‘Goodbye flat. Well, ok…. hasta luego’. I will, after all, be back in a few weeks to sort out everything that I was unable to resolve in August. What was I thinking, trying to achieve anything this month, anyway? The agent from the Sociedad Publica de Alquiler (Govt rental agency) mailed me to apologise for the latest lack of response/interest in my pleas for a signing date. ‘Sorry, you know, it’s August…. Holidays….’ I close the heavy green door behind me and triple lock it.
‘Goodbye plants, goodbye patio, good- oh for God’s sake, just get on with it.’
I decide against taking a taxi to Atocha, where I plan to catch the new super-dooper bus link to the airport. By the time we man-handle my cases into the boot, the driver faffs around in random backstreets, asks a barrage of personal questions and subjects me to a racist or possibly lewd conversation, I could have walked there, so I do. As I reach the Reina Sofia the sun is searing, slanting down in great chunks of heat, sweat begins to pool in the small of the back, and I mutter like a mantra ‘I won’t be missing this, I won’t be missing this…’ On the way to the airport the bus passes a shop named ‘Soluciones Constructivas’. Yep, leaving certainly is that – a constructive solution. We rattle through an abandoned Madrid, only tourists and pick-pockets herding across the great concrete plains.
Once checked in at Barajas, Terminal 3 (which I still prefer to the architecturally superior Terminal 4), I go in search of something to eat. The first ‘café’ offers either slimy, pre-packaged crab and tuna sandwiches, or baguettes as sterile and serrated as a bread knife, filled with the ubiquitous ham, cheese, or ham and cheese. Oooh, or I could have one filled with tortilla, though it looks like something you’d prop a door open with. So I end up in the gloriously named ‘ARS’ café, mostly for the name, but also because it occupies a corner position in the airport, and allows you to overlook the planes, white-hot sunshine glittering off their fuselage, tiny Tonka trucks circling in and out under their wheels and across the tarmac, which is cryptically marked with arrows and dotted lines in different colours, the mysterious tracks and rat-runs of an airport. Here, I pay 11 euros 50 for an indifferent salad, a shrink-wrapped bread roll and a can of Aquarius.
Then there are just over 2 hours of being harangued at 30,000 feet by excitable Ryanair staff while you sit, frozen half-silly, fingers almost blue with hypothermia, presumably so you don’t nod off and miss one of their exciting offers. The Spanish steward subjects us to a 7 and a half-minute speech about scratchcards, with a nauseatingly chummy pitch,
‘Fijate, tu puedes llegar a Londres, el flamante propietario de un coche, o empezar las vacaciones un milionario, imaginate… tuvimos esta semana cuatro personas, si, cuatro personas que han ganado a bordo, puedes imaginar la ilusion de encontrarte el ganador, por solo sacar 2 euritos del bolsillo, nada mas, 2 euritos, que no es nada…’ ‘Listen, you could arrive in London the proud owner of a car, or you could start your holidays a millionaire, imagine that… we had four people last week, that’s right, four winners on board, can you imagine how exciting that would be to find you’re the winner, and all because you found 2 little euros in the bottom of your pocket, just 2 euros, that’s nothing….’ He sold just one scratchard, and nobody leapt out of their seat a winner. Life’s a bitch. Then, on a balmy summer’s evening we are flying over dark green treetops into Gatwick, awakening a deep, genetic pastoral memory- green, that’s what I wanted, what I needed: green, green fields and trees. The England of my ancestors, born and bred in cowmuck and barley fields, woodland and hilltops, hedgerows and riverbanks, hamlets and haystacks.
My phone starts to buzz with concerned texts before I am even out of Arrivals,
‘Nice of you to come back just as we are descending into revolution…’ ‘Welcome back to riotous Ingerland….’ And from friends in Madrid ‘What the Hell is going on over there? Have you arrived all right?’ As I wheel my case past Customs and into the hall I pass a last-minute shopping opportunity, alcohol and perfumes piled beneath a sign claiming ‘You can beat the high street if you shop at Arrivals.’ Which seems a little ironic, given the looting. I square my shoulders and smile, with a mini-rush of euphoria as I step out into the Arrivals hall, ready to meet an old friend who is expecting me. Is it my old self or is it my own country that is waiting for me out there?