Sunday, 3 August 2008

The Second Gambian Experience (A Prologue).

Well, here we are again, back from The Gambia with a second set of adventures, a rotten cold and a severe case of what the locals call ‘Banjul Belly’ and believe me, you really don’t want to know what that does to you but I can tell you this…
It ain’t nice.
But before we go flying off to warmer (and much wetter) climes here are two public service announcement concerning Gatwick Airport.

I arrived at 3.00am. Not my favourite time of day but then I had to get my car into one of the carparks and the directions weren't brilliant by any means but I found it eventually and took their courtesy coach to the airport.
At that time in the morning there's not a lot of activity on the check in desks so I just kept looking at the Monarch one and finally, at about 5.00am a young lady sits down and starts taking off her jacket so immediately I move into position and ask when I can check my luggage ?
About 6.00am, the young lady says in what sounds like a charming French accent.
So I asked her if there was any chance she could just weigh me now so I know how much I have to jettison before I fly, bearing in mind what the queues are going to be like later ?
Certainly, she said. Just put the big one on and... 'Oh no... That's perfectly alright, and now the hand luggage ?
That's a little over. Take out a couple of kilo's and switch them to the big case and you'll be perfect...'
I dump the small one into the hand baggage basket to check for size and she grins as it drops straight down...
Thanks very much says I, immediately moving out of the way to leave her in peace while I make the necessary luggage adjustments.
An hour later I'm back at her desk.
Any chance yet ?
Apparently my flight is delayed by 30 mins and so no, not yet, but if I just hang on a mo' she will make a telephone call...
Ok, no problem, she'll take them now.
Brilliant !
I can actually go to the loo without trying to manoevre a 20kilo suitcase in with me.

Now try this...

You know what ?
I’ve discovered why you get those signs everywhere.
You know the ones… Those things that say you cannot argue and cannot be rude to the staff even though they’re talking complete bollocks and lying through their teeth because otherwise they won’t let you do what you’ve paid for, waited for, queued for, argued for and all the rest, and that if you do, they can have you arrested and charged...
You’ve only got to hang out at Gatwick Airport for any length of time to work out the reason.
It’s ‘cause some of the people they and the airlines employ are so fucking crap at their jobs that they have to tell you lies to justify their complete and utter shiteness at doing the job in the first place.
I had to spend five and a half hours there from 3.00am in the morning to 8.30am and you would not believe the arguments I overheard, all of which sounded perfectly reasonable to me, between members of the public who only want to travel, and airport and airline staff who seem to have been taught a method of deliberately making your flight an absolute misery.
Consider this for a moment…
A guy is arguing loudly with a Chinese looking bloke in an airline uniform whose command of the English language is about as good as it gets when one has caught the boat train from Beijing…
Anyway, this ‘argumentative’ bloke has booked his flight online through the net and he has it all written down on three or four sheets of paper that he’s printed off and which basically says that yes, he has booked a seat with extra leg room for his wife who wears a neckbrace and who cannot sit properly and all this has been confirmed and what is more, he has got it all written down and printed off in writing.
Ol’ Chino’ on the other hand is telling the guy that the seat with all the extra leg room has been taken by another passenger this morning and that this particular airline don’t use 747’s anymore (which they did when the booking was made) and so therefore the guy’s wife is totally bolloxed because there is only one seat suitable and someone else has been given it and it cannot now be changed.
‘Course, matey boy with the wife with a bad back is beginning to swear a bit now because this supercilious, condescending and patronising twat, whose English is about as good as my totally non-existent Chinese is getting really pissed off with being called a fucking useless twat, which I might point out, he undoubtedly is.
I mean, face it… The guy has been hired as a flak-catcher, and he’s crap at it.
He couldn’t even catch a cold.
After all, it’s not the passenger’s fault that the company have changed the bloody aeroplane after he’s booked the flight, paid the excess charge for his wife’s comfort, got his letters confirming it all, and all done in good faith but in the last two months since the booking was taken the company have changed the aeroplane and now want to weasel out of any and all contracts and agreements because they managed to overlook his booking and what is more, he’s got all the paperwork to prove it.
So was it really necessary to call security to have the bloke and his disabled wife carted off into the ubiquitous little room where they will probably be warned if not charged for his so called abusive behaviour which was actually not abusive but truthful ?
Even calling a fucking useless little twat, a fucking useless little twat is not abusive if there can be shown any honesty in the comment and Christ almighty… You’d have had a difficult job proving that there wasn’t in this case.
Hey Guys… If you employ competent staff who can actually speak and understand English as opposed to these fuckin’ useless morons who don’t and who weasel out of any and all responsibility for doing their jobs properly, then take it from me this shit doesn’t happen. But if you are going to employ useless fuckwits who cannot even understand the language of the country that they are actually supposed to be working in, then no amount of signs on walls and no amount of warnings, arrests or anything else for that matter is going to make one fucking iota’s difference to the problem and make the travelling public less abusive.

Face it. When your service is that shite you deserve problems (actually you deserve to go bust and the sooner the better).
and whilst I understand the need for security you just make problems for yourselves.
Was it really necessary for me to take my boots off three times to go through the scanners and metal detectors ?
Surely once is enough ?
Twice possibly if the staff get the ribbon in the wrong place for the queues (It happened to me) but three fucking times ?
And as for their ludicrous twenty kilo baggage allowance ?
You’ve had long enough to sort it out.
Everybody else has, so why not Gatwick ?
So there you have it.
The complete contrast between the way I was treated on the Monarch desk and the way this other guy and his wife were treated on a different flight, and I overheard about four more 'horrors' while I was waiting for my flight to be called.
To be honest I hope the lass on the Monarch desk was in the majority but I do seriously have my doubts.
I could tell you the other four problems also but what would be the point apart from to highlight a problem that we already know exists ?
Those signs go up because service is either crap or non-existent, and that's a fact.
It's what the useless hide behind.

So... twenty minutes late we fly out of Gatwick and I'm off to The Gambia again.
Six hour flights take six hours and that time does not go quickly but at least I've got an aisle seat so I can move my legs occaisionally.
I've done the duty free so there's a bottle of brandy for Haddy and a bottle of Jamesons for me plus a ten pack of Amber Leaf tobacco which I know is going to be eaten up as presents to some of the locals but what the hell ! They were all so nice to me last time I was there so I don't really mind in the least.
Aeroplane food is an aquired taste and I'm not the greatest fan but it's hot and the coffee is reasonable so I just settle down with my poetry book that I'm finally going to get to review now that Rhythms Of The World is over and done with.
Actually I'm lucky in that the book holds my attention and I'm still reading and re-reading bits when the 'fasten your seatbelts' sign comes up as we are about to land.
Christ ! Look at all that water...
Haddy told me it had been raining there (We're slap bang in the middle of their rainy season) but I wasn't prepared for that.
This is The Gambia in Africa for God's sake.
It's one of the fallacies that people in the west don't cotton onto that some African countries do get quite a lot of rainfall and The Gambia is one of them.
All we tend to see are pictures of starving kids from the Sub-Saharan regions, but that ain't Africa, that's just part of Africa.
It is definitely a continent of extremes.
But we're down and awaiting the coach from the plane to the terminal which is maybe 75 metres away, and then we're through immigration and awaiting luggage retrieval.
An official looking bloke taps me on the shoulder and tells me that there is a beautiful young lady waiting for me and I have to admit I looked but could see nobody even resembling his description.
At last my case appears and I walk through into the heat of the Gambian afternoon and there she is... and 'Tufa, bless him, my Chelsea mad driver from the last trip.
It feels strange... It's like coming home.

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