Sunday, 8 February 2009

The Return Journey

First things first: thanks to those who have voted for my video for the Best Job in the World. At the moment of writing it's holding four stars and a spectacular place in the front page of the site. It's going to be very hard to keep it there, but I think you can vote again every twenty-four hours, so keep 'em coming fellas! (for those who need it again, the link is HERE).

Now onto our own business. I realise I've written quite a bit about my experiences in the Caribbeans, and I think it's time to close the saga. I've got quite a few more things to say about that time, but I'll go back to them for the middle-term future and renew this place with normal rants for a while.

Since I'm off to (temporarily) closing the saga, though, I thought there could be no better way of doing so than by telling of how I came back.

So let's talk about the return journey. I had been astonished, when coming to the Caribbeans, by the fact that the plane was virtually empty. I would have thought that every rich human being in the world and their dog would have wanted to come to this tropical island for their holidays, but it might as well have been a carrier-plane taking volunteers to the Bermuda triangle. So I book the flight leaving at 11.30 p.m. with the cunning plan of extending myself on the seats once more and sleeping all the way through it.

The day before leaving – it goes without saying – there was the goodbye party, where we filled up what was basically a canister intended to store a week's worth of water with a cocktail of rum, pineapple juice, tropical fruits, and a little bit of vodka for good measure. I almost drank the whole thing on my own. I was so drunk by the end of it that I tried making out with the ugliest girl in the entire Erasmus group (possibly the only one I hadn't made a pass on yet). To be fair to myself I wouldn't have done it if I hadn't spent the chastest and most Christian year of my life on that island, but I was given the two of spades by her as well. I guess it's true that permanence in heaven comes at the expense of never, ever – but really never – having sex.

The next day I had stuff to do of course, so I had to wake up comparatively early. I made my luggage while hungover, got to the airport and queued for check-in behind two extraordinarily boorish surfers. They were Italian. I normally strike up conversations when I meet fellow nationals abroad, but these two guys were patent idiots and I wanted to swat them with their own surfing boards. Never mind.

So I get on the plane, expecting nothing – and I get the holy masses. You'd have thought Pope John Paul II was flying on that plane. There is not a single free seat on the aircraft and I'm surprised I can't see anyone sitting on the floor. It was a giant plane too, so this is all the more unexpected. Maybe all the people were waiting for me to join them before coming back home from the Caribbeans.

I sit down – and instantly feel exhausted. The journey to the airport has already drained me of what little energies I was left with, and now the impelling need to sleep brushes over me like a moribund electrical wave. Inside me I see images of a slew of Labrador puppies snuzzling each other, two horses aslumber in a hot summer field, a class on Keats' 'Ode to Autumn,' seventy-two hippos sleeping, the most pointless meeting of the students' union, and even a slowly imploding star. My eyelids become leaden and, as the plane takes off, I lay my head back and try to sleep.

Now, my body appears to be structured according to a singular blueprint which dictates that it will always be absolutely impossible to sleep while sitting down. It's something which drives me wild. Whenever my dad sits down in the car, he lowers his chin, closes his eyes and starts napping. He's so peaceful about it that he once started snoring while a friend was in the middle of an eager conversation with him. For my own part, however, the moment that I close my eyes while sitting down, an enzyme of some kind appears to be released within my organism which bars my brain from slipping out of consciousness. And even when it does succeed in this normally most quotidian of tasks, a safety lock kicks in and the muscles of my neck begin aching like hell. I have a very delicate neck, and cannot twist it in my sleep, and since I'm not a Tibetan monk, I cannot sleep with my neck straight: it follows that I cannot sleep while sitting down at all.

Within one hour that I've been on that plane, I realise that this will end up being the worst journey of my life. I feel that I need sleep the way that roses need the rain, the way that rivers need to flow, the way that birds need to fly. I lift one leg up and extend my foot out through the walkway and onto the armrest of the person at my right (she is sleeping, lucky soul, so I'm hoping she won't notice). I rest my forehead on my knee and try to sleep. Five seconds later I am being practically bitch-slapped in the face by an angry hostess and I need to sit down straight again. Oh God help me – I'll sleep on then wing of the plane if they will only allow me to!

Over the course of the next three hours I try every single position possible with the human body and a chair. I turn around facing the back of the plane and put my face on the headrest while crossing my legs in front of me. I sit down on the floor and put my forehead on the seat. I curl up egg-style with my back on my seat and my feet against the back of the seat in front of me and my head pushed inbetween my knees, but it feels like a medieval torture.

When you're that tired, you cannot read. You cannot watch a movie. You just sit there, watching minutes going by like you're watching the continents being transformed.

It was the longest trip in my life, literally and metaphorically. Once again, the only real interruption was a trip to the bathroom, a matter I undertook when I reached the conclusion that washing my face would wake me up a little. I go there, and there's a queue of nightcrawlers waiting in front of the toilets: mostly they are women. They appear to have met another party who were there to stretch their legs, and now they are having tea-time or something together, so the group is double-sized.

I go into the toilet and wash my face quickly with the hand-soap. Once I'm done, I turn around to grab a towel: my hands feel nothingness.

They have no towels. How the fuck can you not have towels in the bathroom? It is, you know, a bathroom? It's the only place you could possibly be using water on the whole plane? Are they afraid I'm going to use the towels to strangle the pilot and fly the plane into the Twin Towers? Holy shit, now there's something the terrorists must have been planning on day in day out.

The only thing they have is toilet paper. I'm dripping like the shores of the Danube and I don't want to go back like this, so I decide to dry my face with that. It turns out to be biodegradable toilet-paper. What this means is that this is some wacky kind of toilet paper which is made to break down spontaneously when it comes in contact with water (presumably part of the waste-disposal on a plane). It disintegrates the moment it touches my face. More than that – it adheres. I throw away the handful I'd taken and feel my face; there's white strings of toilet-paper hanging from all over it. Naturally someone chooses that moment to knock. A signal of impatience; I have obviously been in there too long. I glance at myself in the mirror: I look like Jack Nicholson in Batman, in the scene where he has just ripped off his bandages from his head and what is left is a messy scalp. I can't walk out like this. There's a whole congregation of women out there and they're going to be wondering why I've been brushing toilet paper against my face.

Another knock. I feign acute diarrhoea and start removing the toilet-paper thread by thread. It's not coming off at all. My face isn't even dry yet. Maybe I need a razor. Eventually I end up washing my face again as a way of solving the problems which had come to me from washing my face.

This time I do walk out dripping. The women look at me, as women always look at me whenever I'm doing anything other than flexing my muscles, but the most that they can chat about is a face that's raining. Not as bad as all that.

I get back to my seat and enjoy the moist face. At least it keeps me awake – for ten minutes. Tiredness soon kicks in and it's back to the yoga.

When I got to Paris, I fell asleep at the airport. If I hadn't been so neurotic, I might even have slept till I missed my plane. Fortunately I didn't and, with the chappy taste that an hour's sleep at an airport leaves in your mouth, I climbed onto the plane to Rome.

I must have slept twelve hours when I got there. I'm grateful I even managed to wake up at all. In fact, writing this has made me tired. I'm going for a nap.

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