IT’S great to be back home - hardly surprising, when you live in a place like Yorkshire.
Much as we love Cape Cod and however much it’s become a home-from-home over the years, real home is undoubtedly where the heart is. And for me, that’s God’s own county - even if I did have the brass neck to be born on the other side of the Pennines...
It was on the other side of the Pennines that we re-entered the UK after our travels. And, it has to be said, talk about the dark side, for arriving at Manchester Airport doesn’t really cut it if you want to create a good impression of the old home country.
Getting off an aeroplane and stepping on to the impersonal jetway tunnel is pretty much the same anywhere, the only clue being that if it’s hot and stuffy you must be in warmer climes. But stepping off the jetway into Terminal 1 at Manchester doesn’t exactly fill you with feel-good anticipation. Along a window-lined corridor you go, departure gates on the other side, with the airline agents’ desks showing the debris from a multitude of departed flights – over-flowing paper bins, the dregs of takeaway drinks under the counters.
Then it’s down three flights of steps, along an anonymous corridor, then up another three flights – just what you want with your carry-on luggage, a kid in a buggy and a crabby toddler in tow. Then it’s along a wider, seemingly endless corridor adorned with a pale puce-coloured patterned carpet of the type you used to see in backstreet discount warehouses cobbled together out of redundant churches.
On the walls are banner posters thanking you for choosing Manchester ‘because we know you have a choice,’ when in fact the reason you chose Manchester in the first place was little to do with the airport and much more to do with finding the cheapest available flights in a climate where the airlines are busy whacking up the prices but not increasing the number of seats available. Clearly their recession is over as they’re now out to fleece as much money as they can out of air passengers.
Then once you reach the immigration desks – now rather grandiosely called the UK border - you run the gauntlet of surly border force staff in their authoritarian dark navy shirts and black ties, whose faces are as severe as the uniforms beneath them. No smiles or welcome home greetings await British nationals as they return to the home country, just a flick of their eyes as they go through the motions of matching your face to the picture in your passport which let’s face it, more often than not looks nothing at all like the person before them.
I used to think the immigration staff that ‘welcomed’ you into the US had undergone personality bypasses, so surly were they in the years after 9/11, but their UK counterparts take some beating these days.
And so it’s on to baggage claim, where luggage is thrown on to the belts any old how, many of them falling off and having to be heaved back on by increasingly frustrated passengers. Then once you’ve got your bags – it took more than an hour for baggage handlers to deign to do their job and get their act together when we had the misfortune to pass through - you heave them on to luggage trolleys that cost a non-returnable quid a time to use, which is a bit rich when you’ve just left a country where trolleys are provided free of charge and staff are available to help you load them.
You then trundle through the customs channel watched balefully by customs officers as you negotiate narrow doorways that have been designed by someone who clearly hasn’t a clue about the size of your average case, before being assaulted by cheap and nasty last-chance saloon duty free goods that look as though they were last on display on some dodgy Del Boy market stall in the backstreets of Salford.
From there, it’s out into the arrivals hall, where you can’t even see the exit, never mind get through it because of the poorly designed space available to do all that meeting and greeting. And when you do get outside into the Mancunian air you’re assaulted by a fog of l’eau de fag smoke and a carpet of tab ends, forced to run the gauntlet of the tracky bottoms brigade as a reception committee.
Welcome to Britain. But at least it wasn’t raining.