Feb 1994: LGW
– 3am, not the best time to be eating “reduced price” Chilli Con Carne in a café at LGW
, Mrs Jafa should have warned me so at least I could have had the pleasure of ignoring her advice but for reasons known only to myself and my body clock, I indulged.
This was what turned out to be the last of a series of long-haul, cheapo “Teletext” post-Christmas breaks. Around Jan/Feb in the UK holidays are practically given away, we had booked 2 weeks in Goa (GOI) for 350 quid each!!!! And that was B&B! We didn’t know which hotel we would have as it was allocated on arrival but with long haul I reckon you’re onto a pretty safe bet that all will be well, especially if 3rd world 2 star accommodation is your bag.
I piled down the Chilli, Mrs Jafa had tea and toast, later I was going to wish I had taken the more English choice.
The screens sent us to the satellite terminal; the fully-automated shuttle rail thingy reminded me of “Alien” and I remember thinking that LGW
was a really flash place.
I love the LGW
satellite, it is a circular building and is spotting heaven, I watched planes come and go in the inky depths of an English winter night and was vaguely alarmed to see our Monarch A300B4-605R being de-iced, I believe it was G-MONS but I am prepared to stand corrected as until I became a bit more aware of a/c I would have put money on it being an A340 (it was big you see and I knew the 340 was the big airbus) BUT I do remember reading the emergency card and it was definitely a 600 series Airbus, so I reckon that settles it.
I wasn’t too impressed with the livery, the dodgy yellow and black looked a bit cheap-ass to me but at 350 quid a throw, this was a cheap-ass holiday, so who was I to complain!
During this 5 year period of early morning departure, late booked, long-haul bargain holidays I came to really like the smell and vibe of LGW
at god-knows-when-O’clock in the morning, it seemed like we were sneaking past all the usual rough and tumble. Driving from Edgware to LGW
was a breeze in the dead of night, you could actually guarantee to arrive on time and in those days we were ultra-keen and used to be there when the desk opened (and often well before!). We made a point of never flying charter airlines to holiday destinations in the summer as the French ATC’s usually went on strike and what with other hassles we didn’t fancy the idea of a fortnight at LGW
for our summer hols.
Sitting with the other pax at the gate our fellow travellers were a picture of that peculiar English reserve that precludes speaking to anyone in public, I know people aren’t at their best in the wee hours but considering how gregarious the English can be when actually on foreign soil, one wonders why they don’t just loosen up as a nation.
My reverie and flawed a/c identification (go on, flame me, I can handle it!) came to an abrupt end as the time to board arrived, Mrs Jafa and I hustled through the door and got a bit of a shock…….so many seats!!!! I can’t remember the full config but I do know we had the window and aisle seat on the port side, with no properly aligned window and a bloody great wing blocking the view, stuffed in across the aisle from us was a pretty Scottish lass who spent the entire flight attempting to drink herself to death, she didn’t say much but a bottle says a thousand words.
The seat pitch was more “quick hop to Alicante” than long-haul but these were the days before DVT
was invented so sitting with my knees up my nose wasn’t considered a problem.
At the risk of starting an A vs B war I remember commenting to Mrs Jafa that Airbuses were very aptly named and we contemplated the thought that the 600 designation may actually be referring to the number of pax they had stuffed into this particular cigar-tube.
I sat there awaiting the terrible fate that my mates had said would befall all Airbus pax, as the computer was bound to throw a hissy fit and the doors would open, it would land on a highway, it would refuse to land, the stairs would deploy at 3,000 feet….. all sorts of things happen on airbuses you know and all the people who told me these wicked lies had a “Mate who is an FA
”…scurrilous bastards the lot of them but that was “Lahndahn” in the 90’s, full of bullshitters…..plasterers, every one of them….or chippies.
So, the long journey began, we were routed LGW
, a stopover of an hour and a half for the FA
’s to have a crafty fag while the Captain filled up with cheap fuel and duty frees then a couple of hours to GOI.
I was cramped into this tiny space and nearly cricked my neck craning back to look out of the window, the Scottish lass slipped into an alcoholic coma somewhere east of Cyprus and I fell asleep somewhere along the line but it may have been due to my brain being starved of blood, had I taken this flight nowadays I would have been pacing the aisle to keep the blood from pooling in my legs and leaving them looking like a dinner-lady’s ankles.
Mrs Jafa nudged me, there was the most glorious sunrise, I blinked at the grey and pinkness of it all, shafts of sunlight burst through gaps in the clouds with the sort of effect usually reserved for Hollywood portrayals of God, or Moses, I half expected to be handed a stone tablet with “Though Shalt not……….” Carved on it.
But it was a brief epiphany; I had urgent business in the small room, the colour of a hearing-aid, tucked at the back of the a/c.
Bahrain…the name conjured up images of Angela Rippon, reading the BBC news and pronouncing it “Bahkrain” and for some reason it always seemed to be something to do with Concorde, anyway, it looked awfully sandy and hot as we swooped in for our pit-stop.
Oh my! Bahrain was everything the bullshitting plasterers from Lahndahn had said it would be, you really could buy a 25 quid raffle ticket and win a Mercedes! (Or a Porsche if you really didn’t care what people thought of you) and have it delivered to the country of your choice. There were these large Perspex boxes with a fair old smattering of tickets in them; somebody was going to be a happy little Larry come September!!
Hmmmmm, if the BS
brigade were right about Bahrain….could they have been right all along about Airbuses??? I tried to find a Monarch FA
to ask if she knew Pete the Plasterer in order to decide whether to re-board after transit or hide in the Merc until September…….
We wandered through shops stuffed with all the things Muslims aren’t supposed to have and Europeans buy in huge quantities if the price says “Duty Free”, we worked out the exchange rate and decided to buy some fancy wooden letters to spell out our daughter’s name on her bedroom door but I stuffed it up and when we re-checked the figures it came to eleven quid (forgive me not using the pound sign but this is a pacific keyboard).
We were not alone, there was a Caledonian 757?? which landed a few minutes before us, I sensed competition but found I had an urgent engagement with the scrupulously clean toilets in the transit area.
I usually feel manky when I fly long-haul so I didn’t really take much notice of the state of my health; all I wanted to do was crawl on board and start travelling again.
As we wandered outside to board, the Caledonian 757 shot past and rotated, I watched in fascination as the a/c flashed by in full climb and I noted that it didn’t just romp off up into the air like a missile, it seemed to travel forward as it climbed in an aspect that reminded me of a paper dart at the moment of stall….marvellous, I love it when I notice things!
We rotated too and things got very bumpy as we pounded our way towards the heavens, the captain announced impending lumpiness and requested that the FA
’s stay strapped in, an air of hush and scarediness descended on the cabin, no-one spoke, a few started to sweat, I could feel praying going on, the Scottish lass tipped another Whiskey and Ginger down her throat from the not-so-secret stash in her denim and gingham handbag.
“Bang…rumble…slap….boff…crump…drop……slop….blap…..” A300’s have a large repertoire of seemingly terminal sounds and whoever designed the overhead bins deserves a medal as no amount of swaying and jostling could dislodge them from their mountings.
This hushed ascent through God’s cement mixer seemed to take hours, I caught sight of an FA
in her jump seat, she didn’t look massively happy. I started to feel a long, long way from terra firma.
Eventually the turbulence subsided sufficiently for the FA
’s to do their stuff but the captain advised against excessive perambulation as he couldn’t entirely guarantee the floor would always be where it was expected to be.
I was glad of this turn of events as I had an urgent appointment at the back of the plane.
On my return I avoided breakfast as no two parts of my body could agree on what time it was and I was beginning to re-define the word “unwell”, in short, I felt like shite.
I started to have stomach cramps and Mrs Jafa was beginning to regret giving me the window seat, I tossed and turned as my body parts decided to agree on the time and argue about whether I was too hot, too cold or just dead.
I suddenly found I had a VERY urgent appointment at the back of the a/c!
I collapsed into the windowless micro-cubicle and avoided the mirror, the man in there didn’t look particularly trustworthy and I needed to press my forehead onto something cold. Then, of all the things I could have put on a list entitled; “Things I would rather not have happen whilst in an Airbus toilet feeling seedy” the bastard turbulence from hell started up again and I was thrown about the cubicle, more or less in synch with my stomach contents…..wretched? You don’t know the meaning of the word until you have been at the mercy of the forces of nature and some bloody designers idea of the shit-house from hell.
I couldn’t decide which end of my alimentary canal (ask a teacher) to clamp to the loo, the basin was far too prone to random upwards lunges to trust sticking my head in that and in any case, if things turned out the way they were threatening it would be barely adequate to the task.
I almost wished the door would open and suck us all out to oblivion, even Dante couldn’t have predicted the level of hell I was currently ensconced in (so that’s where they got the design for the A300-600 lavs!!!)
Mercifully the turbulence subsided, just at the point where it had to either stop or I would puke, other areas of my anatomy were not so easily placated but eventually, after what seemed like 3 years, I emerged blinking into the cabin and lolled against the window, deathly white, racked with pain and planning the carpet-bombing of a certain café at LGW
At some point, during the delirious muck-sweat that followed, Mrs Jafa must have had a word with the FA
’s for when we landed I was ushered to the front of the queue (I had an urgent appointment) and propelled down the airstairs, which had a funky bamboo fringe/canopy effort over them, and straight to the table where the nice Indian guys at the passport control trestle-table looked at me wide-eyed, stamped my passport as one might pat a leper and indicated a battered white door to my left.
I hurled myself through the door and delivered my urgent package………groggily I realised there was no loo-roll, I staggered outside and a very jolly man indicated with a cheerful waggle of his head that in return for a rupee or two he would furnish my desire.
Money changed hands, I looked back and noted with some joy that we had beaten the Caledonian 757 to Dabolim Airport and they were only now preparing to swell the ranks massing around the trestle-table, I caught a glimpse of Mrs Jafa’s hat, felt the sun on my cheek and turned to find the paper man, more money changed hands and I took up temporary residence in the “conference room” once more.
Each time I emerged I checked that Mrs Jafa was getting nearer to the trestle-table and as each urgent appointment beckoned I became lighter in the wallet and more desperate as the paper man was multi-tasking and could take up to 15 seconds to locate…time was of the essence.
On the 4th or 5th gripping need I barged past the man, ripped open the door of the loo-roll cupboard and grabbed a whole roll (he was being fair but the rations were a trifle inadequate for the issues they were needed to tackle).
I locked myself in the loo again with a quick “sorry mate” and sank blissfully onto the remains of the toilet seat, stroking the full and unblemished roll, rocking back and forth like Gollum with “The Ring”. (Oh I had “The Ring” alright but let’s not go there!!!)
This evidently helped as I was able to stay there long enough for things to subside sufficiently to be able to stand upright again; Mrs Jafa joined me by the paper man’s treasury and led me out to where the buses were parked.
It was obvious that no-one was going anywhere very soon as the thronging masses round the trestle-table testified.
I located our bus, sat on the earth bank at the side of the road, leant forward with my head on the front wheel so the bus couldn’t leave without me and either fell asleep or passed out in the bright sunshine, my hand luggage stuffed into my lap to prevent stomach cramps rather than out of any perceived need for security.
No-one timed me but I believe I was out for 15 minutes or so, power-nap territory, I cautiously sat upright and to my utter amazement found that, compared to the preceding 2 hours, I felt totally OK
, a feeling similar to that charge of euphoria one gets after finally discharging 14 pints of “Scruttocks Old Head Mangler” and a dodgy “Meat” Kebab, down the loo in a grotty student flat in Leicester.
Shortly afterwards we boarded the bus, Mrs Jafa assured me that my breath would have stripped the paint off a battleship and I smelt like road kill but I was alive and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.
We drove up the coast and as the hot Indian sunshine penetrated my pale, scummy skin I drank in the sights and sounds and started to feel very much a part of the human race once more.
The Hotel we were allocated was the last stop for the bus and we were the last pax, we had dropped people off at a variety of 4 star hotels, we were dropped at the Dona Paula Beach Resort.
A 2 star set up and I have to say, it was so nice I wouldn’t have traded it for the Hilton (Paris Hilton maybe..) there was a main reception/dining area with sunken courtyard and nets strung between the palm trees so the diners didn’t get offed by coconuts (The Kingfisher beer could do that without any help) and around the edge of the plot of land were delightful bungalows and apartments, all very small and low-key but the best bit of all was the fact that in the middle of this was a small fishing community, 2 or 3 buildings and some drying racks, this lot just went about their daily lives as they had done for generations as the guests trotted past to their rooms or the beach.
Our bungalow sat on an 8 foot high cliff of browny-red volcanic rock, we had sea views!!!!
What was even more special was the tiny shrine to Ganesh (the elephant headed God) cut into the rocks just below us, the fishermen came and did their puja’s every morning before heading out to sea and seemed really pleased when Mrs Jafa went down to have a look.
The Holiday will stay in my memory forever, we hired an Indian-built Royal Enfield 500cc motorcycle and after taking a couple of tourist tours to get orientated, toured around the countryside on our own, getting as far south as Palolem Beach and as far north as Baga.
The clutch blew up as we attempted to board a ferry, I am a biker of old so I ripped it all apart by the side of the road, a crowd gathered and many offers of help were given, I left Mrs Jafa with the crowd and went off on the back of someone’s scooter to buy a new clutch (4 quid!!!!!! Practically free!!).
It says much of the friendliness of the locals that neither Mrs J nor I even considered the possibility that this might be unsafe, try it in LA
or London and see how long you last….
We met up with a couple from Skelmersdale in the North of England and had some excellent excursions and discussions.
On the final night we partied with a trifle too much vigour and I went to bed completely off my face and had a crazy dream about taking off in an a/c in Germany, the interior, instead of being cream plastic, was covered in a tweed-like fabric and as we rotated we stalled and the whole shebang looped over on its back and came crashing down on the runway...I woke up with a start and spent the rest of the day being very quiet and subdued, premonition or alcohol fuelled nightmare? either way we headed off to the airport where the security guy went through my pockets and asked if I had any rupees to give him as taking rupees out of the country was illegal, he was a bit of a pest but I had already given my left over currency to the fishermen as they were such a cool bunch of guys.
The flight home was unremarkable and I slept through a lot of it but I do remember the captain announcing that we were over Belgium and then without any ado he started our descent, one minute “whoosh” in a straight line, then the a/c just tilted earthwards, I had a mental picture of the pilot pushing his little side stick forward and pressing a button marked “LGW
The post-script to this story is that Mrs Jafa loved Goa so much that she spent the entire journey from LGW
to our house giving me a serious ear-bashing about anything and everything, finally bursting into tears and saying that part of her will always be in Dona Paula and apologised for the 50 minute rant.
Well, what good is a husband if he can’t take it in the ear occasionally….
We, the undersigned, do hereby consent.....