My flight back from Cairo on Sunday evening was uneventful, save for a brief bout of turbulence that left me gripping my arm-rests and the rotund gentleman beside me sweating profusely from his face. Still, at least I was on a flight. The Icelandic cloud of doom hovering over Europe meant that I abandoned my mother, sister and small brother because they were unable to fly home to London. So in Cairo they remained, stranded like refugees (of a sort), sunbathing and licking Movenpick ice-creams beside the hotel pool as I waved goodbye.
The travel agent, a smartly dressed Egyptian lady called Elizabeth, arrived at the hotel early on Sunday morning to talk through their options. She found us lolling like sea lions by the pool, already thinking about which flavour of ice-cream we wanted to fill that brief gap between breakfast and lunch. Elizabeth said she would have coffee flavour, so I was despatched to gather them on the basis that my flight back to Abu Dhabi remained unaltered.
I wandered back along the pool's edge, clutching five cones between sticky fingers, to discover a debate between Elizabeth, my mother and my brother."Just think of the adventure," Mum was telling Henry, with wobbly levels of enthusiasm herself. Elizabeth, it turned out, had floated the idea of a meandering train trip from Cairo, through Libya, briefly skirting through Tunisia and then into Algeria where, she thought, one might be able to get a boat across to Gibraltar. Henry looked unimpressed at this, which he demonstrated by shrugging and turning silently to his pistachio ice cream.
"Where was The English Patient filmed?" piped up my sister, Rosie, unplugging herself from her iPod and sitting up on her sunbed. "Wasn't that around there?"Rosie, a romantic, was pitching herself as Kristin Scott-Thomas on a heroic journey across rolling African sand dunes. But my mother, a realist, was worried about the train facilities. And Henry, an 11-year-old schoolboy, had surmised that the train's on-board entertainment systems would probably be poor.
Elizabeth blinked, then told us that she had a German group of 22 female students in Cairo whose professor had paid for them all to extend their stay for a night. But now it appeared the volcano was going to continue belching, and they were such a big group he didn't know what to do.I sensed some kind of parable in this. Was Elizabeth suggesting that those with an escape route should snatch it? It was not to be. My mother decided they'd stay put for one more night and evaluate the situation in the morning. And yet, the urge to cast out across North Africa hadn't caught on the next day either. "Elizabeth says Tangiers ferry a possibility," mused an email from Cairo. "But just tucking into poolside snack." That Dunkirk spirit, it seems, cannot compete with a good ice-cream.