It was all so painless. The car journey to Luton railway station was traffic-free, the train to Gatwick was on time, clean and mercifully empty, the transit to the North terminal was immediate, the check-in desk was clear, an extra machine opened up as I approached X-ray and I sailed straight through it. I had time to eat a roast pork dinner (with crackling) in a giant Yorkshire pudding, pick up copies of both The Spectator and The New Statesman and was relaxed enough to not even need my ritualistic Bloody Mary before I got on the aircraft, which was on time. During the flight I enjoyed a small bottle of red wine, a chicken curry, “Inception” (I now understand why every time someone mentions it, someone else will say “It’s all just levels” and snigger to themselves), another glass of red, a roast beef and horseradish mayo sandwich, “Toy Story 3” (I cried at the end – proper tears and no small amount of sobbing – must have weirded out the couple next to me), a consoling cuppa and a smooth landing. It had quite literally flown by. We were even early (about 7pm) which had me thinking I would be at the hotel by half past.
Wrong. So very, very wrong.
They only get about five flights per day into Bermuda’s international airport and this gives their passport control, baggage handling and customs officials plenty of time to kill. They do this by pulling (seemingly) every other passenger to one side and checking their passports, hand luggage, hold baggage, shoe size, temperature, inside leg and wallet. They ask unnecessary questions for no-one possibly other than themselves, enjoy a cup of tea with you, read the leaves, tell you your future, do a 500 piece jigsaw of the sea with you (The trick’s to get the corners first and to belay the temptation to exclaim “But all the pieces are blue!”) go through the first term of GCSE combined science with you and generally do everything but let you into their bloody country. The confusion for me was the customs card I had filled in. I hadn’t declared the tobacco I had bought at duty free in the UK before I left and when the (particularly officious) officer asked if I had any I told him. He made me write it on the card, in kilograms. Well I had bought five 50g pouches, thus a total of 250g or a quarter of a kilogram. Thus, I printed “1/4” in the correct space. He then asked me if I was travelling alone. I replied to the affirmative but then (needlessly) went on to explain that I was meeting my American friend on the island and my vacation was very straightforward but this led him to directly lob me in to the queue of people waiting to be searched. My heart dropped. I’d already been faffing about for an hour and now THIS? As much as anything else, I knew damn well I was well within my entitlements but had managed to suggest to the little Hitler that I was a particularly petty drugs trafficker. I watched the “woman in charge of screwing up packing” going through this guy’s stuff with a fine toothed comb and they were laughing and joking and just taking an age. When he finally got repacked and left I was ushered forward, scowling.
This was a masterstroke and I would recommend it to anybody planning to visit this beautiful island. Scowl at the officials. They’re not stopping you and going through all your private things to see if you are a criminal, oh no – they’re insanely bored and just want a chat. She looked at the card and said in a bizarre creole “What dis quarta?” (She had previously been talking normally) and I removed the tobacco from the bag myself. I said “it’s this, THIS!” and shook it at her. I explained that there were five 50g bags adding up to 250gs which made a quarter of a kilo. She replied “I don’t know dat’s a quarta”. I sighed and resigned myself to getting a full and intrusive examination, possibly with rubber gloves, but no – she just dismissed me and effectively told me to piss off. As I walked away she was still muttering to herself about “No quarta” until the next mug reached her and made the mistake of smiling at her. She said with a beautiful, syrupy Bermudian lilt “Hello sir! How are you this evening” and started unzipping his luggage. He was going to be there a while.
I, on the other hand, was already outside and being told off for smoking by the taxis. A cabbie got out of his car to tell me this. I think he just wanted someone to talk to but I was in no mood for an idle natter so moved down the line to where a giant ashtray was. Sated, I returned to the head of the line and got in the front cab. I told the driver my destination. He asked me how my flight had been. I said “Fine until I got here!” and then he told me off for not caring about guns and drug crime and didn’t I know that Bermuda had major problems with trafficking? We set off on the correct side of the road and I took great comfort in that. Bermuda is, after all, technically still a part of The Empire.
It also has major problems checking a guy into a room that already contains his mate who arrived several hours previously from Chicago (This was why I was in Bermuda. My friend had received a huge bonus at work and fancied a vacation, had no-one to go with as all her friends were working so asked me along for the ride. It was all paid for and was an all-inclusive resort so all I had to do was get there. I wouldn’t even need much spending money – perfect for a rather tight traveller who has already been abroad twice this year, after all).
The desk dollies ummed and ahhed about absolutely knack all and I said “Look – just call the room and she’ll explain everything”. They tried. The phone in the room was broken. I called her mobile and everything was eventually resolved. I collapsed on to my side of the (enormous) bed (“No funny stuff”) around 9.30pm. It was Tuesday night.
Mmm... Say it again... All inclusive.
“All inclusive” equates to “Paul is going to eat and drink like a gibbon for the duration of his stay”.
I had a quick wash, got changed and hit the bar. The next thing I knew it was Friday morning, The American was being sick in the bathroom and I was allegedly new best friends with our bartender, Dennis but was on shakier ground with a (rather corpulent, in fact massive) lawyer called Nick. As my head cleared I also remembered no small amount of sunbathing, Pina Coladas at mid day, a lot of TV watching and a huge amount of food in the ridiculously over-the-top “Hibiscus Lounge” which was the resort’s premier eaterie. Myself and The American had enjoyed nightly four-course meals with the correct wines before retiring to the bar to have this Dennis bloke stuff rum & cokes down our gizzards until either he wanted to go home or we were too drunk to walk uphill. We were always the last to leave. Always.
Entrance to the Hibiscus (I would, by the weekend, shorten it to simply “The Hib”) required relatively formal dress. To this end I had actually brought a pair of sensible shoes my dad had given me when I showed up to go to Nottingham Forest v Grimsby Town in a pair of chucks (As we were going to be in corporate hospitality). He had made a point of telling me they were expensive Italian shoes and had barely been worn. I felt tremendously uncomfortable in them and, being Italian, had re-christened them “Surrender shoes”...
...And where do surrender shoes get worn..?
This particular little joke-ette had led The American to tell me she would take my words off me and lock them in the cupboard if I didn’t stop messing about with them.
The daily regime of booze, food and glorious intransigence wasn’t broken until Saturday when the weather cracked and we decided to venture out of the encampment and get the bus to Hamilton, the island’s capital. I’ll deal with that (And the rest of the trip) in the next blog, as I think this one’s long enough. I'll leave you with a photo of me waiting for the bus to Hamilton - that way we're both waiting, aren't we?