Tom Hodgkinson: 'The machine told me the flight was closed'


Related Topics

ASCAL famously wrote that all of man's troubles come from his inability to sit quietly in his room, and I always think of this aphorism when travelling. Why on earth did I bestir myself from my peaceful study in order to submit myself to the indignities of the security check at Heathrow Airport? Why does travel always seem to involve getting up so early in the morning? Why do trains, planes and automobiles create such a fiery rage in my breast?

Last week I was cursing myself for taking up an invitation to give a lecture on freedom and play songs on the ukulele to a group of artists in Rotterdam. I rose at the customary 6am, washed, shaved and checked my bag. The previous week I had set off for a trip to Brussels before realising that I had left my passport at home. The delay to the trip caused by returning home to get it, thereby causing me to book a later train at the last minute, cost me £120 in Eurostar fares.

So this time I was determined to keep the passport, along with e-tickets, close by me at all times. I set off to the airport, constantly patting my pockets, ukulele in hand, while thinking about how unlucky I was to be alive. I alighted from the Heathrow Express at Terminal One in good time and started to hunt around for my check-in desk. There seemed to be no flights to Amsterdam. I asked a moustachioed gent in a fluorescent tabard where the KLM flights left from.

"Terminal Four, mate," he said cheerily, and directed me back down to the Heathrow Express, where a train would whisk me to the correct terminal. This process took another half an hour, Terminal Four being located some miles from Terminal One. I located the KLM zone and scanned my passport into the new electronic machines. (Why is it that at the very moment you get used to one system, they introduce a new one?)

The machine told me that the flight was now closed. I was directed to the KLM ticket desk to get on to the next flight. This was possible, though it would cost me another £150. That rather cut into my £250 fee for the talk, but I felt it would be wrong to cancel, tempting though cancelling appeared to me at that moment. I emailed the organiser from my iPhone and prepared myself for the two-hour wait for the next flight.

Friends who enjoy travelling say that they love these periods of waiting in airports. They read books, wander around the bazaars, check Twitter. I can't see it like this. To me, the waiting is full of anxiety. Should I sit down and take a proper meal in the fake pub? Browse the bookstall? Or just get myself to the gate in plenty of time? What I normally do is phone home to rant and rave about the ugliness of airport architecture, my own stupidity, and the whole system in general, which penalises the chaotic. Plan ahead carefully and you get cheap tickets. Leave things to the last minute and they make you pay.

My gloom was lightened temporarily by a jolly security guard. "Got a ukulele in there, mate?" he enquired while examining my socks and tube of toothpaste as I put my shoes and belt back on. "Where did get your coat? Very dapper, mate." (The answer to the second question is John Pearse of Meard Street, Soho.)

I dozed fitfully on the plane. The Dutch organisers of the event had told me to catch a train from Amsterdam airport to Rotterdam. "It's easy," they said. "Trains either go to Rotterdam or Amsterdam. So you have a 50 per cent chance of getting the right one." Yes, it's all right for you to say that, you live here. Miraculously I got the right train. But I had neglected to prepare my phone for roaming. So on arrival I tried to find a phone box to let the organisers know I had arrived, but there were none. Luckily the tourist office took pity on me and made the call.

That evening we were lucky with the turnout: about 70 were in the audience. In the bar after the talk, which took place at a wonderful arts centre called Worm, I discussed composting toilets and defended myself to a Dutch artist who enquired why English people insisted on undermining the seriousness of their message by adding jokes to their talks.

I got the wrong train out of Rotterdam and only just made the flight back home. I was completely cream-crackered, and had earned £100 for two days' work. Work much, earn little: the tragedy of the 21st-century idler.

Tom Hodgkinson is editor of 'The Idler'

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB6, WinForms)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Software Developer (Client-Side, SQL, VB...

C# Developer (Genetic Algorithms, .NET 4.5, TDD, SQL, AI)

£40000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Jihadist militants leading away captured Iraqi soldiers in Tikrit, Iraq, in June  

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Robert Fisk
India's philosopher, environmental activist, author and eco feminist Vandana Shiva arrives to give a press conference focused on genetically modified seeds on October 10, 2012  

Meet Vandana Shiva: The deserving heir to Mahatma Ghandi's legacy

Peter Popham
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home