My night at the Jury’s Inn Hotel near Heathrow Airport wasn’t really what I’d class as part of a lovely sunny holiday experience but it was a night away from home in a bed that wasn’t my own so I thought it probably deserved a mention in the old Terrific Travel Tales malarkey.
The whole area that surrounded this soulless concrete block of a hotel compromised of busy roads, warehouses, wasteland and many more soulless concrete blocks of hotels about a mile apart from each other. However, it served its purpose by providing me with somewhere to lay my weary head for the night before an early morning flight.
So, with nothing to do outside of the hotel except inhaling carbon monoxide fumes and running the risk of getting mugged, I endured self-imposed confinement to my room. As there was nothing worth watching on the telly and as I had refused to pay the tenner it would have cost me had I agreed to hook up to the Jury’s Inn Wi-Fi service, I relied upon the kettle as the only electrical gadget available that I could gain amusement from. I sat for half an hour drinking my own body weight in almost impossible to open sachets of instant coffee as I watched plane after plane after plane approach in leisurely succession and evenly spaced apart like a slow motion Red Arrows formation flying team, and land on a runway about twenty metres from my window. So close were they that I could just about hear the sound of the captain of each aircraft welcoming his passengers to London and asking them not to turn on their mobile phones until they were in the terminal building and the sound of his passengers turning on their mobile phones.
The real highlight of my evening in our capital city was the bus ride from the National Express coach station at Heathrow’s Terminal 1 to the hotel. Having carried out extensive research into every aspect of my trip to explore the Volcanoes of Sicily, I had expected to pay £4.50 for the fifteen minutes of luxury travel aboard a number 285 eventually bound for Kingston (in Surrey sadly, not Jamaica). I also felt confident that my grasp of foreign tongues, although basic, was sufficient for me to be able to deal with any eventuality whilst roving away from home. However, it turned out that due to a quite precipitous language barrier, my public transport experience cost me absolutely nothing.
Bearing a five pound note and a cheery smile, as I boarded the bus I asked the driver for a ticket to a stop somewhere in the vicinity of my hotel. The driver, it seemed, didn’t understand a word of English and also, it seemed, didn’t really need to as all the other people who got on with me and after me just scanned their London Transport Lobster Cards and their financial transactions were completed without uttering a sound. You won’t believe this but even the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ didn’t seem to be necessary on London buses. I tried to force my fiver onto the poor little monolingual Asian chap at the helm but he wouldn’t have it. I even tried to tuck it into one of the folds of his turban but he was having none of that either and gestured for me to go and sit down at the back of the bus and shut my fat English gob.
My fare had been waived on the grounds of language difficulties in my own country. When I travel abroad I am always amazed that almost everyone in every country is able to speak at least a little English. Tonight, right there slap bang in the middle of the English speaking world, was a man who spoke no English at all. How had he managed that? What did he do when he wanted to put a note out for the milkman or tell cold callers on the phone to sod off because he had never had Payment Protection Insurance? I considered suggesting to him that he take a holiday in Buenos Aires or Ashgabat and possibly pick up a few English phrases from the locals during his stay. I also considered the possibility that, with my lack of knowledge of Latin American Spanish or Turkmen, I could get a job as a bus driver in Buenos Aires or Ashgabat through the same employment agency as my driver tonight had done.
What was most important though was that I had left home. No matter how often I go away, no matter how long or short the journey, and no matter how long I’m away for, I get just as excited every time. My previous experience of Italy was negligible and my previous experience of active volcanoes was non-existent so this was going to be a special trip. Tonight the blood ran through my veins faster than the waters of the Himalayan rivers that feed the Ganges. Having bathed in the Ganges and having seen the vein throbbing in the middle of my stressed out forehead, the driver of the 285 bus was able to make the comparison and confirm this.
Dhruv the driver of the 285 to Hatton Cross.