Did you know this? There isn’t a single proper shop inside Madrid’s airport. Oh, sure, you can buy spirits, tobacco and fragranced fripperies till your heart’s content. But try getting stranded there for a day without essentials – amongst spurious rumours of an onward flight to South America – and you’ll see what I mean. Toothpaste? Forget it. Change of ordinary underpants? Not a hope in hell. Deodorant? Frankly, unpleasantness has reared its ugly head in Madrid.
‘Which brand would sir like?’ asked a particularly effeminate Spaniard, leading me by the wrist to his products, and then dropping back to cop a glance at my buttocks. Yep, I caught him at it; so I clenched and winked. Well, smiled whilst I happened to blink unskilfully and accidentally. ‘Calvin Klein, perhaps?’ he continued, in a manner so oily that one could have fried chips with it.
‘Prices start from €16, sir’ he finished soupily, and he did something peculiar with his hand. €16? For a stick of deodorant? Are you f…? Where are Boots and Superdrug? He tutted, yet bade me an exultant farewell, and minced off to attend to another customer, leaving me wondering what on earth is so special about this deodorant. Well, needless to say, sir wasn’t bowled over with enthusiasm to purchase said product. Sir was supposed to be on a budget. And, come to that, sir oughtn’t even to have been here.
‘There will be a 55-minute delay,’ an announcer had declared in one of Heathrow T3’s departure lounges. Should be OK, I’d murmured to myself naively. Still got time to change planes. Of course, had I known then that those dashed Frogs were plotting a concerted air strike, I might have gritted my teeth more vigorously.
Honestly, if it’s not port blockades with that lot, it’s air traffic controllers refusing to man the radar. And if it’s not airport personnel stoutly shirking work – due, I imagine, to a flagon of Burgundy for lunch – it’s doubtless something else. You know what the French are like: a gelded stallion for luncheon and a foal for supper. Incomparably potty, the lot of them.
No, actually, nuttiness and idleness notwithstanding, most of the time I applaud their attitude. Their “pull the ladder up, Jack; sod the rest” philosophy is not necessarily a bad thing. But, with a little present wrapped up in silk sheets in a Brazilian hotel that evening, I was hardly tickled pink at the delay. After all the confusion – and refuelling to skirt French airspace – we arrived in Madrid two hours late.
‘The flight to Sao Paolo?’ I asked, fingers and toes crossed. ‘Gone,’ answered the thickset man behind the information desk. He looked as if he would lose little sleep over my plight. ‘What about Miami, Quito and Cancun,’ asked others. He shrugged and directed us to a queue at the Iberia desk snaking a hundred metres along the concourse.
On the way – in fact every eighty yards or so – smokers puffed merrily away in little booths with open doors and no roofs. Ah, but this was November; apparently (according to my anonymous source in the south of Spain) the country has recently seriously banned smoking instead of simply pretending. So, at Spanish bars from now on, there will be no more butts amongst the tortilla crumbs and spittle. Seems almost a shame.
‘I give you voucher for lunch and dinner,’ said the placatory desk clerk after a lengthy delay, whilst I snarled at some French lesbians.. And, after a spot of further prompting: ‘Yes sir, and a hotel if you want.’ Course I bloody do. Think I’m going to pace barefoot for the next twelve hours until the overnight flight? Ahem. Ooh, but look: a ray of sunshine. Well, more of a blob, really.
As serendipity would have it, I arrived at the hotel in time to enjoy a complimentary bottle of red with three girls from Surinam. ‘Three kisses,’ demanded Tess after I’d kissed only two of her cheeks. How was I to know that the third smacker wasn’t to be planted in the middle? She blushed.
Dinner was quite another matter. There was rather an unseemly queue for the hotel restaurant…so, bristling with élan, I brushed past the maitre d and sat down opposite an English girl. Granted, beggars can’t be choosers – she had dreadlocks and, as I soon discovered, a fetish for needles – but there was an open bottle of wine on the table. And I’d seen she was alone at the airport.
‘Sorry I’m late, honey,’ I gushed ostentatiously and drew up a chair. The waiter, hitherto debating whether to throw me out, seemed satisfied and brought me an extra glass and some cutlery for the buffet. Things were looking up. ‘I’m really only going to South America to escape a raging drug addiction,’ said the pretty Rastafarian eighteen-year-old. ‘I just love ketamine.’ Oh, the small talk at these black tie events, eh?..