The doors were closed, the British Airways 747 was pushed back and the engines started up one by one and I sat in the window seat wondering what the hell I was doing there, the man who was paying for my ticket and for the next seven days at his all-inclusive luxury hotel in Barbados had seemingly not made the flight as promised and now I was beginning to question my own sanity, did he really say that I could stay at his hotel free gratis, had I got any of this story right, and how the hell would I eventually recognise him when I’d only met him once, for one hour, and my only recollection of him was that he looked and spoke a bit like Jack Hawkins ?
Outside the 747 it was lashing it down, Gatwick was caught in what could be called in yachting circles “a squall”, or outside of yachting circles “fook me have you seen that rain ?” but lashing rain is mere frippery to one of Boeing’s finest aircraft and it trundled its way slowly to the end of the runway, all the time and rather unusually with the in flight entertainment system still switched on, probably to distract the passengers from the thought that in a few short minutes we’d have to fly through that huge black sky that hung above, then as the jetliner finally turned onto the runway and the cabin crew were warned to finally “sit down and strap in, this could soon get messy” the track on the channel that I was listening to changed to “Black Betty” by Ram Jam (above).
The lumbering titanium tube slowly accelerated down the runway and as it reached the point at which you can’t change your mind anymore a hole appeared in the dark sky and a rainbow curved its way above Gatwicks terminal buildings, but wait, it got even more corny for just as the wheels left the ground Ram Jam hit the guitar solo and we soared into a stormy but brightening sky to the accompaniment of of an also soaring guitar riff – Ron Howard could not have written this departure with more cheese.
The drama of the departure was soon replaced with the realisation that the next nine hours would be spent strapped to this uncomfortable seat with eight music channels to listen to, seven of which were rubbish, and the promise of a film or two later as long as you had a line of sight to the TV set lodged in the ceiling somewhere down the aisle, yes folks, individual chair back vdu’s were only for first class in 1995 and I was firmly wedged into a seat in basic class, or “World Traveler” as BA preferred to refer to the plebs, when I first saw “World Traveler” on my ticket I thought that I’d surely be basking in a huge armchair by now, waited upon to my every whim by the ladies with Eton accents and indeterminate age that BA seem to select exclusively for their long haul flights, but no, “World Traveler” was BA speak for Last Class, still, here came the first cup of coffee of the day and so I removed my headphones and thought that I may as well become acquainted with the couple sat to my left being as we were all wedged in here for the duration.
No such luck, for as the stewardess of undetermined age asked if they’d like tea or coffee they smiled at her uncomprehending this simple question, then one of them brought out a Swedish passport, they were the only Swedish couple in Sweden who did not speak English and so I resigned myself to a nine hour flight with no human interaction at all and put my headphones back on to ponder the question again, “What does Jack Hawkins really look like”.
At one point in the flight I even walked up and down each of the aisles searching for that familiar actors face, the one with the steadying voice from the lifeboat in “The Cruel Sea”, but to no avail, Jack Hawkins appeared to have not caught the flight at all so why had he told me that he’d meet me at check-in ?
I had nine hours in which to mull over this question and by the time we landed in Barbados I had convinced myself that I must be smuggling something or at the very least involved in something slightly underhand for if Jack Hawkins had simply missed the flight there should be an empty seat next to me, no, he had definitely told me that he would be on the flight with me and had then booked me a seat, but not one for himself – there was a rabbit away as my father-in-law was want to say at times like this.
They were actually playing Bob Marley in the airport arrival lounge as all 300 of us stood in line waiting to be attended to by one sleepy passport control guy, of course I say “airport lounge” and give the impression that Grantley Adams airport in Bridgetown actually had a lounge, what I really meant to say was “arrivals warehouse” for that is what the airport resembled at that time, a huge concrete warehouse without walls, I learned later that its formed concrete roof can withstand the weight of ten feet of snow given that they stole the plans for the building from an identical airport in Canada – there is a lot of Canadian investment in Barbados, see how much you learn from reading this rubbish ?
Anyway I still couldn’t see Jack Hawkins in the passport queue and now I had another problem, if he wasn’t here then how the hell would I get to the hotel, and what was the hotel called again ?
And then I saw him at the baggage reclaim conveyor, or at least I thought I saw him, a bloke who looked a bit like Jack Hawkins but not quite for this bloke was too tall to be Jack Hawkins, “Hmmm, I’m not sure” I mused as I sidled up to stand right behind him, he was with his family and I decided to wait until he claimed one of his suitcases and when he did I craned my neck forward to see if I could read his name on the label, it didn’t say “Jack Hawkins” on it or even “I look a bit like Jack Hawkins but really I own this hotel in Barbados”, it wasn’t him and then he caught me straining to read the label on his suitcase so I smiled and edged away, found my bags and wandered towards the exit still wondering what the hell to do here.
A taxi marshall saw me and hustled me into a waiting cab, I told the driver the name of the hotel as best I remembered it and he seemed to know where it was, twenty minutes later I stood outside its entrance thinking “I just hope they know who Jack Hawkins is or this could be the most elaborate scam ever, and I can’t afford to pay for a week in this place”, but they were expecting me and glory be, as I was accepting a key to a suite, yes, not a room, a whole suite, I heard a familiar voice behind me calling out my name, it was Jack Hawkins himself just arriving from the airport.
“I’m terribly sorry old chap” he offered as an explanation, “bit of a scrum at the airport eh, must have lost you in the crowd” and when I asked if he’d been on the same flight and why hadn’t I seen him there was one explanation, “oh I never fly cattle class old chap, far to restrictive, its First all the way these days what, ha-ha”, well that put me in my place anyway and the price of the equipment he was buying from me just went up by 10% the bastard.