Needs Must When the Devil Drives

Sardines, anyone?

A problem requiring a quick solution saw me on a plane for Spain – via the U.S.A. and their dreaded airports. I had sworn never to darken their doors again after my last experience some years ago, but needs must when the devil drives. It was high season for travel to Europe, the direct flights were full and it was half the price of British Airways, even if I could have booked a seat with them.

I had a further complication. My wonky ankle had all but collapsed and it was not a good moment to travel further than a stagger from bedroom to bathroom, from bathroom to kitchen and then a lengthy rest in a chair. Still, needs must and all that.

As it turned out, it was to be a blessing as I booked wheelchair assistance for the connections through the U.S. airports and although the vehicles provided were not the equal of a London Transport diesel engine ninety seven horsepower omnibus – what could be? –

they were indeed a transport of delight. Collected on the airbridge at Houston and whisked away to one of those carts that always pass you empty when you are gloomily dragging your luggage for what seems like miles to encounter the warm embrace of immigration officials and Homeland Security goons….. it was another world.

Decanted into further wheelchair for the obligatory passage of what is laughingly called security my kind hispanic assistant passed several entrances into the inferno of queues and bawled orders until she found me a quieter entrance, with no queues and a friendly welcome. Well, for me…not for her. The distinctly caucasian officer gave her a hard time over the renewal of her badge – which was not due for another month. Hassle for the hell of it.

All continued well…I was allowed pre boarding which gave me time to hobble my way to the back of the ‘plane to a seat I had booked, in the aisle, near the loos, with room in the overboard locker for my case. Sardine class, of course, but at least the essentials were in place. The flight was packed….but the two seats next to me were still empty…hope rose, only to be crushed as barging up the far aisle came two fake panama hats. The lead number was borne by a large man in red trousers, the other by a woman whose long suffering expression resembled that of one who waits , plastic bag in hand, while the dog performs his business.

Red trousers identified the seats. Without pleasure.

‘We’re separated, Ursula!’

You would think that perusal of the tickets might have alerted him to that earlier…but men in red trousers are not noted for brain.

Turned to me, announcing loudly

‘I’m in the middle seat but I’m taking the aisle.’

He could have taken take the high road or the low road for all I cared…yet it was an opening gambit had I but realised it.

Having settled Ursula into her seat on the other side of the aisle, red trousers started to look for space in the lockers for his case. There was none. He was obliged to go forward, well forward, before he could find a gap and returned to base – in the free aisle seat, -spreading out his affairs on the middle seat and opening his newspaper.

So absorbed was he that when the stewards were trying to rejig all the cases, he did not notice that they were asking who owned his….I suppose we were minutes away from an unidentified luggage emergency when Ursula alerted him and he sprang to his feet, bellowing that he was not going messed around and demanding that his case was restowed immediately.

Finally he was mollified and returned to his newspaper, muttering that he had had enough of all this…but more was to come. The ticket holder of the aisle seat finally appeared…a mild young man who made it clear that he would like the seat that he had booked, so red trousers gathered his gear and plumped down next to me, clearly not happy.

Turning to me he said, in a tone of en haut de bas,

‘I am giving you sufficient space and I expect reciprocity’.

Clearly, someone who liked to impose himself on those around him…

I am told that when annoyed I sound like Princess Anne and I certainly borrowed one of her better known phrases in telling him to ‘Naff off’, though in a version more suited to his level of comprehension.

After which, peace reigned for the duration of the flight.

I made a brief stop in London, mainly to sort out a few things with my bank and to do the essential food shopping, staying with my friend in the now gentrified Kensal Rise.

Gentrified always seems to me to be a misnomer…most of those moving into the area would be – or would have been, my timescale becoming collapsed as I grow older – looked down upon by the country gentry who, while being so often shit in a silk stocking themselves, could tell a nylon stocking when they saw it.

I had become accustomed to the organic butcher, the vegan coffee shops and the wine merchant selling bio filth…to the fearsome juggernaut prams in which the slightly clad mothers protected their offspring from contact with the outside world…to the massive four by four cars lining roads where housing had been built long before the possession of cars had been envisaged, but a new horror had emerged. The electric scooter.

As if cyclists – as in self righteous ponces in lycra as opposed to people who wear bicycle clips – aren’t bad enough….now these pests have come to haunt us, moving swiftly and silently, giving no warning on road or pavement, mounted by some prat in a cycling helmet with no idea just how infantile he or she looks.

It would be wrong to state that Kensal Rise is going to the dogs…even if the canine sex toy has been removed from the pet shop window. The hardware shop is still there…the corner shops still exist…and so do the original inhabitants, though these grow fewer over the years. Yet there is a more serious change. Drug related shootings have become, if not common, frequent enough to be shrugged off as ‘oh, another one’. A link with the new inhabitants’ habits, perhaps?

If so, shit in lycra leggings.

Off then, to Barcelona, the ‘plane so delayed that we did not arrive until the early hours, plenty of time for the earworm bequeathed me by my father to surface,

‘We are some of the nuts of Barcelona,

We think it such fun

We’re going to be hung.’

It has bothered me so much that I eventually looked it up in the Mudcat Cafe site, that source of all that is wild and wonderful, only to discover that father’s version differed radically from the original.

Hastening from the airport I discovered that the Barcelona Sants railway station did not open until 5.30 a.m. giving me a few hours to sit on a stone block by the entrance. I was approached by a young woman carrying a rose who told me, in French, that I was in great danger, sitting outside a station at night, and should come to her house. I had a feeling that I or my purse might be in more danger in her house and politely refused her kind offer.

My block is on the far side of the zebra crossing.

Shortly afterwards I made the acquaintance of a chap from Bolivia, working in Montpellier and going to visit his family in Valencia. He had missed the bus and found, like me, that the station was closed. I learned a lot about the comparison between life as a legal immigrant in Spain as opposed to France…he could not wait for his contract to end to return to Valencia. We talked food, politics…all the usual stuff, before being joined by an elderly man who had himself come from Montpellier on his way to Alicante and who had, too, missed his bus.

He was one of the ‘gilets jaunes’, pleased to inform me that the movement was still active – especially in Montpellier where the brutality of police tactics served only to keep the action going.

Why, he wanted to know, were there no ‘gilets jaunes’ in the U.K., where people were being bled dry even more than in France? The only answer I had was that identity politics in the U.K. had effectively divided the those parts of the population likely to rise up…so they were fighting each other for state resources rather than the state itself.

In the days of fake news and the hegemony of the media barons, if you want the lowdown, sit outside Barcelona Sants in the early hours of the morning.

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52 thoughts on “Needs Must When the Devil Drives”

  1. I had been wondering why you were quiet and thought you had quite enough on your plate with life without carving time to entertain distant bored housewives.
    Sorry to hear about that damned ankle.
    But thank you for the update on things like Kensal Rise, and the grit of the gilets.jaunes.(There’s not much coverage of such items in this corner.
    But what bowled me over was your flying via USA!!!!!%%*??? and a few choice expletives from the Princess Royal.
    Well done, you!

    (this would be an excellent map!)

    1. Ah…the map!
      I failed spectacularly to make one using my mobile ‘phone, trying to map my diurnal round on the finca…I might have better luck working from scratch on this on the computer. There is a lot more to add as I moved on from Barcelona to conduct my business…I will give it a go!
      Having been and seen I will never risk U.S.A. airports if under my own steam….the queues, the shouting, the heat – even if not the flies….but being borne through in a wheelchair was a totally different experience. For some reason I had pre TSA printed on my boarding card which supposedly made life easier but goodness only knows why or how that came about.
      As for the red trousered lout….I was not in the mood for his type.

  2. It sounds like a gruelling yet rather interesting trip. Was that really the quickest and easiest way though – or did you actually want to stop off in Blighty? I suppose there is no accounting for tastes. I always used to think Kensal Rise was one of the most depressing places in London (with apologies to Harlesden, Willesden & many more) and haven’t really changed my opinion that much. I am surprised that Barcelona station is not open all night given that so many trains are international. Amazing there is no train from Russia or Finland or some similarly faraway place needing to arrive in the wee small hours.

    1. Oddly enough, such is the mania of airfares that an open jaw Costa Rica to London then Barcelona to Costa Rica was cheaper than a return flight to Barcelona, even including the coach to Gatwick and the plane thence to Barcelona.
      It was good to catch up with my friend too and do the inevitable shopping, snarl at the bank, etc. as part of the trip and, thanks to the available dates for the flight, did not cut down the timeI needed in Spain.
      Sants used to be open all night…though I think most of the international stuff now goes through Barcelona Francia so perhaps that is why it was shut down. Still,I had a most improving conversation out of it.
      I can’t say that gentrification has done much to improve Kensal Rise…possibly the opposite. At least there did not use to be drug related shootings!
      The Spanish part of the trip was more relaxed…perhaps I might post something else on that.

        1. My friend has lived there all her long life…born in the house. Neither she nor her long term neighbours have experienced any crime of that sort until the recent demographic changes.

  3. I cannot compare airports in this country to any other, but I can compare flying with a thirty year interval between the last and the most recent. I was a frequent flyer in my forties, and I ran through more than one airport, in high heels, tailing some male executive who could not be persuaded to leave the bar.
    Knowing of all the airport changes between then and now, I was reluctant to fly. My physical ability has deteriorated dramatically. Once persuaded, I’m a convert. Get in a wheelchair and you move to the head of the line, through the scanner, to your gate at the speed of a wheel chair moved by a determined attendant. They were so helpful and polite, because it helped their tip, I suppose, and the speed meant how many more they could transport in a day, I suppose. I have been propelled by men, by women of every ethnic persuasion, at least that permit women to also work. I have not been disappointed.

    1. My flight was the cheapest giving me the time I needed in Spain…but having been and seen I would not go through U.S. airports now under my own steam. The ladies and gentlemen who put me through Houston and Newark on return really were ladies and gentlemen…I was upset by the way in which they were treated at security and by their poor working environment…and,not a tipper, I tipped. They were well worth it, kind, helpful and courteous…unlike those who hassled them.

    1. He is a well known English type..all mouth and trousers as we say.
      All hail fellow well met when he is blagging extra wine from the stewards…a petty bully when he thinks he can get away with it.
      The hat said it all, socially….reinforced by the trousers.
      His wife looked so crushed…but is probably a viper to those she thinks beneath her. from what I recall of English social life.

  4. Early in the morning I understand the ‘Naff off’ type comment well.
    I took it he was a US citizen but realise he was a jumped up rich English aristocrat wannabe, with suitable empty wife. I am just surprised you didn’t smack him.
    The ‘Greatest democracy in the world’ is not very good at dealing with people, the power hungry in uniform are found everywhere but carry guns in the US. Bullying Iran or any other wee nation is normal for them. I wonder who they learned that from?
    Kensal Rise has changed. The rise in gang warfare is the responsibility of the rising class (if class is the word) who like sticking white powder up their nose while the young dealer gets knifed outside. Classy indeed! This could be a nice area if it wasn’t for the people. The church had a manse there, obtained in the 60’s, if they still possess it the house would sell for well over half a million.
    I look forward to part two once you have sorted the house, dogs and Leo out.

    1. My friend regularly receives letters from estate agents asking if she is interested in selling her house….current prices over a million, so the manse might fetch quite a bit more.
      What puzzles me is where the money comes from not just to buy these houses at rediculous prices but then to dig out underneath them for basement developments – at goodness only knows what risk to their neighbours’ property – or covering most of the garden in extensions. Not to speak of the drug habit…
      Red trouser man was obviously going to be a pain from the first sighting of him. No point trying to be reasonable with his sort so i didn’t bother.

  5. Since my last experience of entering the ‘Land of the Cree and the Home of the Crave(en) I’ve declared myself persona non grata despite having family there. Having arrived on a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul to JFK I was being put through the mill by a ‘Spanish’ American arse in the uniform of Homeland Security. He was persistently demanding what I had been doing on my visits to California, a place neither I, or my passport, have ever set foot on. In the next queue was a conservatively dressed ‘Turkish’ Turkish woman who was getting a really hard time from another descendent of an immigrant (legal or otherwise) in a uniform that gave him perceived importance. My interrogation over and without further explanation my passport was stamped and handed back. At which point I loudly expressed my opinion that ‘ the natives are restless tonight!’ and to my horror the poor Turkish woman was bundled out of the queue and rushed away. To this day I have no idea if my silly quip was the trigger or if it was coincidental. As a result I’ve vowed never to visit the Great Satan ever again.
    Thanks for another great rant – as an old friend, now bereft of life once said to me ‘There are more of us than you think!’ Keep on truckin’ Helen.

    1. I said i would never travel through a U.S. airport again…but this flight had the combination of needing to be in Spain on a set date and a very good price. Scots blood will out.
      The bullying shouts I heard from the security lines made me very glad that I had the fast access and the wheelchair…I would not dream of doing it all under my own steam.

  6. Oh Helen, what a journey. You must love travel otherwise you’d surely find a way to avoid these nightmares? Like not having personal business in widely differing parts of the world? I am sorry that you hurt your ankle but glad to hear that the old wheelchair wheeze still works. A wonderful rant, through it all you remain true to yourself, indomitably pursuing your chosen path with grit and determination and coming through loud and clear here for our delectation.

    Happy landings!

    1. I had to go over…a combination of the bank and the accountant making a horlicks which needed sorting and signing to avoid a fine from the taxman.
      The house will be up for sale next year..so one overseas problem the less…if it sells, that is!
      The wheelchair was bliss…but I wouldn’t like to be stuck in it permanently as Leo is.
      I must say that I preferred the company outside Barcelona Sants to that on the ‘plane…

  7. Well, that was quite a journey. Sounds like red-trouser man was quite a pain in the arse. But at least he didn’t spread his legs in all directions or lecture you on the correct political viewpoint (or did he?). I gather (illegal) drug consumption is now so prevalent in the UK that turf wars are commonplace and as you say barely commented on by jaded householders. Your explanation of the lack of gilets jaunes in the UK is probably about right. And of course the national Brexit obsession has distracted everyone from more day-to-day concerns.

    1. He was typical of his caste…antipathetic. One attempt at leg spreading and the contents of my bottle of water would have been emptied on the offending member.
      I do try to respect the limited space of the poor so and so in the middle seat so his pre emptive strike was not at all appreciated.
      I enjoyed the conversation outside the railway station much more than the flight…

  8. Sorry but I had to smile at your disasters along the way but having said that, I hope that the ankle is now much improved. I must agree though that a wheelchair is a definite advantage. A few years back flying to see SIL in Sydney, by the time we reached Hong Kong I had a raging migraine. It only got worse after the hour stopover and by the time we arrived in Sydney I could not walk. They duly found me a wheelchair and although we were last off the plane, we were first through customs and immigration. Poor SIL had the fright of her life when she saw me arriving! A trip to the pharmacy and a 24-hour sleep had me back feeling on top of the world (even though I was at the bottom of the world in fact) and rearing to go. I have not (touch wood) had a migraine like it since. But yes, any excuse for a wheelchair sounds good to me.
    Hope that all is well back home and Leo is managing. Take care, Diane

    1. I had migraines as a teenager and even now remember how it was impossible to move, let alone walk, when they were at their height. That must have been a terrible flight for you, knowing you had to go on from Hong Kong.
      I certainly would not be going through a U.S. airport on my own two feet, even if the ankle were better…which unfortunately it is not. It seems to be a hangover from an accident when in France when I broke it and it was badly set…now coming to haunt me again!
      Leo and our lawyer were teasing the lady looking after Leo in my absence, suggesting that it was just the time for parties…wine, music and dancing girls. Over her dead body was the reply…poor chaps!

  9. I tried to comment from my iPhone several times but see it didn’t take. Frustrating. I came back on my laptop to check in with you. What a trip! Literally and figuratively. I’m sorry you hurt your ankle. Good thing there was a wheelchair. Take good care.

  10. So very sorry for the routing through air travel hell (otherwise known as the US). I’m convinced airlines have colluded with one another to make travel as unpleasant as possible. To what end, who can say, but it’s a bloody nightmare especially international trips.

    1. I had sworn I would never transit through the U.S. again….and I certainly would not on my own two feet…it is a nightmare. But the wheelchair service was superb and got me through with as little hassle as possible. But I’ll still try for direct flights to Europe in future, wheekchair or not.

  11. “Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember and remember more than I have seen.”
    —–H. Devries

    OK, that was really from Benny Disraeli’s eloquent mouth but probably sums up your recent travel adventures. I get the faint sense you are not a fan of US airports. I don’t have much problem with them but then again there was a time when I had to transit such joy-sucking holes as Islamabad International so I suppose it all depends on one’s comparatives. Still, air travel was a much better experience before everybody started doing it and before terrorism became popular. Come to think of it, I may be of the last generation to actually dress nicely for airplane rides. Oh well, thanks for the travelogue; it was very enjoyable.

    Now, I am giving you sufficient space and I expect reciprocity and shall ‘naff off toot sweet.

    1. I didn’t fly when younger, so missed the days when it was not a mass experience…though from some of Leo’s tales of air travel in Africa and the Pacific I doubt that the mass would have appreciated it. Paraffin stoves in the aisle as passengers cooked their own dinners….engineers having to wind down the landing gear by hand…crooked customs officials, racist airport staff…and he wasn’t too impressed by Concorde either,
      I think if I had been transiting Islamabad my expectations would differ from those I harbour when transiting a U.S. airport….probably rashly. I do have problems with security staff being rude and general airport staff being dismissive of passengers’ queries, both of which I saw, but did not experience myself, on this trip.
      As to dress, I do try to look respectable when traveling…but looking at some of my fellow passengers I wonder if that is now outmoded. Men in muscle shirts on a long haul flight…women in shorts short enough to do them a mischief,..at least red trouser man covered his knees…

  12. I have no plans to return to USA and if I do need to go somewhere will avoid even over-flying the place. But, a very BIG but, should it be necessary I shall have my knee bandaged and request wheel chair assistance!

    1. Most large airports are a pain…walking miles to get somewhere you don’t want to go, but it was the combunation of poor organisation, worse communication and outright bullying in the security areas which made me decide never to use U.S. airports again.
      I was lucky, having the wheelchair assistance, but from what I heard and saw nothing has changed to make me risk going through under my own steam.
      So, motto for all those in transit in the U.S. – ‘on with the bogging pads and get in the chair.

  13. I have so missed you Helen!! Love your posts and your observations on life as you travel through it. As it is destined to be 42°C here again and we are forced inside out of the heat, your post provides a welcome diversion!! Love from SW France. Still here, still working, still loving it.

    1. You have all my sympathy…40 C when I was in Spain and that was without coping with daily life.
      So glad rhat all is well with you despite all the chaos of will they won’t they Brexit.
      I could have done without this trip…another fine mess by a bank!

      1. ….and if anything like banks here, I bet there was not even a whiff of an apology nor a hint of taking responsibility for a mistake and certainly no mention of any compensation for the mess/worry/stress!! Hey ho!! xxx

  14. I’m not sure I’ve got the patience these days to sit in a plane full of people (without saying something to someone I perhaps shouldn’t!)… At least with a train you can move seats or get off at the next stop (though not helpful when travelling overseas, granted!).

    1. I find that traveling is time to read peacefully – if it is dark or on a ‘plane – no one calling me to do something, or the ‘phone ringing, so I expect I get unreasonably cross when fellow passengers can’t keep themselves to themselves.
      On the return longhaul the middle seat passenger was a youn gman who offered an entirely new aspect of a knee trembler…once under the blsaket his knees rose and fell with all the rythm of a racer in the Tour de France. Hideously fascinating. Not so fascinating was his lack of bladder control…five times during the flight did I have to fight my way out of my seat to let thim pass…
      Standards have fallen…while I was tempted to tell him to tie a knot in it my father would have demonstrated how to do so…

  15. Really sorry to hear about your ankle. But I thoroughly enjoyed this, not least the inspirational way you dealt with Red Trouser Man (pratts on airlines disguise themselves in other trousers too) and your comments on certain types of cyclists. Barcelona Sants sounds like the kind of place everybody should go, before the trains start, for a touch of reality and a quick catch-up.

    1. I was initially narked that I had to sit outside…though at least I had the one and only block to sit on, but the conversations made up for it…though the woman with the rose looked trouble to me.
      The best part was that when the doors were finally open the cafeteria was in full swing, hot food and drink available without waiting about! A damned sight better than the airport offerings with which I was regaled on the return trip.
      I find that there are people who ride bikes…and then there are cyclists – spawn of the devil.

      1. It’s the uniforms as much as the arrogance – oh, thought – do you think they’re a secret para-military organisation? Like the Scouts (who aren’t secret, I know).

        1. A friend in France suggested, tongue in cheek I hope, that the colour of their lycra was some sort of sign of their sexual preferences…something like how you carried your keys, he said.
          That idea livened many a long kilometre stuck behind the so and sos on a narrow country road…we could speculate about the likely preferences of those ahead of us…the more unlikely the better.

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