On the road to Monaco
It is a truth universally accepted that nobody in full possession of their faculties wishes to pass through Gatwick airport. Civil aviation? This is as rude as it gets.
Still, the new-look South Terminal now has a Pret, so you can cushion the awfulness of budget travel with the comforting stodge that is the all-day breakfast sandwich. The chief weakness of this giant among comestibles is also its greatest strength: it’s almost impossible to eat with any decorum, which ensures that your neighbours (who may be serial dingbats, and I’ve found it’s better to err on the side of caution in these encounters) avoid looking at you, let alone try to make conversation.
The reality of life as a freelancer is a gruelling slog of these crack-of-dawn flights, so you have to evolve coping strategies. Other people are clearly at this game, too. I saw a guy this morning trying to read a collection of Philip Larkin poems as the morass of humanity swarmed around him en route to WH Smith. I imagined him navigating past the give-us-20-quid-and-you-might-win-a-Porsche stand: “Bog off,” he’ll have told the ticket tout, “I want to read An Arundel Tomb before my gate opens. ‘How soon succeeding eyes begin to look, not read…’”
I’ve never quite worked out which is the worst out of EasyJet and Ryanair, so, as the gaudy aluminium tube progressed slowly from the gate to the runway, I tried to plot this dilemma in the form of a Venn diagram. You could probably do something similar on a spreadsheet using the principles of double-entry book keeping.
As we reached cruising altitude I deployed the behemoth. True to form, the elderly couple on my left clocked the bacon, egg and tomato ooze and pretended to be asleep. This turned out to be a very good thing, because the man was one of those people who is compelled to provide a running commentary.
“That must be the gate we’re going to go to,” he told his wife just after we landed (at which point, since all my fillings were in place, I decided that perhaps EasyJet is the better airline). “There’s the man waving his little sticks. Look! There he is! You can see through the window as the plane turns round! There he is! Waving his little sticks!”
I preferred him when he was snoring.
Thence to the bus, because €70 for a cab is plain barmy. Hearing my car crash French, the lady at the ticket counter merely boggled at me, as if I were Inspector Crabtree out of ‘Allo ‘Allo. Luckily I ended up in Monaco rather than Montreaux – although, sadly, not quite the right bit of Monaco.
Anyway, I’m here now, in a cheapoid self-catering apartment that’s costing only £10 more for the entire stay than the conference hotel is charging for a single night. I think I’d better nip out and explore the lay of the land: although the apartments looked very close on the map when I booked, I’d somehow forgotten that Monaco is built on the side of a cliff…