4am, 52 Green Avenue, Northfields, London.
Having spent the night packing and chewing the cud with Adrian, I had had little sleep. Not much more than two hours in fact, but I was exhausted and slept deeply. Squeeze elbowed me into life and got up to make some super-strong coffee for the first leg of my trip: a three and a half hour drive to Manchester Airport. For which, I had hired a nice little Nissan Micra. Supplied to me by Alamo, Marble Arch for around fifty pounds.
One strong-sweet coffee later I was ready for the off. Squeeze got dressed and came outside to bid be farewell, carrying a cafetiere of coffee to pour into the flask so kindly donated by Wolfgang.
Whilst doing up the cap on the flask I managed to spill the majority of the coffee down my shirt – not a good start to the day. Formalities over with Squeeze and I had an emotional cuddle before I, bleary eyed, got into the car. I waved for as long as I could before having to put both hands on the wheel to avoid hitting anything.
Great little motor, the Micra, I had driven it the night before and was dying to really let rip on the open road. This I did only having travelled through forty miles of roadworks on the M40 before Oxford, where there was another ten miles of roadworks. Hoofed-it at around one hundred miles-per-hour best part of the way to Birmingham North Granada Services, where the traffic was startig to build up – mainly with delivery lorries, There seemed to be a well spread convoy of Ginster’s vans on the M40; I passed one about every twenty minutes. The Ginster’s factory must be in Greenford or something – and the moment a van is full they send it to Birmingham. That, or they were caught in a time vortex.
Bacon sandwich and a pot of Tea at the services £4.20. Went back out to the car and had some more coffee before heading off. I was very tired. Manchester Airport loomed up and I headed for terminal one where the Alamo drop-off point was. After refilling the tank and scooting around various roundabouts I found the multi-storey where I had to leave the car. It took me a while to realise that I then had to go down to terminal one to the Alamo desk to drop the keys off. This I did having queued for about fifteen minutes.
The girls at the information desk informed me that the Singapore flight departed from terminal two – so I had a bit of a walk. My rucksack was on a trolley mind you, so I didn’t mind. The skyway had a whole bunch of travelators installed, which weren’t much longer than twenty metres at a time. So using them was a bit pointless as I had to more or less stop every time I got to the end of one to prevent my luggage from being hurled into the air. Damn Scousers.
Bit of a disorganised mess is Manchester Airport – too many roads, walkways, car-parks to know where the hell you should be going. i think the idea being that in future some of these bits and pieces are replaced by expensive hotels and the like.
Check-in was simple enough and reasonably quick. I tentatively enquired about seat availability – apparently the flight was absolutely full. They x-rayed the rucksack twice – got the all clear. Headed into the departure hall and found a phone to call Squeeze on. We were cut off in mid sentence cos the phone I had picked was partially fucked.
Told Squeeze I was fine and everything was okay. Got a bit bleary eyed again. Said we would speak soon – a blatant lie.
Flight SQ337 gate 212.
The departure lounge was full. The ethnic mix of passengers was heavily weighted in favour of Indo-chine type faces – understandably. One glazed girl sitting opposite me seemed never to blink. Perhaps she was afraid of flying. If so, I hope she had used the praying facilities provided in the departure hall – situated next to the telephones. (I got a photo of it.)
The announcement came for boarding and we queued according to seat numbers – first class and business class then economy. Behind me in the queue stood two middle aged spinsters and an elderly gentleman by the name of Vincent. I know this because they wouldn’t stop pampering him.
“Are you okay Vincent?”
“Lovely day isn’t it Vincent?” etc.
I guessed he must be a dirty old man who had finally popped the cherries of those in dire need; but the amount of fuss they were making over which seat numbers had been called out, and whether they should be much further forward in the queue, was mind numbing.
What’s always amazed me about the ad’s for Singapore Airlines is that they continually push the “Singapore Girl – Singapore Airlines” parallel. What? Cheap, fast and you don’t need a sick bag? But upon boarding the 747 Megatop I was greeted by some of the most beautiful air-hostesses I have ever seen. A far cry form those on Easyjet and Airtours flights – mooses need only apply. I was clearly misled.
What the ads should be saying is something like ‘Fly Singapore Airlines and you’ll be served by a bunch of hot chicks throughout your journey.’
Found my seat, sat, and flicked through the selection of reading material – crap. Complimentary pillow, complimentary blanket, complimentary toothbrush and complimentary socks. I pondered over the sock question for a bit – completely flummoxed me. No personal video screen as promised to me by everyone – big screen at the end of the compartment and headphones.
“Oo Singapore – you’ll have one of those personal video screens” I was informed by most of my friends. I double checked to see if it was cunningly hidden in the arm rest – it wasn’t.
I sat in the isle seat of the port-side three-seater section. At the window sat an Indian chap – about my age with glasses, like me, and a red spot on his forehead. Having done my reading I knew that this meant he was Hindu and recently married. We started talking – small talk – and I began to think ‘how nice, some intelligent conversation for my journey’. He was a Doctor (trainee) from Manchester named Cowpen – an unfortunate name but not as bad as Cowpat.
Our conversation ended abruptly when I was clouted in the face by a rucksack. I looked up. A hideous Asia woman – about yage, said in a very thick accent “can you move please.” It was a statement not a question. She clambered unladylike into her seat between myself and Cowpen, carrying her oversized rucksack and handbag with her. It took several minutes of grunting and pointing before Cowpen managed to convince her to stow the rucksack, which I did for her, with little thanks.
Moments before her arrival I indicated the seat between us to Cowpen “Do you think there’s anybody sitting here?” – “I hope not” he replied. Tempted fate. I barely said another word to either of my fellow passengers from the point of take-off.
I love take-off. Watching the ground shrink away from you to toy-town proportions and then disappear into the clouds. The journey had truly begun, next stop: Bombay.
O the video screen a flight status feature flicked up. Switching between various mps of the UK, Europe and the World you could see where we were in relation to our journey (indicated by a red line much the same as the flight paths in Raiders of the Lost Ark). Also, altitude, air temperature, ground speed and journey time were displayed in conjunction with ‘time in Manchester’, time in Bombay’ and current time. All very anorak – but guaranteed to get you to sleep.
I tried to sleep but it wasn’t easy. I snoozed whilst they showed some crap on the screen and came round in time for an episode of Frasier – a surreal Sit-Com if ever there were. Frasier managed to get one of the DJs sacked through the power of rumour!
Food came around – not bad. I had the seafood gratin partly because they had run out of the other choice.
MOVIE: DANTE’S PEAK.
Bugger, seen it. Snoozed through most of it. Watched bits – without the headphones mind you.
MOVIE: JERRY MAGUIRE.
Hooray. Slow to get going. Very American audience orientated. A romance essentially. Bit of a girls film. Quite enjoyed it.
More food. Beef or fish? Fish. Good fish too,
Ah now, I’m forgetting something: three drunken football louts and a computer game. I made an effort to block them out at the time – but now it comes flooding back.
More or less throughout the entire running length of Jerry Maguire someone was playing with a watch or computer game that had the most annoying jingle. It was a manic jingle too: Beethoven’s Fifth played in two seconds with a tonal range of a quarter octave. I had a mind to get up, find the thing and smash it to pieces.
The three footballers, in their team shirts, weren’t annoying per se – but they had the potential to be. Every time a hostess went by they would order “Three more Stellas.” SO by the time they got to Bombay they must have been completely trollied. Aah – the English abroad.
As we approached Bombay I realised what I was doing. That is to say, before it had al seemed almost a dream to head off into the east and a year later arrive from the west. The very furthest I had been in this direction before was Kos in the Greek isles. A mere time-zone away. Bombay and India: five and a half time zones. Wo!
It really started to hit me when the status display showed us passing over Tehran, the capital of IRAN – mindfuck.
My heart started to pound a little as we flew over the outskirts of Bombay. I didn’t know what was down there. I could have read the guidebook back to front, but it doesn’t really tell you what to expect, what things look like, how people behave etc.
My only comfort was that I knew what I was going to do once we touched down: passport – luggage – customs – change money – sleep in airport until morning. (I had thus been advised by the travel agent.)
Touchdown. “Thank you for flying Singapore Airlines.”
Weaved through the concrete maze that was Bombay International Airport and headed for the passport queue for non-Indians. Stood behind the yellow line before having my documents checked, my visa stamped and my immigration slip checked – half of which they stamped and gave back to me.
Found my bag on the conveyor and headed for customs on the other side of the room. Now, confusion. There were about ten tills for the red channel (something to declare) all filled with large groups of Indian gentlemen trying to get something through. The rest of us queued for an x-ray machine in the green channel. Now when you travel in Europe you go down the green channel o blue channel unhindered unless they suspect you of smuggling, so why the -ray machine? Maybe I was about to learn something about Indian honesty?
An official indicated that I could go though without being x-rayed – how nice.
Next task – money. There was a horrendous queue at the exchange booth. Oh God. I loitered around looking lost for a bit whilst thinking “Shall I wait until the queue shortens or drag myself and all my gear along the queue for the next hour?” The queue didn’t seem to be moving.
As my luck would have it an official saw my dilemma and said that there were more places to change money in the arrivals hall. I assumed I was in the arrivals hall.
The half of the immigration slip that had been given back to me had to be submitted to get into the arrivals hall. I assume this is some sort of extra security in case they don’t see you nip through passport control without being “controlled”.