Magazine article The Spectator

Key to Survival

Magazine article The Spectator

Key to Survival

Article excerpt

Where we were, my mother and 1, waiting on the tarmac while technicians lamely studied some equipment in the cockpit. The plane had left Mauritius 13 hours before. We should have been over Surrey. Instead, a bird had flown into the engine and the pilot had been forced to stop in Brussels. Yup, my airport curse had struck again.

No one seemed to know what was happening. They just knew things were tough. The bird, which was evidently bionic, had destroyed three steel shafts in the engine. We couldn't take off again until the shafts were repaired. Never mind. We were no longer in Mauritius but in good old bustling Brussels, the heart of Europe as it calls itself, the acme of efficiency, the beacon of the future, etc.

Imagine our surprise when it was announced that the engine could not be repaired after all. Although it was a simple enough exercise the Brussels technicians didn't feel like working any more that day. We were all to spend the night at the airport. Hopefully the local Sheraton would be prepared to put us up.

We were told to leave the plane and collect our luggage from Arrivals. We waited for an hour. Everywhere were signs proclaiming Brussels the most competently run metropolis in Europe. Finally we serried cranks were hustled over the road to the Brussels Sheraton.

Sheratons everywhere are about as alluring as a flooded pissoir but this one was a hotel to hang oneself in. Visibly shaking with cold we were taken up to what was called a luxury room. It might have served as such in the tropics for the air-conditioning was blowing freezing blasts into the room. It will soon warm up, promised the man. He didn't look hopeful. I needed a drink, badly, like one of those characters out of Raymond Chandler. Only the minibar was locked and there was no key.

'Where's the key to the mini-bar? I demanded of reception with a growl. 'You can't have it.' 'Why not?' 'Because you haven't paid for it.' 'Of course I haven't. I haven't had it yet.' 'If you want anything from the mini-bar you must come downstairs and pay for all its contents in advance.'

All its contents? I was only staying for one night. How could I possibly consume four bottles of beer, three cans of Coke, two Oranginas, three bottles of Evian, eight mini-spirit bottles, three sodas, two cartons of orange juice, three bottles of wine and one bottle of champagne?

'You might.'

Could we just have a teensy bottle of water, then? The man was all sweetness and spite. He said he would have to receive special authorisation from reception. …

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