It's late May! Those of you with good, observant memories might have realised in advance there was a likelihood of a foreign trip around now, what with Moscow, Mexico and Hannover in the last 3 years. Helen's birthday is this time of year and we've made a habit of buggering off each time. So here in 2018 we're armed with a bunch of miles and a two-for-one voucher and seeking sunshine, just as the UK's weather bucks its own ideas up after most of the first 5 months being bloody dreadful.
It started with a 5am alarm on a Sunday morning. Bleurgh. I actually woke up at about 3.45am and saw little point in going back to sleep. Childlike excitement due to the upcoming longhaul flight, my first since July (which feels like quite a long gap, for me).
Our preferred local cab firm rarely goes wrong and while we're attempting to say our goodbyes to the cat, an SMS tells me the car is just about to turn up, a couple of minutes early. The driver seems curiously begrudging, and only lifts my suitcase into the back of the car, not Helen's. Huh. The drive to Gatwick features no conversation other than confirmation of which terminal, and he has Magic radio playing loud power ballads - which he turns up even louder once we get on the M25.
Much to my surprise, it takes us exactly 30 minutes from door to kerb. I've always thought Gatwick is a much longer drive, and anyway this is the first time I've arrived here by means other than train in, like, ever? Vague memory of a 2am drive when I was a young kid and we went to Benidorm via Alicante, I dunno.
We'd have got the train today had there been any running early enough; instead, we step out of the car 3 minutes before the first train would have left Surbiton, and almost exactly 3 hours before the flight. The BA app had told me that we needed to have our passports checked for validity to visit our destination so to seek out a member of BA staff, so I lead us to the First class check-in desks where - gasp! - we have to bloody queue. Both of us acknowledge what massive wankers we are at being faux offended by this.
At the desk our passports are given the once over and everything is fine. The lady also tells us we could have just gone straight airside and had it done in the lounge. D'oh! Helen is seething at the wasted time as we ascend the stairs and go through "Premium Gatwick", the fast track that is branded and also allows you to pay a fiver. Surely if enough people pay then it won't be fast?
Anyway. We're through, after a bit of a rigmarole because both of us have our luggage picked for secondary inspection. Helen's bag of liquids has too many liquids in it and we might have to decant some into my case, while my spring-loaded selfie holster thing sets off alarms YET AGAIN. Next we go to Moneycorp and wield a voucher allowing us pre-order rates for walk-up currency, buying a frankly preposterous number of small denomination notes.
Finally, we're at the BA first class lounge. It has taken us longer to get here since getting out of the cab than the ride itself took. Much fail. Helen goes off to get some food while I take advantage of the vantage – this lounge has direct runway views.
She returns with coffee, a fry-up, and some apple juice. I bugger off for a shower, because I feel disgusting – the shower in our flat is currently broken and there was no time for 2 baths. OK, fine, I woke up at 0345 and plainly could've had a bath, but I didn't. The woman manning the desk at the shower bit asks me what I'm there for, which seems a little bizarre.
Anyway, the shower is spectacular, marred only by the lack of shower gel with only some handwash in its place. I feel properly energised and can now get on with a massive plate of fry-up for myself - excellent bacon and black pudding, no hash browns, lots of mushrooms, watery scrambled eggs. Oh, and I think I'll have a large glass of champagne if it's all the same to you.
It is not boarding. Fuck all is happening. What's more, there doesn't look to be barely half a plane's worth of people waiting to get on a 777. 10 minutes or so later they finally announce boarding, very clearly stating the "boarding by group" regime. We're in group 1 so wander forwards, hindered as we are by several people who have no idea what group they're in so are just going up anyway. No, it says 2, shoo out of the way.
Down the airbridge and we turn left, 'cos we is today travelling in that First class, don't you know. I'm in seat 1A, Helen behind me in 2A. BA's Gatwick fleet are typically a bit older and tattier than the Heathrow stuff but hey, First class is First class and numerous members of cabin crew come and introduce themselves. I sit in 2A's "buddy seat" while the rest of the plane boards and we have not one, not two, but three pre-departure glasses of champagne, helped a little by the 15 minute delay in boarding. Hurrah!
Menus and amenity kits are also distributed, but no pyjamas. Maybe they'll come later. The amenity kit bags are much better than the crap served up on previous BA flights, good job on the upgrade. Then come landing cards, where people are given a choice of country what with this flight stopping off somewhere en route to its final destination.
Not entirely without warning, the seatbelt signs come on and the plane starts to move. I leap up from the buddy seat shouting "I gotta go!" and ensconce myself back in 1A. Time to peruse the menu again, having forgotten its contents already.
I pop round to 2A and see how Helen is doing without nicotine, the answer being "fine until you just mentioned it". D'oh! She tries some 3-years out of date nicotine strip that dissolves on the tongue and has a crazy mad rush immediately. Oops. We whisper to one another, in that wanky "had a fair bit to drink and can find fault in anything" way that as nice as First Class always is, this is "all a bit Gatwick". We're such snobs.
I return to my seat, just as the crew dim all the blinds. Despite a daytime flight I think they just want people to sleep, and Helen actually wants to anyway. I don't, I want to watch Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri - so, y'know what, I do. At least, I try to, but I doze off and wake up some time later. Restarting the flim, I do exactly the same again, but decide not to bother restarting. The old system wouldn't tell me exactly how far through I was but it couldn't have been far as shitloads remained. Good film, that.
Next, The Disaster Artist, a dramatisation of the making of The Room, Tommy WIseau's worst-film-ever cult classic that I've never seen but have had thouands of emails from the Prince Charles Cinema about showings. Disaster Artist is excellent.
Eventually, after, like 4+ hours with no sign of any cabin crew (and none around in the galley when I popped to the loo) I'm asked if I want anything. Yeah, I'll have a beer please. WE'VE ONLY GOT AMSTEL. OK, that's fine.
Amstel Light is not fine at all, however. Besides how the fuck do you run out of all the other beers? First class is almost full but apart from the 3 champagnes before we left drinks service on here has actually been pretty poor. When Helen wakes up I go sit in the buddy seat again and we whisper conspiratorially about how "a bit Gatwick" things have continued to be, especially that bloody Amstel Light. I mean seriously!
Having seen mention of it in the magazine but not being aware of a particularly wide roll out, at one point I turn on phone wifi just in case and, oh! There's wifi on this plane! No vouchers for First class passengers to use it for free though, and holy crap it's expensive. Yeah, think I'll leave that if it's all the same to you.
Blinds come up and orders are taken for "afternoon tea", which we will take buddy style. It's a selection of "finger sandwiches" plus some Mr Kipling stuff a couple of scones. Armed with a teapot we're asked if we want tea or coffee - I'm like, can I get some champagne? No, we've run out. Er, OK. Again, what the fuck? Gin and tonic then, thanks.