‘Shaggy-dog story’: A long, rambling story or joke, typically one that is amusing only because it is absurdly inconsequential or pointless.
Yep, that pretty much sums up my trip to Norwich last week.
Ok, I travel to Norwich a lot, usually two or three times a year to visit my in-laws, but I have never gone on business, and I have certainly never flown there before.
Essentially, I needed to meet with a client on one of my bigger cases, and since the train cost almost as much as the flights (and takes, on average, nearly a week to get there), we – the barrister on the case and I – decided to fly. I know, get me and my glamourous jet-setting career as a lawyer.
In order to get to the airport on time, I had to catch the 6.41am train from Sandbach, so my alarm went off at 5.45am. Even Isaac, who is predominantly nocturnal thanks to the demonic blood coursing through his veins, thought this was ridiculous.
I dragged myself out of bed, walked the dog, showered and dressed, and drove to the train station without incident. In fact, it wasn’t until the train approached Manchester Airport, that things started to get a little weird.
As the announcement came through that we would shortly be arriving, myself and another passenger got up to leave the train. He appeared normal enough, but as soon as we got to the doors, he started frantically pressing the ‘open’ button, despite the fact the train was still moving. I thought it was common knowledge that the doors don’t open until the train has stopped (the operators, it seems, are not too keen on passengers throwing themselves to a certain death), but either he was unaware of this fact, or he thought they might make an exception for him and let him take his chances.
Undeterred, he became more and more irate the nearer we got to the station, to the point he was apoplectic by the time we pulled alongside the platform. Clearly he felt that, by this stage, he should at least be permitted to commando roll from the train, to save a few precious seconds of waiting around for a safe (and wholly uninteresting) disembarkation.
Then came the really weird part.
As the train came to a stop, his purple-faced anger peaked, and he shouted “I give up!”, before storming back to his seat. I’m not sure whether this was intended to make a point, or teach the train a lesson, but I waited for the green light to come on, smugly opened the doors, and turned to await his reaction. Would he realise his foolish error and calmly leave the train in quiet embarrassment, or would his rage continue, as he ran screaming down the platform like an escaped lunatic?
As it happens, he did neither. I watched from the platform in disbelief, as he simply sat there and waited for the doors to close again. He had taken his protest so far, he had chosen not to get off the train at all (“That’ll fuckin’ show ‘em. I’ll stay on until Piccadilly now….”).
Little did I know, this was only the beginning of a very weird (and tiring) day.
Having met up with the barrister, we walked into the terminal building, and a screen immediately informed us that our 9.00am flight was not now expected to take off until 12.05pm, five minutes after the meeting with my client was due to start. Awesome.
To make matters worse, although we had booked the tickets via Flybe, the smug lady at their ‘customer service desk’ informed us that the flight was actually with Scottish airline Loganair, who operate a strict ‘we dornt care hoo late we make yer flight, yoo’re nae havin’ yer money back, ya wee Inglish bastad’ policy. Charming.
Flybe did give us a £5 ‘refreshment voucher’ each as (scant) compensation, which, at airport prices, meant we could at least split a packet of Fruit Pastilles between us, and we settled into a nearby café to discuss the case.
Fortunately, I was able to push the meeting room – and the client – back a couple of hours, so I was just starting to calm down, when I accidentally knocked one of the cups off our table. It smashed into several pieces on the floor, and everyone in the establishment simultaneously looked up from their own tables, to stare at me with the same what a dickhead expression.
For a brief, horrible minute, I thought the member of staff who came over to clean up was going to confiscate my £5 voucher to cover the cost, but he saw my face and evidently thought better of it.
Thankfully, our fortunes did improve slightly an hour or so later, because it transpired that Loganair had managed to find some sellotape with which to patch up our plane, and our departure was being brought forward by just over half an hour. Finally, some good news.
I have to admit, even though I knew the plane had less than 30 seats, I was surprised by how tiny and flimsy it looked when we got to the gate. It resembled something Yvette Fielding might have made on Blue Peter circa 1989. Still, beggars can’t be choosers, so we boarded the Airfix plane (via a stepladder) and took our seats in the first row.
It was immediately clear that, despite the size of the plane, it was still going to be more than half empty, as there were no more than ten of us on board as the door was closed ready for take-off. We therefore decided to spread out a bit, and the barrister moved to the row behind to give me some extra leg room (although, being 6’4” and sat on the front row, I still had to stick my feet into the cockpit and rest them on the pilot’s shoulders, much to his annoyance).
It was at this point, that the lone stewardess approached me and apologetically asked if I could move to the back of the plane, because “we need to balance the weight out a bit”. Jesus, love, I know I put on a bit of timber over Christmas, but that’s just rude. She was lucky she was pretty.
To rub salt into my big fat wound, she waited until I had selected a new seat in row 10, before she walked down the plane and loudly advised me that I would have to go right to the back of the aircraft and sit in row 12. Only two rows farther back, but apparently when you’re as morbidly obese as I am, that extra half a metre could mean the difference between a successful flight, and dropping like a stone somewhere over the Peak District.
So, I hauled my doughy carcass back two seats, and sat there, on my own and humiliated, while she went through the ludicrous safety procedure:
“We’ll be flying at a height of around thirty feet, rising slightly if we encounter any trees. In the event of an emergency, we’ll simply open the door and you can jump out – at worst, you might suffer a sprained ankle. If we are unfortunate enough to land in a large puddle, you’ll find some wellies and a napkin under your seat.”
Once the safety talk had finished, we taxied to the end of the runway, and a kindly airport employee gave us a push to get us started. Shortly afterwards, we were in the air.
The flight itself was actually ok, and the pretty stewardess even came round with some hot drinks and cookies (of which she offered me two, as some kind of apology for making me move seats – twice – but I just took that as another dig at my weight), and we landed in Norwich around forty-five minutes later.
The meeting with the client thankfully went well, and after a quick sandwich and pint in the city centre, we phoned a taxi to take us back to the airport. Following an unusual journey, during which the driver insisted on blasting out Julio Iglesias at full volume (I’ve never seen anyone ‘gangsta lean’ to some Spanish easy listening before, particularly when they clearly weren’t Spanish themselves), we arrived in plenty of time for our return flight.
It was a good job too, as it took me nearly half an hour just to get to the security checkpoint, due to the fact all departing passengers at Norwich apparently have to pay a ludicrous £10 ‘development fee’ to get through the airport, and the machine broke immediately before I reached it.
To make matters (and my increasing sense of panic) worse, there was no one available to ask for help. The customer service area was vacant, as was the expression of the girl at the check-in desk I then went to in desperation. When someone did eventually turn up, I suggested that they should spend some of the ‘development fee’ developing the development fee barriers, but she had clearly undergone the obligatory humour-bypass operation that is required of all airport staff, as she simply grunted at me. I decided I had better move along, before she radioed ahead for the security guards to thoroughly inspect my rectum.
The departure lounge was actually quite nice, if a little small, and I decided to spend my remaining minutes (and money) buying the boys a gift each. Well, I was on a business trip after all. Having found a card game for Ollie, and a Peppa Pig toy for Isaac (naturally), I slumped into a seat and waited for our call to board the plane home.
I can safely say that the flight back to Manchester was one of the worst I have ever experienced. Not only was the turbulence horrendous (which normally doesn’t bother me, but there was something about being in a plane constructed from cardboard that made it seem worse), but the pretty stewardess from the outbound flight had been replaced by a woman so old and leathery she looked like a purse. Still, at least she didn’t call me fat.
Having skilfully landed the plane (which, with only a matter of feet to go, was still sideways in the wind and rain), the pilot brought us back to the terminal ahead of schedule. This gave me a dilemma – I knew my trains to Sandbach were every hour, and the next one was in just over ten minutes, so should I run and probably miss it, or accept my fate and take a leisurely stroll to the station?
Of course, I ran.
Even though I arrived at the station well after the train should have departed, heaving and sweating like I had run a marathon (I half expected pretty stewardess to walk past me at this point, with a disdainful look on her perfectly-formed face), the train was running seven minutes late and was just pulling in. Finally, my luck had changed.
I slumped into the first available seat, and tried to bring my breathing and heart rate back from life-threatening levels. After an exhausting day, I was going to arrive home earlier than I expected, and in time to give Isaac his Peppa Pig toy. Ok, any arrival before midnight would probably have meant he would still be awake, but I didn’t want to take any chances.
Except, when I got home and proudly presented him with my gift, my wife pointed out that we had already bought him exactly the same teddy on our day trip to Blackpool last year.
Bugger. I knew I should have got the Pirate George one.
Must have been the jetlag.