Sarah Standing battles to board a plane bound for Ibiza
Needs must and I’ve become extremely skilled at booking cheap, credit-crunching flights on easyJet. The volume of hours, energy, blood, sweat and tears I’ve devoted to acquiring dream e-tickets for my family ought to qualify me for some sort of tenacious travel operator award. This summer I’ve truly gone for gold: four returns to Ibiza, singles to Nice, Corfu and Toulouse and a brace of cancellations to Gibraltar. I’ve come to the conclusion that making holiday arrangements in cyberspace requires real chutzpah. Getting the flights you want is a gamble and not dissimilar to playing the Las Vegas slot machines. The odds of getting the right ticket at the right price and at the right time of day is a veritable crapshoot, yet just occasionally all the components gel and one hits the jackpot. I have to confess I’ve become quite the player. A return flight to Ibiza for £114, arriving at the respectable hour of 18.25 and departing at 10.10. A non-clubbers, cheap, civilised booking with the added bonus of a confirmed Speedy Boarding pass. Result.
I presumed that by forking out an extra ten quid for speedy boarding meant I would be effortlessly rewarded with a pauper’s upgrade. I was wrong. So wrong. The (ingeniously named) Speedy Boarding pass is actually an entry form; a cunning way of alerting 20 passengers that they have voluntarily paid top-dollar to take part in an exhausting airport triathlon. You sit poker-faced, waiting for your flight to board without ever letting on you’re holding one of the prized Willy Wonka SB tickets. This is because it’s imperative to conserve all your energy for the Herculean race ahead. Remain focused. No reading magazines. No eating. No talking. As soon as the gate opens it’s as though a starting-gun has been fired. With Olympian speed you must now shove, push and sprint towards the waiting bus. This is a race. A serious, cut-throat, survival-of-the-fittest race and the bus journey is but the first hurdle. The ultimate goal is to secure one of the six highly-sought-after front row seats on the aeroplane — yet to achieve this requires ruthlessness and vaulting ambition. You have to be prepared to elbow out all competition and doggedly hog the electronic doors on the bus in order to secure a fast getaway. You’ve got to gain speed on the tarmac, overtake your fellow passengers and niftily dart up the steps before collapsing spent and sweaty in a victorious heap at the finishing line. It’s tough. The first time I took part I didn’t know the form and ended up being flung into sub-steerage by a man with no hand luggage, but I won’t allow myself to be that easily defeated again. No way. Next year I’m going to get into serious shape before I go on holiday and by 2012 I fully intend to be the female victor ludorum of speedy boarding.
One of my all-time favourite scenes from the film Withnail and I is where Richard E. Grant stumbles out of a borrowed weekend cottage in the Lake District and accosts a passing farmer and asks him for directions. It’s a cold, rainy and dismally bleak summer’s day. ‘We’ve gone on holiday by mistake,’ Withnail informs him dramatically. I know exactly how he felt. The last week of July I went to Cornwall with my girlfriend Anya Hindmarch. Global warming bypassed most of England this year and although both our husbands remained impervious to the bad weather and jolly, there was one day when Anya and I just hibernated like two recalcitrant schoolgirls, watching TV, refusing to go for walks in gale-force winds and counting the hours until the holiday ended.
Coming home after ten days in Ibiza I got on to the Gatwick Express. It was early in the morning and I was half-awake. I handed over a ten-pound note for a cup of coffee and, without looking, put my change straight into my purse. The gentleman who sold me the coffee then decided he’d given me too much change but had no clue how much he’d undercharged me. Neither did I. We reached an uneasy impasse. I kept offering up random coins, and he kept rejecting them. Eventually I got tired of conducting a lucky dip and tipped the entire contents of my bag on to the table. ‘Help yourself,’ I instructed. After much deliberation he picked up ten pence. At this moment the train lurched and most of my possessions slid off the table on to the floor. Having gathered pens, passport, chewing gum, coins, numerous lip glosses and duty free up off the floor I must have failed to pick up my trusty old Nokia mobile. It wasn’t until we got home and I began to unpack that I realised it was missing — presumably already shuttling its way back towards Gatwick airport. I was despondent. Just then my husband’s mobile rang. It was our daughter India calling from Siena. She had rung me on my mobile and was confused to find herself talking to a man from Yorkshire who had just been on holiday in Sottogrande and was now heading towards Victoria.
‘Dad, run to the station right this second. I’ve told him to give you Mum’s phone as he gets off the train.’
‘How the hell will I know who he is?’ asked Johnnie, not unreasonably.
‘I’ve told him you’ll be carrying my pink umbrella. Hurry. Go. Run like the clappers. And put the umbrella up.’
My sweet husband dutifully pelted off down the street like Mary Poppins on steroids. Returning ten minutes later with my phone held high above his head, he punched the air with glee. ‘I’ve done it!’ he shouted breathlessly. He’s fast. Very fast. Already I can see I’m going to have to ask for a head start the next time we attempt to speedy board together.