Tuesday, 14 July 2015


We had the most awful time at Stansted airport this morning. It's difficult to know whether our misfortune was a bi-product of a broken airport, or whether the manifold horrors we experienced were due to the dark ineptitude of Ryanair, who are clearly the worst airline in the world. I actually believe they take great delight in being such recidivist crap-wangers. When you complain, you're confronted with waves of clog-dancing Irish arrogance and ambivalence.

The check-in desks at Stansted this morning were rammed. They were essentially queuing out of the doors of the departures building. No one knew what was going on. Periodically, the passengers on certain flights were called out of the queues they were in and sent to a different desk for "immediate check-in." We arrived at the airport two hours before our flight, and after an hour and a half had only just checked our baggage in, having been sent to two separate queues because the woman on the desk didn't deal with excess baggage or fragile luggage.
After waiting for ten minutes in a scrum at the security gates, we started to panic. I rushed over to a staff member who ushered me into a priority line. Sadly this queue took forever again, and was made even worse by the fact that I'd forgotten to remove deodorant from my suitcase, which meant I had to have a complete baggage search. The walk from security to the departure gate was a good ten minutes, so we arrived just as the last call sounded.

At that point, the woman on the departure gate wrapped a yellow ticket around our hand baggage, without explaining what it was for. It turns out it meant that our hand luggage was destined to be put into the hold because there was no room for it in the overhead compartments. We only discovered this fact when we reached the plane and an incredibly rude woman grabbed it. "What's happening?" I asked. "Your hand luggage is going into the hold..." In a panic, I rifled through the bag, rescuing my passport, luckily as it happened, as I'd never have got through customs in Madrid if I hadn't thought to. I was absolutely furious.

We boarded the plane and watched with horror through the window as our hand luggage was literally thrown onto a conveyor belt by airport staff. I asked a steward if he'd mind exiting the plane and telling them to be more careful: "people put valuable things in hand luggage because they think they're going to be keeping it with them." We told the steward how horrified we'd been to have the whole no hand luggage thing sprung on us and he told us that the woman on the gate was obliged to tell us what was happening when she attached the yellow ticket to our luggage. She'd told us nothing, so we hadn't had the time to work out what we needed to remove from our bags.

I'd left my wallet in there, so when those money-grabbing bastards came down the aisle flogging food and drink, I explained that I had no money, due to a breech in protocol on Ryanair's part, and asked if I could have a glass of tap water or a cup of tea as a good will gesture. The air hostess, she said no. She told me that the plane's tap water wasn't drinkable and that they had to charge for bottled water. I asked to speak to her manager, who also said no, smiling acidly. Surely denying someone a glass of water is a genuine infringement of his human rights? Not, apparently, in the world of Ryanair. In the end, the first steward took pity on me and brought me a glass of "his own water" which he poured out of a bottle into a tiny glass. Bless him and all that, but how hideous...

I'm also slightly worried to report that Nathan looked out of the window at one stage to see an Easy Jet plane flying within about 200 meters of our plane at 10,000 feet, which I would have thought was fairly close by aviation standards. Fortunately he decided not to point it out to me.

Anyway, on a more positive note, Madrid is boiling hot. At 42 degrees, I think it's the hottest weather I've ever encountered. It was the sort of weather that you couldn't sit out in for more than three minutes before feeling like your organs were shutting down. Even Madrid residents were panicking. In the streets we'd see them rushing over to fans and sources of water. We watched, with great amusement, in a little square in the Chueca district, one woman squirting a hose at a terribly grateful dog.

We took ourselves into a El Corte Ingl├ęs, which is Spain's premier department store. Ironically, it translates as the English Court. I needed to buy some headphones but we stumbled across a new vinyl pressing of an ABBA single, which celebrated the 40th anniversary of Waterloo with versions of the song in English and Swedish. Find! I instantly bought it for Nathan to add to his collection of 400 ABBA singles from around the world.

We bought nectarines for tea. In that kind of heat, fruit is the only thing which seems appropriate. Without wishing to sound too much like Samuel Pepys, they were the most delicious nectarines I ever ate. They were certainly the juiciest. Fnah fnah. I had to rush into a cafe to wash my sticky hands afterwards. Cor blimey, I did.

We went out this evening and at 9.18pm it was still 35 degrees. It became so muggy at one point that tiny droplets of rain were forming in the air and spontaneously dropping down without a cloud in sight. I made the mistake of wearing long trousers and sweated like I've never sweated before.

I walked home through Puerta del Sol which buzzes at night. There were artists painting pictures on the side walk, break dancers popping in front of a huge crowd, African gentlemen selling anything they could get their hands on and people lobbing little coloured lights into the sky which went up like rockets and then floated back down to earth like LED fireworks.

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