I wish I didn’t but I do. I find Britain hard work these days.
I went to London last week to promote the release of my book in paperback. Here is a small vignette from my journey:
Nimes airport. A car park within sight of the departures hall. A walkway lined with lavender. The hiss off sliding doors. A cool, spacious interior. No shops. One or two adverts, pleasing to the eye. Nothing to buy. Only a little cafe, selling good coffee, croissants, pains au chocolat and simple, honest sandwiches.
I amble through customs. My hand luggage raises some suspicion and must be opened. A woman in uniform, polite and efficient asks me if I mind. Inside she finds a jar of local honey, some fig jam, some green olive tapenade and some goat’s cheese. All presents for my hosts in London. She gives me a rueful look.
“You’re not really allowed these.”
I sort of know this and feel a bit guilty and I make a face which says as much.
She packs up my things and says,
“Try to remember next time.” Then she adds, “If you grill that goat’s cheese with some of that chestnut honey and some walnuts…” She kisses her fingertips.
I smile at her.
“I know. I live in the Cevennes.”
She swipes her hand at me.
“Well then you know all about good things (les bonnes choses).”
And she zips up my suitcase.
I probably don’t need to recount the return journey from Luton. I’m sure you can imagine it:
Shops…Hundreds and hundreds of them. Clamouring at you. All of them part of the chains that wrap themselves round and round the British Isles and make every town and every airport look the same.
Then the long long snake through security. The detached, officious intransigence of the airport staff. We’re cattle and they’re rangers. Only I suspect rangers have more feeling for their charges.
A growth industry is here. Tiny ziplock bags to ward off our attackers. Cases gutted. People in various stages of undress; shoeless, beltless, humbled…
I reach the gate after a fifteen minute walk involving many stairs. The plane is due to leave in a further 15 minutes. It sits with its doors open on the tarmac in front of us. “I’m sorry madame… (No one has ever been less sorry) Gate’s closed.”
One of my fellow passengers is a Frenchwoman. She throws out an arm:
“But the plane is there! And we have another 15 minutes!”
“I’m sorry madam.”
I lead the woman away, telling her how pointless it is to protest.
We sit together on the bus to Stansted where the same labyrinth awaits us and she tells me all the things that she loves about living in Britain, which fills me with an unfathomable sense of pride.