I am flying EasyJet, the European low cost carrier, from Gatwick Airport; an efficient if not particularly desirable experience. I settle into seat 1C by the front door. On my left sits a slim, once attractive woman of a certain age. She is expensively dressed, with flawless makeup. Her face is suspiciously free of wrinkles. She has surgically enhanced lips that look like she’s been punched in the face. Her eyes are stretched in a look of frozen, permanent surprise.
She smiles at me and we make small talk. She complains that she is not “used to flying like this,” since she usually travels only first class on British Airways. Her assistant has screwed up. She berates the slightly frightened looking pair of young stewardesses about the lack of first class amenities. I am beginning to dislike her. She asks me who I usually fly with. I tell her that I rarely fly commercial. She goes quiet.
I pick up my book and start reading. I feel a tap on the shoulder – my fellow passenger smiles and offers me some overpriced nuts she’s bought from the trolley. I demur, but she takes “no, thank you” as an invitation to continue the conversation. “Where do you live?” she asks. When I tell her she says, “why we are practically neighbours! I live in Winston Churchill’s house.” Oh dear. I ask her whether she knew Winston personally. That shut her up for awhile.
She could be the protagonist in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine; a wealthy divorcee who’s running out of both her money and her marbles. She still has the Chanel wardrobe and the Louis Vuitton luggage, but struggles to maintain her lifestyle. I try to feel sorry for her, but give up, plug in my earphones and close my eyes.
Tap, tap. I open my eyes. “Do you mind if I put my feet on the empty seat between us?” she asks. I shrug. She gracefully swivels around and puts her bare feet on the seat. She smiles and says, “I’m still very flexible. I used to be an Olympic gymnast, you know.” I close my eyes. Again.
A few minutes later her feet are in my lap. I squeeze my eyes tightly shut and think of England. At our destination she insists on exchanging contact details, but not before she has dumped the contents of her handbag in my lap and rummaged through it to find her business card. She then leaves me with her luggage and sets off to find her driver. She finally gets on her way. I promise myself never to fly EasyJet again.
A few weeks later, I share my EasyJet story with Parippu; my Indian artist friend. We are eating at Baltic, an Eastern European restaurant near Waterloo station in London. Baltic has been around for some years and is consistently good.
Our soup is a thin almost transparent borscht, rich in beetroot flavours with just a hint of cream adding a touch of decadence. Our Bigos is a thick Polish stick-to-your-ribs hunter’s stew; the kind of cuisine that sustained the Balkans though years of Communist oppression. Baltic has a wonderful selection of hard to find vodkas from across Eastern Europe. Our bartender recommends the Polish Luksusowa potato vodka in my martini. The resulting cocktail tastes like liquid silk and disappears dangerously quickly.
Parippu suggests we Google my Easyjet traveller friend. She’s easy to find – she warrants her own Wikipedia entry. She was married to one of Germany’s top industrialists. She does live in Winston Churchill’s house. She was indeed an Olympic gymnast. She is a major patron of the arts. Oh, and she failed to mention that she was born a Georgian princess.
Damn, now what did I do with her business card…