Sometimes it's hard being an international jet setting ASL player.
The 6am flight from Heathrow to Zurich posed some logistical challenges: Firstly there was the fact that I was arranging everything - something I'm not that used to, and frankly, not that good at. Secondly it was the early flight. Very early.
Heathrow is an hour away from me, and proud in the knowledge that I've never missed a flight yet, I knew no matter what happened, I'd make it on time!
With an alarm set for 2:30 and a second set for 2:45 it meant that I'd have no problem catching that plane! Like clockwork the Swiss themselves would be proud of, I awoke 2:30 in time to see the alarm go off, switched if off smugly, then promptly fell back into a deep sleep. 2:45 arrived and this time I remembered that it really was time to get up.
Showered, packed (yeah - I know I should have done this earlier) and heading off I felt unstoppable! My organisational skills would be undoubtable from this point on.
An hour later I was pulling into Terminal 1 at Heathrow suddenly aware that I hadn't seen any signs for 'Purple Parking' the long stay car-park that the holiday booking thing had booked for me. I figured it would simply be a case of following signs to the long-term parking and that would be it. Oh no. That would have been far too easy...
When I arrived at the long-stay parking it didn't look very purple, and gave me the distinct impression that the £20/night wouldn't be covered in my itinerary. Not to worry - it was only 4am, 2 full hours before the plane was leaving - I had time to find the real Purple Parking.
I drove around for a bit, saw a sign for the magical, mystical Purple Parking but couldn't see any way in. I drove some more and ended up in another car park, so I asked the man behind the button in the machines (that I only thought were used when the barrier had trapped the car inside the carpark). He scoffed a reply about being in the wrong place and directed me left, right - 3rd right and then left to the lights and on my right - or something like that. I didn't even know if he actually knew where I was or even which way I was facing, so I was a little perturbed at his laxidasical response.
Little did he know I had the star of my world - a mobile phone complete with the internet. A quick search for Purple Parking, Heathrow gave me the mystical post-code and I was on my way. Albeit a little longer way than I'd expected - it was 6 miles away and a 14 minute drive. No wonder the barrier phone man sounded so unconvincing in his directions…
At 4:25 I made it to the back waters of Heathrow- in an area that resembled downtown Mexico rather than our wonderful Olympic city. No matter - with time to spare I rolled into the car park, and with efficiency I'd only come to expect from anywhere other than the UK, the carpark attendant greeted me with a sarcastic sounding "Mr Ramsey?" - both impressed and concerned at his tone, I nodded.
"Yeah mate, good news is you're at the right company car park - bad news is it's not this one. You're booked into the Heathrow one." Sigh. Really. So - then he gave me my dilemma: "You can give me some time and I can book you into this one, or you can drive to the Heathrow one, and you can get your bus from there. It's quicker from there, but you've got to get there yourself" (obviously!)
Urg - with time ticking away I foolishly trusted myself to get me out of the mess I was minute by minute getting myself into. I would drive to Heathrow (again) with the help of his (new) postcode he gave.
So, back I went - time ticking ever onwards…. Only, at the exact point of the postcode there was a different car parking company. Parking Express. So, of course, like the idiot I am, I pull in, take a ticket - go through the barriers, and then decide it's probably worth checking I'm at the right place.
By now, you're probably ahead of me. You're right. I'm in Parking Express - very unlikely to be Purple Parking. But do you think it deserves the disdainful look that the next bus driver I asked where I was? Probably it did.
So, at this point even finding the exit in these car parks was a frustrating exercise. All the while annoying myself that it was now nearly 5am, I'd in all likelihood have to pay to get out of this car park and stuck behind other drivers who felt like at 5am they had all the time in the world to catch their probable 10am flight to no-where-specialville…
Eventually I find the real Purple Parking, tucked behind a Premier Inn and wait for the bus to take us slloooooowly to terminal 3, then finally allowing me the chance to get to Terminal 1 with no time left.
5:31am I reach the check-in desk at Swiss Air. It's deserted - no queues, no cases, just bored looking check-in clerks. Not a good sign. There could have been some tumbleweed rolling across the area - I didn't have time to look hard enough. I needed help - I need humanity to show a kind face to me. This is the moment that Darwin tells us that we must rise up to the challenge! Here was my destiny. Here was my challenge!
Do I pick the camp looking guy or the chewing-a-wasp faced battle-axe of a woman? The guy looks kinder but he's further away? No one said it would be easy.
I risk the angry lady and opt for the sympathy card.
"Hi - I'm so sorry I'm late, have I missed my flight to Zurich?"
"Oh - no, really -I'm desperate to get out there, I've really been messed around by some incompetence today!" (technically my own, but no need for details at this point)
"No. Unless you've already checked-in."
"Ah - no, that's what I was trying to do here"
At this point, she actually sniggered.
She asks for my details and here I learn another valuable lesson: Don't store your foreign currency inside your passport. She looked at it as if it were a bribe and passed it back to me almost smiling at her camera as if to say that she wasn't going to get persuaded like that.
She sighs again - picks up the phone and dials deliberately slowly... and this is how it went (word for word - her side only):
"Hi, got one here that wants on for the Zurich flight -
… uh hu
… Really? [the incredulity in her voice was as audible as it was croaky]
… He's got baggage to put on.
… Are you sure? [snidey look at me]
… Really, at this time?
… but at this time?
… sigh. Ok - I suppose so"
Now - I'm no genius - but I don't think she wanted me on that flight.
"You'd best run, it's the gate furthest from here" were her parting words to me, in what proved to be the understatement of my day so far.
Running though Heathrow I had "Chariots of Fire" playing in my mind. It's a long song, so I had to put it on repeat. Gate 33 is closer to Gatwick airport that Heathrow.
I finally made it. 5:52!
I thanked the staff for allowing me on - "No worries" the lady said "I'm still looking for another 31 passengers!"
I wanted to tell her they were probably still hunting for Purple Parking, but decided to relax for the first time in the morning and waited for the flight to board.