Travel HELL – Part Two

Okay, okay, here I am, here it is. Travel HELL – Part Two. I think I’m just about ready to tackle this, despite a hefty bout of horrific nausea and diarrhoea since Thursday evening. (NO sisters One and Two, I’m NOT pregnant, this is indeed a tummy bug and a deadly one at that so if I don’t make it through to the end of this entry you’ll know why.)

I’m sitting in bed, with Tommy playing Insy Winsy Spider on my phone. I know it’s probably very bad for a two and a half year old to be playing screen games but I don’t have the energy to play Fireman Sam with him and in any case you’ve (sisters) been crying out for this so I’m doing my best to write it. Talk about pressure. Anyway, Tommy and I discovered kiddy Apps for my phone as a result of this nightmare journey. For the flight back home a few days later I armed myself with ten different games ranging from toddler flashcards to giggly Sneezies to a flying Tinkerbell to interactive nursery rhymes where you tap and slide things on the screen to make other things pop up, jiggle along, boogie on down . However, for Part Two of Travel HELL I hadn’t yet discovered these brilliant little snippets of toddler entertainement. Which didn’t help matters.

So, back to Marseille. Having had a restless night (repetitive nightmares of arriving on stage too late, naked, in the wrong theatre, armed with just a water pistol) with Tommy sleeping and wriggling in my bed, I woke up to find the worlds grumpiest toddler demanding to go outside. At Simone’s house we sleep in a room that opens onto a balcony with a view of the sea and Tommy gets to see boats and fishermen and seagulls galore. Well, he did when we last came to stay. But it was now February and I was loathed to open the shutters and let in the cold. But when Tommy started shouting and screaming to go outside I decided that a frozen toddler was preferable to waking up Simone, persuading myself that the sea air would do his lungs some good. I muffled him up in jumper, scarf, hat, socks and boots and sent him out onto the balcony as I crawled back into bed. First thing he did: touch a cactus and scream. Second thing: bang on Simone’s shutters. I dashed out onto the balcony in my bare feet and knickers and scooped him up in my arms, diverting the kicks and karate chops by pointing out a couple of seagulls flying overhead. But he was having none of it and was making a good job of waking up the entire neighbourhood. And I was very cold. So I bundled him back into our bedroom and persuaded him to watch Kirikou on my phone (what would I do without that phone?) while I had a quick shower.

The morning was actually quite pleasant. Tommy and I went to buy a pile of croissants and pains au chocolat, Simone and I got to have coffee before she left, my two friends Farid and Francine popped round for breakfast and to tell me the latest (good) news concerning our project in Marseille with Lieux Publics (national centre for street theatre).. I almost forgot I had a plane to catch. But at ten thirty we all jumped into my car, I dropped Francine off at Lieux Publics, and twenty minutes of careful speed radar driving later, we arrived at Marseille airport.

The car park was rammed so we had to park quite a way away, but it was a sunny day and we were both feeling quite cheery so we we didn’t mind the walk. We got to the airport, queued up at the Easyjet Gatwick desk, Tommy ran around for a bit and blew raspberries at people who tried to talk to him and we checked in. The woman handed me a couple of bits of paper along with our flight documents and passports, mumbling something about us being able to buy drinks and a sandwich with them but I didn’t really get what she was on about. It didn’t matter, I could see through the swing doors that there wasn’t much of a queue for the x-ray machines and Tommy had come back to quietly sit in his pushchair and munch a packet of crisps. We whizzed through the x-ray bit like a dream, Tommy’s boots setting the bleeper off which meant he got to be checked over with a Star Wars hand-held laser machine, and then rolled happily along to our boarding gate waiting area. I checked the screen – flight due to take-off at 15h10. That was fine. It could have been much worse considering the French air controllers were on strike. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that L’Homme had called me that morning to warn me our flight might be delayed because of the strikes. Thirty minutes delay was no problem. Tommy and I sat down at a coffee table next to a couple in their late fifties who turned out to be from Wales and who had grandsons Tommy’s age. The woman mentioned something about a two hour delay. “No I think it’s just a twenty minute delay” I replied, assuming that she’d heard the news in French over the loudspeakers and hadn’t understood. “Well that’s odd”, she said, “our daughter’s been following the delay on the internet and she’s certain it’s a two hour delay”. My brain stubbornly blanked this information out and I busied myself with keeping Tommy occupied with books and games and crisps. About ten minutes later Tommy shouted “Mummy, pee-pee!” from across the other side of the waiting area so I rushed him down to the loos. It was then I saw the screen again. “Ryanair, London-Gatwick, 15h10” and my tiny brain recalculated what that meant. Not a thirty minute delay, no – a two and a half hour delay. Our flight was originally scheduled to take off at 12h40. My maths had seriously gone wrong the first time, probably to protect my mental health. Now reality had struck and with it a surge of adrenalin went shooting through my veins and didn’t stop until many hours later when I dropped into bed.

I managed to take Tommy to the loos and get back to our table without any mishaps despite the fact my whole body was shaking. I calculated that a 15h10 take-off meant landing at around 4 p.m. UK time, which meant getting out of the airport around 45 minutes later after that huge long walk they make you do to get to passport control, plus the zig-zag queues which give you the distinct feeling you’re all cows. Then there was the train journey from Gatwick to central London, the tube ride to Highbury and Islington and a ten minute walk to the Little Angel Theatre… I reckoned I’d get there an hour before our show was due to run (we were programmed at 6:45pm). The evening would already have started and the show before us would be in full swing so we wouldn’t even be able to get on stage. But an hour was enough to talk things through with Caro and see the new props and tables we’d be using and somehow get “centered” (I know that sounds horrifically theatrical). I wouldn’t have time to take Tommy to my sister’s house (that’s Sister One) as originally planned, to be looked after by Uncle Al, so he’d have to be in the theatre watching the show, with me praying to God for toddler peace and harmony; I even was ready to become devoutly religious, anything to keep Tommy quiet. I looked down, Tommy had fallen asleep in my arms. I decided to make the most of this dead time by listening to the show music and reading my script (bear in mind this was the first time we’d be running our work-in-progress piece in front of an audience – a paying one at that – crammed full of professional actors and directors and puppeteers, the idea being to get as much feedback as possible… basically, we knew what we were MEANT to do but that didn’t mean we’d actually do it what with so little rehearsing) but after half an hour sitting on a hard upright chair with 13 kilos of crumpled little boy crushing the cushions between my lower vertebrae, I asked my Welsh neighbours to keep an eye on our stuff and I carried Tommy over to one of the more comfortable seats. I tried singing the text verses along to one of the pieces of music that didn’t quite fit, I went over and over all the things I was meant to do onstage, the seven different plates of food in the right order, the costume changes, the cues. I tried to forget that an Arts Council grant might well be hinging on our performance and the fact that the Little Angel Theatre had payed for today’s ticket SO THAT I’D GET THERE TO DO THE SHOW. The adrenalin kept coarsing and I could feel my jeans getting looser as the minutes ticked by. My Welsh friends, Dorothy and Alan, came and sat with me and bought me a coffee. I realised I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast and I was dehydrated. Tommy woke up and wanted me to buy him the entire duty free shop. I bought him a Winnie the Pooh magazine with free elephant. It interested him for five minutes, then he wanted a giant size tube of smarties with Disney Cars on the top and threatened me with a tantrum. I left him in the shop. He must have realised Mummy was close to cracking point and came and sat quietly on my lap. Two hours later still no sign of us moving anywhere. No information, nothing.



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