I have recently returned from a holiday in South-East Asia visiting Cambodia and a wee bit of Vietnam. For two wonderful weeks, I was back doing the thing I love doing the most in life – travelling – an activity in which you feel constantly sensualised from the relentless exposure to ‘the new’ – new sights, new faces, new knowledge, new sounds, new tastes – all of which open your mind to new ideas and food for thought (often literally) that you can carry back home in your luggage to try and apply in places more familiar.
I remember hearing a wonderful analogy about this once. A native of a land coloured yellow went to a land coloured blue, and when they eventually returned home, what had previously been unquestionably yellow was now appearing green… different, yet the land itself had not physically changed at all…
I have found the past few days particularly challenging in trying to convince myself that my holiday was not just the dream that reality’s return tries to make me believe it was, but this post isn’t really about that… instead I wanted to share the story of an aspect of my journey home…
I had to catch two flights in order to arrive back in the UK (oh how I wished that either had have to have been cancelled indefinitely, allowing me to extend my break!). The second of these flights was a rather ominous sounding 13 hour jaunt from Singapore to London. Indubitably it was my least favourite part of the entire two weeks, even worse than the diarrhoea, but in it’s own little way it served as a memorable vignette of modern day living…
Having initially boarded the plane, I noticed that a middle-aged couple were sat in my allocated seat, which happened to be in the first row of Economy class – a cheeky little row where you get a bit of extra leg-room and – according to the chap who eventually took up the seat next to me – “more chance of an upgrade – if there are too many babies on board they have to take these seats and so those who were meant to be there can be moved somewhere better!”. The middle-aged couple were disgruntled to learn that the seats which they were sat in were not actually theirs, and reluctantly shuffled out and into the row behind. “This is ridiculous”, said Mrs Moody, “we paid extra for these seats”. Her husband concurred, whilst I stood awkwardly feeling a niggling sense of guilt at the commotion I had inadvertently caused just by heading towards the seat number printed on my boarding pass.
Mr and Mrs Moody continued to huff and puff once they’d sat down behind me, with Mrs Moody’s disdain further being exacerbated by her discovery that her in-flight entertainment system was not working. Mr Moody caught the attention of a passing flight-attendant – “We would just like to LOG the FACT that the in-flight entertainment system is NOT working.”
“Sir, we have not even started moving yet, the systems need to configure….” came the reply of the flight-attendant.
A few moments later I felt a tap on my shoulder. Mr Moody had removed my rucksack from underneath my seat and was thrusting it at me:
“Is this your bag?! When you sit on THAT row, you have to put ALL your belongings in the overhead LOCKERS!” – this piece of information was accompanied by a forefinger motioning upwards, in case for some reason my bag-related error of judgment also meant that I was incapable of working out whereabouts an overhead locker may be located – outside perhaps?
I took the bag and fulfilled Mr Moody’s wishes before sitting back down and beginning to read my book. Compressed air caught me out, and I started to cough. Quite a lot. Loudly.
“For goodness sake!” I overheard Mr Moody retort from directly behind me, whilst feeling a sharp nudge into my back, “This just gets better and better. We end up in the wrong seats, the in-flight entertainment system doesn’t work, there’s a baby crying over there and now we’ve got somebody with a bloody cough!”
By this point I was beginning to seriously tire of Mr and Mrs Moody’s ongoing huffiness and was once again grateful for the invention of headphones and their ability to drown out external racket. I spent most of the flight listening to music, sleeping, or speaking with the man next to me, who continued to impart useful bits of information. He was a lovely man who was very well-traveled due to his work as a theatrical director, and it’s characters like this – who you meet only briefly, and certainly not long enough to exchange contacts – who add to the fun of travel:
“This is the second longest flight that British Airways will provide “, he said, “the longest is London to Buenos Aires. That one is 16 hours.”
“This is the best sort of time (22:55) to catch this kind of flight. Because it requires so much fuel, they always have to replenish it in good time. These flights are almost never delayed, and because you reach London in the early hours of the morning, you’ll barely ever be queuing for too long at Passport Control”
“When travelling in a developing country you should always have a bowl of local yogurt for breakfast. The bacteria will immunise you from any illness you might acquire from the food, drink or climate”
“South Africa is one of the most dangerous places to travel. A lot of people end up being mugged there…I experienced it myself in Johannesburg, they aim for your feet, and once there they try and trip you up. The worst way in which you can react is by trying to defend your face from any punches. A lot of these attackers are high on drugs that have impaired their vision… if they see you cover your face, to them it will appear as though you’re trying to punch them back, and that’s when they might get the weapons out”
When not speaking to this chap, listening to music, reading my book, or sleeping, I would occasionally overhear further snippets from the jolly row behind. At around 2am I heard Mr and Moody complaining about the seats still.
And then at 4am.
When it had become time to recline my seat a bit in order to try and snooze, suffice to say that the movement was met with another groan…
The complaints came to a head at 5am, shortly before the flight was due to land, when Mr Moody accosted the flight-attendant once more to express his disapproval, “we paid SPECIFICALLY for those seats, but that’s not what our boarding pass says”
Whilst I do understand Mr and Mrs Moody’s frustrations, what annoyed me was that – in a typically British way – they treated what in the grand scheme of things was a minor inconvenience as akin to a worldly crisis, ranting and raving more about their seats than anything else throughout the entire flight. Where had Mr and Mrs Moody just been? On holiday? Visiting friends? Where were they going? Home? Back to loved ones? Surely that they had something, anything else to spend 13 hours talking about, for the sake of their own sanity let alone anybody else’s.
As the plane eventually reached it’s resting place I turned to the man next to me and commented on how surprisingly pleasant the flight had been given it’s long duration. “The extra-legroom was a bonus” we agreed. Mr and Mrs Moody were swift to disembark whilst I tried to locate my shoes. For extra comfort, I’d removed them at the start of my journey and placed them underneath my seat, next to the rucksack that Mr Moody would later remind me to put in the overheard lockers. I could not immediately locate my shoes, but on closer inspection noticed them firmly wedged, as if by an irritated human force, between the seats where Mr Moody had been sat.