Authors: Richard Blanchard
Sophia had picked me up on time outside my flat in Chester. I had waited on the street, sat on the guitar case I am interestingly using as a suitcase this weekend. It was very chilly down low so I had pulled my purple velvet lapels across my nose. The early commuters must have thought I was a sulking under-confident busker awaiting a sufficient audience before he would perform. I counted the nights I will spend under my flat's roof till I move in to Sophia's parents' house in Wilmslow south of Manchester; ten more nights minus the four I am about to spend in France. Must make the most of the days before life changes. Her mum and dad are good strong people but I fear I will be overwhelmed in a household with their grandchild in it.
Prince is still unhappy in my head; now bemoaning man's sheep-like behaviour in pursuing life threatening thrills like going to space on a rocket. If he was to sing for another forty verses he might produce an attack on the environmental impact of skiing, the reason for my travel. More specifically to an event that at forty years old I never thought I would live to see, my own stag weekend. When did the stag night, essentially a huge piss-up ending in a mixture of pain and embarrassment, stretch to become a weekend? When did a weekend become five days? This extension adds the inconvenience of having to carry on drinking for days on end and living with pissed people, most of whom you only want to converse with once a year. I have meekly succumbed to this generational change.
I turn again and Sophia is talking directly at me. Her mouth is speeding now, showing strained dimples around her chin. The sweetness of her face isn't lost, but there is exasperation there. Her head flicks between looking at the road and trying to get my attention. My last moment of contemplation is lost. I pull out my embedded earphones too sharply and my right ear stings.
“Where in hell are we going Dan?” asks my tetchy wife-to-be.
Answering Manchester airport would not help, she must mean which terminal. The weak spring sun flashes across the papers on my lap and I flush knowing she needs a decision fast.
“Probably Terminal 3.”
“I am in completely the wrong lane. Are you sure?”
She scowls and lurches her Daddy's obscene green luxury car into the right-hand lane with a skid. The leather seats squeak with our body weight, emitting an opulent odour of brushed clean death.
“Err!” The number three appears to me belatedly from the e-ticket and I let her drive on without interruption.
“How come I get a Hen night in Manchester and you get a five-day skiing holiday in France?” Sophia protests with childish petulance; she doesn't think I have earned enough credit to take this liberty.
“It wasn't my idea. You know it was Robert who sorted it all babe.” I try to carry the conversation beyond argument by blaming someone else. I know what really irks her is how come Juliet my ex-girlfriend is going on my Stag weekend.
My son Giuseppe, or Bepe for short, fires orange polystyrene pellets from a Scooby Doo pistol. He hits the front windscreen twice.
“And how did he get that?” Sophia frowns at me as we negotiate a series of roundabouts. I had succumbed to his whining to liberate the gun from the front of his latest magazine.
“Good shot baby,” I humour him in an overload voice.
Juliet scowls and I think she says, “Who is the child around here?”
The airport rises in front of us, screaming nonsense from illconceived signs at my word-alert sensibility.
“For Terminal 3 follow T3” the sign suggests coyly; I never would have guessed. Terminal is such a bad name to be associated with such a risky way to travel. It threatens a trip with no return, a destination with no way out. Partnered with cancer is its most succinct and compelling usage, but is that just the wordsmith in me?
“Manchester â Gateway to the World.” For some maybe, it must be the prison of the North for others. Is our passage helped or hindered by this boastful nonsense?
Relieved to see the “Short Stay and Rental Vehicles” sign we enter the gloomy car park, accepting their extortionate fee unchallenged as the barrier lifts.
I stop Prince in time to hear the engine turn off.
“You got me here in great time babe.” I thank Sophia. I think she was motivated to be here early to see the group assemble, but most definitely to check out the surprise stag Juliet.
I get out of the car to seek a trolley but the signs fail me and I am lost scouring acres of this desperate space. The low phosphorescent light brings to mind oozy images of stolen affairs between illegitimate lovers with collapsed home lives. Eventually the bashed metallic crate I need appears, abandoned in haste across two spaces but hidden from plain view. I feel proud to have rescued some unsuspecting traveller from denting their bodywork and losing their no-claims bonus, but my chivalry is at a personal cost. The plastic panel screwed onto the hand luggage basket advertises my own crafted words let loose in the real world.
AVE GOODBYE TO
AVE GOODBYE TO OTHER
OR FLYING SATISFACTION
My heart sinks with the over-promise. I squirm at the sure knowledge that they offer nothing but flying squalor on their planes. I wince knowing how I avoided mentioning price in the vain hope we happen to mug enough travellers who can't work out the implications of our small-print baggage and plane tax clauses. I gag at the client's twee obsession with using a Waving Goodbye theme. What is it doing here anyway; surely spending money advertising somewhere else to someone about to buy a flight ticket would be better than someone just about to get on one. I am disconcerted.
Bepe strains prematurely to get out of his car seat; compressing the flesh at the top of his plump arms. His buckle snags my fingers.
“Daddy is getting on a plane now Bepe,” I lift him out with his two-year-old hands grasping a toy plane and the already spent plastic pistol.
“Let's leave them in the car for later,” I take his toys from him.
“No Diddy.” His face instantly frowns, threatening to reap tears. The physicality of his protest surprises me, and I accede to the Scooby Doo gun. I sense Sophia's disapproval; I have just given her the moral high ground should this be lost or cause more tears.
I place Bepe on his feet while I unload the car.
“Don't let him down in here, you know he will just run away.” Sophia reminds me of Bepe's recent behaviour. I sit him on the hand baggage shelf at the back of the trolley. I put my inappropriate guitar case onto the trolley. My packing logic went haywire, lost trying to recall what is needed to go skiing and coping with the extremes of blinding heat and bone-quaking cold that accompany a trip in April. I also packed for the inevitabilities of a man in my position, such as being dumped outside in the middle of the night by my stags (a vest and long johns), being regularly doused in water or urine for a laugh (every Tshirt I own) or suffering theft from my wardrobe (spare ski pants and fleece).
“Come on guys, time to scoot,” I warble to my family, revealing my nervous state.
“Scoot! Where did that come from?” Sophia barely tolerates my search for offbeat ways to communicate.
We head out of the gloom, crossing two parallel lanes. Cars line their kerbs spitting bags and passengers towards the terminal building.
“Listen, you are going for the purple paisley waistcoat aren't you? My dad needs to go and get one today if possible. He says your wedding shoes are finished, he will get someone from the factory to deliver them to your flat when you are back.” The urgency of all this is clear with our marriage ten days away, but I do not feel it.
“And the ring, did you pay for that?” I have not called the jeweller to finally approve my on-hold wedding band.
“Sorry babe, I didn't get a chance to confirm.” I screw my face up pleading for help. She knows I didn't want to call because I had to negotiate the price down.
“You do want the one I chose, don't you?” I nod my approval.
“Why didn't you call them then? I will have to do it later.” I leak more responsibility into her already crammed Filofax. She is in a zone of high alert. She took a call before we set off from an ungrateful vegan non-dairy-eating cousin who is suddenly available and wants to attend with her family. Somehow Sophia thrives on it and knows she will bring it all in on time, on budget and to her specification. Her wedding most definitely, mine possibly.
OU ARE FORBIDDEN TO ENTER THIS AIRPORT
WITH ANY OF THE FOLLOWING ITEMS
A list of banned substances is attached to the entrance on the outside of the terminal building. It is so long that it can't be read without the risk of decapitation from the revolving door. It flows from the obvious real or replica guns (No Scooby Doo for Bepe) to reach the impossible brief of no liquids nor gasses. How are humans meant to pass? Will any of my stags fall foul of the list? My throat dries a little and my sphincter twitches at the thought of my disparate stags in one place.
The visual noise and brash modernity of Manchester Airport Terminal 3 screams at us as we move inside. Instantly you feel the contortion between the beckoning promise of the freedom of cheap travel and the sinister threat of some unknown act that could blow it all apart. The rules are unrelenting even before the security assault course of 100ml liquid limits and clear plastic bags. Being a fair-minded capitalist system we also get the choice to buy back anything that has been confiscated at fake bargain prices, which can't then be taken on your next plane journey! Can't we just have one big sign saying: “Don't carry big bad stuff or else"?
My mind is working overtime as it is also confronted by the attrition of advertising communication. I try to decode information crammed onto every paintable, writable, scrawlable space. I am constantly working out the ploy, the strategy, the pun, the masked hip reference point that makes my fellow copywriters cream themselves in quipped glory. I don't much succumb to advertising; I can only dissect and judge it.
“Departures that way Daniel,” Sophia gestures towards the up escalator as we move inside. Prince knows how our all-consuming desperation to get the hell away from reality keeps us coming back for more.
But Bepe felt differently; he pleads for release from the trolley basket by wriggling every limb. “Diddy, wet down? Get plane Diddy.”
I set him down onto my only baggage; the leather guitar case jam packed with all the clothing eventualities I could imagine for the four days ahead. Sophia has already commandeered every proper suitcase for our honeymoon to Portofino.
Bepe makes three toddler steps towards the escalator, the hesitancy of each one suggesting he is likely to topple over. However, in bold defiance of his dodgy toddling he bolts back towards the revolving door. I am frozen by the contradiction of his movement, as well as being stuck on the wrong side of the trolley. Does he just want another ride around? Twenty seconds later it is clear his agenda is escape.
“Just go will you!” Sophia's command is my starting gun.
I exit through the pseudo-roulette wheel that is the door. I cannot see him immediately amongst the hubbub of arrivals. So many things move at once that I have to keep surveying and re-assessing the scene. A taxi pulls in sharply but stays closed. A South American-looking businessman pushes an overloaded trolley with his left hand; his right arm holds both a draped camel coat and his mobile. Twelve over-excited eight-year-olds spill from a school mini-bus. I keep searching. There behind the unbalanced businessman I spy his crouching figure, close to the kerb at the rear of the halted taxi.
“Bepe,” I attract his attention with a gentle suggestive tone so as not to prompt him to run again.
His crouch is to retrieve the banned Scooby Doo gun he has dropped in the gutter. It could also be in loin-girding preparation for a poo. I approach slowly but as I crouch down my jacket pocket spills my iPhone, which skids onto the harsh concrete. I wince at the thought of its glass being cracked or more importantly my music collection being trapped inside its malfunctioning casing. On its retrieval a sharp edge on one corner jags my palm. I am relieved to see the Apple sign illuminate it back to life.
“Dan, what are you doing? Danâ¦” Sophia is five yards behind me. Bepe has gone again. He has disappeared around the taxi, into the road, out of sight.
Engines roar around me. My glands seep hot sweat rapidly into my shirt. To my right I see another taxi travelling at about 30 mph on the two-lane one-way slip road. A blue car travels neck and neck with it. He will be all right; they will see him for sure. There is no point fearing the worst. The black cab in front of me narrows the road and forces them both to squeeze closer together. The drivers are caught up in unforgiving self-imposed timetables and are accelerating to leave the terminal. The over-loaded taxi could have stopped sooner had it had brand-new brake pads; instead an unnatural metal squeal is released as the driver vainly pushes his foot to the floor. This prefaces the thudding metallic crunch of the body of the taxi. My knees hit the pavement. I close my eyes to avoid seeing Bepe's pliable young bones helplessly shattered on a radiator grill. My eyes close, my head bows, my hands and forehead find my knee tops. At the point of impact he would have been thinking of his gun, the inane grin of Scooby Doo issuing an imaginary “Scooby-Doo-bedo” his last memory. Surely nothing else would register, he would feel pain momentarily and have no explanation for it. There was no chance to fear, he would not have braced himself for impact.
“You fool. Where is he? What have you done?” She speaks breathlessly with no moisture in her mouth.