Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A new flight path at Heathrow!

What a day! Just in case it's one's next-of-kin who is notified when you're marched off to the police station (I'm afraid I don't know the protocol in such matters) perhaps you should know that if someone at Heathrow is over-attentive to the CCTV cameras I could be arrested!

Pravina came today. Do you remember me telling you about Pravina? She's my teacher friend from Mumbai. This was her first organised trip out of India and she’d visited six European countries in twelve days, ending up yesterday in London. This, her final day, was to be spent with me.

She arrived at eight-thirty. A wonderful, bubbling character, bursting with excitement and news of all her adventures. Bearing in mind that she’d only seen Central London, I asked her if she'd like to visit Richmond Park and the Upper Thames. She was thrilled. Everyone on her coach, I gathered, had invariably wanted to go shopping when asked what they wanted to do, she had wanted to see nature and hadn't had the opportunity.

The Upper Thames at Ham proved an enormous success. Such is my woeful ignorance of Hindu practices that I was a little startled when Pravina, a devout Hindu, strode down to the water's edge and drank liberally from her cupped hands. I wouldn’t have fancied Thames-water myself, but, drunk in a spirit of faith and trust, it will. I’m sure, prove beneficial. Richmond Park was also popular, as was lunch at Kingston Lodge. Pravina was due to pick up her suitcase from the Sheraton Hotel by 3.30. As we sped down the motorway to Heathrow, she thanked me profusely for having provided a tranquil end to her hectic holiday.

Tell me, have you ever got hopelessly lost at Heathrow? I'd never driven there before, and, believe you me, I've no desire to do so again. We drove down a long, poorly-lit tunnel, that we learned later was not for the general public, then tried to turn in a bus station and nearly got arrested. Rushing on, it’s impossible to stop, we passed a 'No Entry' sign that we didn't notice, sought help from an official who threatened a hefty fine, and finally regained the dual-carriageway only to see the Sheraton Hotel mocking us tantilisingly from the far side.

Eventually there was a gap allowing us to cross through the central section and turn back. A few minutes later we drew up by the Sheraton’s 'Entry' sign. So far so good, but there was no way in. Entry was barred by one of those barriers that only lift up if you put an identification card in the slot. I had no such card. However, having overcome all obstacles up to this point, we were determined not to be defeated by a mere barrier. The gap to the left of the barrier was quite wide. My car is only small. After a quick check to see whether anyone was watching, I drove up on the pavement, skirted round the barrier, sped up the drive, and finally deposited an unperturbable Pravina at the front door of the hotel!

Justice should have ensured me a quiet journey home. Not on your life! My troubles had only just started. Getting out of the hotel complex was nothing like as simple as getting in. Heaven knows why any hotel should try to prevent cars from coming in; or, come to that, why they should want to stop those that are in from getting out. But wherever I drove there was a wretched barrier that wouldn't lift up! Eventually, all other avenues having been explored, I decided that desperate measures were called for.

Praying that no-one was watching, I sped in the wrong direction down the now familiar 'In' driveway. As I once again mounted the pavement to skirt the barrier, I met another car head-on. The startled driver braked in surprise. Rushing past him with an apologetic smile, I made the junction . . . and the open road . . . and, finally, the motorway back to London!

Looking back over her holiday, I think Pravina will consider that her day with me was more memorable than she’d anticipated . . . and for totally unexpected reasons!