So the airports are open again and the freedom of the skies beckons. For some time we’ve been booked to fly to Sweden tomorrow but after days of monitoring the news channels, the weather, the predictions of experts and the ranting of Sky interviewees I’ve just about had it. I’ve lost the will to travel and don’t have the stamina to spend what might be six or seven hours with easyJet’s handling agents or the hoi polloi at Stansted Airport. It’s a depressing experience at the best of times and the security staff there is about as surly as you can get without appearing on Britain’s Toughest Gangs. After several days of will we/won’t we be able to get away we’d more or less accepted that tomorrow would be the day when we saw the beginning of the end of the crisis. Then last evening the news from Iceland grew graver; Eyjafjallajökull was sending out another ash cloud and it was heading our way. That meant that our flight would certainly be cancelled, that we’d get money refunded or be rebooked and we’d get to spend a few more days here. Packing was put off, insurers spoken to.
Now this evening it’s all change. We can fly. The ash cloud – no worse than yesterday – is suddenly safe to fly through. So our flight that wasn’t quite cancelled is operating again but we’re not quite sure when. Coaches are shipping stranded compatriots from Madrid to the Channel coast and hitherto angry middle-Englanders are being philosophical about being better safe than sorry. People are arriving back to hugs and tearful greetings with loved-ones after being trapped in Mallorca [yes, Mallorca] and the live coverage of the first flights to arrive at Heathrow for six days is being replayed on the news. The crisis is over and we move smoothly on to the post-match analysis and, of course, the recriminations.
We’re told this evening that the danger has diminished although it looks to me as if the danger was redefined. Gordon Brown was happy being filmed telling potential voters this morning that a hundred coaches were in Madrid ready to ship our people back. This evening he seemed a little more camera-shy about explaining the vacillation in Downing Street; it was left to a hapless Lord Adonis to take the heat. It seems that the danger posed by the airborne ash is its density in parts per million and only today our National Air Traffic Services [NATS] has been informed that the density is, well, not dense enough to worry about. A lot of people said as much last week, when I was out trying to photograph the ‘spectacular’ sunset that never happened.
Nothing quite focuses us Brits as a crisis. And nothing defines a leader better than the way he [or she – remember Margaret Thatcher?] responds to it. Gordon Brown is probably not the chap you want in the big chair when invaders from Mars demand to be taken to our leader. But then again, who is? After sitting through the leaders’ debate last week and seeing the paucity of statesmanship on offer I am at a complete loss.
I’ve tried to find out if we’ve consumed more cups of tea over the past few days – you know, to get us through the crisis – but there seems to be a conspiracy to keep that information confidential. I bet that’s what kept Gordon’s mind off the ash cloud density.