1 – Gatwick Airport is a terrible first / last impression of England….
I normally change trains at Gatwick in the morning rush hour to get to work. I have always been staggered that there were no luggage trolleys provided on the station platform. Of course if you got your bags on a train you should be able to get them to check in without a trolley but this frequently involves angry looking parents dragging an angry looking child or two and a couple of wheely suitcases in to the ankles of anyone who passes within a 5 yard radius of them. Trolleys on the platform would be easier I have often thought. Mostly as I have iced my ankles having used at least three varieties of anti-wheely swear words on twitter.
What I didn’t realise was that to get one anywhere – including arrivals – you have to deposit a pound coin in to a key release device. This you will get back only when you connect your trolley to another having taken your luggage off again. I have never seen this in any other airport in the world. Not Chennai where there are an army of free unofficial porters. Or in otherwise rapacious Hong Kong. Certainly not in Alicante where we landed. There we were waved through by passport control in a flash and there were an absolute stack of free to use trolleys.
So when you get your currency changed to go away(and do you these days or do you just use your cards) do you ask for 151 Euros for example? “We only do notes” the bank official will tell you. “That’s a shame” you reply. “I might need an odd Euro coin to operate some of the basic things one should expect in an arrivals hall”. Yet that is the reality in Gatwick. No correct UK coinage? No trolley for you Johnny Foreigner.
Add this to the train guards who feed upon any foreigner who can’t work the rail barriers and treat the airport as a sort of penalty fare open goal and the better but still, frankly, unacceptable security queues and Gatwick gives the first impression of the English as miserable, penny pinching rule enforcers.
2- A little language goes a long way………..
So we went to Spain. I speak O Level French, taxi / kitchen Mandarin Chinese and a few words of Italian and Japanese. The first due to school and the others to various work placements. I do not speak a single word of Spanish bar “Ola” and “Gracias”. I can’t even remember the basic stuff from Dora the Explorer because whenever Dora the Explorer comes on I am too busy pointing my fingers at the screen like a gun and screaming in my head “die horribly you whiny annoying uber positive arsehole”. It’s a good job my kids can’t hear my head. They love Dora.
So we go for tapas one day and I start ordering in English that has become pigeon from the English section of the menu. The waitress is perfectly nice but I’m sure in her head she’s thinking “here we go, another one straight off the plane that can’t speak a word. Whatever he orders I’m going to give him a well done burger and a fried egg.”
And then an old lady sits down on her own at the one table that was reserved. The owner comes out and makes a fuss of her and they start a conversation about what’s good today in French. My ears prick up. Owner disappears and she starts winking at Whirlwind who is in a cute – or at least less destructive – phase. “Etes vous Francais?” I enquire. She’s from Luxembourg but has an apartment in the town where we are staying. She is also a special customer of the restaurant. We have a conversation in basic French, quite possibly grammatically incorrect on my part. The owner and waitress have been watching and their demeanour changes. The food is delivered with a flourish and a ‘merci”. And then……………….
3 – The Boy can count to 8 in perfect Spanish…..
….Boy starts counting the dishes in Spanish. With an accent and everything. He can get to 8. I had no idea he could do this. Bloody Dora. By now we are a step away from special customers ourselves.
4 – Rich Eastern European Dads are a bit different………..
One afternoon I am playing a game with the kids in the pool. We have a li-lo. I am lifting them on to it and then tipping them off again. Each time this nearly gives me a hernia but I do it because they love it. It was Boy’s favourite thing about the holiday. Being tipped in to a cold pool from a pink li-lo. Nutter.
Suddenly a family arrive and start talking in Russian. The man is mid thirties and muscular in a Putin-ish kind of way. His wife is stick thin and bottle-blonde and his two daughters, who I would estimate at about 7 and 10 are stick thin and sun-blonde. They are watching us with suspicion. The older daughter goes and gets a rubber ring. Then she ties some string to it, long enough to pull it. By now my kids are tired and we get out and nod at the other family. When I dry them off I hear a shriek of excitement from one of the girls. Her father is in the pool lying in the rubber ring. She is pulling him round by walking round the outside of the pool and using the string. He must weigh at least 14 stone and it is 32 degrees in the shade.
5- The real colour of Spain is Orange
Eventually you will find that everything in Spain that isn’t an English caff or a pub called the Red Lion is coated in paprika or filled with paprika. Our meat is marinated in it. Our roast vegetables taste better with it. Our washing up water bubbles slowly turn orange in each wash. We have brought back several different types of paprika including ‘bitter sweet’ which I am going to have to guess will go in some sort of pasta and chicken dish. By the time we have got through the paprika I will be the colour of Katie Price and I might be able to get a job on TOWIE.