76 – Christmas Break

We made it. Another Mayan long-term cycle grinds into gear and I’m wondering where we’ll be at the end of the next? Probably still waiting in five hour traffic jams like the one I got caught up in yesterday driving back from Annonay after a five hour class with people who make dieting biscuits for a living.

My last day of teaching of 2012 had me studying the 17 km stretch of the A7 between Vienne and Lyon in great detail. Quality tarmac here, well built barriers, sturdy lights, an ample hard shoulder, frequent services, and a good electronic traffic display system, reading YOU ARE IN A TRAFFIC JAM!

Five hours later I make it back to the office and sink an imaginary bottle of brandy. Eight o’clock on my last Friday of term. I’m now on holiday. It’s Christmas. I frantically start rummaging through the cupboard for some leftover spirit. There’s only floor cleaner and a tin of condensed milk. White Russian.

I decide to give it a miss and make the mistake of going to pick up my tickets for my train on Sunday. I should have drank the floor cleaner and knocked myself out until New Year.

Part Dieu station on the Friday night before Christmas and I’m queuing again. Waiting for one of the automatic ticket terminals and wondering whether I enjoy this sort of thing. Purposefully putting myself in situations I know I hate. I could do this tomorrow. But I’m choosing to do it now. I could have taken the N7 from Annonay to Lyon instead of the A7. It would have taken a bit longer but I wouldn’t have got stuck in the traffic jam that has been there since the motorway was built in 1982.

However, I have made one good decision this year, as I explained to my friend on Thursday after he asked me: ‘Why are you getting the train?’

I can walk around. I can eat and drink my own food. There are no safety demonstrations. If the nearest toilet is occupied, you can walk to the next one. There’s no lengthy security queues. I can turn up at the station five minutes before departure. I can change seats. I don’t have some X-factor finalist boy-steward checking to see if my baggage is correctly stowed. I don’t get ill because the plane’s air-conditioning system has pumped me full of someone else’s hideous lung infection. There’s a view. There’s leg room. I can take as much baggage as I can carry. And…

‘…I don’t have to leave the ground,’ I finished telling him.

There’s nothing good about airports. From the minute you enter them you’re treated like a moron. I’m not a businessman, so when I travel, I’m on holiday. So why should my holidays start with someone fondling me. Having to empty my pockets to show what type of person I am. Corkscrew, bottle tops, loose coppers, ball of string. Walking back and forth through a scanner fifty times because my trousers have a piece of metal in them. Called a zip.

Led into the abattoir of the departure lounge. Those cavernous overly lit rooms where if you breathe deeply enough you can smell the fear. Rows of veal coloured travellers knowing they have all crossed the line. Their destiny out of their hands. From this point on there are only two options. Crashing into the sea or arriving at another airport. Both, deeply unsatisfying.

‘What happens if something happens in the channel tunnel, hey Oggers. Fire, earthquake, bomb?’ my friend countered.

‘Then I’ll probably die.’

‘So what’s the difference?’

‘I might not.’

When the wheels fall off a train, or the bottom falls out of a boat, there’s a chance that I might live. When the wings fall off the Easyjet, it’s Sayonara. Auf Wiedersehen. Bon Nuit. Good night. Goodbye. It was why nobody was scared of getting hit by the comet yesterday. And those who were went to Bagarach.

They must have all felt pretty rotten this morning trudging outside to see not a wisp of smoke in sight. Just another glorious, cloudless, cold winter’s day. The crisp air gripping their lungs like a vice for a second and then letting go. Oxygen lashing round the body, reddening their cheeks and livening up their mood.

I wonder what they actually did today. Feeling a bit stupid would be my guess.

‘Opps. Well, we got that one wrong,’ they meekly mutter flicking through their Lonely Planet guide to apocalypses. ‘Mmm, maybe it’s next week.’

They probably just went back home (if they hadn’t sold it) to dig out the Christmas decorations.

‘Didn’t think I’d be needing these. But there you go. Happy Christmas.’


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