As much as I love visiting friends and family in the UK and Ireland, the necessary air flight fills me with dread, which is why I avoid this tortuous ordeal as much as possible. No, it is not the actual flying part, nor the possibility of catching pig flu from all that recycled air, nor being crammed into airport buses and queues and not even the major airports’ policy of processing passengers like sardines. No, my horrors begin when packing my suitcase, or several in my case, a week or so before the trip. Recent luggage restrictions are ridiculous, after all, my wash-bag alone is almost the entire weight allowance. Add to that, two shirts a day for 14 days, all the necessary vests and thermal underwear, gloves, scarves and hot water bottles - all so essential for a trip away from home, as well as a more than generous inclusion of essential gadgets and their necessary chargers and adapters and you will understand the pain, suffering and soul searching that I have to endure. Yes, I know, I am not alone in my whinging and I do fully understand all about global warming - as if an extra shirt or two would make any difference...!
A very good friend of mine recently took me in hand after I had explained the distress of my forthcoming situation. I listened carefully as he, in whispered tones, revealed some of his travel tips. He laughed, rather cruelly I thought, when he heard of the number of shirts and socks that I had planned to take. “You will be wearing vests, so take just three shirts. Make each one last for two days and then go to the launderette,” he laughed. He passed on other gems too - all equally drastic measures.
Hmm, and a good dose of deodorant, I thought to myself, but not wishing to appear ungrateful I continued to listen to his pearls of wisdom. After all, my friend was an ex-marine who had travelled throughout Laos, Thailand and Vietnam for several months with little more than a pair of shorts and a toothbrush. He taught me how to roll and not to fold my clothes. Did I really need to take an electric shaver, electric toothbrush, hairdryer and iron? He thought not and I, after several stiff brandies, eventually agreed, albeit reluctantly.
The big day arrived and I tentatively balanced my suitcase in my partner’s hands as he balanced on the scales. After the deduction of his weight and a few adjustments I smugly realised that the overall weight of the proposed luggage was now just 16 kilograms! That was indeed a record for me and I set off to the airport with a new air of confidence, knowing that I had four kilograms available for newly purchased goodies!
Two weeks later I was standing at the dreaded Gatwick airport, queuing to have my bags checked. I had suffered two weeks of just three shirts, visited the launderette twice, had plenty of showers and used lots of deodorant. No one had commented about my wearing the same items of clothing for two weeks and I stood with confidence in the queue awaiting my turn. Certainly, I had bought a few things, collected the usual batch of Christmas presents from generous relatives. I had bought two large bottles of Vitamin C tablets as well - have you noticed the acute shortage on the islands?
“Had a good trip, sir,” came a friendly voice from a spotty youth wearing a smart uniform. This chirpiness took me back a little as both age and experience has taught me that such chirpiness from anyone official in airports throughout the world usually means trouble.
“You’re a little overweight, sir,” continued The Spotty Charmer, grinning broadly. I thought he could have chosen his phrasing a little better. After all I have been wasting away on a diet for three months or so.
“How much overweight?” I snapped coldly, not about to indulge in pleasantries.
“Ten kilograms, sir. You must have bought a lot of stuff in the UK. I hope it’s worth it because that little lot will cost you £100.” The Spotty Charmer had suddenly become officious and demanding in his voice, but he continued to smile broadly, although the breadth of the smile was thankfully restricted by the brace on his teeth.
“That’s impossible,” I replied. “Anyway, ten kilograms at £5 per kilogram is only £50. You are trying to overcharge me, young man.”
“Not so, sir. If you pre-book your excess luggage before your flight then you can have it for £5 per kilo. If not, it is £10, sir.” I no longer liked the way he referred to me as “sir”. It had an evil resonance about it.
“What rubbish,” I spluttered. “How can I possibly foresee what the overall weight of my luggage will be until I have completed my trip. How can I judge that beforehand?”
“Well, that is your problem, sir. Will sir be taking anything out of his case or will sir be paying by credit card?”
“This is preposterous,” I exploded. “Sir will certainly not be taking anything out of his case,” I retorted proffering my well used credit card.
“That’ll do nicely,” beamed The Spotty Charmer, whisking the card out of my hand and into his evil machine.
I sighed, knowing when I was beaten. How my friend had travelled the length and breadth of Asia with a pair of shorts and a toothbrush I shall never know.
© Barrie Mahoney
First published in 2010
From the 'Letters from the Atlantic' series by Barrie Mahoney
Living the Dream: ISBN 978-0992767198