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Friday, 15 April 2016

Time Flies (But Not In Economy)

This is a story which begins at Manchester Airport and ends in a cat litter tray.

When I was recently in Sydney (see Wizard In Oz) I saw a souvenir that I really should have bought, as it is a perfect example of Australian humour.  It was a snow globe containing something vaguely Australian within, but what amused me was the slogan underneath, which read "SYDNEY - IT'S A BLOODY LONG WAY'

It is a 'bloody long way'.  10,555 miles, as the crow flies, from Manchester to Sydney, although I would imagine most crows would have more sense.  Unless you happen to be independently wealthy, this vast distance is likely to be travelled in the Economy section of your chosen airline.  I live in the hope that more enlightened generations to follow will consign Economy class travel to the ranks of 'cruel and unusual punishment', but I doubt it.  I once worked with a rather grand lady who travelled by air frequently on business and she told me "I never turn left when I board a 'plane".  I pointed out to her that, if I did that on most of the 'planes I've flown on, I would be sitting on the pilot's lap, but I don't think she grasped my point.
I suppose that 21 hours in an aircraft would be just about bearable if you could sleep through it, but I just can't.  I'm acutely aware that there is 34,000 feet of absolutely nothing between me and terra firma and I don't find that a comforting though before I drop off (which is an unfortunate term, under the circumstances).  On the two occasions when exhaustion overtook me and I did nod off for a few blissful minutes, I was rudely awoken by being bashed over the head as someone walked down the aisle.  Cat-swinging is not an option in Economy.

The other problem, in Economy, is dining.  Not, necessarily, the quality of the food, although that can be variable, but the need to eat as if you are a praying mantis, elbows tucked in to avoid encroaching on your neighbour's personal space, wrists bent as if performing delicate surgery.  Of course, as soon as the meal has been served, clear air turbulence will set in with a vengeance and you'll be lucky if you don't arrive at your destination wearing most of your dinner.  Also, just as a matter of interest, if you're not allowed to bring sharp objects on to the aircraft (understandably) why are you then issued with metal knives, forks and spoons for your meal?

 Leaving to one side the cramped conditions, the duration of the flight and the difficulties in doing anything other than sitting in one place for hours on end, the thing that really messes with your head is the time difference.  We left Manchester at about 08.00 for a 7 hour (ish) flight to Doha and arrived there at 18.00, because of the difference between UK and Qatar time.  Boarding a 'plane to Sydney at 20.10 for a 14 hour (ish) flight, we arrived at Sydney at 18.05 the following day.  By now, if you're like me, you're hopelessly confused, but travelling to New Zealand makes it worse.  I had always thought of New Zealand as being to Australia what the Isle of Wight is to England.  It isn't.  It is, in fact, over 1300 miles away and you cross two time zones to get to it.  So, by the time you get to NZ, you are two hours further adrift from U.K. time and figuring out when would be an appropriate time to ring home would require the insight of Stephen Hawking.  To complicate matters further, whilst we were in NZ, they put the clocks forward one hour, as did the U.K. (but not, of course, on the same date).  Coming back to the U.K., you inevitably gain back all of the hours you lost on the way out, so we left Sydney at 21.30 and arrived back at Manchester at 13.15 the following day, despite travelling for 23 hours.  As a consequence, although I've had jet-lag before, I've never experienced anything like this.

On the day we returned, we decided to try to go to bed at roughly our normal time to attempt to get our body clocks back in some sort of order.  We made a decent attempt but it became more and more difficult.  You found that, if you allowed your eyes to close for more than a fraction of a second, you were instantly asleep.  I knew that I had to give it up as a bad job when I heard a loud bang as I was cleaning out the cat litter tray (you don't get this sort of detail with Bill Bryson, do you?).  The loud bang in question had been caused by my knee hitting the washing machine, as my leg gave way underneath me because I had fallen fast asleep in mid-shovel.

Now that's what I call jet-lag!

If you've enjoyed this, you might well enjoy Philip's 'nostalgedy' series of books which contain numerous pieces in much the same vein.  Links can be found to the right of this page.