In the words of Private Eye’s favourite poet ‘So farewell then England…’ I have finally made the pilgrimage from Northallerton to Hong Kong by means of a train, a couple of tubes, another train, an excruciatingly early bus, two planes, another train and a taxi. Certainly the longest journey I’ve ever made on my own I feel truly accomplished that I barely panicked at all. It’s true, only a couple of times was I reduced to a gibbering mess staring wild eyed around me while voices in my head belted out a crescendo of profanities. Of course I’m exaggerating but as the title of this blog-that-is-not-a-blog might suggest my predictions of imminent disaster never unravel in quite the earth-shattering manner I imagine they will. Below is a diary of confusion and uncertainty and as much as that sounds like the blurb to a terrible misery biography (you know the ones, white cover, black and white photo of a child looking down, gold handwritten title along the lines of ‘Mummy no!’ or ‘Not the stick again!’) or indeed a Robbie William autobiography I hope it doesn’t come across half as self important as that.
Saturday October 10th – 14.13 – Northallerton Train Station
Mum can’t look me in the eye for fear that she’ll lose it (not my eye, I mean she might start crying) as I say goodbye to the assorted family we have picked up on the way to the station. I have a rather unwieldy suitcase which I am still unsure how I managed to fill and a new laptop bag which is way heavier than I predicted with Spike Milligan’s war memoirs weighing it down a bit. I am flying from Heathrow because if you live in the North and would prefer to fly from there you are apparently a fool and deserving of the highest taxation when it comes to plane tickets. Us simple Northerners don’t have that kind of money! We’re all farmers and miners, we’ve got whippets to take care of! So the Smoke it is. I had decided to book myself a first class ticket to Kings Cross as it’s the last bit of leg room I would be seeing for a while. The ride is so comfortable and generally pleasant that I don’t really want to get off when we reach Kings Cross. That’s the first time that journey has seemed short let me tell you.
16.50 – Kings Cross Underground
Surprise monkey boy, the Victoria Line is down! Ha! What do you mean you didn’t know? Oh man you suck, you think you’re getting across the other side of the world when you can’t even handle London when a tube line goes down? We do it all the time! Sometimes just to mess with your heads. With that kind of travelling savvy you’ll be in Alaska this time next week, have fun with that. Say hello to the- what do they have in Alaska? – uh, say hello to the… tundra for me! Ha!
Well screw you spirit of London! With only a couple of minutes shuffling around and going ‘Errrrrrrrr’, a quick chat with a security guard and squashing in with hundreds of dead-eyed commuters I managed to get myself squeezed on to two other lines suitcase and all. Sure I parked the suitcase on a few people’s feet once or twice, sure I may have got blocked in the middle of a carriage where panic did descend upon me (‘oh my god, what if no one gets off at the stop I want? I won’t be able to move, I’ll have to stay on the Piccadilly Line forever!’) but nonetheless I arrived sweaty and harassed at Surbiton Station about 15 minutes after I said I would. Not too shabby.
Hang on weren’t you going to Heathrow?
Shut up you’re ruining it! Surbiton and Kingston means only one thing good friends and alcoholic. I meant two things, two. The last group of people I had to say goodbye to. Up yours Spirit of London, I win!
Monday 12th October – 03.30 – A Travelodge in Kingston Upon Thames
The weekend’s festivities over, it was time to get moving proper. I had set an alarm for 4am so as to get out of the hotel and round the corner (literally around the corner, like a 2 minute walk) in time for a bus at 05.04 so I could be at Heathrow at 06.00 for a flight at 09.30. Airports are great fun. So I had to be up at 04.00 under my own rules. So what time did I get up? Yeah that’s right half past three as it says up there. Can’t be late now. I have a 2-minute walk round the corner to get a bus at 5? Well then I’d better leave the hotel at 04.30 then eh? In a pre-emptive manoeuvre the Spirit of London had attacked well before I set off as tfl.gov.uk had given me some non-existent times for a bus. Thankfully having lived in Kingston I knew which bus was going to Heathrow 24 hours so I waited for that one instead. A formidable foe, but I’m still winning. 5 in the morning trundling through deserted London, just me and the drunks. Well me, the drunks and some really super early work people. (Interesting side note, my word processor wants me to change those last sentences to ‘Just me. Well me.’ What the hell? Does my laptop want the internet to think I’m actually lonelier than I’m making out? I would imagine the internet knows that already.)
06.00 – 09.30 – Heathrow Airport
Nothing happened, it was really boring. I had a croissant. Oh and I saw Jeremy Clarkson, James May and Richard Hamilton in WH Smith and the lounge. Most probably getting to the private part of it as quickly as possible. No funny story there or anything.
09.30 – Flight 9W0119 London Heathrow to Mumbai
My plan to book an aisle seat so I could at least stretch one leg out when no one was passing by had been thwarted by a very nice lady already sitting in that seat who asked if I wouldn’t mind swapping. Damn my politeness! I end up sitting between her and a guy who apparently has a bladder the size of a walnut. Myself and nice lady seat stealer have to pause the thousands of movies we’ve been watching to pass the time every 20 minutes or thereabouts so Billy Bladder over there can go relieve himself. I say thousands it was more like… three. I watched The Graduate, Night at the Museum 2 and the new Star Trek film. The first would have been perfect for me with maybe more than just three Simon and Garfunkel songs (but then I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder about movies that overuse the same music – Psycho irritated me for the same reason) and the latter would have been perfect if the whole thing hadn’t revolved around time dickery but whatever they were both excellent. These were undoubtedly the highlights as the rest of the flight was spent gazing around, looking to see if that one hot girl with the dark hair was walking past (why couldn’t I have been sat next to her?), trying to steal a look at what other passengers were watching (invariably one of the 12,665,442 Bollywood films) and wondering why the makers of the safety video felt it imperative that they give the woman tugging down on an oxygen mask such big eyes that were regarding the mask in a manner than suggested she was going to tear it down and make mad, passionate love to it. Or maybe seeing the seductive nature in an in-flight safety video says more about me than the makers of said video. A nice surprise occurred when the attendants gave out chocolate ice creams on sticks. A not so nice surprise occurred when mine melted off the stick and dropped on to my t-shirt and all over my lap. Incidentally if you feel like a challenge, try and clean that mess up on a plane between two other people without looking terribly embarrassed or as if you’re playing with yourself. By the time we arrived in Mumbai the local time was about 23.20, which worried me greatly as my connecting flight was at 00.35. I began to panic even more when passengers with connecting flights were asked to stay until last as everyone got off the plane. I got talking to a pleasant girl who was also going to Hong Kong. She seemed to be far more calm so I decided it would be advisable to stay with her for the time being for safety and in the hope that some of that serenity would rub off on me (not that kind of rub, get your heads out of the gutter). If I’d been to Mumbai airport before I would have known that such a state of calm is impossible there.
Tuesday 13th October – 00.00 Local Time – Mumbai Airport
Apart from the heat the first thing that hit me upon entering the airport was that security had some pretty serious looking weaponry strapped to their backs. Guides were taking the whole dishevelled lot of us directly to our connecting flight to Hong Kong thankfully so with my panic alleviated they thought to instil some fresh panic through guns, being angry, separating lines and scanning/ feeling me up several times. I was still holding my laptop bag and my jacket feigning nonchalance all the while desperately hoping they were successfully covering my chocolate stains. Sending my bag and coat through the x-ray scanner left me feeling exposed and looking like someone who likes chocolate just a little too much. The ladies lined down one side of security while the guys went down another. People gathered to wait for their partners behind the barrier on the other side of the pedestals every person was stood on to get the once over with that stick that goes ‘boop’. So they all get to watch as four at a time, we present what must look like the world’s worst rendition of the dance from Village People’s YMCA. As you may have guessed as I exposed the true horror of my scars from the chocolate incident, stood with my legs and arms apart, hot girl with the dark hair of course got a front row view.
00.35 Local Time – Flight 9W0076
After no less than three bag scans and four frisks I found myself herded onto the next plane, which may as well have been the exact same plane as before. It wasn’t, it was slightly different but for all we knew they could have just been playing a big practical joke on us or pretending their airport is way bigger than it actually is for some bizarre reason. I had foolishly miscalculated the length of time I’d be in the air. The first flight was just under 9 hours and this one clocked in at just below 6. Not the further 8 some hypothesised but also not the ‘3 or 4’ one passenger seemed to think. Woefully, because this was the same airline I had the same selection of films and TV shows to work with so already having watched everything I could be bothered with last time round I made do with Tom Hanks and That Thing You Do. It was rubbish. There was a sudden ‘lights out’ as soon as we were in the air so I took this to mean ‘GO TO SLEEP’ and I tried to do just that…
09.30 Local Time – Hong Kong
… and failed. I emerged from the plane into the harsh light of Hong Kong airport looking more disheveled and bewildered than before as is customary I presume. All passengers had to collect a form for entry into the country as well as a health declaration to be filled in before we could get out of the airport. Passengers obviously and understandably sick to death of flying and everything associated with it massed around the poor staff handing out these forms as if they were disaster victims and the staff were administering vital aid. I got lost in the scrum eventually escaping with the two necessary flimsy pieces of paper. No pen mind. I walked a while before finding a bank of chained up pens and filled in the papers. When asked to tick any health issues from a list that I might be experiencing I thought in the interest of honesty I would tick ‘runny nose’ and make a note that this was due to the dog-end of a cold and the air conditioning on the planes I’d been on. What I didn’t realise, and it’s my own fault really, was that by doing this what I had actually declared was ‘I HAVE SWINE FLU! YOU’RE WHOLE FAMILY IS AT RISK! GERMS EVERYWHERE!’ There was muffled mumblings and a ‘just step this way sir’. Here we go. I was marched away from the line and given one of those fashionable masks every one is wearing these days. I was lead down an escalator and round a corner into a little corridor of cubicles acting as a sort of doctor’s office. I was sat down and given a plastic card with ‘22’ on it. There was no one else around. A couple of seconds passed. A masked man in a suit walked briskly past and sat down on the other side of the cubicle wall to my left. About ten seconds passed. He poked his head around the wall and said ‘number 22?’ I felt like I was in some sort of administrative parody sketch but I went along with it any way. He checked the details I’d filled in on the paper and when it came to date of birth he quickly glanced up at a helpful chart with years on it and numbers corresponding to the years. No, it appeared I was not lying to a doctor about my age. I had a thermometer stuck in both ears and a masked nurse came by to tell me that I have a slightly higher temperature that I should. Of course I have, I thought, I’m English! Better yet I’m Northern, anywhere further than Scarborough and I’m going to start feeling a bit hot love! Though communication was stifled through both language and very physical barriers what with the mask and all, I managed to decipher that yes I was indeed perfectly fine, could remove the mask and call a doctor if I begin to feel worse. I was now allowed to enter Hong Kong!
And it was worth the wait.
The extremely fast train ride into the centre showed off some truly stunning scenery. I have already in one sleepless day got lost in the central shopping and bar area until it got dark to see the lights come on, had a drink with a new American friend and dined at a club I was not a member of. I haven’t managed to shake my COLD yet (COLD Hong Kong not FLU) but I hope next week I’ll be writing a lot more interesting things here. Including maybe about my first day of proper work…
But the chocolate stains never came out of that t-shirt.