Doncaster, Sunday night, very late.
His thumbs were a blur of teenage texting and the girl leaning on the counter had a face caked in what looked like at least an inch or two of make up. It was an immature attempt to look natural and/or sexy but had exactly the opposite effect – she ended up looking like a sulky, latex, balloon faced caricature of the ugly teenage girl which she was.
They spoke in their own feral language which at times vaguely resembled English and were so utterly absorbed in texting, chatting and sneering at the world, in fact anything but their job, that they failed to spot the large, well dressed, but crumpled looking man waiting to be served.
His face was the picture of stress and he nervously kept glancing at his watch. He was the only customer and after standing there for a while it became clear they had very little interest in serving him.
A large fist banged on the counter and that got their attention. They sulkily put away their respective phones and looked in his direction.
‘Uhuh?’ this was all long way from the ‘good evening Sir, my name is Chaz, welcome to McDonalds, how can I help you?’ they learned in fast food school, day one.
‘I need chicken nuggets, 3 portions of chips, 2 quarter pounders and three diet cokes. Also can you be quick as I need to catch a train in 10mins?’
He had travelled for 7 hours by train to end up in this restaurant. 4 of these hours were spent stuck in a field with no power, no heating, no food, it was sub zero outside whilst the men charged with fixing the overhead lines which had come crashing down 30mins into the journey idly rubbed their respective chins and drank tea pondering the problem.
He had two children with him and had just spent the weekend desperately trying to recover the sense of fun which had been promised to them for months. The weekend was a write off and now the journey home was starting to become serious.
They eventually called up a reserve engine, one which doesn’t depend on overhead power, and were dragged up to the grimmest town in already very grim North.
At least Doncaster had a fast food option next to the station as they waited 10mins for their connection.
It was -10c outside, the kids were tired, hungry and their sense of adventure had disappeared a long time ago.
Suffice it to say balloon face had chosen the wrong time and wrong customer to play sulky teenager with.
2 days later, Lille Railway station, very early.
‘Noh!’ French Chaz replied through her nose, her lips didn’t move, a particularly annoying ability, unique to our Gallic neighbors which basically said fuck off, piss off, I am better than you – lazy English pig, all with a snort of the nose.
He just stood there staring back at the frog-bitch, Parley vous English had been his seemingly innocuous, albeit slightly pathetic, question.
It was 7.30am, he had been travelling for 2days trying to get home.
A HD, plasma, flat screen, Technicolor fantasy involving a machete and her skull was running through his head. Please just give me the fucking coffee.
He wearily held his hand out and she snatched the correct coins before eventually passing him the warm drink.
This was the final leg of a journey which started the moment he waved goodbye to the boys on the train. At least they are safe he thought as their train pulled away, little knowing they had just embarked on their own adventure.
He took the coffee and trudged towards the TGV, crowds of people rushed around, similar to himself, large trolley bags all sporting the same white tags. A three letter acronym which marked them – LHR.
Finding his reserved seat, he relaxed, sipped his coffee and idly watched as the train pulled out of a depressingly grey and frozen Lille main station. As he did so his mind pondered the weekend and the catalogue, the bumper Littlewoods Christmas edition, of problems they had faced.
The Friday night 8 hour marathon flight from Zurich to London, the last minute round trip Allan had to take, London to Glasgow and back with the boys. The ice-skating car park which should have been the M25, the cancelled football match and the unscheduled overnight in picturesque Reading. The cancelled US trip, the 12 hour marathon broken train journey they had to endure, the ferry, the snow, the cold and the ice.
It was a weekend to remember or forget but more than likely remember, the highlight being a trip to the cinema and after totting up the bill it could easily be the most expensive night at the movies ever.
I have talked about the fragility of our current lifestyles before and this pre-Christmas weekend only serves to reinforce my view. It only takes the slightest of complications and the world as we know it stops. A dusting of snow in certain places can ruin a whole holiday period, a decent dump of the white stuff can stop a city or two. An unpronounceable volcano can interrupt the whole of Europe.
The Chaz’s of this world don’t care and why should they? Most people do however and I sometimes wonder what would happen if other things we take so much for granted suddenly stopped working – or more specifically the things we have only recently started taking for granted – computers, the internet, low cost airlines, Skype, Nespresso, Simon Cowell.
What for example would happen if the internet was taken out by an e-snow storm and was down for, say, a month due to a global shortage of e-deicer?
It’s a frightening prospect isn’t it and I find myself thinking how could I protect against this? The problem with this type of thinking is my thoughts start shifting along the lines of a mid-west, nuclear bomb shelter dwelling paranoid eejit with a gun and 6months worth of supplies at the ready.
So that’s it and as I see it we have 3 options:
1. Pray it doesn’t happen again or at least not when I am travelling, am online or watching x-factor.
2. Buy a gun, go live in the mountains and shoot anyone who comes within a mile of my property.
3. Become Chaz and don’t give a shit.
Guess I should start caking on the make up now then but one thing is for sure – I guarantee I will do a better job than Chaz.