With time on his hands, thanks to a 30-hour flight delay in Denver, Chris Leadbeater gets hung up on Madonna's back catalogue
Time goes by, so slowly. So slowly, so slowly, so slowly, so slowly ... Is that a reference to a Madonna song? Why, yes, it is. It's a lyrical snippet from her 2005 single Hung Up. Although, in truth, that isn't the finest ditty in the so-called Queen of Pop's catalogue. It isn't a blueprint-forging early work such as Like a Virgin . It isn't a pure chunk of Top 10 sugar like True Blue . It isn't a dose of fabulous-songwriting-whatever-the-genre such as Like a Prayer . It isn't even naughty and salacious like Justify My Love . In fact, it's really just a weighty sample of Abba's Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! with some new vocals strung over the top.
So why mention it, in a travel column of all places? Well, because, a few weeks ago, those words about time moving at a glacial speed tumbled into my head. Mainly because I was sitting wearily in Denver airport, 11 hours into what, due to a severe case of a 747 with a broken engine, would be a 30-hour flight delay. So I had lots of time on my hands. Enough for my mind, otherwise unemployed, to wander into all sorts of cul-de-sacs. Ones marked "forgotten England cricketers of the 90s" (Mark Ealham, come on down), "unconvincing characters in F Scott Fitzgerald novels" (who calls their protagonist "Dick Diver", even in 1934?) — and, of course, "less-loved Madonna music of the early 21st century" (her soundtrack single to the 2002 Bond film Die Another Day — just awful).
And I also wondered — because this is the sort of topic you consider when you have many blank hours ahead of you — if there is any context wherein time moves more slowly than the wait for a plane which is refusing to depart at the moment that has been pre-arranged.
Yes, there are many situations in which time drags its heels so heavily you fear it has severed its Achilles. There are those long troughs of anticipation that separate all the face-to-face good stuff that shapes a new relationship. There is the everyday tedium of watching a kettle flirt with boiling point, while clearly — just to annoy you — refusing to achieve its destiny. There is the tension of watching your football team protect a single-goal lead under pressure in the dying stages of a match — an agony where the clock seems to reach the 86th minute, then decides to tick no further. There are the ever larger gaps between the albums made by your favourite once-iconic but increasingly irrelevant band.
But a flight delay is different. And not just because it is something we have all endured, whether because of an ash cloud, an air-traffic-control strike, drones above the airfield, or whatever excuse it is — the wrong sort of rain; pilot caught in traffic; gerbils in the engine; pigeons on the runway; Martians in the food-delivery truck, swapping the labels on all the sandwiches; Russian interference — used by your airline to "explain" why its plane is not on the stand, ready to carry you to Lisbon. It is more than that. It is the only delay where time does not just slow, but effectively moves backwards — via that nasty airline trick of adding an extra hour to the expected departure time just as you start to believe you are so close to take-off that you can taste the dried-out ham roll.
Think you've completed that penultimate 60 minutes before "now boarding"? Sorry sir, we stuck it back on to the board when you looked away. You'll have to do it again. And you can't leave the gate, for worry that if you don't pay attention to the flashing screens at all moments, your plane to Palma will be rushed forward to last call while you are queuing at the ubiquitous coffee shop.
Still, I should point out that my sleepover in Denver wasn't a total ordeal. Its airport was in summer mode, and had a temporary mini-golf course outside its west terminal. Now, you may consider the concept of tapping a ball along some AstroTurf to be the sort of nonsense that could only exacerbate an unexpected wait. But this particular nine-hole affair came with a wonderful view of the Rockies — a panorama that was both one of my reasons for being in Colorado in the first place, and epic enough that it stopped me killing a few more minutes by assessing the identity of Madonna's best single. Though it's Vogue . Obviously.
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