Whooshing along the raised metro, I could see the lights of the airport approaching. Like the crescendo of the penultimate notes of a symphony, they grew brighter and bigger, the rumblings of planes adding voluminous bass to the finish. A single tone and a long tirade of Thai announced our arrival. I disembarked from the rollercoaster I had been on for the last 2 months into the alien yet familiar surroundings of an international airport – they all look the same.
Checking in, dropping bags and mostly undressing for the security search happened on autopilot, at least for me anyway. It’s fairly well established what is expected at an airport isn’t it? How come people always forget the wodge of change in their pockets or that a huge 2 Litre bottle of water isn’t allowed through? Don’t try and blame your kids, they dont know whats going on or why we do this, just sort them out will you?
…My calm has clearly been left in Thailand, all those meters behind me. The peace and relaxed attitude I’d found while travelling had been sharply replaced by the realisation I’m returning to “civilisation”. Airports are wonderfully efficient, an achievement I can appreciate as an engineer, but there is really no character or life in any of the shiny surfaces. It’s just a faceless mask of authority processing the human herds into cylindrical packages for convenient travel. This lack of character has tried to be addressed by the addition of huge sculptures and artwork, but its like being in the least respectful art gallery in the world. The constant numb hum of a hundred languages garbled together, photos and crying babies scattered amongst the crowds.
I wish I was back on an island, drinking iced coffee out of a grubby glass under a blue tarpaulin, picking weeds out of the warm sand I’m sitting on.
The days activity and last nights lack of sleep catching up to me isn’t helping my bad mood, but it does give some perspective on what I find important in life. Experiences are by far and the most important thing to me. This is something I now know I should concentrate on maximising. Afterall, you can’t take stuff with you, but who knows what happens to your consciousness when you leave this world? I hope the heavenly airliner taking me to the next world has a large mental baggage allowance because I’ll be bringing as many experiences with me as possible.
I buy a last overpriced keyring to use up some baht and find a vending machine for the smaller coins I have left. 30b for a small chocolate bar is a lot but I’ve no need for the coins anymore. They are rejected, along with my choice and the coins spat back out. I’m presented with many more coins than I had put in, of smaller worth each, adding up to more value? This isn’t how vending machines are supposed to work?! I try again and the same thing happens. Now I have 45b in 5b coins and still NO CHOCOLATE!!! Calm…. Its just another random experience to have fun blogging about later.
I take advantage of a service I think all high streets should deploy; charging stations for your phone. They are actually quite a good business idea. Effectively, just a small shelf is provided at an accessible height with some mains and USB sockets. The shelf is attached to a lit up advertising board and because you are charging your phone, and have to spend time there, inevitably you read the sign for lack of anything else to do. The cluster of people around this sign all charging their phones also draws peoples eye because there must be something interesting going on if there are so many people in one place, right?
Standing here preparing my phone for a 12 hour flight, I get chatting to a sufficiently tanned man called Carlo. He’s in the cosmetics business and we have a great chat about the machine and company he works for. He also provides the best piece of travelling advice for planes ever.
No I’m not going to tell you how, I’d be mad to share this, but we ended up with Economy Plus seats, with the extra legroom for zero additional pounds. Thank you very much, my 6ft 2in frame really appreciated this tip. I had been silently debating paying for the upgrade in any case as cattle class is just miserable for me. This meant the flight was vastly more pleasurable than otherwise, and I was able to have an interesting chat with Carlo over my last glass of Thai beer.
Stretching out, enjoying the pleasures of premium, I prepared myself to stay asleep as long as I could manage. Realistically, when comfortable at home in your own bed, you can achieve between 6-8 hours sleep. Maybe 10 hours if you are a seriously professional lazy ass. I slept instantly for at least 4 hours and then repeatedly dozed for an hour at a time by blinking. Now awake and in the minority, surrounded by humming dozers, I watched a film. Checking the in flight information between glasses of orange juice, I found we were an hour out of London!
This flight had gone REALLY quickly, well it felt like it anyway. This must be because of the length of sleep I had achieved due to the comfort I had felt in this seat. I can attribute it to nothing else??
Arriving in Heathrow was fine
Knowing where to go was fine
Immigration control was fine
Collecting bags was fine
Boarding the tube was fine
…. It was all just fine
While having slept, I wasn’t rested, so I felt just numb to my surroundings. A strange sort of detached feeling, like I didn’t really belong. The people looked right, the announcements were all easy to understand, the tube train looked normal, but it wasn’t really connected to me. It was like I was going through the motions of what would happen if I went from one place to another.
All until I stepped out of the station at Hounslow East on the dullest, greyest, drizzliest day of the year. I found myself surrounded by commuter zombies with a sort of camoflage grey tinge to their complexion that allowed them to almost become objects in transit. Like gargoyles in rows along the roofline of a gothic church, the only indication of life came from wisps of steamy breath in the cold January air. It all came rushing towards me and hit me in the face, triggered by the cold drops of drizzle as I exited the station.
I felt numb BECAUSE everything looked right. There was no effort to any of the basic actions I was now taking. The same actions of getting from one place to another, interpreting the signs and sounds, finding food, were now effortless. I looked at a sign and knew so instantly what it meant, it was like I had known all along and my eyes were slow. I spoke at what I can only assume was normal english speed to the server at costa and the answer was so readily served up along with my coffee, it was like we had communicated telepathically. There was no waving of arms, repeating the request slowly 5 times or pointing at a picture on a menu. It was TOO easy and brought me down with a bump.
I stood alone in the rain waiting for Dad to come collect me. I was just one more damp commuter at the train station to the grey passers by. They didn’t have a clue what had happened these last two months…