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Derailed by Dubya
Derailed by Dubya
The flight over from Hong Kong was the usual zombie-generating hell, like any transoceanic flight really. There were bouts of sleep, wakefulness, and sojourns of drinking blood (there was a nice documentary on The Doors’ first album, which helped with the latter.) In between, I managed to catch up with some Australian TV comedy, including the Chasers’ War on Everything — starting with the notorious APEC episode. This should have been an omen for what followed.
(For those of you not blessed enough to live in Godzone: the Chasers are an Australian comedy show on government TV, and a cross between Candid Camera and Salvador Dali. Their most notorious stunt was when the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit was held in Sydney, with George Bush as honoured guest, resulting in the Sydney CDB being shut down for three days. The Chasers got through two rings of force-field barricades by posing as Canadian VIPs. They did get arrested after one of them emerged dressed as Osama bin Laden — complaining that he never got his invite; but the charge seems to have been silently dropped.)
So we land in Heathrow a quarter hour late, and wait, as is not atypical for the zombie-generating hell that is any transoceanic flight really. The difference is why we wait the extra half hour or so before taxi’ing: it seems Air Force One has decided to pay Heathrow a visit. One would have thought that Air Force One could have had a nearby air force base (Norfolk, my neighbour helpfully suggested), or Channel Island, or flotilla standing by; but it seems Air Force One is too ginormous for mere mortal air force bases to accommodate it. So Heathrow it was. Which prevented everyone in its path from departing for the next hour; hence the holdup, as noone was budging. With the added holdup that the runway was declared antiseptic or sterile or something, so it was cleared for snipers or whatever it is they do with the marquee and dignitaries.
“Oh well”, I mused. “If one is going to be inconvenienced by the American Presidency, this is one of the more benign ways it could happen.” How soon I spoke.
The first challenge, once I emerged bleary and confused (if not a little zombie-like) from the plane, was to find my flight transfer. Heathrow has a new Terminal 5 for European flights. I think it’s in Manchester or something: it was an 18 minute bus ride.
The next challenge was Dubya’s revenge on my rash words. When I got to Manchester Or Something (Stanstead Airport, I think?), it turned out my flight to Brussels was cancelled. The one hour shutdown at Heathrow (Heathrow ausgezeichnet), coupled with the half-hour freeze on bookings beforehand (!) meant that the entire airport was turned upside down. To deal with this, flights were being cancelled all over; the queue to rebook was well over 30 minutes worth, and there were dark mutterings about not leaving till 9 pm. (I was scheduled for 4, it was already 3.)
The wait in the queue was as entertaining as one would expect after the zombie-generating hell that is any transoceanic flight really. The unbelievably hot babe one line over had a Romanian itinerary printout (which figures); lots of Belgians looked confused; some guy was reading a Polish newspaper. It was almost like the UK was in the European Union or something.
At any rate, things looked up once I got to the end of the queue. The English stiff upper lip came in handy: the beleagured British Airways staff was much nicer than they had any business doing. (After I mused about the comparison with APEC, the guy even asked what Rudd was like so far, which was a pleasant surprise.) I got rebooked onto a flight a mere two hours later, and got a £5 voucher for refreshments — promptly spent on a lovely chicken curry soup from Pret, fine practicioners of airport fast food, and an unclaimed macchiato.
First ripples of culture shock: seeing £ actually used on price tags; and English accents on the stewards on a Qantas flight. Incredulity that anyone actually speaks that variant as their day job. But bless the British Airways chappie; he wasn’t getting many thanks today, but he got mine.
Non-descript airport, really, and I’m not in a mood for exploring. Exorbitant wireless prices, nothing under 3 quid (and four providers in the same place!) Oh well. looking forward to dezombyifying tomorrow. For now, on to Brussels!