When my friend Alison told me she had bought me a return ticket to Spain as an early birthday present, I didn’t hear, ‘A free trip to Spain, given by a kind and generous friend’; I heard, ‘You have to fly in a feeble tin can, miles above the earth, with only a lap belt and life jacket to keep you safe; and the life jacket won’t be much use when you crash into a mountain and have to eat your kind and generous friend, assuming you survive long enough to want a little dinner.’
Truth to tell, I was not looking forward to the trip. I would have looked forward to the trip if we’d gone by train, car or the Enterprise transporter, but…flying? I already did that, to France last November. Once a decade is enough, surely? I may not have mentioned this before, but I’m not too keen on flying.
However, I’m not one to let paralysing terror stop me from doing something I’d rather like to do, especially if, by not doing it, I would offend a friend, so I said ‘Thank you very much, Alison,’ as soon as my teeth and my knees stopped quaking long enough to get it out.
The trip to the airport was horrendous: no car crash or six-mile tailback to save me. We got through customs without full body searches (inside and out), sneering officers or interrogation - separate and together - to smash our story that we were a couple of girls on a jolly to the Continent. Some days, I just can’t catch a break.
We boarded the Ryanair flight in much the same way I attack a packet of Maltesers: all in a rush; first come, first served; with no regard for dignity. The air crew simply opened the doors and flattened themselves against the ceiling as the passengers fought for seats. We had met up with Alison’s friends, Lyn and Sue, who also have a villa out in Spain. Then we got separated from them. They boarded before us and saved us seats, but we couldn’t get close without trampling the other passengers, à la hippo, so we weren’t able to sit together.
It’s just as well. I’m not a pretty sight on a plane. I dress for comfort, hence my grubbiest, thickest, favourite green cardigan (in case I ended up on that mountain top after all). I eat for comfort: ham sandwiches and crisps, squashed flat in my bag and snarfed down like that hippo I mentioned earlier.
I close my eyes and beg God to be merciful and let science work on take off. And in flight. And on landing.
It was around this point I remembered I was a Christian and trust that God is in control of my life: I doubt that He sees the need for me to die in a plane crash (why would He?) but, if He does, then I’m going to a Better Place where I won’t need a manky cardigan. So why worry? I smiled and opened my eyes at that thought, just as the plane tipped straight up like a rocket and hurled itself into nothingness, against all the laws of common sense. I grabbed Alison’s hand in the hope that she could stop the plane crashing into the ground at a zillion miles an hour. And it seemed that she could, because it didn’t. Of course, she only had the use of one hand all the time we were away, but she felt it was a small price to pay for me not yanking open the emergency exit in my panic, causing us all to be sucked out.
We arrived in Spain without incident. Incredible. Science is terrific, if sadistic.
Lyn & Sue and Alison & hubby Pete share a car in Spain. There is an excellent service that brings your car to and collects it from the airport, so there was no hanging around for buses or taxis to get us the forty or so minutes to where their villas are. We were home-from-home by midnight.
It is winter in Spain. The house was shut up, and tiled; no carpets. The house was c-c-c-c-cold. That was okay: Alison had the forethought to bring four hot water bottles, two each. After our revivifying tea and toast, we were tucked up in our beds in pyjamas and thermals, cuddling rubber and ready for anything. So long as it didn’t require moving from under the duvet for the next eight hours.