Drenched in sweat and chest heaving, I made it to the platform around 30 seconds before the train arrived, on which was Helen. Yay! We journey to Vauxhall while getting a stream of photos of my newly clean flat from Wooj, who is as perturbed by Helen's requests for photos of the loo as I am.
Quick trip to Starbucks for sandwiches, we entered the Victoria line tube station with the tannoy telling us all public transport was fine except for minor delays on the Northern Line. By the time we reached Tottenham Hale, the whole capital appeared to be grinding to a halt. Each station announcement had been accompanied with a new failure: everything's fine, except rail is suspended from Walthamstow, and from Seven Sisters, and the PIccadilly line is totally broken, and the District line is falling apart, and, and, and, ...
Thankfully, the Stansted Express is unaffected. We waved our printed out tickets at a disinterested barrier-minder who let us through and onto the train already waiting on the platform, departing in just a couple of minutes. Got seats, paid £1.35 for a can of Diet Coke(!) and listened to a man talk to his wife on speakerphone about being on the train and so home soon.
No-one checked our tickets and there's no barriers to get out. Huh. The first advert in our face at the station was for Stella Artois and my oh god, Stansted, home of the dreaded low-cost carrier snobbish awfulness kicked in hard. This was not helped by the fact I'd read numerous tirades about just how appalling an airport Stansted is. Let's see, shall we.
The first notable thing is that the signage uses the largest font I've seen this side of the Hollywood hill sign. I mean, holy hell. No-one's going to get lost here. There are a few people about but it's not teeming, and there's no snaky queues at any desks or owt. Up at the end is security, which also doesn't look too busy and oh, on the left there's a fast track line. Let's go through there.
Not overly fast, is it. Decanting our stuff into trays, Helen is chastised for the size of her clear plastic toiletry bag. Like, you what? I have no such difficulties, until setting off the metal detector despite not being absent-minded: there's no metal on me at all. The bloke swabs my hands, waist, and shoes, and away I go. Bags come out and we walk past numerous examination rooms named after trees, and I am tickled by the one marked "Spruce [in use]".
One of the big warnings I'd had about Stansted was that it's a loooong walk before you actually reach somewhere you can sit down. Jesus, they're not wrong. You have to walk, and walk, and walk, past tons of shops arranged in a winding route, midway through which you're told you're still 15 minutes from any gates.
Eventually there's a bit where it opens up; there are some seats, and a Wetherspoons, and a Burger King, and so on. And there's a sign which says "Escape", which seems like an apt desire once you've reached this point. We head that direction, down a corridor decorated with pieces from the iOS game Noodles which I've been addicted to for the last few days.
Escape is, of course, a lounge. £25 to get in or £21 if you pre-book. Can it possibly be worth that money? No, it can't. Thankfully we don't have to fork out because entry comes for free with our flights. Come on, you didn't expect otherwise did you?
At the entrance desk the woman checks our boarding passes and our seat numbers and scribbles our names off a list and says we've got tables reserved but because they're not busy we don't have to sit there if we don't want to. Nonethless she escorts us to our reservations.
Wait. What? Reservations with our names on!? I've never heard of such a thing in a lounge before. We can only guess why this happens: presumably, being a pay lounge with capacity constraints (it's not very big) they have to ensure those who can get entry through virtue of their ticket are actually guaranteed that benefit. Something like that.
Anyway, here we are in a lounge. Let's get something to drink. I walk up to the bar and a surly woman tells me the prosecco and champagne costs money, so I ask for two Carlsberg. She angrily asks how many people are in my party, implying she wouldn't serve me two if they were both for me. This despite the fact the bottles are 275ml, so not even half a damn pint. Also, they are warm. This is an unedifying experience and matches that of Helen when she went up for a shit glass of wine later.
Huzzah! Yes, we need to use the monorail. There are only 3 other people on it. Where is everyone?
Seriously, where the fuck is everyone? We saw about 5 other people around here, and none of the other gates have any planes departing.
The giant font is also in use for the symbols. Trek through the shops aside, this is really not the horror story I'd expected. When will I learn not to trust the hyperbole I read about airports?
This is a trip with a purpose. We've each paid cash for these tickets, but heavily discounted with Avios during a sale back in June. When you pay with cash and contribute Avios, you earn back Avios and tier points (whereas when you pay with Avios and contribute cash, you do not). The tier points earned from this trip will gain Helen a shiny silver card like I've got. Hurrah!
Also, Club Europe means champagne. Actually, on this route, it means a printed menu. I am crazily impressed by this turn of events. A printed menu on short haul!
This is the chicken. It is nice, but very dry. The salad is bland, the best thing about it being the pomegranate dressing. The cake for dessert is a tasteless spongey vessel for the bland topping and OK sauce. The champagne is nice though.
And this is the fish. It is also bland. The potatoes are the best solid on this plate.