Tuesday, December 05, 2006


Should an invasion come via a charter flight, Merkins can sleep soundly in their beds.

Just a diversion.

Well my fine yeomen, it has been a while hasn’t it?

I have now returned from my holiday and while my body is busily trying to select a time zone to operate in, I am going to treat you to a few well chosen lines and pictures about my vacation. (Note 1)

It doesn’t seem possible that only a few short weeks ago, we arrived at a wet Birmingham airport to catch our flight to Barbados where we would board our cruise ship.

I sense a shudder in my audience as the slide show opens with a picture of the airport. Yet it gets worse. There are more pictures that sit between the airport and Barbados harbour.

It would have been rather over optimistic to expect that the travel arrangements would go smoothly. There are always snags with travel, you just have to shrug and accept them. So it was that a one hour delay in departing Birmingham was shrugged off. At the time, I didn’t realise that this was just the first domino falling.

The flight was a double feature. Nine hours in the air is more than enough time for two feature films. Pirates of the Caribbean – Dead Man’s Chest was a rather clichéd choice for an in-flight movie given the destination. During the second feature Good Night, Good Luck , that the second domino fell. (Note 2)

The Merkin Navy out on patrol in the bandit filled Caribbean, got word that a fleet of hostile pedallos had set sail from Barbados. As general quarters blared across the quarter deck, they decided to test fire missiles. A quick phone call to the Merkin Air Traffic Control and a huge chunk of airspace around Barbados was closed. While the Merkin Navy got to play with their big boy toys, we had to fly the long way round to Barbados.

We were about an hour out of Barbados when the plane took a sharp left. About 10 minutes later the Captain felt the need to tell us about the course change. Almost as an afterthought, he added that we need to pick up some extra fuel in Antigua so that we would reach Barbados. (Note 3)

When we touched down in Antigua I had the feeling of being Jenson Button doing a quick splash and dash for the chequered flag.

As we sat at the end of the runway, straining our eyes looking for an approaching fuel truck, this sense of optimism and excitement spilled over. Here I was in Antigua, an extra stop on my vacation – so I snapped a couple of pictures from the window to record the stopover.

A quick snapshot from the aircraft window at the end of the runway in Antigua. End of runway - Antigua II

It could be that while I was framing up the shot that the next domino fell. More likely it was during the hour an a half that we waited for a spot on the airport apron to open up so they could park the aircraft and get it fuelled up.

It was dark by the time the plane found its way to the apron. The intercom from the Captain of the plane was strangely silent. Waiting for fuel gave us chance to get to know our fellow passengers. An elderly couple in the row in front of us were celebrating their Golden Wedding. You have to admit – their day was memorable.

Being from Britain, the stiff upper lip kicked in and the gallows humour abounded. The spirit of the blitz surfaced as we waited patiently for news. (Note 4)

By the time the fuel turned up, we discovered the reason behind the last domino falling. The flight crew had run out of hours and were therefore not able to fly us to Barbados. The good news was there was a flight crew in Barbados and they were looking to charter a flight to bring them to our plane to fly us the rest of the way.

At 11:15pm, fourteen hours after we boarded the aircraft, we were told that we would be waiting in the terminal building. Half an hour later we started to disembark.

Antigua airport. Trust me when I say this photograph glamorises it. Perhaps I should learn to use photoshop.

Antigua airport was effectively shutting down for the night when we arrived. 315 tired and irritable passengers walked into a terminal building with little or no air conditioning to join a snaking queue for a security check. The security staff had the worst end of this particular deal. They are must be made of stern stuff those Antiguan Security Staff. I’m not sure if I could have faced 630 shoes that had been worn continually for at least 18 hours being thrust under my nose.

We were handed vouchers for refreshments at the one food stall in the airport (which did not cover beer) and an unsightly scrum ensued as everyone tried to get served. The guys behind the counter coped well considering. I doubt they often have 300 people to serve in one go, but they managed – even if the choice was limited.

We ate our food and twiddled our thumbs waiting for the relief air crew. Then came the bombshell announcement that our flight was cancelled and that we would be taken to hotels for the night. Some frayed tempers finally snapped. (Note 5)

I must admit that the mention of one day had me hoping that Mrphy wasn’t around.

We had to complete the immigration procedures for Antigua. More queues, but the reward of an Antiguan stamp in my passport. We queued for our luggage (Although some elected to leave their luggage at the airport – and yes, some cases got lost). We then queued for taxis. The guy that was organising all of this deserves a big pat on the back. Where in some places everyone authority finds a place to hide – this guy was organising cajoling and generally getting things done. I wish I’d taken his picture as he deserves some credit.

We ended up in taxi number 796. A taxi which entered to official Holder “World’s Worst Taxis” at #1 with a bullet. The taxi itself smelt like an Amsterdam Coffee shop. The tropical air hang heavy with the smell of scorched herbs. The driver hurtled along potholed roads avoiding the worst by driving on the wrong side of the road. He also totally ignored two red traffic lights. By the time we reached the hotel I was a gibbering wreck and thankfull for the offer of my first (and definitely not the last) rum punch of the holiday. (Note 6)

There were more queues at hotel reception as we snaked our way towards the promised room for the night. We were lucky. By 3:30 am we had completed the formalities and manhandled our cases up twisty stairs to a room and a bed. Where we collapsed after 23 hours travelling. Others were not so lucky. A number of those who chose to argue at the airport found that the hotel ran out of rooms and they had to bussed to another hotel – they didn’t get to sleep for another two hours!

It might not have been the best first day of a holiday – but it was certainly memorable.

So here endeth Day One of what I did on my holidays. TO BE CONTINUED…

From 14th June, the industry standard Crozzy Standard has been applied to footnotes.

NOTE 1: Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I don’t have to treat you all to a meal and watch as you drain my stock of duty free booze before sitting you down to a slide show. Such are the joys of the digital age, I can do it all from the comfort of my own computer screen secure in the knowledge that my supplies of hooch are safe. Click to return

NOTE 2 : I’m sure that a sadistic ex-smoker chose this film deliberately. Being a smoker on a long haul flight is bad enough. To have to sit there and endure a film where someone lighting a cigarette marks the start of every scene is the ultimate torture. Click to return

NOTE 3: I don’t like thinking about just why the plane needed to pick up extra fuel. It is not that far from Antigua to Barbados and ever since I had visions that the plane was flying on fumes as the air crew scrambled for their parachutes. I should be charitable and mention the turbulence we experienced and maybe even use this as an excuse for why the plane was running with such a low fuel load – although it was a Thompsonfly charter flight and I suspect that they were running at the absolute margins to save money. Click to return

NOTE 4: Long haul flights are never particularly comfortable. Long haul charter flights are even less so. The seats on these flights are never big enough. Sure, the legroom was better than some, but they just don’t build the seats wide enough. Yet after twelve hours or so in a plane with three of the four toilets out of commission and with very little news coming from the flight crew, you suddenly realise just how bad conditions must get for those unfortunate enough to fall victim to a hijack. Click to return

NOTE 5: Fine yeomen, a handy travel trip. When your travel plans have unravelled to the point where you find yourself sent to a hotel for the night – don’t argue. Resign yourself to your fate. Follow the instructions to the letter. Move fast and get to the front of the queues that are bound to form. Those that chose to argue with the poor girl behind the counter ended up at the back of all the queues and were several hours behind us in collapsing into a bed. Click to return

NOTE 6: I have travelled in taxis all over the world. I thought that I had seen the worst of all taxi driving – yet the Antiguan roads and taxi 796 beat the lot. Click to return

Be afraid. Be very afraid. An Antiguan taxi.

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