Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggedy-jig

We’re in the car, on the way to the airport, and no-one’s saying anything. At the lights, Monu furtively hands me a parcel, “Madame, is your gift.” Instead of wrenching it open with my teeth, as usual, I thank him, and politely ignore it. I’m learning Indian etiquette. (When I give Monu a framed picture of himself, for his Mum, he just says, “Oh!” in a slightly disappointed way, and stashes it out of sight. He does like it, though, I ask him two days later – “Very nice. I and my car.”) I look the other way, while the parcel sits on my knee, a small glittering tea-chest with its large plastic rose. Practical says, let Roland repatriate it to the apartment. Sentimental says, lug it with. No contest. So, I now have a suitcase the size of Portugal but a little heavier, a laptop in a bag crammed with toiletries as well, in case Jet Airways don’t give free toothbrushes to peasants in Economy, a coat for the hostile Northern climes, and my Monu-mental gift. I wonder when I’m going to get the cabbage and the Crackerjack pencil.
I very sad. Come back early,” Monu says. I suppose he means “soon” but I’m not in the mood to quibble about adverbs. I can’t give him a hug, because it’s Not Done, so I pat his hand meaningfully, and totter off behind Mr Roland. Before I reach the pavement, I’m already staggering, and I’m only carrying my passport. It’s going to be a long night.
In the airport lounge, everybody looks like they should have been in bed hours ago. It’s two in the morning, why wouldn’t they? In the absence of a bed, some sleep right there on the carpet, pillowed on all their worldly goods. I open my present. It’s Ganesh, Lord of Success and Destroyer of Evils and Obstacles. Perfect.
Then I don’t speak for fourteen hours, other than to say “Yes, please!” or “No, thank-you!” approximately four times each. (All good journeys should offer a new experience, and this is mine.) The air-stewardesses all look like Miss India, a cunning plot by the airline to make you feel even more dishevelled and travel-stained, in yesterday’s clothes. My eleventh-hour upgrade at check-in means I get another pair of Jet Airways pyjamas, to add to my collection. I’d quite like to add my breakfast china, too, but my pilfering hand is stayed by the lack of space in my hand luggage (see above). Am already going to be hard-pressed, squidging in my lovely new pyjamas and washbag.
We travel 36,000 feet in the air, at a speed of over 400 miles an hour. It’s my profound belief that flying’s against nature, so I watch the statistics bob about on the screen, in mesmerised horror. It’s minus 36 degrees outside (outside the plane, not just outside the comfort of Business Class). If you fell out, I wonder, would you die of cold, or lack of oxygen, at this altitude? I feel certain that Roland would know the answer to this, but where is he when I need him?
Every time a light doze threatens to establish itself, Captain Steve comes on the air, telling us to put our safety belts on, because we’re going through some tricky weather. Not much of a lullaby.

Ten hours later, we crunch down on English tarmac, all intact. “Good morning, and welcome to London, Heathrow,” says the Captain. “Local time is 7.45, and the temperature in London this morning is three degrees.” I look dubiously at my sandalled feet. I still have my Jet Airways slipper socks on, too. It’s not a great look, to be honest, but there’s no choice, if I’m determined to keep all ten toes. I collect my miscellany of hand-luggage, and head for the hatch.
Whoever said, it’s better to journey than to arrive, was clearly not going home.