For the second time this year, I am leaving my computer and internet connection behind and heading off for a week of R and R, this time in Spain, with my husband, Michael. I have my notebook and pen at the ready and will blog about the trip as the days unfold.
For once we are well-prepared for the off. Washing-up done; computer files backed-up; flowers thrown away; fridge emptied of all perishables. We even have time to make sandwiches with the last of the bread. I switch off my computer several hours before the taxi is due, rather than at the last minute – which could explain our lack of last-minute chaos and the relaxed smiles as we wait for the train in Exeter.
Attribution: Bill Nicholls
We have pessimistically scheduled more that an hour’s delay in Reading before the next stage of the journey, on the grounds that ‘it’s Sunday, so the train’s sure to be delayed’. Once again, First Great Western confounds our expectations – and we pull into the wonderfully-refurbished station bang on time. FGW has spent millions tarting up Reading Station – and it shows: gleaming platforms, architecturally-spectacular columns holding up the new escalators and covered staircases, walkways more suited to an international airport than a railway station. Our sightseeing has begun much closer to home than we expected.
We watch a guy in fluorescent orange jacket and trousers tie emergency tape around red and white cones, fencing off a large area of the concourse – in order to replace posters in glass cases. Advertising brought to you by ‘elf and safety.co.uk! With time to kill, we retire to the safety of Costa, where we are promptly mugged by a couple of Sicilian lemon muffins!
For some reason, there are no direct trains between Reading and Gatwick today. The Rail Air bus costs nearly £70 for the two of us – and for the same price, we can hire a chauffeur-driven car – so we choose the latter option. The car is early and very comfortable; the driver is chatty to start with before leaving us to talk, and it’s great not to be at the wheel ourselves – but as we sit in stationary traffic on the M3, then the M25, then the M23, we remember why we moved to the south west of England – and are pleased this is a rare occasion.
Settled into our hotel, within walking distance of Gatwick S, we stroll into the airport to check in and collect luggage labels. We marvel at the ease of the automated process, even though the former MBA student in me knows the more parts of a service a company can get the customer to deliver themselves, the cheaper the delivery cost (if not necessarily the price) of that service becomes.
Waiting for the shuttle to the north terminal, I observe a pilot at the end of a corridor deep in conversation on his mobile. I hear ‘we can’t be the only couple having this conversation; loads of women must feel overwhelmed…’ before the shuttle arrives, leaving the writer in me speculating on the issue under discussion: pregnancy, marriage, infidelity, loss? The possibilities are endless and I feel the stirrings of a short story in the back of my mind – just as the sight of a sobbing family in L’viv once triggered the creation of ‘Hazelnuts and Marble Chips’.
As the shuttle pulls into the terminal, we realise there are at least two adjacent hotels and wonder which one of us picked one at the other end of the airport – but at least we are guaranteed some exercise in advance of our potentially diet-busting week of Tapas and Sangria.
Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.
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