New Zealand / Australia Diary
Tuesday 8 May 2012
I'd done most of my packing the evening before and as my flight wasn't until the afternoon I had time for one more outing. Pat drove me up to the hills at Kalamunda where the wide valley of the Swan river spread out before us and Perth was visible in the distance, then down to a park on the banks of the river. The banks were there but a few feet underwater, the rain had obviously been quite widespread and the copious water was finding its way to the sea. It was nice to have one more walk under the Australian sun before consigning myself to a day of canned transport.
Eventually though the time came and I found myself walking into Perth International for the start of my long journey home. I was swiftly & smoothly processed and, after the (by now) inevitable noodle meal, was seated & strapped in to my seat, ready to go. I was isolate in my iPod, avoiding the loud, repetitive & irritating pre-flight announcements, but after a while I realised that the taxiing had gone on for a bit and yet we seemed to be back at the gate. There had been some sort of technical problem that had held us up but after an hour or so it had been fixed and we were ready to go again. After a rerun of the safety demonstration (apparently passengers will forget it on the ground but remember it while flying) we took off, destination Singapore.
With a two hour connection at Singapore I was a little concerned about making the London flight (more so about my luggage making it) but not too bothered - I didn't need to be back at any particular time and an enforced stay (and a horizontal bed) would actually be quite nice. However we arrived with time to spare and after loading up on water (internally, I had no Singaporean money) I joined my fellow travellers in the gate lounge. Within minutes we were hustled out to board but then discovered a huge queue in the jet bridge - I suppose having us lined up made it easier for the staff but it was very annoying for the rest of us. Eventually we were all in place with everything stowed away and the plane rose into the air for the final flight of my trip.
I'd done pretty well with flights up to now but, alas, this one turned into the grinding, soul-crushing, extended torture that economy air travel can do so well. A middle seat in a full aircraft, claustrophobically small space made even tighter by the person in front immediately reclining her seat, seat pocket so full of airline blurb that you couldn't store anything there (why do they do this?), blaringly loud, frequent & unnecessary announcements, periodic jabbing in the back from the person behind trying to cram stuff into their overstuffed seat pocket, wailing children, overspill from nearby reading lights making it hard to sleep, the list just goes on & on. I was lucky to escape with my life.
Well, OK, it wasn't quite that bad but you get the idea. There's something about being in a nominally regulated environment under stress that seems to bring out the worst in people, a feeling that others are getting away with breaking the 'rules' and so it's OK to be selfish and rude. A bit like road rage I suppose. As I sat & suffered I found myself thinking I have exactly the same seat number as on my previous flight, even though it's a different type of aircraft. The check-in person must have just typed in the same number rather than chosen a better seat for me. How can I have my revenge? Scary stuff. It was actually quite hard to not indulge in petty acts of retaliation (like jamming unwanted stuff into my seat pocket to jab into the person in front's back when they suddenly reclined their chair) and to try to be civil & polite and make the best of a difficult situation. Sometimes I didn't manage it.
Despite everything I tried to sleep. I don't know which is the more incredible, that airline seats are designed so that it's almost impossible to sleep in them, or that we manage to do so anyway. I pretended to sleep when I couldn't manage to do it for real and I must have drifted off without realising it as the clock was often hours further on when I checked it. The 13 hours looked like an impossible ordeal as we took off but by some strange magic I was still holding it together, if barely so, as we landed at Heathrow.
A 5:40 arrival does have some advantages, mostly that there aren't any big queues (at least if you're an EU citizen). I wafted through immigration, panicked a little when my bag was slow to appear but eventually saw & collected it, changed my money and caught the train into London. Although I had a ticket that included tube travel I indulged my weary body (& psyche) with a taxi across town to St. Pancras where I was catching my homeward train and revelled in having a small, mobile space all to myself. I was buying some breakfasting food at the station when a strange bleeping noise started up from all around and I eventually made out a repeated announcement that there was an emergency and everyone should leave the station immediately. My first impulse was to ignore this and assume it was a test or something (the result of many years of hearing car & other alarms crying wolf) but the staff were taking it seriously and gently shepherding everyone out. Once outside the station we stood in the thin drizzle (the smokers had claimed all the undercover spaces) for a couple of minutes before, with no explanation, we were all allowed back in again.
I had just enough time to reclaim my dumped purchases and find & board my train. As I sat in the carriage I heard the station inspector (or some such title) being paged and I remembered hearing the same thing just before the evacuation. I was bracing myself for retracing my steps outside again but luckily the train pulled out before any further action could be taken.
From there it was train, train, taxi and home. The flat seemed even more spartan than usual - I'd tidied & thrown away lots of stuff before setting off - but it was my familiar & comfortable nest and it felt good to be back home again. I nipped out to the shops for some essential food supplies, backed up the computer, unpacked, kicked off the first of the laundry loads and had a long, hot, revitalising shower. I made a couple of calls to reconnect with friends but I could feel that my poor brain was fuzzy & barely working so I settled down with some DVDs to let myself gradually arrive and settle.
Despite the long, long 'day' (an extra 7 hours long from the time change, plus not having a real night's sleep on the plane) I wasn't feeling sleepy but I was certainly operating in some strange, altered state as the remaining hours just dissolved away. At around 8:30 the energy drained from me and I just about managed to get to my bed before plunging into sleep. But for how long?