So it was no great surprise when - after a stiff British Rail vodka en route, and in a mood of irritation at our inability to pack conservatively - we stormed into Gatwick's South Terminal with just half an hour to catch our plane to Perugia, to be greeted by the check-in Barbie, with an earnest smile, a flash of pearl-dropped teeth, and: 'I'm sorry, but your plane has been delayed.'
Our sigh of relief was audible. Despite the so-nearly-forgotten passport, the traffic jams on the way to the station, the business of garaging the car, the recriminations on the train, we had actually made it.
Barbie readjusted her red, white and blue handkerchief, and her lacquered nails clicked the keyboard. 'Did you pack this luggage yourself?' she asked with a bored pursing of her lips. 'Smoking?' she continued, index finger curling round her chin as she inspected our puce faces. 'Window?'
We positively skipped through Customs and immigration, delighted at our good fortune, and went headlong into the duty-free scrum. The rules to this game are simple. Armed with boarding pass and much-abused credit card, your object is to buy the most ridiculous brand of cigarettes just to prove that you have been away, as well as an obscure liqueur, plus a bottle of gin and a gratuitous bottle of perfume or aftershave.
You arrive at the counter to find you've exceeded the alcohol limit. You then replace the gin and win a free beach towel for purchasing the classic combination - cigarettes, alcohol, and Eau de Vacances (which over-indulgence will sit attractively gathering dust on the bathroom shelf along with last year's little treat).
Once through the duty free, and having surreptitiously bought the latest Jeffrey Archer, the after-sun, and a load of prawn sandwiches, we sat down to wait, staring at the departures, hoping for any sign of boarding. Ten minutes later, the only sign of movement was the changing of the departure time. Another three hours to wait.
The bar began to look a more attractive prospect. After all, what are you supposed to do to kill three hours, but to down copious amounts of extortionately expensive alcohol, struggle with hermetically sealed dry-roasted peanuts, and play Stare At Everyone Else Who's Waiting?
Waiting under the glare of airport lounge lights does extraordinary things to people. Grown men wander aimlessly around, dragging their feet, spinning on their heels, rooting around in their noses, staring at the departures board, sporting their children's beach hats in blissful ignorance that they are being noticed.
Small children skid up and down the shiny floor in their new smooth-soled shoes, flashing their pants to whoever they fancy, pressing buttons at random on any machine they can find.
Women, meanwhile, develop an eyeliner fixation and check their mirrors constantly, monitoring progress, as their make-up slowly seeps down their faces.
After six-and-a-half lagers, eight packets of peanuts and a spin on a luggage trolley, our flight was at last called, and we were allowed through the rotating doors and then were off on the final furlong, where the bored, the drunk and lily-white meet the sombrero-wearing and scantily clad returning with their charter-flight tans.
As we walked along the bouncing rubber of the motorised carpet, a group of girls off the flight from Palma strutted on shaven and well-oiled legs along the corridor, their stacked heels clattering, their swimming-costume- like catsuits crawling up their buttocks.
The Customs officers could not believe their luck as they minced through to passport control, their legs glowing pink under the neon light. It was, however, the boys with bleached blond hair and psychedelic T- shirts that they wanted, although, by the look of the lads' dilated pupils, they were too far gone to notice.
We eventually made it to the Perugia Jazz Festival, the only concert venue where Miles Davis was said to have smiled; but then I bet he never flew charter.Reuse content