Quality of life is all about expectations, if you expect to fly round the planet in economy and you have this fantasy that it will be a comfortable and engaging experience….well, you’re probably going to piss and moan the whole time.
If you expect it to be horrible, it may well turn out to be tolerable.
I found myself approaching check-in for NZ2 AKL
wondering if I should have waited a week and gone via HKG
But the first of many pleasant surprises were in store……
First up, the check-in queue was tiny.
The only minor inconvenience was that “security measures” at LAX
meant that my long-haul survival kit couldn’t contain toothpaste and heaps of bottled water but that was no biggie compared to the hassles of carrying two suits (1 business, 1 “Black Tie”) in a hanging travel bag but the next pleasant happening was that I found the one and only mutant trolley at AKL
that is tall enough to hang suits from!
So I wandered about, buying chocolate and muesli bars to keep me sustained between meals on the flight.
This being a 22:45 take off, with boarding at 21:50, AKL
was almost deserted and time passed remarkably quickly as I sat deciding who was a good person and who should be staked out at low tide and covered in fish food, from my soon-to- be fellow pax.
Once through the 2 sets of X-Ray machines, where a testosterone laden lady security dudette rubbed me in nice places with a “bleepy stick” and asked to see where my socks and legs interfaced, followed by a quick scan of the inside face of my belt buckle, I wandered down the stairs to the gate.
I didn’t feel too violated but couldn’t understand why my empty water bottle was confiscated while others were allowed to pick up their duty frees at the gate.
Which would you use to hijack an a/c…an empty plastic bottle or a full 2 litre jug of cheapass gin???
Never mind, the gate areas have been made over in recent months and very nice they are too.
Among the people I had marked down for a watery grave and a fishy end was a woman who was travelling with her 6 year old son, a lively lad, excited and in possession of a die-cast ANZ 747, who was charging about the lounge going “Vrooooom, Shhhhhhh, Roooaaaar!”, as small boys are meant to.
Rather than let him burn off steam prior to the long ordeal ahead, the woman kept trying to calm him down, feed him apples and rub his back in very control-freaky way. As a parent with 23 years experience I wanted to go over and enlighten her as to the error of her ways, small boys are like over inflated tyres, best let some pressure off if you are intending to spend any amount of time in close proximity!
There was also a silly dude with a coke-freak “Look at me” grin. Hair the length of a European football star and a goatee beard the size of ones thumb, he just stood about, grinning inanely and slowly revolving like an organic lighthouse in a sea of pax.
Turns out he was a tour guide and was returning to the UK on the same flight as most of his wrinkly clients and was clearly the sort of person who would rather look a twat than be ignored.
Someone discovered the sign to the toilets and there was a brief flurry of activity as bladders were emptied, noses blown and discrete farting undertaken.
About 10 mins before our suggested boarding time there was a loud “Ziiiiip, ziiiiiip” noise, it was caused by the wheels of multiple rollaboards being dragged across the exit strips of the elevator, I looked up and spotted a gaggle of FA
’s, our FA
’s arriving at the gate.
I recognised one of them from my HKG
run last December, pushing 50, in a very good state of preservation and with a haughty disdainful air that could only mean she was based in business and probably the boss-lady of the whole show.
I fought back the fantasies of chastisement and “Handy man meets bored housewife” by adding a grumpy looking Mature German Backpacker to my list of fish attractants…on the grounds that her trousers were too short and she was wearing a bum-bag.
I decided it was my turn to have a last, swift, terrestrial poo while the going was good but it was no easy task, I hate having to stand my laptop case in puddles of piss and there was no hanger for my suit bag so I had to improvise with a health and safety notice and a large dose of optimism.
The door kept talking, giving me advice on how to lock it, asking that it be left slightly open when I left the area, this was slightly disturbing but at least I didn’t feel lonely.
I wandered up to the window to check which 744 we were going to be on and discovered that it was ZK
, the same a/c I flew to NZ
on for the first time, back in Feb 2003, she looked very big and white in the dark…..reminded me of my first sexual encounter with that unfortunate girl in the graveyard 32 years ago…
But I digress, we all boarded and I was most impressed with the refitted interior, very smart and still with that NZ
I was pleased to find that loads were light and the seat next to me (I had pre-booked 66C) was empty as promised. This meant I had two seats to myself and also just over half a seat of empty space between me and the window which gave an impression of heaps of extra “personal space”.
In front of me were two very pleasant looking women, Blonde MILF and Red-Head MILF, Blonde MILF had the most amazing hair, platinum blonde, seasoned with a salt n pepper effect, very nice, very porn star and the fantasies kept me amused all across the Pacific.
There were Hispanic looking lads down the back who all got told off for grabbing any “empty” seats that looked nicer than theirs but not everyone had boarded and so they got offside with the FA
’s and moved back to their allocated seats.
I noted an old couple in the seats behind me and hoped they wouldn’t be miserable or anti-reclining Nazis, stared out into the black, rainy night and retired into the Zen state that seems to intersperse with my more lucid moments, arranged my midnight snacks, adjusted my seat belt and felt the swaying jolt of pushback. On time, all good, lets go.
Nothing beats the thrust of a fully laden 747 as it claws its way skyward, that hanging moment just after rotation when you wait for the tail to hit the deck (which in a perfect world never does) and then that steady climb, in this case, away to the east, over Whitford.
I could see the lights of Whangaparaoa to my left and waved weakly in the general direction of my house, happy to be here for once instead of listening to the late night flight passing overhead.
With a lump in my throat and a sigh of resignation I settled back, arranged things around me for my comfort and waited for food, lovely airline food, one of my great passions, next to large-breasted red-heads and surly police women.
The food was worth the wait, something brown, some beige stuff and a few green bits, with that generic taste that I just can’t get Mrs J to replicate, a lovely cakey thing nestled in a sea of custard and a Kiwi Cab-Sav as a nightcap. Except for the MILFs in row 66 I couldn’t have wanted for anything more.
Swaying gently in the inky blackness I started to tour the IFE, watched a disturbing episode of Little Britain, listened to a Bic Runga album, relished the thought of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers later in the flight and nestled in to sleep after first visiting the lavs to wash my face in the excellent and delightfully whiffy T Tree and Manuka hand wash, checked my face in the mirror for any signs of inner conflict, necked a “No Jet Lag” and dropped into a semi pissed slumber, a contented man. Here I was, about to circumnavigate the world (via EDI
) and all paid for by work! Another ambition realised.
I thought about this as I nodded off and wondered what I would have left to achieve if I ever realised my ambition of world domination, I reasoned that I would then have the ambition of being the first dictator not to meet a sticky and untimely end at the hands of his subjects.
There really isn’t a lot one can say of interest about a 12 hour flight at night, and as I resolutely refuse to photograph my food it narrows things down a bit but I can say that, once you get the hang of the rather odd buttons, the ANZ IFE is superb, the Air Show, which gives you all sorts of info about where you are, how high you are and when to expect daylight is wicked!! and the selection of music and TV
I managed to watch some dudes surfing a tidal surge in the Amazon at some point but I spent the rest of the time sleeping in 2 hour blocks, experimenting with my seats and at one point, sleeping on my back with my feet in the window! I think NZ
are one of the few airlines that would allow such a decadent sprawl…KLM would have had me shot!!!
So, I slept, I drank water and I did my walks around the plane, always clockwise like a good closet Buddhist and with plenty of trips to the lav to make sure my poos and wees didn’t look odd or show signs of dehydration or moral decay.
Around the three quarter distance mark for the AKL
leg I noticed bright light through a badly shut blind, I legged it down to door 5L
and gazed out into the ferociously bright new day, marvellous and it was only an hour to breakfast…mmmmm, airline food!!!
The Red Bull “Snowthrills” doco kept me on task until the much awaited brekkie showed up and with all the blinds up I was keen to see the approach to LAX
and in the event wasn’t disappointed.
With a gorgeous “all day” breakfast stashed away in my belly I stayed glued to the window and eventually we passed over an Island, the name escapes me but to the east was LA
and there was rather a lot going on in the harbour and the seas betwixt island and continent.
Boats (fast) Boats (Large) Boats (Fahkin’ huuuuuge!!!) and Oil Rigs were dotted about the sea as we pulled a series of graceful turns in the clear, cloudless sky.
stretched and flexed herself as she swung down to the south of LA
to start her approach, glad of the chance to do something other than go “woooossshhhh” in a straight line, for the first time in nearly 12 hours. The weather was perfect and for once the sky wasn’t pink.
Down below was what I assumed to be Venice Beach; I may be wrong but behind the beach was a residential area with no roads, just canals and boats, so it’s good enough for me.
The approach took us over acres of houses with many swimming pools (by the goddamn beach already!!??) and I was lost in it all, amazed at how they pack ‘em in compared to NZ
and amused to see that you could tell you were over the “projects” because all the lawns were dead and the houses were more than 1 storey high.
We got lower and lower, there were a fair few a/c about and the cabin, recently restless with bustle and anticipation was subdued, all pax strapped in and gathering their inner strength for ordeal by LAX
, which basically amounts to being herded into a corridor for fingerprinting, and retinal scanning, if you’re really lucky someone might take umbrage at your protestations of innocence and stare up your botty with a torch, or even search your bra for concealed or even congealed “Weapons of Mass Destruction”.
I decided to play it dumb as the new “Immigration Waiver” forms now have a bit where you sign away your rights to any recourse against the TSA
, no matter how barbaric their treatment of you.
We reconnected with mother earth with a skip and a roar and wandered over to gate 5..I think.
I recall seeing the usual stunning array of different liveries and a/c types but was concerned to note that all the South West planes looked a bit beat-up and scabby…much like some of their pax so I don’t suppose it matters.
In the gates opposite us were a SW
737 and a American West A319 and I wondered if HAL and Seven3Seven were idly sharing a joke, staring out of the window at ZK
and wondering if Jafa39 was on the plane.
We lined up, took a collective deep breath and with a stoicism usually only found in Martyrs at their end, stepped into the airbridge to a (un)certain fate.
Only to be very pleasantly surprised yet again on this trip.
Maybe it was due to light loads and this may have been due to the impending opening of the LHR
run, but it was very quiet and orderly in the corridor, the queue moved quite fast, there was no hustle and bustle and the scary TSA
lady even brought us water to drink as we were told what corrections we needed to make to our waiver forms, in the manner of a schoolmistress, who at weekends likes to tie men up and whip them for money.
Our fingerprints were taken and our pics, as we passed quickly into the lounges where Air NZ
provided fruit, Biccies, crisps, tea, coffee, fizzy drinks and (my choice) a fruit juice drink that tasted of pile ointment but did at least fulfil a need.
Dragging my suit bag with my bad finger (4 stitches out last week) I found a seat and sat idly munching and drinking, a bit dazed really as all this efficient quietude had quite taken me by surprise and without anyone to hate I sat once more dividing my fellow travellers into categories guaranteed to offend.
MILFs, closet Nazis, smelly people, control freaks, tarts, tossers and hoons. They were all there along with the obligatory “head down the toilet smoking a ciggie man” but all done in slow motion with the sound turned down as we sat there, blinking in disbelief while NBW
had her needs met, out on the tarmac.
Another pleasant surprise! Called back to re-board in under an hour…O…M…G!!!
Considering what a shit-hole we had reduced the plane to during the previous 12 hours, the work of the cleaners is a miracle that makes loaves and fishes seem a bit of a sideshow by comparison, we got all settled in, threw our collective crap about the place and prepared for the next leg.
The Captain explained to us all that we would be taking a fairly southerly route, over Chicago and across the deep and briny sea (here be dragons) to swoop down with a vengeance and scare cows as they grazed contentedly in the Southern Oirish fields.
This should bring us to London Zoo…sorry Heathrow.. ..(there isn’t much to tell them apart, except that maybe one smells more of animal dung than the other) and into the arms of our loved ones, on time at 11am UK time.
The weather was doing weird as we took off, sunny as over LAX
but with a big wall of low cloud rearing up from the beach, one second we were glinting our way through rotation and then…..nothing, could barely see the engines as we plunged headlong into the cloud, only to emerge a few minutes later out into the sunshine again.
rolled to port with ecstasy, yearning to do something frivolous but was pulled into line by the Captain to transport us over South LA
, a burgeoning drift of development, in parts understandable but, as we headed inland, over what must be the very newest of the development envelope, I was shocked to see clusters of houses just standing there in the desert, nothing around them but sand and seemingly far from the madding crowd, distanced, excommunicated and oddly juxtaposed amongst the coyotes, roadrunners, tumble weed and the whitening bones of Cowboys who were not quick enough on the draw.
Hills, dry as dust, browny-pink in the setting sun, came and went, a lake appeared and a massive City, Havasu Lake City, I think, again, a big slab of humanity, cast adrift in a sea of sand, bugger all to connect with. No wonder some US cities seem to be so inward-looking, no surprise that the road trip to a life of freedom and unrestricted movement is the core business of the “American Dream”, I’d be in the first Chevy Impala to God-knows-where if I lived there.
Darkness, airline food and slumped, dreaming, slumber became my world, that dream-state where here, now, then and otherness become myths and legends, there is only the aircraft, the whooosssshhh of progress, a gentle slap and judder of turbulence and that zen-like acceptance that nothing, only death or disaster, will separate you from the next 10 hours. You have no choice; your boundaries are defined, locked, armed and insurmountable.
The happy pax is the pax who retreats into himself, has muesli bars and chocolate hidden in his pockets and is blessed with room to change contact points from time to time.
I resumed my routine: swallow “No Jet Lag” pill, drink water, walk round plane, do stretching, pee, poo, flush, watch beard grow, settle down, sleep for 2 hours, wake, check airshow map, take pill. If a man can find peace and contentment with this he can survive long haul.
During one of my cabin circuits I found ADHD Boy with his 747 in hand, lying on the floor behind the wall that allows access behind the last row of seats to doors 5L
& 5R and the blissful sanctuary of the lavs. He was lying there, writhing and thrashing, not epileptic, but in dire need of something other than his mother’s cloying control and the forced politeness of the FA
’s as he ran about the corridor going “whooooossshh”, “Roooaaaarr” colliding with merino-clad buttocks or tripping over their (the FA
’s) unwary feet.
We made eye contact as he writhed and squiggled on the floor, me wishing we could swap places, (I would have sold my boat for a few minutes of horizontal at this point) and he would, had he not been off his face with bliss and joy, most probably have swapped his 747 for just a little glimpse into the world of adults, stern, composed and worldly wise……..yeah right!!
And then….Chicago!!!! Huge, sprawling and brightly lit, I found myself very conscious of just how much energy gets used up each day and each night, pumping out the sodium photons into a deserted landscape, millions of dollars each year spent just for the pimps and hookers to count their money by, while god-fearing folk toss and turn, dreaming of that lottery win, a new fridge, dental plans and the simple joy of a bullshit free day.
There was a lot of air traffic over Chicago, a line of lights strung out across the sky on the approach; behind us I could see the tip of the horizontal stabiliser and the nav lights of an a/c that had been tailing us for yonks.
Choices! Choices! Look down! See the streets; you may never pass this way again!
Look up! Search the heavens for planes, guess the destination and wonder if you should tell the captain that there are planes heading straight for us!
Look out the other door! Take it all in, process, store and embed, try not to forget………..you may never pass this way again.
I was, as so often happens, reminded of Ozymandias:
“Gaze upon my works ye mighty, and despair”.
Some days I think I should just start the day with a handful of Ritalin and get a proper job……..
My 2 hourly routine took over again and there is very little to see from this point, not helped by thick cloud coming in but there was one place, who knows where, they were having a laser light show and it lit up the clouds from beneath, swirls and whirls of brightness…marvellous, maybe down there, in the realm of men, people were going “ooh, aaah, awesome” while clutching corn dogs, hamburgers and root beer, clad in thick plaid jackets with sheepskin collars and “Breakers” on their hats, ear flaps dangling like spaniel’s ears, having the time of their lives.
Or maybe a rock band was just finishing its encore, thoughts of booze, drugs and groupies already uppermost in their minds as the roadies got ready to wind up 50 miles of coaxial cable and drive across the state line to the next gig.
But even musings of such great importance couldn’t keep me awake, I slept until the call to arms, the announcement that breakfast was ready, the Emerald Isle was on the port bow and Great Britain was about to feature in my life again.
Invigorated by the harsh light from outside I attacked my breakfast with gusto, gazed out at the unbroken blanket of cloud and started to feel slightly disturbed about the prospect of seeing the UK again after 3 and a half years.
Would I like it? Was it as bad as I remembered? Did my friends still like me? Would my mother clasp me to her bosom and weep on my shoulder?
I was looking forward to spending a few days with The Muse.
Some people are mildly scandalised by my relationship with The Muse but its all in their heads…truth is, if you meet and know as many people as I do, you will meet at least one person, who, for reasons you never look too deeply into, becomes a friend for life and regardless of age, culture, gender or ability, fills the little gaps in your heart that others have to fill with puppies or kittens.
My dearest wish for the muse is that one day some intelligent, articulate and wise soul will realise that in today’s mêlée of mixed-race, Vodka-swilling “Bearches” (with identikit features and pop-poster looks), there is a great deal to be said for pint-drinking strawberry blondes with a tenuous hold on reality and a genuine lo-maintenance psyche.
The Muse, mad, bad and dangerous to know
He will whisk her off to the shires, away from the sordid world of Lloyds brokers and 3-day liquid lunches, to settle down and inflict her own particular brand of insanity on him and keep him amused and bemused happily ever after.
I needed to see Scary Neil, to meet his new antipodean girlf and assess how well he had recovered from his unfortunate relationship with Miss Chloe-Rose, high maintenance, destructive and oh so very pale.
But we had to get there first, Joella would be meeting me at the gate, tall, a first-class shopper, gregarious yet intensely private and blessed with the ability to make smoking ciggies seem as glamorous as it was in the 1940’s.
Joella, elegantly wasted.
Yes, the Tangata I would enjoy seeing again, the Whenua is and always will be part of me but the govt, the weather and the crushing miasma of overpopulation…how would I cope?
After time with friends and Whanau would come 3 days of Training Workshop in Edinburgh with the Thin White Duke, followed by 5 days in the presence and (as it turned out) company of those who were born to their Dukedom, people of such nobility and power that even Jafa39 dare not debase their names…..
Our descent took us eastwards, the clouds started to break up and we circled a while, awaiting our place in the queue, NBW
seemed out of place, white, jade and Kiwi, patiently circling above the English countryside. I was impatient now, like a WW1 soldier, waiting for the whistle to blow, maybe death, maybe glory but either is preferable to the wait.
We straightened up, aligned ourselves with the invisible runway, several miles distant and commenced the descent in earnest.
The first building I saw with any clarity, as we dropped below the clouds, was Windsor Castle……of all the buildings in the shires…Windsor Castle!!! There was a crowd of people in the car park, I waved, “Hellooooo Boss” I shouted. The olds behind me looked askance, “That’s where my boss lives” the explanation was greeted with as much belief as if I’d said “I have Dolphins on my lawn and they tell me secrets” but hey ho, who cares anyway.
Transfixed at the damp landscape, oddly uncomfortable, emotions tangled and confused I both accepted and rejected my position, as one, who on dying, is drifting up the corridor to the other side and at any moment will discover whether there are two doors, one marked “Heaven” the other “Hell”, for you can kid yourself for a lifetime but one day, you, me, the dog, whoever, we will know the truth in the end.
A congested motorway….Hell, a peaceful park…Heaven….a runway….Truth….now we face the truth.
A gentle bump, a colossal roar of reverse thrust and silence, just the idle whine as we bumped across the concrete, hung a left in front of a Virgin 747 and pulled in beside an AA
Rain, wind, dimness…..yes, we are here, LHR
is just as I left it and now it is time to get on with life.
Struggling down the aisle with my suit and my laptop I paused to say “Byee” with FA
’s, entered the airbridge and out into the sprawling mass of LHR
I felt caught between two parallel universes and struggled to find the context, a comfort zone and something to either love or loathe and as I passed through the formalities and out into arrivals I spotted Joella, her warm smile lit up the grey anonymity of LHR
We hugged, I grinned and was led away, dazed and confused but in good hands.
You can tell a true friend, you don’t see them for years and when you do its like you were never away.
Pt 2 coming soon NWI
Nodding, smiling and a first class blag.
We, the undersigned, do hereby consent.....