After heart-wrenchingly tearful goodbyes with the family at home, I was not in the brightest of moods or thinking clearly when I arrived at the Emirates check-in desk. The agent looked weary after a long day but was pleasant and helpful, advising me that that I needed to transfer some of the weightier items in my gargantuan carry-on bag into my suitcase for, despite my concerns regarding paying for excess baggage, it was the carry-on that was the concern. After more than a little soul searching, I wrapped my laptop and my two folders of paperwork in clothes, zipped up the case and consigned the case to the care of the handlers and loaders. It was as it had irretrievably disappeared down the conveyer that I put my hand in my pocket – to find that the padlock for the case was still attached to the key on my key chain. With grim thoughts of luggage larceny and sobbing sprogs, I wandered off to kill the time before I boarded. After another lump-in-the-throat call to SWMBO, I was surprised by how low I felt and wondered why. After all, I was heading off to the other side of the world with great intentions to help provide those I was leaving behind with a better life. A beep from my belt signalled a text from SWMBO which almost reduced me to tears but said exactly what I needed to hear and set me up for the weeks ahead.
London to Dubai
The nose wheel camera view on my seat back screen was great but it was hard to focus on the image as the guy in the seat in front was constantly bouncing up and down. This performance was accompanied by the incessant kicking of my seat back by a willful child behind who was deaf to both my requests to cease and her mother’s. The unholy trinity of annoying neighbours was completed by the guy next to me. It appeared that he had grabbed a copy of each of the many free newspapers as he boarded and was trying to speed-read each page before moving onto the next paper.
These distractions aside, the first leg of the flight was a breeze. I passed the time either reading Annie Proulx’s ‘That Old Ace In The Hole’, which I’m enjoying, or watching on-demand movies on Emirates’ ICE system (Information; Communication; Entertainment – in-flight info; phone, email & SMS; movies, music and TV). I found the humorous mid-life meanderings of ‘Sideways’ to be just what I needed to raise my mood but found the Robin Williams vehicle ‘The Final Cut’ to be over-wrought second rate sci-fi nonsense. The choice of food was surprisingly good for economy and the Middle Eastern lamb dish I plumped for was notable for it’s taste as much as the large and succulent chunks of meat – top marks.
After eating and acting on my colleague’s advice, I stayed awake through the night and the rest of the leg deliberately, in order to hopefully induce sleep on the longest leg.
I am not sure whether I can actually claim to have visited the United Arab Emirates, for my sojourn in Dubai was brief – just under 45 minutes plane to plane – and hectic due to frantic passengers being repeatedly required to walk through incredibly sensitive arch detectors. I took every piece of metal from my person and the blasted thing still beeped. Having narrowed the possibilities to my trouser zip, fillings in my teeth or surgical steel pins in my leg, I was allowed to dash for my next plane.
Dubai to Auckland
Notebook entry written at gate: Feel tired but OK though I imagine that I will grow to hate my [next] seat after 12hr+ to Sydney and the last leg to Auckland.
Whilst Dubai security was preoccupied with my dangerous trousers and teeth and I was jotting notes, Saint Christopher was busy having a change of heart for, boarding for the long slog across the Indian Ocean, I was ushered to a lovely aisle seat, just behind the business class bulkhead. My neighbour, a thrusting young entrepreneur from Pakistan who is building a sports goods empire in Sydney, and I grinned like lottery winners as we stretched out our legs and settled in for the (very literally) long haul.
I passed the long hours with a series of cat naps punctuated by half-watched movies, the odd meal, regular offers of chilled water and a few attempts at getting my eyes to focus on my book. Somewhere over the Indian Ocean, beyond the Equator and south east of Jakarta, I glanced at the screen to see BBC Worldwide News announce the death by apparent suicide of Hunter S Thompson. This seemed strangely apt as the long hours with little rest had induced in me a weird drug-like stupor worthy of one of Thompson’s gonzo characters. Equally fitting of a place in an HST novel was the incredibly rude Englishwoman who, along with her bloated husband, took great pleasure in moaning about everything and making sniping remarks to the crew. She seemed totally unaware of quite how infantile and self-centred she sounded when, after being asked to pull her seat upright to allow meals to be served behind, she snapped back with “I’ve been sitting down for 12 hours, you know” oblivious to the fact that so had the rest of us whilst the crew had been on their feet looking after us. Elsewhere, I fell into sporadic conversation with the woman who, despite a full-blown Kiwi accent, emigrated from the West Midlands of the UK just five years before. Those who have heard the West Midlands accent will know that replacing it with another is no mean feat! This woman must be a saint because she made the whole trip with her charming one year old son (who was remarkably well behaved for the circumstances) on her lap without once raising her voice or losing her cool. During the early morning descent into Sydney, I suddenly became aware of the sound of a dawn chorus of twittering bird. After establishing that it wasn’t my iPod playing up, I realised that it was being broadcast softly over the PA system, presumably to signal the break of day to bodyclocks addled by lack of sleep. Sadly, this calming interlude was shattered by twin Arab boys, who screamed blue murder all the way down to the terra firma in Sydney.
After disembarking into a hot and humid Sydney terminal to allow fuelling and cleaning, I called the family and enjoyed the sound of happy sprogs who excitedly announced that it had snowed since I left. After catching up on news, I re-boarded for the comparatively short hop over the Tasman Sea to Auckland. The clouds over the North Island shone brilliantly in the sun and, seeing them stretch out southwards in great narrow wisps, it was not hard to understand how the Maori had come to name the island (see title of January 22nd’s post). The long flight had taken its toll and I felt a little subdued as I navigated Customs, Biosecurity (to prevent importation of biologically threatening organic materials) and Immigration. However, as I exited the terminal and headed into a cloudy but warm Auckland afternoon, I couldn’t help smiling: I was about to begin a trip that I had been planning for a good long while, one that could change our family life dramatically. Wondering if I could pull it off and whether the outcome could be as good as we have hoped, I pulled into the traffic on highway 20A and headed north to Auckland.