeuvres’ in the area.
“Nato does not seek confrontation with Russia. We don’t want a new cold war and we don’t want a new arms race,” the alliance’s head, Jens Stoltenberg, was quoted as saying. “What Nato does is defensive and it is proportionate.” – The Guardian, 27 October
Mr Stoltenberg’s logic seems confused. If we don’t want a new arms race, what does he imagine deploying a counter-force is?
Proportionate defence means just that: confrontation, and a matching-up of capabilities. To even think like this is to define the other as the enemy. Provided therefore no incident occurs leading to a tactical strike and counterstrike that could escalate into full-scale conflict, with the probable deployment at first of battlefield nuclear weapons, before a general obliteration of one another’s cities, we are indeed in a new Cold War.
Happily, the British contribution to the rapid reaction force is not due to arrive in Estonia until “next May”, according to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, who added:
“Backed by a rising defence budget this deployment of air, land and sea forces shows that we will continue to play a leading role in Nato.”
Yes, wherever Britain goes, and indeed whenever, others follow.
By which time, we hope, the Russians will have gotten tired of their manoeuvres, leaving our heroes cold, bored and fidgety, staring out at an empty waste and eagerly anticipating their next rotation.
All 850 of them.