DAY TWO ...
part I - TO TRAVEL HOPEFULLY IS A BETTER THING THAN TO ARRIVE
Miserable, grey, wet and depressing - how about that? But that's enough about me. As for the weather, that is even worse.
So, knowing as you do (because I've mentioned this a few times before) that I have forsaken bucket-shop airlines for a regular mainstream flag-carrier after my uncomfortable voyage last year and that I have booked a seat on Air France for this trip, you may well be wondering why there is a photo of a rather geriatric KLM Jumbo Jet in pride of place on my departure web page.
Well, hereby hangs a tale and all will be revealed anon. In the meantime, let me just suffice by saying that if your luck is in, then it is well-and-truly in, and you should take advantage of any possibility that comes your way, no matter how unlikely it seems to be.
Braving the wind and the rain and whatever else it was that Mother Nature was doing her best to heap on me, I boarded the shuttle bus at the hotel where I had ended up last night and made my way to the airport. And not the usual terminal either - I had to interrogate the driver to find out where it was that I was supposed to be going. Not that knowing where I was going has ever been an issue that has bothered me before, as you well know. But this time, it turned out to be crucial.
What else turned out to be crucial too was that I was early. I had made a deliberate attempt in this respect as I hate rushing aound and stressing myself out. Airports are stressful enough these days without adding to it all.
And this was the key to everything that followed and what, for me, is the most extraordinary good fortune. At the automatic check-in, there was a little man in an Air France uniform loitering around.
"Are you travelling alone?" he asked me.
"Well, this is the best offer that I have had for quite a few years" I quietly mused to myself.
"Well, as a matter of fact I am" I said aloud.
"Good" he said. (As a matter of fact, he didn't. He said "bon" seeing as how this conversation took place all in French. but I digress). "We are looking for 40 people who will give up their seat on this aeroplane".
"What's the story?" I enquired. I'm always keen to be included in on some breaking news, as you know
"You need to ask them over there" he replied, indicating an enquiry desk across the booking hall.
I duly presented myself "over there"
"So what's the deal with the flight to Montreal?" I enquired
"The 'plane upon which you should have been flying is not ready to leave. The one that is at the departure gate has 40 seats less and so as the flight is fully-booked we need 40 people to stand down"
"Well, I have a hotel booked in Montreal tonight and a car arranged in Montreal tonight so as long as I'm in Montreal tonight it doesn't matter to me one jot exactly how I arrive there. But what's the deal? I'm more than willing to put myself out but there has to be some benefit for me"
"We'll pay €300 to anyone who stands down from the flight, as well as re-routing them as appropriate"
Picking myself up from the floor (after all, €300 is half of my air fare and I have been known to bash up my own granny for a fiver) I uttered "you get me to Montreal tonight and in the legendary words of the late, great Bob Doney 'I'm your man'"
The girl at the enquiry desk had a rummage around on her computer. "Can you run?" she enquired.
"For €300 if I couldn't run, I'd learn"
"There's a flight leaving from the other side of the airport to Amsterdam in 25 minutes, and 45 minutes after you land there's a KLM flight to Montreal. Shall I book you on it?" Do bears go to the toilet in the woods?
And so hanging around just long enough to get my greasy little mitts on the mazooma, I was off like a ferret up a trouser leg.
As they say, if your luck is in then it's really in and I had the good fortune to meet a woman struggling with the French signs. I took 10 seconds out to assist her and during my subsequent interrogation it turned out ...
i ... she was an Australian runner who had just done the Paris marathon in 3 hours 11 minutes.
ii .. she was going my way.
I couldn't ask for a better pace-setter than that. See what I mean about when your luck is in?
I made the aeroplane - an Airbus A320 - with just minutes to spare, which is quite astonishing seeing as how it takes Airbus Industries about a month to put one together, and once they me safely bundled aboard, they slammed the door and off we went. And I couldn't help having a little smile to myself. My flight with Air France was scheduled to leave at 13:30. Here we were at 11:10 and I was already hurtling down the runway, albeit heading in a totally different direction.
Remember me telling you earlier this morning that the weather was miserable, grey, wet and depressing? I was lucky enough to be offered a window seat (there was plenty of room on this flight) and so I could look out of the windows and take a few photos.
Here we are taking off from Paris, and you can see that I wasn't joking either. As far as the weather goes, it's not a very auspicious start to my journey.
Now here's a thing. While I was checking myself in at the gate prior to boarding, I happened to glance over to the next gate where Air France flight AF2312 was being announced. This is a flight from Paris to Milan which, as you all know, happens to be in the north of Italy, and I noticed from the screen display that the languages spoken by the personnel on the aeroplane are French, English, German and ... errr ... Spanish. If I had not been in such a rush I would have photographed that. No-one could make up a story like that.
Now I don't really have a clue where we are in this photo because I couldn't seem to be able to make the in-flight display screen work. But the coastline down below here looks similar to how the coastline of the Netherlands looks somewhere to the north of Nordwijk and around Ijmuiden.
That kind of area would seem to put us in the correct direction if we have flown north from Paris and turned in from over the North Sea towards the runways at Schiphol.
As we approach Schiphol, which means "the graveyard of ships" and which is a testament to how much of what we know today as The Netherlands has been reclaimed from the sea, we flew over a few patches of land that were brilliantly coloured with red and yellow and purple.
Not of course that I know very much about plants and vegetation and the like but bearing in mind that we are quite close to Amsterdam, my bet would be that those down there are tulip fields. I'm not quite sure what else they might be and it is spring, after all.
I reckoned, as I said earlier, that we had crossed the Dutch coast somewhere around the Nordwijk / Ijmuiden area, and if that was the case then I reckoned that our likely flight path from there to put us into position for a run-in for landing would take us over some kind of stretch of inland water such as a lake.
And so of course no-one was more surprised than me to look out of the window and see below us that we were in fact flying over some stretch of inland water.
My assumed flight path would take us over a couple of big cities, one of which would be Haarlem, and so right on cue a large built-up area passed by underneath.
I had a glance on one of these computerised satellite map things when I returned home, because I reckoned that this collection of red-brick buildings would be quite easy to identify from about 4 or 5000 feet up, but I've not been able to see anything that rung any kind of particular bell.
If you have any idea of whereabouts in the Netherlands this collection of buildings might be, then please . Not only will your identification add to the site, I love to interact with my audience.
Ijmuiden is a city in the Netherlands that is known for being the port of entry of some kind of ship canal, such as the Manchester Ship Canal in the UK, and it connects Amsterdam with the sea without having to pass the Ijsselmeer.
My calculations were that if we were indeed coming from the north-west then sooner or later we would have to cross the ship canal to reach the airport. And there you are - one ship canal right on cue.
Back in Paris they had told me from which gate my plane to Montreal would depart. And as you might guess, it was right over the other side of the airport so off I set at a rapid rate of knots.
And when I arrived, guess what? Yes, no plane. And so I made enquiries. And, of course, departure had been moved to another gate - right next to the one where I had landed and so I had to run all the way back at a rapid rate of knots, with the clock ticking desperately away.
I shan't go into the boring details about the airport security because you've heard me say it all before. But this time I was one of the people chosen to be given closer attention by one of these perverts who would normally be found lurking in a dark corner of a public lavatory somewhere but who has found a whole new lease of life since the practice of running his hands over other people's bodies and feeling what they have to offer has become acceptable behaviour.
When he asked me to take my boots off, I did ask him if he would like me to take off my trousers too, but he declined the invitation. Our discussion did however become rather heated because I'm stressed-out at airports anyway without any of this nonsense.
To ease the pain I kept on whispering to myself "three hundred Euros - three hundred Euros". After all, it works out at about €500 per hour and I've never had a job that paid that well, not even back in the old days when I often contemplated selling my body on Boots Corner in Crewe when my back was to the wall.
But to put it bluntly, with all of this nonsense that goes on in airports these days, how stressful it is and how many perverts seem to have been given the right to invade the most intimate of privacy of ordinary people calmly going about their ordinary business, then quite frankly I would rather sweep away the whole lot and take my chances with the freedom fighters.
Firstly ... they have every right to do what they are doing. They are the ones under attack with foreign soldiers having invaded their countries and murdering their civilians. Back in World War II the Yugoslav, the Greek and the French resistance thought nothing about sticking bombs on Nazi aircraft and blasting the occupants into Kingdom Come, being hailed as heroes by the British who had, more often than not, supplied the explosive for doing it. I don't see why that is any different. Don't forget that Winston Churchill in his book Their Finest Hour made it quite clear that he would have incited the British population to suicide attack if ever the Germans had set foot on mainland British soil.
Anyone would fight tooth and nail to protect their homeland and their possessions if an invading army were about to grab hold of it all and no-one would blame them for trying. But one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter or resister - it all depends on whether you are a defender or an aggressor. And if you have set foot in another person's country with the intention of killing any of the inhabitants then you deserve everything that you get and I won't shed a single tear for you, no matter which country you come from.
Secondly ... the freedom fighters believe in what they are doing and they are sincere about it. They aren't doing it for money or for perverted sexual reasons. I go for sincerity any time.
Back in the good old days, flying was so much more exciting - boarding a plane to Paris and never knowing if you were going to arrive in Cuba, or if you were going to arrive at all. Robert Louis Stevenson said, and I totally agree, that "to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour". I yearn for a return to the good old days of Leila "we will never negotiate with terrorists" Khaled. She was only the hi-jacker's daughter but she said "Take Me To Amman!"
Having got the rant out of the way, it was time for check-in. And this was absolutely dreadful too, the worst I've ever had. We had to fight our way in through the check-in gate, and on the other side, instead of being allowed to board the aeroplane, we found ourselves crammed into a tiny waiting room where there was not anything like enough room for everyone to sit down. It reminded me of the Black Hole of Calcutta.
Kids were screaming all over the place and I don't blame them for a minute because I felt like screaming too. I hate flying at the best of times and this is the worst that I have ever had. It was just the €300 that was keeping me going.