TENERIFE FLIGHT EXPERIENCE

My departure time of 12.55 midday from Gatwick Airport enabled me to catch an early train from Havant to the airport to check in by 10.55 am.  At the airport, many were dressed as if they were ready to go down to the beach, wherever they might be going with their young families, there was no mistaking that they were British tourists.   Most, like  myself, were dressed in overcoats and scarves to protect ourselves against the cold and damp English January weather. 

My window seat on the plane gave me a clear view of the terra firma below, before passing over the south coast, where boats below appeared as tiny specs, with tell-tale traces of sea-wash trailing behind them.   Our pilot gave a welcome on board, giving details of our route, which would take us over the Bay of Biscay and then hug the coast of Portugal and Morocco.   With a sense of humour, the pilot said that if we were lucky, we might be able to sample sand from the Sahara Desert in Tenerife, if there was a sand storm blowing from the direction of Morocco.    He was experiencing head winds, which could make us late arriving at the airport, which we were due in at 5pm.

A sudden drop in the plane’s altitude, combined with the islands coming into view, signalled that we were shortly going to land.    This was confirmed by the pilot announcing that we were only a few minutes behind schedule.   This triggered off some of the passengers, including a sprinkling of British tourists in getting their hand luggage together, before the steward gave the orders to belt-up whilst landing.    My mind had switched to wondering whether my host, Ted, would be waiting for me, for there was a two-hour journey to be made before I reached their villa.

There was no need for me to be concerned, for once I had passed through customs, I spotted Ted waiting by the luggage collecting point.   As usual, Ted put on his boyish smile and greeted me, “Welcome to Tenerife.  My car awaits you.”

“Thank you, Ted.”   I responded.  “Sorry that the plane kept you waiting, head winds to blame, according to our pilot.”   I noted it was myself that was improperly dressed, wearing scarf and overcoat, with the island temperature in the 70’s.    So, the open-necked British tourists had got it right, who had travelled with us on the plane.

      There are times in our lives, when we treasure the kindness and happiness that has been given to us, as was the case during the next seven days, as the guest of Ted and Carole,   I felt that I was on a magic carpet.
      I was glad that Ted was virtually a teetotaller, for he had arranged to take me back to the airport to check in by 05.35 for the return flight to the UK.

Returning by the same route to the airport entailed negotiating many

S-bends in wooded and hilly areas in the dark.   I owed so much to Ted’s careful driving during the whole of my seven days, not least this return hazardous journey.   We did arrive in good time for checking in, so I bade Ted farewell and gave him and Carole my thanks for their kindness during my stay with them.

Now I was on my own again, feeling like a lost sheep, realising it was a case of ‘Alan, get on with it!’    When I reported at the check-in desk, a long queue was waiting for the courier.   It was only then that I read on the departure board that this flight had been cancelled due to technical reasons, despite that this flight had been confirmed the previous day.

As the courier arrived, the aggrieved returning passengers immediately broke ranks and swarmed round her.   She told us that a coach would pick us up and take us to the Monica Hotel, where we would be served with breakfast.   Our courier disappeared, leaving a notice on the hotel information board, giving the time of our dinner.   The receptionist had no further information as regards our return time to the airport.   This meant that passengers could not explore the area, for fear that they might miss the coach.

While at the hotel, a small group of young passengers noticed I was on my own and that I was not too nimble, so they told me to join them and that they would look after me.   This gesture greatly impressed me and was much welcomed, not having help available to assist me in hauling my luggage about.    Was it my age telling, or was it the cancerous prostrate gland treatment causing my lack of energy - or both?

We were finally picked up by the coach to take us back to the airport late afternoon, only to find on our arrival the departure board read: ‘Flight 202 cancelled, due to technical reasons.’  The staff at the enquiry desk could not help and could only tell us to keep looking at the departure board.   We were in a similar situation as at Avenda Santa Cruz, where we were in the hotel unable to leave the entrance, for fear of missing the pick-up coach.

My young group, who had adopted me had learned from one of their Spanish speaking members that we were to pass through passport control.    It could be claimed that this young group became the lead party for our flight.  There was no information available at the departure bay we were to assemble once we had passed through passport control.  

Our young Spanish speaking scout was sent off again to suss out the latest situation.   She soon returned, having learned that our plane to take us to the UK had not yet landed, but when it did, we would be told which bay to go to.

My prostrate gland problems dominated the scene, frequently requiring that I visited the toilets, without delay.   During my absence, the forgotten tribe had finally been directed to the departure bay, where our aeroplane had arrived and was being re-serviced for the homeward journey.   After all the day’s to and froing, I had difficulty in believing that here was the plane to take us away.   When it did depart at 18.45, I was more asleep than awake, having had no sleep the previous night and also having been shunted about the airport for the previous twelve hours, or thereabouts.   My plans of being home the same day as I had departed had been blown sky high.

The arrival time at Gatwick Airport was close to 10.45 pm, preventing me catching the last train to Havant from Gatwick.   As I stood by, the train departure board, not looking too pleased with having missed the last train, a lady porter must have read my mind.   She said, “If you want to catch the last train on the Portsmouth line, you can still do that by catching the last train from London to Portsmouth at Guildford.   There is a train due any minute for Guildford, at the station below.”   I looked at my luggage and wondered how I could get the luggage down the stairs.    Without further ado, this kind lady porter took my luggage down for me, and before I could tip her, the train had arrived and was on its way again.    I was saddened that such thoughtfulness at that time of night should have gone unrewarded.

Whilst on the train to Guildford, I was very keen to have the lady porter’s information confirmed, that there would be a Havant train at Guildford.    The train guard did confirm the foregoing, as he passed along the carriages, checking our railway tickets.   Again, another railway staff bright and cheerful, considering the time of night, for he added to his confirmation remark, “And you only have three minutes to get from platform 2 to platform 8 when we arrive, and our train is several minutes late!”   He completed his remarks by saying, “Don’t let this worry you, for the connecting train is obliged to wait for the last passengers of the day.”  This did make me feel more relaxed than hitherto.

As the train drew into Guildford Station, I wished I had the person with me who had approved this timetable, and could make him transfer from platforms 2 to 8 with my luggage and board the train in whatever was left of the three minutes allowed for this manoeuvre.   Perhaps all users of this service were intended to be Olympic competitors!

My friendly guard, aware that I was taking part in this evening event, gave me advance notice that I was about to enter Guildford Station.     I immediately took all my belongings with me and stood by the exit door for the final stopping of the train.     At that time of night I could not expect any immediate railway staff waiting to help me with my luggage.

As I opened the railway carriage door, I spotted the signpost, giving the directions to the other station platforms, including 8, which I followed, dragging my luggage case on wheels.    Fortunately, there was also an under-passageway, as well as a bridge to negotiate the transfer from different platforms.   I had no spare time to check my watch, it was a question of achieving this manoeuvre as quickly as possible.

Entering the underground passage was much easier than climbing the exit ramp out of the underground passageway onto platform 8.   I could hardly believe my eyes, for after this exhausting three-minute lap set by the railway timetable people I had made it - for there was the train.

Then, I saw a yellow-coated porter, with a lamp standing along the train, facing the train driver, about to signal to the driver to start.    He spotted me at the top of the ramp, as I rushed towards him.    He turned his head from my direction, and again facing the train driver, signalled it to start.    As it started away, I dropped my gear and yelled at him, “You can’t do that, this is my last train!”   He murmured as he withdrew to his quarters, he could not hold the train up and in any case this was not the last train, there was one at 12.20.

With this information I relaxed a little, for it only meant waiting twenty minutes.   Gathering my gear, I proceeded to find a bench to sit and rest my legs and blow off steam.    Whilst seated there, I was surprised to note on the departure board that there was no 12.20 train shown as departing to Havant at that time, only the train going to Portsmouth Harbour at 1.30 am.   Close by there was one other passenger, who looked a bit of a drop-out with long hair and overcoat.   I went across and asked if he was waiting for the Havant train.   The only response I received was a broad Chinese grin.    I did not feel like playing fun and games and this hour of the morning.

I went to locate this porter and met him coming on the platform, and challenged him as to whether there really was a 12.20 train to Havant.  He retorted, “If you are not satisfied, go and see the manager.  He is on platform 4.”

“What about my luggage, I suppose I have to lug it with me?”   He walked off, muttering, “It’s up to yourself!”

Returning back through the underground passage on this ghostly station, I little expected to find a station manager in post as I arrived on platform 4.    Neither did I expect to find this porter come out of his portable office, he must have used the station bridge to get to the manager before me.

I dropped my gear as I started to ascend the few steps to the portakabin entrance, gradually opening the door, not sure what I should find at this midnight hour, I peered inside.

Seated on a swivel chair, with a video on his right hand side, was a heavily built black man, who could very well have been Paul Robeson years ago.    Slowly, with a deep guttural voice, he asked, “And what do you want?”   I had now reached explosive point, just waiting for a irritating question of this kind, for had he not already been alerted by his porter?  Anyway, what did he think I was doing on his station at that hour, but in need of a train.   I burst forth, “I want the train that has just left for Havant, which your porter signalled to start after he saw me arrive on the platform.”

He paused for a while before replying and then blamed it on having two companies operating on the same line.  Oh no, I did not want this to generate into a discussion on the political judgement of privatising the railways.   Fortunately, he swivelled round to look at his video, and referred to a Portsmouth Harbour train that was due at 1.30.    He said, “This train due for Portsmouth does not stop at Havant, but I will have a word with the driver and get him to stop there if it is possible.”   This was good news indeed, and I then started to cool down.   

This meant returning to another platform, which I was well practised in.   Slowly leaving his portakabin, I noticed the chap who had the Chinese grin standing by the manager’s office and guessed he had followed me there.   I was glad he went inside, for this train was returning empty carriages to start the commuter’s train from Portsmouth in the morning.   The train driver would have required further instructions to drop him en route.

Whilst waiting for the 1.30 train, I wrote notes of my return journey to stop me from falling asleep in the waiting room.    This train arrived on time, and after boarding the train, I kept my head out of the window, watching for Paul Robeson to appear and give the driver instructions to stop at Havant.   This did happen, including stopping for my Chinese grinning fellow passenger, so the manager was worthy of thanks from us both.

My thoughts then dwelt on the possibility that the Havant Station would not be manned and I therefore, once again, kept watch with head out of the window, as we reached Havant.   To my surprise there were two persons on the platform, so it was obvious that some alerting action had taken place, particularly as the train came to a halt.  

It was with a big smile that I alighted the train and waved to the driver.  As I approached the exit to the ticket collecting position, the platform was now empty.    The two who had been on the platform were now in the main entrance to the station.   I asked the nearest one if he worked for the railway, only for him to turn his head away.     This was the second bizarre action on the trip taking place at a railway station.  

When I was about to speak to the other man, with the time around 02.00, he spoke first.  “Would you like a taxi?”   This was indeed music to the ear, and for the first time I managed to believe that I would arrived home that morning.   He continued “All I have to do is wave outside, and a lady driver with a taxi will appear.”    He could see I was overjoyed with this news and I could not believe it until she arrived.

On my way home in the taxi I was mystified how this journey finished in such a perfect way after 2 am.   I assumed the person who did not wish to speak to me had to get out of his bed, while his partner, the taxi-man, must have had a standing arrangement to be alerted when the train was due.   I could not think that this lady driver was sitting up all night waiting to be flagged in her house at the window.

This journey from Tenerife, lasting a whole day and night had made a permanent impression on me and the next journey abroad would take a great deal of thinking about.

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Alan Rayment 1998
Last revised: February 04, 2001