We were completely puffed as we continued heaving our suitcases along the train carriage – carry-on sized wheeled cases, absolutely stuffed to the brim, as only four girls travelling Europe alone could possibly fill them. It was only later that we realised we didn’t all need to bring hair straighteners, and that four packets of make up remover wipes was teetering close to ridiculousness.
The 10:28pm train pulled out of Lancaster station as heavily as our arms fell to our sides after our clumsy sprint down the platform stairs with our bags, to the train which was gearing up for departure. It was the first of many trips back and forth from sleepy Lancaster to the equally sleepy Manchester Airport…at that time of night, anyway. We arrived each time, a little more experienced, a touch less anxious, a hell of a lot closer to each other than this first time.
6am flight. The silence that resounds and clamps itself upon airport galleries in the hours leading up to dawn is crisp and clinical. Midnight and we find seats in a row and cuddle together for the air is almost as cold as if we were outside on this January night. By March, we realise that if we each take two seats in this startlingly empty airport, we can lay down and get a few hours of sleep.
2am. Thank god Spar doesn’t close. Taking it in turns to mind the bags – though really there isn’t any need, for everyone around us is snoring in dreamland – we each reinvest in our stash of chocolate and chips. Chocolate becomes our most treasured commodity, Spar our haven.
3:30am. We’ve given up trying to sleep – the cold metal arms of the chairs on which we lay prod our backs and disturb our slumber anytime we should move an inch. Someone notices the time and mumbles, “Hey, only half an hour to go!”
4am. We fumble with re-packing our bags and desperately chasing after passports that always seem to bury themselves under too many clothes. For some reason, no matter how often we fly, everyone becomes anxious as 4am hits, and our adrenalin and sleep-deprived minds panic as it always seems everyone else has their passports and liquids bags out before you, everyone is running off, everyone is chasing the routine of airport security after the lull that is a dead airport during the night.
6am. Ellie’s hair straightener had been re-run through the machine, along with her asthma medication; Robyn couldn’t find anything gluten free to eat before the flight; Maddie was wandering the airport from gate to gate; I watched the planes stretch their wings for their first flights of the morning, soaring and gliding with dim lights as the world came to life. And suddenly, we were there, watching Manchester Airport become a dot amongst a thousand other dots on the British mainland. Europe was close…