The 2nd of July 2013. 8:30 am on the 2nd of July, my dear friend Dawn, my colleague, the person who does what used to be my day job in another part of England dropped me off at London Heathrow Airport. Terminal 3 to be precise. Terminal 3 is for flights to and from what might be considered more ‘exotic’ destinations. It’s like a little corner of the United Nations in West London. I didn’t have to achieve much really, just get my dramatically overweight bags past check in without them asking me to jettison anything or charge me handsomely for weighing to much. They did neither. Result!
Then I had to negotiate the security bit without having any of my excessive technology items attract any tedious extra attention. I almost did but an item of liquid had come adrift from it’s little plastic bag in my cabin luggage and now they wanted to do a full search of my bag to examine the offending item. No problem. Almost.
Do you know what powerboat engineers who don’t travel much and have even less common sense carry in their hand luggage? I do, I didn’t, but I do now. They carry a couple of briefcases of assorted equipment, wires, batteries, cutters, screwdrivers and gun shaped objects that look exactly like the the sort of thing a terrorist bomb maker would like to have in his hand luggage if he was allowed to carry anything he liked on to an aeroplane.
The Powerboat engineer was in front of me in the queue at security. His bag was being checked before mine. I’d arrived at the airport 3 hours early as is customary for long haul flights. I spent a rewarding hour watching security people examine minutely every single item of equipment in our engineer friends luggage. He explaining in detail what every single piece of equipment was for. Do you know he didn’t even apologise for being an idiot as he walked off when they finally let him go? I found that quite disappointing as I wanted to reassure him that he was indeed very, very stupid.
No matter though, I had a plane to catch to the far end of the world. A Singapore Airlines flight to Auckland. Yes I know, I’ve always been something of an evangelist for Air New Zealand but they wanted a whole third more of the price of the ticket than Singapore Airlines did. Plus Singapore Airlines gets you to New Zealand quicker.
I waited to board my giant Airbus. The A380, the worlds largest passenger airplane. I was very excited. I’d spent ages choosing the best seat on the plane for my economy class ticket. This translated into an aisle seat, in the middle section just a couple of rows back from the emergency exit. I get to be first off at the other end, only one person to climb over me during the 12 hour flight. Perfect, well as perfect as one can manage in the cheap seats.
I boarded my plane, I noted the Singapore Airlines cabin crew recruitment policy must be somewhat rigid in the physical appearance category given the extraordinary beauty of every single one of the female crew. I located my perfect seat after 3 steps, sat down, settled myself, had an empty seat beside me and hoped. He arrived a few moments later, grinning and pointing at the empty seat. I came to refer to him in my own mind as ‘the fat, chatty, drunken Norwegian with giant testicles’.
I stood to let him in to his seat. He sat down and made himself comfortable by having his knees facing opposite sides of the aeroplane. I addressed him as courteously as I could manage, with something along the lines of. “Would you mind closing your legs a bit, they are very wide apart and you are encroaching into my seat space”. He smiled and nodded and closed his legs not one jot. I made an elaborate gesture of retaining my leg space by putting my thigh at the outer extent of my own seat space and he appeared to enjoy using my outer knee as a resting spot for his own. He smiled broadly at me, reached to shake my hand and introduced himself as Kuntz. I’m pretty sure that’s what he said. It worked for me anyway as a name for my new Norwegian neighbour.
He started to talk. He talked about cars, motorbikes, engines, engine statistics, about his job as a computer engineer in the Philippines. I just looked at him and started to realise how very far it is from London to Singapore.
After a few hours the beautiful cabin crew bought some food which he thankfully started filling his mouth with instead of words. I took my window of opportunity to put on my very expensive noise cancelling headphones. This appeared to be some sort of challenge to him though. He now had to tap me on the shoulder to get me to lift one of my headphones to hear his next snippet of wisdom about historic motorcycles. He started to get the hint when I replaced the headphone before he had finished his very important revelation about old Motorbikes and Norway in the Winter. He ordered a drink.
Now Kuntz the Norwegian had no media to consume, no book, no magazine, he watched no television, nor films. He sat beside me, with what appeared to be the worlds largest testicles preventing him from sitting any other way apart from having his legs at right angles to each other. Using my outer knee as a resting place for his own. I feigned sleep, he drank. He drank solidly and consistently from one glass of cognac to the next for the ensuing nine hours of the journey. The Cabin Crew shuttled back and forth throughout the night bringing him cognac, which had to arrive at his table via close proximity to my nose obviously. I like Cognac, I really do but it may be a while before I shake off that smell of alcohol seeping from the pores of a fat drunken chatty Norwegian. He stopped at breakfast time though. He had a beer with his breakfast. We were a couple of hours from Singapore. I had another plane to catch to Auckland, he was going somewhere else, I was very, very grateful.
He shook my hand and wished me well. I wished him gone but I just said “good luck Kuntz”.
I had approximately 20 minutes to compose myself after getting off my giant Airbus and transiting Changi Airport once I’d found my new gate for the Auckland flight. This must be the shortest international transit ever!
I had gone to equal lengths as the first leg to choose my perfect economy seat. Aisle seat, near the exit in the 3 seats abreast bit in the middle section. Nobody would be climbing over me on the 10 hour run into New Zealand. I was feeling remarkably fresh. I located my seat and found myself sitting next to two very nice women from New Zealand. A mother and daughter who had been in England and were returning home. They knew my mother, I know!
The last leg was smooth and uneventful. I plugged my iThing into my ears and left it there for about 8 hours. I had a huge selection of music playing to soothe my last hours of the long journey to New Zealand. I was nearly home.
I arrived at Auckland International Airport at 22.45 pm Wednesday 03 July 2013. It was mid winter and I was wearing a t-shirt. Auckland was dark, drizzly and mild. I was collected at the Airport and ferried across the city. I looked out the window through the dark and looked at all the ‘New Zealandness’ around me. It looked like home. It feels like home. I made it. I’m home and it’s wonderful. It’s good to be back.