Friday, July 23, 2010

Les Anglais

The Stone of Scone:

A tub of butter:

We may not live in France any more, but we can still go back there on holiday. And yet we find it too hot now, simply sweltering compared to Norway.

On the way home from Toulouse, I was not too surprised to find that the easyjet flight back to Gatwick had been cancelled. We had made the mistake of waiting in another part of the airport for some time and then only going to the gate when it was due to open. If we had gone sooner, we might not have found ourselves at the back of the queue for "sorting out".

Based on previous bad experience with easyjet on pretty much every occasion I have flown with them, I had built a back up plan into our travel arrangements: my connecting flight would be caught after a 24 hour stop over in London. But it just wasn't enough. No flight to London available until 48 hours later. And a 24 hour wait to get back to Bristol.

In the heat of southern France we made frenzied calls to change the booking with the hire car company and found ourselves unwillingly competing with other irate passengers for flights, hotel and taxis. A quite pathetic spectacle really.

That night I lay awake all night (literally) in a horrible air conditioned room in a Toulouse hotel of the kind that: (1) has a contantly wheezing fan; (2) freezes your face while at the same time turning your bed into a toasted sandwich maker - too drafty to throw the covers off - (3) a small white box with no indication of how to turn off the power and just for good measure (4) a set of pillows, each one resembling in all possible ways the Stone of Scone.

The other reason I couldn't sleep was the worry of leaving my family in France with no more than an easyjet ticket for protection. I had to decide: would I get up at 4.30 a.m. and buy a BA ticket to make sure I got an early flight back to London and thereby make my connection, or would I lie in bed and go with the family to Bristol and then turn up to work in Norway 2 or 3 days late?

I got up at 4.30 a.m. and I got my ticket.

The family were okay.

No thanks to easyjet.

As I sat in Gatwick, waiting for my flight to Norway, having checked in painlessly with Norwegian airlines ticket scanning machine (a world apart from the easyjet savannah watering hole stampede we had survived on the way down to Toulouse), I watched the flight departures board fill up with all of easyjet's late flights and cancellations, including the same flight to Toulouse cancelled for a second day in a row.

As I watched, I began to get an angry feeling that easyjet had never had the intention of putting flights out to Toulouse on a regular basis. Instead, they had conned us into thinking that we might get a flight, but that in reality it was only sending flights out as a sort of rescue service for its own stranded passengers. Though only at its own convenience. So how long was it possible to stay waiting for a flight? According to the information we received in Toulouse, easyjet would guarantee that it wasn't more than a week. But what kind of people do you think you're ferrying around easyjet? Jobseekers?

But to get back to the lighter side... I forgot to mention that I was rather sick while this was going on. Luckily I had the foresight to sort myself out with Smecta and immodium. This is another aspect of France we don't miss: the business of constantly getting bugs or suffering from food gone off in the heat...

Anyway, I hadn't been able to eat for the previous 2 days and my wife had put some dinner she had made into four resealable plastic tubs that had once contained butter. While waiting in a rather bedraggled state for our easyjet flight next to the car hire counter, my wife had persuaded us to eat our cold dinner leftovers. So we all tucked in. It was a meal consisting of rather a lot of cold mashed potato. In my case it turned out to be a bad idea.

What was strange though, was the way all the people in the grindingly slow car hire queue were looking at us like we were some sort of green aliens. Were they looking at us oddly? Yes, they really were. And then we realised that to them, it just looked like we were a family sitting together eating President butter directly from the container. And what's more, we each had our own tub of it. Zut Alors! Les Anglais!

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