The recent controversy about long queues at airport passport control reminded me of a memorable moment in my bank of travel stories.
One Christmas I was part of a Natural Theatre corporate gig in the Virgin Islands. Believe it or not, it was a one night stand which we took on just for the craic. Just so we could say we’d done it! Needless to say, with only a few hours in the country, everything had to run like clockwork or it would be time to come home again.
We arrived on schedule, stepped out onto the red hot tarmac and prepared to sail through customs and head for the posh hotel where the event was taking place. We noted with glee the Christmas fairy lights in the palm trees and the fake snow incongruously decorating the arrivals area. But then disaster struck. The airport was tiny but the immigration queue was long, with just one rotund and smartly uniformed lady inspecting passports and checking luggage painfully slowly.
Unfortunately, the airline had mislaid most of the passengers’ baggage, including our flowerpot masks, an essential part of our impending performance. In the stifling heat, tempers rose, not helped by the fact that many of the complaining passengers were well-heeled and highly excitable guests from Rome heading for the same party.
We were flying back out in a few hours time so it was pretty urgent to get hold of our costumes, let alone our personal belongings. However we managed to retain a certain British sang-froid. Unlike our fellow passengers, who started shouting in Italian, gesticulating wildly, banging the desk and even lighting up cigarettes. It was a melee if ever I saw one!
But this was the Caribbean. Rather than fetching security, instigating a government enquiry or calling for a public services industry strike, the redoubtable lady in charge simply turned her sign round to ‘CLOSED’, stood up in her booth and proceeded to sing ‘Away in a manger, no crib for a bed’ in full Gospel voice, eyes staring heavenwards.
This certainly had a calming effect on the Italians, and I even saw one of them cross himself. And yes, we did eventually get our costumes in time, though one of my colleagues didn’t see his personal suitcase until it was time to go home!