Monday, April 19, 2010

Under A Cloud

They’re piloting a new game show this week. It’s called ‘The Cloud’ and the idea is that you send half a million people to a foreign country of their own choosing and then deny them any possible chance of getting home. They have to use their initiative to beg, borrow or steal a passage back home to their loved ones. I’ve no idea if will make good television, but they’re certainly talking about nothing else here in the South of France.

Yes, I’m still here. There were around 10,000 television executives stuck down in Cannes on Thursday morning. I’ve no idea how many have made it back so far. I’ve made it as far as Toulouse (yes, I know Toulouse is actually further away than Cannes, but I thought going west would give me a better chance of escaping The Cloud, which is supposed to be the object of this gameshow).

I’m holed up (a rather apt phrase, I’m afraid) in an airport hotel. One of those boxy places you would only ever stay in when your flight gets cancelled. They do very good steak and chips in the bar. Unfortunately that’s all they do, and I’ve been here three nights already. I think I’ve begun to moo in my sleep.

Luckily I’ve kept my hire car. They’re like gold dust. Who knows where I may have to drive to in order to get home. One chap was quoted 600 Euros for hiring one to take him to Barcelona, which is only down the road. Barcelona and Madrid are spoken of with hushed reverence over breakfast. Like Switzerland must have sounded during the war.

There’s a motley collection of refugees in the hotel. An American couple is trying to fly home to North Carolina; a farmer is trying to get back to his fields in Norfolk; several primary school teachers begin a new term tomorrow; all the children are hoping they’ll never get back.

One businessman flew down for a lunch meeting. That was on Thursday. He’s supposed to be in Houston tomorrow. No amount of gold cards are going to get him there.

Several people work for the company that builds the Airbus. They have hundreds of brand new models, just a few hundred yards from this hotel. As we have a couple of pilots, several air hostesses, and an airplane maintenance engineer staying here with us, I suggested in the bar last night, only half in jest, that we might slip through the security fence and help ourselves to the new A380 which is sitting in the big aircraft hangar opposite. Then we could see what it’s like cruising at 5000 feet all the way across the Channel.

But now there’s news. Two English women, travelling with their young sons, have just come into the breakfast lounge announcing that Brittany Ferries have some space on tonight’s crossing from Cherbourg. A murmur of excitement immediately goes round the room; the Australian bursts into tears again. I’ve gone to my laptop (putting this article on hold) and checked Brittany’s French website as the British site is too overloaded. Sure enough, they can take me, and give me a “luxury” cabin, if I can make it to the coast by 11pm. I check the map. It’s ten hours non-stop: just about enough time.

I’ve never been on an overnight ferry before. Watch out Portsmouth: by the time you’re reading this I should be with you. Who knows, by tomorrow I may even be out of this wretched game show.

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