Good or bad, be it sightseeing to being ripped off, or even much worse, you will never forget the experience. Moreover, on many occasions the encounter will help you develop in the school of life, the best education in my humble opinion.
For the last five years the two main destinations I have travelled to are Lake Garda, Italy and Menorca, Spain. I usually travel solo, flying on my own and meeting people upon my arrival, or sometimes it is just ‘me time’. I enjoy all the usual aspects of going away; exploration, walking, swimming, relaxing, reading and dining out to enjoy local cuisine. Another characteristic I also enjoy is meeting new people, all ages, all nationalities, all ‘sexes’, all races, all religions, right on man, I hear you say. Yet, I genuinely do like engaging with new people and for me, the people I meet at Lake Garda or Menorca, are centred, interesting and not aggressive. I don’t feel weary from talking to them, in fact far from it. However, the people I meet at the airport, usually the night before a flight, is sometimes a totally different scenario.
Since 2013, I have booked an early morning flight, due to cost and to arrive at the country with plenty of time to settle in and familiarise myself with the surroundings. Therefore, I stay the night before at the airport to avoid traffic jams, delays with public transport and to add a sense of adventure before my holiday. Up until May 2017, I stayed at the BLOC hotel Gatwick, just by the departures. Black rooms, with comfortable beds, state of the art flat TV, smart air con and heating en suite with a stylish walk-in shower. Unless you pay extra, with a view of the runway, you are literally in the dark.
On 9th May 2017, the evening Juventus beat Monaco to get to the Champions League Final, I was flying out the following morning and decided to watch the second half of the game at the Sports Bar at the Hilton Gatwick. I was the only one that jumped up when the final whistle went, which was met with a few claps and laughs from some fellas on the next table, who appreciated the joys of football. After a few brief and pleasant discussions about football with the chaps, I returned to the BLOC hotel, delighted with the result and looking forward to a week in the sun. For some reason, when I checked in earlier, the reception had informed me that I was upgraded to one of their best rooms with a view, free of charge, which pleased me no end. After closing my door, I lay on the bed, switched on the TV, cracked open a can of Mark & Spencer’s Belgian beer and a bag of their own brand bacon flavoured crisps. I am on holiday so the sensible diet is well and truly out of the window. Twenty minutes or so later, my door clicks, I bolt up. Then to my horror of horrors, the door opens and in walks a bespectacled man, between 25 to 30, a hipster with a trendy beard but no suit- case. I jump up, scream ‘what the fuck are you doing mate’, as my reaction was a cross between fear and anger. The man bolts off, no apology or an explanation. I slam the door and call reception to report the incident, no answer, call again, again no answer. I open my door, look up and down, no sign of the stranger, decided to turn in, as you can imagine I had trouble sleeping.
In the morning, I telephone BLOC’s head office, reported the occurrence and reception not being manned. Boarded my flight to enjoy my holiday. A day or so later, I received an email from BLOC’s head office, stating a guest had confused my room number 480 with his room number 450. For the record the rooms are clearly marked and easy to follow. In addition, BLOC put the blame on me, stating I hadn’t closed my door properly, therefore the stranger, without a suitcase, entered my room with ease. I didn’t buy it, and still don’t. My theory is, and it is a theory, the late shift staff didn’t know I had been upgraded and Room 480 was occupied. So, I believe a staff member from reception entered the room hence no answer when I telephoned them, as they were already at my room. What the staff member was doing? I have no idea, perhaps have drink or even a nap. BLOC in form of compensation offered me an upgrade next visit, but not a freebie. I didn’t respond, as I am bored with sociopathic and defensive people, especially in customer services. I will never ever use BLOC hotels again.
Since June and July of this year, I have stayed at the Premier Inn, North Terminal, and will continue to do so. The rooms are bigger and brighter, as they have a window, so you can see the outside world. There is a vibrant feel, you sense the joy and excitement of your fellow travellers. On my first stay in June, when I was flying to Lake Garda, I decided to have an aperitif at the Hilton Sports Bar on the South Terminal. At pubs or bars, whether you are travelling or not, it is not unusual to strike up a conversation with someone at the bar, whilst both of you are waiting to get served. On this occasion, a man nods at me and we get talking, small talk. Within a minute or so, he boasts to me in a drunken slur, that he works for Peugeot. In fact, he has been sales man of the month, three months in a row. Therefore, his boss was taking him and his team to Mallorca as a reward. Straight away, I thought yea right, get my Peroni, sip it and make my excuse to leave. Over the years, whether in Great Britain or overseas, I have grown bored of bragging conversations, pointless challenging them, just best to move on.
About 20 minutes later I was outside, having a crafty cigarette, when I see the fella again. This time he is with a male friend, I go over and straight away ask his friend, ‘You work for Peugeot too?’ His friend looks at me strangely, not threatening, then I repeat the question, before he could answer, the fella whom I had spoken to earlier, sheepishly replies, ‘This is my brother, I am his plus one, it’s his work’s do’. I had to hold back the laughter, then I cheekily asked ‘So you don’t work for Peugeot?’, the fella puts his head down and mutters ‘No’. Then I feel hostility, I quickly say goodbye and walk off. I can understand a lie to beef yourself up, I’ve done it, but sales man of the month, three months in a row, come on…. Why? If you’re going to lie, think big and make bloody sure you are not easily found out. I returned to the Premier Inn, had a laugh with father, mother and son from Cardiff at the bar there, on their way to France, good old fashioned banter. When I returned to my room, I double checked the door, had a quick night cap and wandered off to sleep.
The following month, I was flying out to Menorca early, so again I stayed at the Premier Inn and decided to use their restaurant and bar. After my meal, I go to the bar for a few beers prior to retiring for the night. As I order my drink, the usual scenario of talking to stranger at the bar occurs, this time a man and wife from Norfolk. The conversation is the customary pleasantries of ‘where are you going?’ ‘been before?’ ‘good to get away’ and such like, until the man slams down his pint glass and shouts out ‘It’s fxxking nxxgxrs, they are taking over, I am telling ya’. I was shocked and amazed, as I couldn’t work out where this came from, as we hadn’t discussed immigration, or anything similar. I could see the rage inside him growing, as his wife hung her head in shame. I slightly pulled back because drunks, male or female are unpredictable, they can go from being your best friend to your worst enemy in the sip of a drink. He must have ranted for about two minutes about black people, as I look round to see if anyone is offended, in particular any black people. Then I stated ‘Look, I ain’t got no problem with any colour’, to which he replied, ‘So you are a nixxger lover….’, I stand there with my mouth wide open, realising that his man has severe anger issues. Then he bows his head, starts to sob and says, ‘Sorry mate, got a lot on me mind’, classic passive aggressive drunk, to which his wife puts her arm around him and quietly whispers ‘let’s go up and sleep it off’. The man agrees, nods at me, offers to shake my hand, I pull back. We exchange glances, before the couple start to walk off like they are crossing the Bridge of Sighs. I look at the staff, who hadn’t noticed a thing. So I order another drink, thinking that tops the Peugeot sales man of the month, when a well-dressed man around sixty, asks if anyone is sitting on the empty stool next to me at the bar, I politely reply no. I was expecting him to take the stool away, but instead he decides to sit next to me and orders a large brandy. Then he starts to tell me without any prompting from me, that he had arrived at the airport with his wife and sons, realised he had forgotten his passport. Told his wife and sons to go on ahead, he booked into the Hilton, not the Premier Inn, and would work out a plan. I nod, straight away thinking, why didn’t he go back home, look for his passport then return, odd. Then he goes on to tell me that his family arrived in Greece, unpacked and found his passport in their luggage. Now he was waiting for his passport to arrive via DHL, and he had been waiting for three days. His “down on his luck” story seemed like a well-rehearsed monologue.
I asked what he did for a living, to which he informed me he is a lock keeper. A low-income job which is compensated by free accommodation by the lock. Now knowing his occupation, I say that his credit card or his savings must be taking a bashing with him staying at the Hilton, eating and drinking out, to which he replies no. I couldn’t see where this conversation was going so I decide to leave. After my encounter with Norfolk’s answer to Enoch Powell, I was drained and weary of strangers.
I try my best not to be judgemental, so I could be wrong, his reasons could be legitimate, I don’t have the time nor the resources to prove otherwise, but I do have the interest. Yet he seemed too happy, careless with his money, staying in an expensive hotel and he was buying drink after drink for a man who was experiencing a holiday nightmare. He came across organised, as he was well dressed, his Blackberry was in a nice case and his wallet was shiny with cards and cash in place. Furthermore, he came across intelligent, in short, he didn’t seem the type of man to misplace his passport before flying. His chief concern was to tell his plight to a random stranger, me, with a fervent desire. But maybe it’s his way of dealing with things, who knows? I politely say goodnight, finish my drink and return to my room. As I leave, I turn around, see the man walk over to a table with a young couple and ask if the seat was free. Maybe he was lonely, I don’t know. Yet it’s part of going away, meeting weird and wonderful characters, it’s all fun and I wouldn’t have it any other way.