Not So Glamorous | Pushing the Wave

Not So Glamorous, After All

Travel, 16 December 2022
by L.A. Davenport
Decorating the Christmas Tree
Decorating the Christmas Tree
Towards the end of my trip to San Antonio, just after I had posted last week’s instalment of this column, I was wondering how my exploits of the past couple of months might have come across. It occurred to me that what I had talked about most was dashing about from here to there, and back again, whether for work or personal travel, and from an outsider’s perspective, the impression may be rather different from the reality.

It sounds glamorous to go to far-flung places, and is seen as highly aspirational — the jet-set lifestyle is pushed down our throats all the time, whether via Instagram or in glossy magazines, or in rather more critical articles in the newspapers suggesting that the person in question, this jet-setter, is remote and disconnected from the lives of ordinary people. There is, in fact, a huge space between those who travel only occasionally for holidays and the jet-setting rich.

That space is largely full of business people going back and forth for work endlessly. There’s a whole cabin on the plane that is meant to be for them. It’s even called Business Class, although many businesses don’t allow their staff and contractors to fly in anything other than economy, as the ‘optics are all wrong’, as they say in modern parlance.

Don’t get me wrong, it is extremely agreeable to find oneself on another continent, or in a nearby foreign city, exploring a new environment, or sitting down at a bar, ordering a cocktail and chatting to locals about lives that previously were from another universe. It contracts the distance between us and enlarges the soul. We are better for seeing and knowing more of the world, and the people who live in it.

But those moments are, in reality, few and far between for those of us who are required to travel regularly for our work.

The work itself is always intense, with long hours, tight deadlines and difficult and distracting working conditions. You have to be able to block everything out and get on with it, and by the end of the day you are a shell. You pick at your dinner, and maybe have a beer or two, before you collapse into bed and start all over again the next day.

Work, eat, sleep, repeat.

By the time you get to the airport to head home again, you just want everything to run smoothly so you can shrink into your own little bubble, watch a film or two and get back to your delicious, warm, comfortable bed. You miss your family terribly, and your friends, and the ability to have a conversation that doesn’t require some sort of explanation, whether it’s about yourself or what you have done, or both.

So I wandered around San Antonio airport with a tired yet happy sense of expectation, anticipating the moment I would walk back through the door, gratefully give my family a big hug and then flop into a chair for a cup of tea and a general debrief.

It was not to be.

First, a weather delay. Not by much, but a delay nonetheless. There was a thunderstorm over Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, our next port of call on my odyssey back home, and nothing was going in and out of that enormous hub for now. We got on the plane anyway, and waited on the tarmac for the off. We waited, and we waited. After two hours, we taxied back to the terminal and got off the plane so we could stretch our legs and it could be refuelled.

It soon became obvious that I was going to miss my connection at DFW, so I got myself shifted onto the last flight back to Europe, some three hours later. Surely we weren’t going to miss that? As long as we left precisely at our new departure time, everything would be fine. But that slot came and went, and by the time we set off into the dark Texan night, I knew it would take a miracle, or at least some patience at DFW, to catch it.

Once we finally got off the plane at the other end, I ran and ran across one terminal at DFW, willed the shuttle train to hurry up at every agonisingly slow stop, and then ran and ran across the next terminal for my connecting flight, estimating I would arrive exactly at the departure time. I skidded across the highly polished floor as I arrived to see two fateful words hove into view: Flight Closed.

Dammit. Dammit.

I then turned to see an almighty queue of people who had also missed that and other connecting flights, all waiting to understand my their next move, and my heart sank. When I had marched to another customer service desk and finally spoken to someone, it was clear there was nothing to do but wait until the next day and see what it would bring. As I headed to seemingly the only airport hotel, I was given a replacement direct flight by British Airways to get back across the Atlantic, and another, indirect flight, by American Airlines, all automatically and both the next day. Too tired and hungry to care anymore, I checked in to the hotel and watched a rodeo championship on the TV over the bar as I wolfed down a surprisingly good fish and chips and listened to the casual chatter of my fellow guests.

A slight note of irritation was that I couldn’t get my suitcase back and so had no change of clothes, but that was okay, it was only one night.

The next morning, everything seemed to go fine. I was very rundown and tired, but that was to be expected. American Airlines sorted out the mix-up over my ongoing flights, and I got onto the British Airways plane hopeful I would get home only a day late. At least I would be there to see my son, even if my wife would have already left for her own business trip.

Again, it was not to be.

Back finally at Heathrow, everything was in chaos. Slightly organised chaos, but the sheer number of cancelled flights due to that most unexpected of things during a British winter, snow (I am being extremely ironic, if you aren’t sure), was incredible. The queues were Biblical in their length and it occurred to me that it was only due to the sheer exhaustion of all these disappointed transatlantic travellers who just want to get home that meant there wasn’t a riot.

Cue another airport hotel, and once again no suitcase, so once again no change of clothes. Glamorous this was not.

By the time I finally did get home, I was three days late, and rung out like an old rag. To add insult to injury, my suitcase had become lost along the way. I watched the empty carousel grind to a halt, everyone else having left, and contemplated a career change.

The only positive conclusion to come out of all of this was: Thank god for grandmas.
I did, of course, manage to plough through quite a few films on my peripatetic voyage. The Spanish Main, a slightly below par but nonetheless highly enjoyable swashbuckling romance staring Maureen O'Hara and Paul Henreid, was a highlight.

However, The Curse of the Cat People, the loosely connected follow-up to Cat People, was pretty thin in parts. The principal actors, and especially the young Ann Carter, did their best with a script that had more potential than it managed to realise. That said, there were some excellent scenes in the latter parts, and the special effects were very good for the time,

I also took the opportunity to return to a film that left a profound and deep mark on me the first time I saw it. Melancholia, by Lars von Trier, is quite remarkable. Visually, it is stunning, and the operatic structure of the plot lends itself extremely well to the remarkable music from Tristan and Isolde by Wagner.

The script is occasionally a little clunky, as the film tries to shoe-horn in large and expansive themes into fairly constrained and everyday situations. I would also say that, while Kirsten Dunst is brilliant and highly effective in the lead role, Charlotte Gainsbourg is unconvincing as her sister, and seems a little strained in trying to match-up to the grandeur of the film. A little less acting on her part may have helped. But that minor niggle doesn’t reduce the power of the scenes, and the ending, after all the devastation, emotional and otherwise, that preceded it, is strangely uplifting.
One happy aspect of finally making it back home is that I set aside a morning to decorate the Christmas tree (see above), and it helped to smooth away the creases of the previous few days. I enjoy all those little rituals of the festive season, and once I had managed to untangle the lights, I appreciated a few hours of light creativity. With almost all my presents bought, I am just waiting for the tide of work to subside before I can start to enjoy the end-of-year wind-down, and time with my nearest and dearest.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

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Not So Glamorous | Pushing the Wave