Well, this is it. I’ve got a whole day to myself. I can’t put it off any longer. I’m going to have to look back at those two days of travelling hell last week and put them into words. It’s painful, yes, but the sun is shining and it’s positively summery outside, so at least when I start getting palipitations and feeling sick I’ll be able to go and calm down in the sunshine.
It was all so beautifully organised. I set off last Monday morning with Tommy well-rested and well-fed, happily singing “plane, plane, me goin’ a plane an’ a Mummy goin’ a plane”, from his car seat. The journey was smooth and fast, The Jungle Book and Tiddler CD’s kept us both happy as we drove, and we arrived an hour and a half later at Nimes airport. We found a great parking slot, bundled eveything out of the car – little suitcase, stuffed-full orange bag and light pushchair, and off we headed to the check-in desks. Tommy was starting to look a little tired, which was perfect. I calculated he would sleep throughout the flight and wake up refreshed, just in time to get the train from Luton to central London and the tube to the Little Angel Theatre. At five o’clock I would be doing a technical run of our 20 minute work-in-progress version of Fussy Freya, due to be performed the next day. I had sausage and mash packed lunch and apple juice to satisfy an army of toddlers. Tommy had a terrible bronchitis-ish cough but that was the only thing slightly negative about the day, until we got into the airport …
… on the blue screens above the Ryanair London-Luton desks the words “VOL ANNULE” sat glaring at me. It was surreal. My brain couldn’t compute. FLIGHT CANCELLED. Even in English I couldn’t fathom what that could possibly mean. What on earth were they on about? There was NO WAY our flight could be cancelled – I had a technical run to get to by 5 p.m. and a show to do tomorrow. And what was even worse – FAR worse – was the thought of having to tell Tommy we weren’t going on a plane today. I looked down at him in his pushchair, wriggling to get out and saying, “Mummy, ‘ook – a big plane!” as he pointed at the huge poster above the screens, and I told him the grim truth.
“Honey, we’re not going on a plane today. The plane is broken, it’s not flying. We’ll try to go on one tomorrow, okay?”
He looked at me seriously. “No Mummy, me goin’ a plane WIGHT NOW.” He smiled happily. “Me see Hatty an’ Baby Memily an’ Oocy an’ Ayix WIGHT NOW.”
“No sweetie, we can’t, there’s snow in London, the plane can’t fly.” I realised none of this made any sense to Tommy nor myself and that both of us were still convinced we would indeed be flying to London in the next hour, but as I looked at the huge queue of people waiting to get reimbursed and/or change their flights my heart started to pound. I wasn’t going to be at the Little Angel Theatre for the technical run that afternoon. Tommy wasn’t going to see his cousins that evening. We had some hardcore reality to face up to. We were going to have to find another solution; one which didn’t involve driving back home again as I couldn’t face the utter disappointment Tommy would have to live through. It was disappointing enough that we wouldn’t be flying that day, but if I could somehow make the day into an adventure, we might be saved.
(BREAK, WHILE I DE-RUST AND PAINT THE BARRIERS OUT THE FRONT AS IF I DON’T L’HOMME MAY WELL TORTURE ME WITH GRUMPINESS FOR THE NEXT MONTH BECAUSE HE FEELS HE’S THE ONLY ONE DOING ANYTHING ON RENOVATING THIS GODDAM HOUSE, AND MAY THE GOOD LORD STRIKE ME DOWN IF I REPLY I’M DOING ALL THE CLEANING, COOKING, SHOPPING, CHILD-RAISING ETC.)
I started grabbing people who’d done their queuing and were leaving the airport and asked them for information about flight options. There weren’t any Ryanair flights tomorrow so the solution was either to fly Wednesday or tomorrow evening from Marseille – both of which would get me there too late to do the show. My mind swam. I phoned l’Homme in despair who was up to his elbows in rubble and rotten floorboards but who immediately got online to find alternative flights with other plane companies. We sat down at the café, Tommy still chanting “Me goin’ a plane WIGHT NOW”, and I got the waitress to heat up Tommy’s sausage and mash. He ate it. Hooray. I downed a double expresso and delmolished a gigantic chocolate brownie in seven seconds flat. L’Homme called me back. The only flights were either horrifically expensive (hello AirFrance) or still-quite-expensive (mornin’ Easyjet) and they went from Marseille. This would also mean flying back to Marseille as our car would be there. Even more expensive. I phoned Peter, the director of the Little Angel Theatre and of our Fussy Freya project. He wasn’t there. I left a message. L’Homme phoned again. He’d also found a train from Avignon but it meant getting there within the hour and it was still financially crippling. There was also the alternative of getting a train from the station near home and leaving Tommy with L’Homme, his Daddy. “NO!” I screamed. “You don’t understand! We CAN’T come home! Tommy will implode with disappointment and sadness and feelings of betrayal! DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND?!” L’Homme hung up on me. Peter phoned back. He said the theatre was prepared to pay the Easyjet ticket from Marseille to Gatwick the next day. It meant I’d arrive a few hours before performing so I’d be able to meet up with my partner-in-crime Caro with whom I’d be performing and talk things through and have her show me the new props and tables and bits and bobs involved. It seemed feasible, I felt like crying out of gratitude but managed to sound calm and grown-up as I accepted his offer and started frantically typing our passport details into an email on my phone so that he could buy our ticket. I phoned Simone in Marseille to see if we could stay at her place for the night. She said yes. I nearly cried again, but didn’t. I phoned l’Homme to apologise and to let him know what we were doing. I looked down at Tommy, he had fallen asleep in his pushchair. I wheeled him over to the reimbursements desk and sorted things out with Ryanair, then wheeled Tommy and our suitcase out to the car park. Tommy woke up as we rumbled over the cattle grid (it looked like a cattle grid but I’m not sure there are a lot of cattle going through such a tiny airport) which meant he’d had a 20 minute nap instead of two hours. Great. I tried to shoosh him back to sleep but he wanted to push the buttons on the car park paying machine so that was that.
We drove to Marseille – an hour long drive of Tommy demanding to go on the plane WIGHT NOW and me explaining we’d be going on a plane TOMORROW which meant I had to give him my hand to squeeze as I drove, resulting in a near-dislocated shoulder – and we parked outside Simone’s sea-front house. She wasn’t there but she’d left the keys in our regular very-secret-hiding-place. We let ourselves in and after five minutes of “NO Mummy, me NO see Simone, me NO Simone house, me goin’ a plane WIGHT NOW.” I was ready to throw myself into the sea with weights in my socks. I told Tommy we were going on a boat, strapped him into his pushchair and legged it up the slope towards the bus stop. I also bought him a pain au chocolat at the boulangerie which is always a good trick for keeping him (momentarily) happy. The no.83 came along and we squeezed our way in. It was coming up to five o’clock. My plan was to get the little ferry boat that crosses the Vieux Port. It takes five minutes and runs every ten minutes. It was the perfect little boat trip for us. Tommy was now saying “me goin’ a boat” which made my heart swell.
We got off at the Vieux Port having been squashed to half our width and dashed down to the ferry boat stop. It was closed. The sign said “TRAVERSEES 07h à 17h”. I looked at my watch. It was 17h02. Two past sodding five. I could have set fire to their ferry boat, moored in front of our very eyes just to spite us. But I don’t smoke so I had neither matches nor a lighter. I crouched down next to Tommy and started to explain that we wouldn’t be going on a boat either actually and that Mummy was just one big, fat, horrid liar who never keeps her promises, when Tommy pointed at all the other zillions of little sailboats tethered in the Vieux Port and said “More boat, Mummy!” I considered phoning my friend Vincent who owns one of those little sailboats, and begging him to take us out on it, but it had started to rain and dusk was spilling down on us. But the notion of “more boat” tilted something in my exhausted brain and I remembered there are big boats that go to and from the Isles Frioul all day, every day. We could at least go and watch one coming in. We dashed down to the centre of the port and lo and behold there was one looking like it was about to leave. I ran up to one of the chaps on the gangplank and asked if we could come for a ride – he said he’d tell the captain to wait for us and to go and pay. I flung ten euros at the girl in the ticket office, bumped Tommy along the gangplank and we boarded the boat. Tommy was over the moon. We sat at the back while the boat slowly chugged out of the port and got sprayed with sea water while watching the seagulls circle above us. I felt a sense of utter relief. When the boat picked up speed we went inside to join the inhabitants of the islands – apparently the boat is their bus to and from work and school as well as being a major tourist attraction. But on a rainy January evening we were the only tourists. As we got closer to the islands Tommy slumped down in my arms and started to suck his thumb. I wondered what on earth the time was. Quarter to seven. Oh FFFF – lip, I thought. It’s way too late to be out on the sea with a bronchitis-ridden child. And if my eyes had correctly absorbed the information at the ticket office, the return boat didn’t leave for another hour. And it was getting cold.
We arrived at the little port, the passengers all got off and I looked gloomily at the prospect of hanging about in some café for an hour with a poorly toddler on my lap refusing to drink his hot chocolate. As we were about to trundle down the gangplank one of the (very sexy) sailor chaps in charge of the boat asked if we wanted to travel straight back to Marseille with them on the same boat which was leaving in a few minutes. I nearly snogged him (for multiple reasons). I must have looked so grateful and so Mummy-weary that he also invited Tommy and I to travel up in the Captain’s cabin and even plonked Tommy up in the Captain’s swivel seat. We were off – Marseille ahoy!
Tommy glared and sulked at the three sailors for a while (just when you want your child to be cute and grateful he sends flames of FRENCH TERROR out to those who have just pulled you out of a vat of boiling oil) but he began to defrost as we entered the Vieux Port. He ended up steering the boat into its moorings and pressing a button that set off some loud parpy klaxon noise. Capitaine Blond told us the next time we could ride for free, we just needed to ask for “Capitaine Blond”, and the sexy sailor helped us off the boat. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Tommy was happy, I was happy, the no. 83 rolled up and took us back to Simone’s house where Tommy had a meltdown and threw macaroni across the kitchen before falling asleep in my arms, and I drank a bottle of red wine with Simone. I fell into bed thinking the day had been surreal and wondering how I was going to get a plane and perform a barely-rehearsed show in London the next day.
(Travel HELL – Part Two will be tomorrow’s installment. In comparison Part One seems like a gentle summer breeze sprinkled with rose petals.)