Or the day I fly to Madrid and back in fifteen hours (or a 3,000-mile roundtrip).
Yes, that was one hell of an eventful day. My friend was having surgery in Madrid and had asked me to buddy her back to the UK. Since she was paying for my flight, I thought "what the hell, a day trip to Madrid and back can't be too bad, eh?".
Or, so I thought.
I got up early, left my house and was at the airport for 5am. Getting quickly through security, as is my wont, it was nice to find the gate and have a wee sit down, reading my book (McLellan's Linmill Stories, if you must know).
The flight was meant to board at 5:30am, but the time come and went. Late it must be, though I. Hrmmm... 5:55am and still not boarding, but I was at the right gate: there was the flight number, 3722. Finally, 6am and we board. The captain apologises for the delay and hopes we can make up speed.
Only we don't, and I have a connecting flight in Brussels. I ask for our arrival gate, so I can figure out how to get to my next gate, A54. I was due to land at 8:40am, taking off again for Madrid at 9:25am. That sounds easy, but -- the UK not being in Schengen means I have to go through immigration and Passport control at the point of transfer, not the point arrival -- and yes, you got it, non-Schengen arrivals are terminal B, and Schengen departures terminal A.
The flight attendant was very helpful, getting the Captain to radio ahead. At first he says it's okay. But then she comes back, "he radio-ed Marseilles by mistake: it's not okay", and shows me a list of passengers. "We have three passengers -- Madrid, Prague and [somewhere else] -- who they want to book on to the next flight". She says if we land in time, I could run, but I might not make it.
Then she comes back and says it's too late, I've been booked on the next flight. She looks at her time-table, and says it arrived in Madrid at 4:30pm. Only problem is we're flying back to Edinburgh at 5:10pm, and by then I'll have had to have been to the hospital and back. Ay, carumba! Maybe I can get them to put me on another flight, she says: it's their fault after all. I could go to the transfer desk in terminal B and ask.
So we land at Brussels; it's 9:05am. We're disembarking, me in a forlorn mood. How the hell are we going to manage? Then the words over the tannoy "would passengers with connecting flights to Prague and Madrid please report to ground-staff immediately on disembarking". There's a lady at the bottom of the stairs. "Madrid? Get in the back of the car!" I jump in a little truck, and then another man get in front. She drives off, simultaneously being able to steer, sneeze, work a walkie-talkie, and scan flight lists all at the same time. But I only saw two hands...
She says she can get us close to Passport control in terminal B, missing out the daft bus that shuttles people in to the terminal. Then we have to run, and run hard. She says she'll meet me at gate A35 if I get through in time, and then she can drive me to the plane. I glance at my watch. I have exactly eleven minutes.
And I ran, I ran like I've never ran before. Along corridors, up and down escalators, clutching my luggage like it was going to kill me, my coat-tails flapping in the breeze. I run faster than the people walking on those travellators. I run like a fucking proinking gazelle, knowing that it's end was near, for once grateful for my stupid boat-sized feet. At Passport control, I breathlessly thrust my passport at the Police Officer, trying to recatch my breath. His big black eyes are full of sympathy: he just says fine, and waves me through.
More stairs, more corridors: I get to security. The man running to Prague is there: "see the lady", he wheezes. We get a line opened for us, and I disgorge my stuff into the x-ray machine. The security guard says "can I search you": I say "yes, please, just hurry". I try and put my things in my pockets, only my hands are shaking and I can't do it. So, I run some more, the blood thumping in my ears, my lungs like giant hovecraft, my body slick with sweat. Until I see her, and the magical gate A35. "No more running", she says. Obviously, I'm about to have a coronary.
"But the plane?", I gasp. It's okay. I made it. She drives me to the plane, just as the final preparations are being made. The chief burser Gay von Gay* just stares at me as if I crawled out from under a stone, and points at my seat. It's 9:25am. The hardest 11 minutes of my life were over.
Of course, then I had a wee panic, and thought I'd left the return tickets at security. The concern of the good flemish** passengers to Madrid was palpable... of course I hadn't... but I met a whole troupe of Angels that day. For the next 35 to 40 minutes I sat with my head in my hands, even during takeoff. If I sat upright I couldn't breathe, and a veil of stars meandered it's way down my vision, like the beginning of a fainting spell.
We met some more Angels that day. I asked the taxi driver to the Hospital, "¿Habla inglés?". No, he apologises, but he tries to understand: "eh, tengo que ir aqui". Though speaking spanish, I magically understand him; he asks for the address, and I show him. He drives smartly, but quickly: he can see I'm frazzled. I give him the whole €50,00, even though the fare was less.
Then there was the domincan hawker when we arrived at the Airport. "You'll have to tip him", my friend says, as he helps us with the luggage. He was very friendly, and drove the trolley for us, her huge case groaning. Inside the terminal we see a veritable sea of schoolchildren: it's as if the whole public school system of middle Spain had disgorged on Madrid. And they all wanted the flight to Edinburgh.
And people just stared. I stare back; they can't see me, as they're looking at my friend. So I stare back, and rudely clear my throat. I don't care: Leave Her Alone. Old women should know better than to stare, as I mentally disgorge a flood of English/French/German/Spanish obscenities and invectives at the whole lot of them. "This line won't do. It won't do at all!", he says. "Stay here: I know someone here". My friend and I look at one another, thinking 'really?', wondering what little Hell we've stepped into. But then he comes back and waves us down a line, a priority line: we check our bags in, just like that. I tip him, and profusely thank him. May he have a good life.
That night I get back to my door, having dropped my friend off: it's exactly 8:45pm, fifteen hours after I left. And three thousand miles later.
* it takes one to know one.
** they were flemish, as I spoke to them in my childhood Afrikaans.