Lack of sleep makes you jittery, as does caffeine, but I’m not shaking, at least externally. I slowly gulp from a Costa Coffee cup, trying to concentrate on the book I’m reading, Jo Nesbo’s ‘The Redbreast’. I’m not into it, despite Harry Hole seeming like the world weary edgy protagonist who plays by his own rules that I usually root for; I can’t quite get myself immersed in what the criminal underworld is like in Norway. I sometimes find when I’m reading that if I’m not in the mood the words drift right through me. They fly from the page but I can’t grasp them and implant them in my memory. You will probably feel relate to this as you read on.
I’m waiting. My flight touched down five hours ago, and foolishly several months ago I booked a National Express coach ticket to take me home at seven pm. There are four hours left to kill before the coach is scheduled to depart. To waste a few more minutes I wandered around WH Smith’s, noticing a few more Jo Nesbo books that I’m unlikely to read, then I decided to get a coffee. I waited in the queue; the three people in front of me appeared rather fussy folk and ordered these unnecessarily fancy coffees, there were also two armed police talking behind me. I can never get used to the sight of a policeman in England carrying a light machine gun.
When it came to ordering the hot drink I initially stared blankly at the board, confronted by a multitude of choices, creams and syrups. Eventually after a little deliberation and conscious that I was keeping two men with loaded weapons waiting behind me I settled on a cappuccino. I sat down, opened my book and waited.
I try and read but I keep getting distracted by the hubbub of a busy airport, as passengers walk through a set of double doors from the arrivals area and greet family and friends wearing the exaggerated smiles that remind me of Soundgarden’s classic ‘Black Hole Sun’ music video. There are also some bored looking taxi drivers lurking on the periphery holding up cardboard placards with double barrelled surnames. As people find each other in the crowd I suddenly felt more of an island.
I wasn’t supposed to be waiting here alone; my travel buddy had been stranded in Prague. Fear of flying had grounded him. Rather than face another nerve wrecking flight he decided yesterday to take an all-night coach through Europe. His journey home would take nearly twenty hours. I was uncomfortable with being stuck in my own head.
Waiting is something that each of us hate. I wonder how we coped before gizmos and gadgets could fill some of the dead time. Perhaps foolishly I did not take my crappy Samsung smart phone with me, this meant I couldn’t waste time on Facebook or read the Guardian. Instead I was left with a book I didn’t particularly feel like reading. I was beginning to hate Jo Nesbo, wishing instead that I’d took my tatty copy of Thom Jones’ ‘Sonny Liston was a Friend of Mine’ that still sits on my shelf unread.
Whenever I travel I leave my phone at home. Getting away should be just that, getting away, being oblivious to what’s going on at home. I wasn’t aware of the text messages, emails and Facebook messages that were waiting in my inboxes. It felt good to escape them, if only for five days.
My eyelids were falling. Feeling a little peckish I went to get something to eat. I decided against the little restaurant / café that I ate in at Luton Airport hours before I flew out to Prague. A chicken tikka masala and chips cost me almost a tenner. It was good but not ten quid good. In hindsight it wasn’t the best food option to sit in your stomach before a plane journey, albeit one that is only ninety minutes long. The other option was Burger King, reliable fast food stodge. I went for an XL burger with bacon and cheese, some predictably disappointing fries and a coke. Out of all the fast food chains Burger King has simply the worst fries, completely and utterly tasteless.
As I looked around, the sound of rolling suitcase wheels scrambled my thoughts. I thought about how airports are alienating places. People move around, like ants and then get directed through gates like cattle. Luton Airport is organized, wonderfully so, but is not particularly pleasant to be here, especially when you’re just waiting around, not even there for a particular purpose. The big screens with arrival and departure times carry meaningless information, everyone else seems to know where there are going. I sit tight and wait.
With an hour and a half still to drain, I used the toilet and then headed off to buy some snacks for the coach journey home. I went into the M&S simply foods outlet and picked up a small tub of pistachios for a couple of quid. I also picked up a similarly priced bag of mini Jaffa cakes and a bottle of Mango juice. I was too tired to bicker about these items being ridiculously overpriced. I realized that every mundane act I did in the Airport was insignificant. One thing after another, ticking off those seconds.
As I stared out of the coach window, looking back at the Airport, I realized that this was not the beginning of 2014 that I envisioned. My first few hours back in England were literally wasted. Time slipped away slowly and nothing really happened.