Travel: mind-broadener and story-generator
Thirty-two hours. Two and a half thousand miles. Mother’s Day this year was the start of an insane travel itinerary for me and my ten-year-old son. It was all his fault: his school choir went on a tour to Russia that overlapped with the school ski trip. Call me soft, but his expression when he realised his mates would be going without him was too much. I stepped up to the logistical plate.
It was too expensive, difficult and frankly mad to go direct from Moscow to Italy. So, on Saturday I gave one large bag to a teacher to take on their coach journey skiing, and on Sunday I met him at Heathrow off a flight from Moscow. We started our odyssey. I tweeted a bit.
2pm: Typing info sheet for husband, in charge of 4yo tomorrow. Timetable includes “8.17am: ideal time to arrive”. He needs this level of detail.
Controlling, moi? My husband would nod. But it all worked.
Honestly, the Terminal 5 pods are the best fun. I was Buck Rogers in the 21st Century for five short minutes. [STORY IDEA 1] I found our hotel, dumped a bag and then staked out the Arrivals Hall. Jeremy Clarkson immediately shambled through, looking grumpy.
6pm: What is the point of seeing a celebrity in the arrivals hall if it turns out to be Jezza Clarkson? Where is Johnny Depp when I need him?
Then I started looking around properly, and a tiny writer’s switch flipped at the back of my brain.
6.10pm: This place is full of chauffeurs who look like ex-boxers, holding name placards, chewing gum & wearing earpieces. I’m trying to behave.
There were people being off-hand and rude to chauffeurs who had waited patiently for them. One man dropped his phone while calling his driver five feet away from him, and then clearly blamed him. Other people hugged. I started making notes. [STORY IDEAS 2, 3 & 4]
6.15pm: Oh goodness. Why haven’t I realised this before? Arrivals halls = character fishing HEAVEN. Got start of 4 stories in 10 mins.
6.17pm: Enormous man in white Stetson loping along so easily I swear he’s singing “I was born under a wanderin’ star” under that hat. [STORY IDEA 5]
Eventually, son emerged. There were late because during the flight they’d sung a Mozart request, which went down so well the captain invited them to visit the cockpit after they’d landed. Son had never flown in a jumbo before (an ambition); now he’d gone upstairs and seen the flight deck! We trundled his enormous bag of week-old clothes to the hotel and I dunked him in a bath.
8pm: Shoe emergency. 10yo’s trainers are weapons-grade aromatics. I’ve packed his other pair in bag he won’t meet til tomorrow. Send clothes-pegs.
11pm: In a hotel room that won’t switch its fan off. Perhaps it has sensed 10yo’s trainers & is in self-defence mode.
I didn’t sleep much. Up at 5am (this was the day after the clocks went forward, so it felt even worse) to get the first flight out to Geneva. Yes, I know it’s the wrong country. It’ll all work out.
Arrived Geneva; minibus transfer through the Mont Blanc tunnel to Italy. A brilliant teacher and I even managed to meet in the right place at the bottom of the correct cable car. I hugged my son (staying as far away from his trainers as I could), and off he went with strict instructions to swap trainers ASAP and seal his weapons-grade ones in a plastic bag for the safety of his companions.
Noon: Just waved my 10yo up this mountain (accompanied). Now I have to work out how to get home …
Since my minibus only returned at 4pm, I had a few hours in a gorgeous village on a sunny day. I remembered vague Italian phrases and managed to order lunch and mull over my embryonic stories.
2pm: Re-reading Calvino (appropriately in Italy). Indulge a multiple tweet of his brilliance on writing: “I can revise each sentence until I reach the point where – if not exactly satisfied with my words – I am able at least to eliminate those reasons for dissatisfaction that I can put a finger on.” Calvino. Nailing it.
On the return bus, I was distracted by Brad Pitt. Well, he was Brad Pitt-esque. He had all Brad’s good points without any of his flaws. Yes: I confess, dear reader, I am not immune.
Me: (getting bus) To the airport?
Unbelievably good-looking man: Paris, yeah.
Me: Great, let’s go.
If he wasn’t joking, I may be some time.
4.01pm: I don’t think I’d care.
We ended up in Geneva. You can’t win ’em all.
8pm: Am in Switzerland. Have bought chocolate. Am early for flight. Possibility none of the chocolate will make Blighty.
There was a toddler in the departure hall, with his parents. Mum did all the childcare. Dad (red face, huge overhanging belly) kept pulling out his phone. ‘Uncle David’ joined them, and was brilliant with toddler. Dad tickled kid’s foot on other side of Mum, clearly feeling left out. Twice Dad pulled toddler backwards along floor on his tummy, each time eliciting terrified outburst needing to be pacified by Mum. You’d think after the first time … but no. All Dad had to say was “you’re grumpy-pants, aren’t you?” I’d be grumpy-pants if I had a dad like that. He’d be a divorced belly-overhang before he could say ‘grumpy-pants’ again. [STORY IDEA 5]
8.30pm: 16% battery. Panic tweeting may occur. Or I could be sensible & save it in case I break down on the motorway later. Tonight’s moral dilemma.
8.31pm: Second moral dilemma, since I survived Extraordinarily Good-Looking Man on the bus. Small flirt only.
Flight back uneventful save for posh teenage couple next to me, who drank a G&T each and played rowdy Connect 4 on his iPad. Later, he introduced her to some shark swimming game, which seemed to consist mainly of her elbowing me as she turned corners and saying ‘I love this game’. What with that and her hair flicks, she was a delight. [STORY IDEA 6] I read my book, drank airline coffee without complaint and tried to shrink.
Eventually got home at 11.30pm. My son has never been skiing before. Let’s hope he likes it. No pressure, son.