Previously on A Week of Madness; Having travelled around Spain watching one of his favourite bands, Marah, playing shows in Valenica, Zaragoza, and Barcelona, meeting the odd couple Paul and Amanda, and being given free beer at every turn, our hero almost had his pocket picked on the way back to his hostel from the Barcelona gig, and was last seen in a position of potential intimacy with an Australian girl called Melanie.
The following takes place between 9am, and 6am...
Upon waking up the next morning, Damien found that Melanie had already packed up and left the hostel. He smiled as he remembered the events of the previous evening, and the early hours of that morning, before sighing and getting out of bed. It was time to pack.
For Damien, this was always the worst thing about travelling. He had a flight out of Barcelona at 10pm that night, but he had to be out of the hostel by 10am. That meant 12 hours of walking around with absolutely nothing to do with himself. Okay, technically, he needed to be at the airport two hours before the departure time to check-in, and it could take him up to an hour to get there, but that still left nine whole hours where he was basically stranded.
In normal circumstances, this would not be a real issue, as he would just go for a drink or twelve. But he knew he had to get on his motorbike when he arrived back at Liverpool airport that evening, and no matter how much of a fool he could be where most things were concerned, drinking and driving was not something he wanted to chance.
It wasn't as though he was a car driver and protected by a big steel cage, after all. No, if he had an accident then he would almost certainly end up seriously injured, if not dead, and despite not being the best looking guy in the world, he kind of liked having everything pretty much where it should be. As much as he liked to drink, it just wasn't worth the risk.
So he did the only thing he could do in the circumstances, and wandered around aimlessly all day. Every now and then he would go into a bar for a small beer, and make it last as long as possible before picking up his bag and heading off on another mindless amble. Eventually though, the time finally came for him to head to the airport, and he did so with relief, although he was sorry to be leaving Spain behind.
The flight back to Liverpool was, as usual, without note, and a little over 90 minutes after taking off from Barcelona, he was back on British soil. The time was 11pm, and he had a tight schedule to stick to, and so made his way out of the airport as quickly as possible and went in search of his bike, hoping it would still be there.
He had been worried about leaving it at the airport, especially with the reputation the people of Liverpool have as thieves. He knew first-hand that this reputation was mostly undeserved, but just because most Scousers were law-abiding citizens, it didn't mean that one of the non-law-abiding ones wasn't likely to have had a look around the airport car-park at some point in the five days he had been gone.
He needed his bike to be where he had left it, and despite it becoming increasingly unreliable in recent months, he was also in desperate need for it to be in working order.
He rapidly found that he had been fortunate in the first respect; his bike was where he had left it and appeared to be unmolested. It also started without any problem, which was another plus sign, and so he stood there for ten minutes waiting for the engine to warm up while he mentally planned the next part of his journey.
He could see a thin fog starting to creep in, which worried him somewhat, as it had been a nice, bright, sunny day when he had made the initial journey to Liverpool, and so he had decided not to bother with his bike jacket and had worn just a normal sweatshirt instead. This lack of forward planning was, he was sure, going to bite him on the ass and leave a nasty tooth-mark before he arrived at his destination.
With the bike warmed up, he climbed aboard, put on his helmet, and prepared to leave the car-park.
He had noticed when he arrived that Liverpool Airport, unlike any other airport he had been to prior to that point, actually charged motorcyclists for parking there, at a rate of ten pounds per day. That meant that he owed fifty pounds for parking, which he not only did not have about his person, but also considered to be a complete rip-off.
Maybe this was what people meant when they talked about thieving scousers?
Anyway, he had come up with a plan to circumvent this parking charge, and once he was settled and in position ready to go, he put said plan into action, heading not for the official entrance/exit to the car-park, but instead to a pedestrian access point which just happened to lead in from the road running alongside the designated parking area.
Thirty seconds later he was on the main road and heading towards the motorway. The time was 11.30pm. He had six and a half hours to reach his destination. In normal circumstances, he felt sure this would be plenty of time, but with bad weather coming in, he may have cut things too close. All he could do though was push on and hope he made it in time.
By midnight he was on the M6 Motorway heading south, and was already starting to mentally kick himself for not bringing his bike jacket with him when he left Manchester at the start of his journey. Still, there was nothing he could do now aside from press on and hope the weather didn't get any worse.
At a little after 1am, as he went past Coventry he was suddenly assailed by the sound of a low flying jet fighter a few feet away from him. This, he knew from experience, was not what it appeared to be, but was in fact the first sign of his bike falling apart on him. This was not altogether unexpected, but it had come much earlier than he would have hoped. Had it happened at the same point on the way back, he would have been happy enough. As it was, he was in real danger now of not making it where he needed to be on time,
Then the fog came in, so dense that he could barely see ten meters in front of him. This was now too dangerous for him to continue on the motorway, as the only other traffic out there was huge trucks which would scythe through him without even realising that he was there in these conditions. Visibility meant that he had been forced to slow down considerably just to be able to ensure he didn't accidentally run himself off the road before someone else did it for him.
There was nothing for it, he would have to leave the motorway.
He didn't like this for a couple of reasons. Obviously there was the big problem of the fact that the motorway was the fastest route from A-B, and he was on a time limit. But there was also the problem of the exhaust on his bike, which was now lying in the middle of the motorway somewhere near Coventry. The noise his bike was emitting was almost certain to draw the attention of any police officers that might be driving nearby, and they could force him to abandon his journey until he got it fixed, which would be a disaster.
But he had no choice, and so spent the next thirty miles or so on A roads, trying as much as possible to keep near to the motorway in case conditions cleared enough for him to rejoin the main route. Finally, the fog seemed to have receded enough to warrant getting back on the motorway, and he rejoined at the next junction.
The first sign he saw after getting back on the motorway was one stating that there were some 24 hour services up ahead, and, despite the time constraint he was under, he decided to pull in and take a short break, as by now the lack of adequate riding equipment meant that he was literally freezing, and was only managing to continue further on pure willpower.
He needed coffee, possible a warm snack, and 20 minutes inside and away from the elements, or he wasn't going to make it alive, never mind on time.
After a short break, he continued on his way, and before much longer had passed it was time for him to make his first change of direction, onto the M42. This was meant to be a fairly short section of the journey, but in these conditions he was confident that it would end up being anything but. And he was proved correct, as the weather soon closed in on him again, only this time even worse than before.
All he could do in the circumstances was get as far across into the side of the lane as possible, keep an eye on his mirrors, and be ready to ride onto the hard shoulder if a truck looked like it wasn't going to see him on time to get out of the way. Of course, this constant checking of mirrors meant that he had to go even slower, which meant that his deadline was rapidly approaching and he didn't seem to be getting any closer to his destination.
At the next services, he took another break. He figured he was within about 50 miles of where he wanted to go, but knew that it was going to be touch and go whether he made it in time. He now had two hours to complete his journey, which usually would have been no problem at all. But the weather, and especially fatigue, were starting to have a huge toll on him.
For the first time he stated to wonder if he was going to be able to make it on time.
The next 90 minutes or so were an absolute nightmare, crawling along practically on the hard shoulder of the motorway, willing himself to just keep on going, don't give up now, or it would all be for nothing.
Then he saw the first sign for his destination;
Gatwick Airport – 17 miles.
He checked the time, half an hour to go. The fog was starting to lift, so visibility was improving by the minute. He started to believe once more that he was going to make it on time. Then he glanced down at his fuel gauge,
This was not good. For him to have come so far, and to then run out of fuel so close to his goal. That just wouldn't be fair. He started willing the bike to keep going, to not pack up on him. If it could just make it to the airport then he would worry about getting home tomorrow. For now, he just needed his bike to make one last effort on his behalf.
15 miles to go, 10, 8, 6...
Minute by minute, the distance became smaller. At 4 miles to go, he started talking to the bike;
"Come on baby, you can do it. Almost there, just a little bit further. Come on. Don't let me down now, just a couple more miles to go."
With one mile to go, the bike was still going, and he started to think that he might even be able to run the rest of the way if it conked out on him now. Half a mile to go, and there was the exit, dead ahead. Exiting the motorway, just waiting for the bike to cough and splutter and finally die, but still it kept going.
By now, he was patting the bike on the side, whispering encouragement, telling it how much he appreciated the sacrifice it was making on his behalf. He knew that after this journey the bike would never be the same again. If he could get it home the next day, then that would be a bonus. For now, he just had to find the car park so he could park up and make his way into the terminal for his flight.
There, up ahead, he finally saw the sign for the car-park, and followed the directions offered on it around a bend, and then what felt like halfway around the airport. He had to have done 20 miles now since noticing the tank was empty, and he was amazed that the bike was still going. And then he was there, in the car park area.
At the first opportunity he turned into the car park and parked up his bike, giving it a pat of affection before getting off. Stowing his helmet under the seat, he locked the bike up and made a mental note of where he was in relation to everything around him, before walking to a nearby bus stop to get the bus to the terminal.
Under the fluorescent lights of the bus stop, he noticed that his hands were blue from the cold, and was sure that the rest of him was a similar colour. He stood there shivering for several minutes, checking the time over and over again.
Check-in had opened 20 minutes earlier, and was due to close in another 40 minutes, Still, as long as the bus arrived soon, he would have no problem. For the first time that day he allowed himself a smile.
He was about to get on a plane to Belgrade, to see Iron Maiden. And Bruce Dickinson was the pilot!