There was a feeling of being at a French provincial airport, which was odd because I have visited no more than a handful of the airports dotted around France.
Perhaps the feeling arose from the balmy sense of the April evening. There was actually an element of warmth in the air at Lulsgate Bottoms. Sunshine reflected off of the fuselages of the parked aircraft of the low fares airlines. It could almost be somewhere in the French midi, were the landscapes around not such deep shades of green.
The shuttle bus from the drop off zone to the terminal was definitely taking me to Bristol Airport. I recognised the driver. I had spoken to him when I arrived in England last Thursday evening. He spoke with a distinctive Bristolian accent, an accent of the type that had halted the westward spread of Estuary English (something to do with the way those who speak Kreke Bristle make particular sounds. I would say it was something to do with glottal stops, but I think I am confusing Bristle with some other accent).
Sitting, looking around, I searched for whatever it was that had made me think I was in France and not in Somerset. The bus was of the conventional type that might be found in almost any airport, built to carry crowds of people over a short distance.
Then the source of the French ambience became apparent. ‘Parker vous Francais?’ asked a voice on a radio programme. The driver was listening to a French radio station. What’s more, he was listening to a French speech radio station. The voices spoke rapid fire French. There seemed to be a discussion of something taking place, but it could have been about just about anything, such was my lack of comprehension.
There was a moment of delight watching him listening to the programme. Not only was someone listening to something serious, instead of the usual pop and prattle usually heard in public places, but he was listening to a serious broadcast in a foreign language.
The driver seemed to represent a tradition from the past, the sort of man one would have found in the reading room of the Mechanics’ Institute or attending lectures organised by the Workers’ Educational Association. He seemed a figure from the age before the dumbing down of popular culture, from the times before the tyranny of television soaps and the fantasy world of reality television.
There was a temptation to leave the bus with a French word of farewell, but I feared I would fail to understand anything he might say in response.