A free vacuum cleaner, but don't call it sleaze

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The Independent Online
This week it was the proposal of British Airways and American Airlines to merge that gave me a nasty turn over the morning Earl Grey. Richard Branson, whose wise and estimable Lottery plan was prey to Tory spite, and who seems to be the acceptable face of ambition in business (no doubt some wags will write in and tell me he threw their distressed grannies out of a jumbo) is against it. And so say I...

Now, I do not seek sleaze. You may say that were I sitting here dripping in diamonds and waiting for the next delivery from Lanson, it would be different.

You may say that the rich and powerful never seek a revolution in order to inherit a mud hut and a bucket of potato peelings. And you may decide that in the matter of sleaze, I am that bucket. But you would be wrong. Plain and poor as I am, I have known sleaze.

You will remember Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson, a Monty Python chat-show guest whose glamour lay in owning two sheds? Well I am Mavis "Two Vacuum Cleaners" Cheek. Oh the power of the press. I merely moaned that, like my ex-boyfriend, my Miele cleaner only had to look at me and bits dropped off. And Miele, like flaming Jupiter, sent me a man with a brand new state- of-the-art machine. A veritable Koh-I-Noor of a vacuum.

I was as Queen Victoria with her blackamoors. Then another man arrives (Why use a lonely hearts column? Just contact makers of cleaning appliances) and presents me with Henry, a sturdy little creature with horrible, leering stick-on eyes, just waiting to suck, suck, suck. His manufacturers make it clear this is a gift. Thus, my sleaze. As Dorothy Parker said: some women just get a rose.

I now return you to that airline merger and the very last BA flight I deigned to take. To Italy, alone, for a week's R & R after finishing a book. Much delayed outward flight, with a chunk of the time spent locked in a bus in the sun, on the tarmac, with no explanation. My nose pressed into an hysterical Italian woman's armpit, trying to remember the Latin for "calm down" and with a strange sense of being Schindler reincarnate.

On boarding, finally, we were told the delay was due to the pilot getting on the wrong plane. This did not encourage relaxed confidence. Nor did the snowball in hell's chance of my long-distance taxi still waiting at the other end. Naples airport late at night, a woman alone? Thanks!

Well, well. A week in Amalfi and a girl forgets. But the flight back is also delayed. One boards. One does not ask why the plane is late in case, like my Miele, bits have dropped off. One decides, instead, to jot the odd Proustian jewel in one's writer's notebook. One lets down one's little table and one's little table falls to the floor. One requests a seat with a working table. Economy full. Can I upgrade? No. They imply they know my sleazy little tricks and that I probably wrenched the table from its moorings myself. What about my meal? Don't try it on with us, peasant ... They fold two blankets on to my knees and smile smugly. This is horribly uncomfortable. Can I upgrade? As if. Hard enough, God knows, to deal with a standard in-flight meal on a working table. Try dealing with it perched on a couple of blankets. Or drinks. Or writing. It was a miserable flight. Two out of two seemed rather a high failure rate.

Hoovers and sleaze tag aside, I wrote complaining. They sent me four insultingly patronising letters. Naughty, naughty, they implied, trying to get something for nothing. Er ... this is a request for compensation. I paid full fare, you gave substandard service ... A few more dingbat letters from them and I gave up. Sleaze moi? I have never used BA again.

My only experience of American Airlines was when the precious fruit of my womb flew to Washington on an outward flight. I registered her with AA's Accompanied Minors Scheme. Which was a complete failure and left my daughter wandering around Washington airport at night trying to find someone to help her. They were considerably less helpful and she was considerably panicked. No sleaze here, either. They were rude to me on the phone and did not even respond to my letter.

The thought of these careless, inefficient airlines merging and squeezing out Richard Branson is appalling. Remember Camelot, I urge you. Remember Camelot. I shall switch off the morning radio if this kind of upsetting item is going to prevail. And get up and do some hoovering. Arrivederci!

Wallace Arnold is on holiday.