An airport at an ungodly hour allows the staff to do ungodly things: smile, answer questions, pass pleasantries and generally make the beginning of a long journey more bearable. This was the scene at Manchester Airport at 4am this morning, as I checked-in to fly to Paris, en route to Shanghai. This, let it be known, is not a time to be awake, unless you’re considerably younger and haven’t slept (and therefore cant read this, light a cigarette at the right end within a foot of it, or see anything other than petrol rainbows on toilet water) or it’s Xmas Eve and younger still.
My taxi arrived to collect me, economically sending the minibus option to take myself and a standard bag, and I was instantly transported – his aroma was thick enough to carve my name in, and I had no choice but to imagine that his living room, or worse still, bedroom, contained a concentrated version of this toxic gas. I haven’t smelt a decomposing corpse, but I would imagine that the police are called to his street by concerned neighbours, to investigate a suspicious aroma, on a weekly basis. In fact, I can only assume he has lead doors in his house, with bank-vault-esque locking and closing capabilities. And that is so the sofa can’t make a run for it.
I have not lived in Manchester for that long, but I am fairly confident I know the quickest way to the airport when there isn’t another soul on the roads. This, I rapidly became aware, was not the route he had selected. When I suggested we take a quicker, more direct one – having removed my SARS mask – he grunted and said that he was going to. He wasn’t, but he changed route anyway. We arrived, and I was out the door before it had stopped. As I opened the doors, gasping for breath, a skunk, eating rotting vomit fruit, smeared in week-old cat food threw up at the aroma.
The check-in desks, the only open in the entire terminal, were busy already. I failed to ask why, as speech was relatively beyond me. But the travellers at this time, as few as we were, had the solidarity of smokers after the restaurant and pub ban came in to force – the nod and awkward smile, the acceptance that it was only us experiencing it.
There are other benefits of travelling at this time: firstly, there should be less chance of air traffic control blocking or delaying flights. Passengers are less likely to be scoffing or squirting perfumes – they want to be on the plane, sat down, and hitting the snooze button on their temple. Secondly, you could witness the horizon dawn. As we sat at 24,000 feet, the clouds offering a moving blanket to protect the innocent sky from the earthly horrors beneath, the colours shifted from celestial blue to a deep orange found on the wrappers of Terry’s Chocolate version in what looked like inches. As the inch became miles, and the sky brightened, we approached Paris, and Charles de Gaulle airport. Regarded by many travellers as one of the least friendly, most difficult to navigate, and notorious for bag loss, a new challenge lay ahead. See you on the other side…..