Summer 2016: Part 1

Most people who know me well (and many who don't) are aware that I'm terrified of flying. It's one of my favourite drinking monologues - right up there with the loathing I have for birds. Anyway, so there it was, eight to ten hours on a plane looming ahead of me - just days after the France-Egypt aircraft disaster. But things are better now than they used to be on that front. I got diagnosed with bipolar disorder a couple of years ago (there, I finally said it) and apart from my daily medication, I've been prescribed a pill only meant for Emergencies. It is supposedly highly addictive - one of my exes used to abuse it heartily - but luckily I haven't taken to popping it left, right, and centre yet. I do, in fact, keep it aside for the aforementioned Emergencies. And, as far as I'm concerned, the state of my nerves when I'm on a plane does in fact constitute an Emergency. So I took a pill soon after I boarded and blissfully slept through most of the journey, only waking up for the usual plastic meal. And so, the hours went by very quickly, and before I knew it, we were circling over England.

I've travelled to England many times, and I have never ever landed in a sunny one. The first glimpse, after descending through grey clouds, as always been an equally grey sky, almost magnificent in its sheer dullness. But this time, the sky outside wasn't grey, oh no, it was a clear and cloudless blue, and the sun shimmered (gently - it was still England after all) on the patch-work of green below. It discomfited me, it didn't seem right, having a constant snatched away in an already inconstant world.

But why quibble. 

My uncle Niki (my mother's cousin - she has an army of them) was going to be picking me up at the airport. The plan was to have lunch together before he handed me over to Mawii. I always go to my mother's brother's house at College Road, so that was another change. But the change was, obviously, because Mawii and I were leaving for Portugal the next morning so I didn't complain about that. 

I'm very fond of Niki. He has made himself responsible, over the years, for introducing me to John Keats' house, and Charles Dickens', and Samuel Johnson's. We also share the same sense of humour, much to the dismay of many of our other family members. 

Anyway. So there I was, in familiar old Heathrow, and after god knows how many hours, my first priority was obviously a cigarette. I'm pretty sure all my family knows I smoke, but I don't in front of most of them. I definitely wasn't going to light up in front of Niki. So I barged up and down Heathrow, looking for the smoking rooms.

Except I couldn't find any.

So I went up to a red faced airport official and asked and he told me - in what I think was an unnecessarily hostile tone - that there are no smoking rooms in Heathrow.

Get your act together, England. 

So I sadly trudged towards Immigration and had the usual interview that always leaves me feeling like an unwanted brown asylum-seeker, let into the land of the White based on their sheer benevolence, and then I found my luggage, and then Niki found me. 

We boarded a train, a forty-minute journey into the city, but time went by very fast, because Niki and I spent it gossiping about the rest of the family. This is one of our favourite things to do. Niki always has scandalous things to tell me. 

For instance, I lived twenty-five years without knowing that one of my uncles was murdered. He was the token black sheep, I suppose, and a waste of space all around. He'd plonked himself on a friend, and he was apparently so irritating, that the friend's eighty year old father stabbed him to death.

"I don't really blame the old man," Niki told me, "It was very understandable. None of the family have ever held it against him. 

And then he told me another story, about one of his cousins. (Part of the army I mentioned earlier.) So this one is a bit, er, special. He likes to think he is the Prince of Purulia. Purulia is a district in Bengal, and it is where my grandmother and her many brothers and sisters were brought up. Purulia has no royal family, it has never had a royal family, and even if it did, I highly doubt they could ever have belonged to it, since my great-grandfather was a teacher. But this particular uncle has never let that stop him. He's even created a royal Purulia insignia for his car and uses it to park illegally all over Delhi. But he does have one thing in common with most princes: he's pretty useless in general. So many years ago, the family packed him off to London because they didn't know what else to do with him. Niki got him a place in university through a friend of his who was a professor there. A month after the cousin joined, the friend called. 

Professor friend: Niki, you dark horse. You never told me you're a prince!

Niki: ?

Professor friend: Now don't try to deny it. Your cousin told me he belongs to a royal family, and that you do too. 

Niki: ....

It took him a long time to convince her that he was, in fact, a commoner and quite happy to be one. His cousin has told her that most of the family denied it because they had Communist sympathies. 

Anyway, we went to a cafe, got a bite to eat, cheerfully tore most of the family to shreds, and caught the tube to London Bridge, where I was handed over to Mawii.

"I'll take care of her," Mawii said to my uncle. "She won't miss the flight, or get lost or anything."

"Well, you seem reliable," he said, looking relieved. 

I protested against this unfair assumption of my general incapableness, was unsurprisingly ignored, said goodbye to Niki, and then Mawii and I had a blessed cigarette before we went to her room on campus. It was tiny, but so cheerful and, because it's Mawii, incredibly neat. 

That's the one thing I always resented about Mawii in college. First thing in the morning and even though she's one of those people who are always half-asleep during the first hour after 'waking', she would still make her goddamn bed. And not in a half-assed sort of way. Properly. You have no clue how annoying it was. It made me feel so guilty when we left the room - her sheets folded, the bed-cover draped neatly, all creases smoothened, the pillows plumped, and then my bed next to hers: a heap of crumpled sheets covered in cigarette ash and books. It was almost incentive enough for me to make my own bed.

Anyway, by the time I reached Mawii, it was late afternoon. She'd gotten us tickets to see a play that evening: Dr. Faustus, starring Kit Harington - you know, the guy who plays Jon Snow in Game of Thrones. I'm not a Game of Thrones fan. I only watched the first couple of seasons and then I stopped because I couldn't handle everyone being killed, and I didn't care too much about Kit Harington either because I naturally thought of him as Jon Snow and Jon Snow was kind of a wuss from what I could remember. Anyway. So I wasn't excited about Kit Harington, but I was excited about the play because I love Dr. Faustus.

Unfortunately, by the time we got there, jet-lag had struck and I was in zombie mode. But then Kit Harington came on stage and bloody hell, that man is so goddamn hot in real life. I woke up instantly. And he was also almost nearly naked for most of the play (though unfortunately not completely, unlike some of the cast, which I considered rather unfair). I didn't like the play though. Still, I only slept through some of it, not the entire thing, such was the appeal of Kit Harrington's six-pack.

We got home at about eleven and I crawled thankfully into bed, and fell instantly asleep. It seemed only ten minutes later, that Mawii was shaking me awake, shrieking that we were late. It was the ungodly hour of six or something similar and we had to catch a bus to take us to the airport. I can't remember the name right now, one of the little ones, a poor relative of Heathrow, I suppose. The bus stand was a fifteen minute walk away. Mawii had booked seats for us and if we missed the bus, we'd miss the plane, and therefore, miss Portugal. It was vital, therefore, that we didn't miss the bus.

Which is why, my first morning in London, saw me running down the colourless pavements, under the colourless sky, being bitten by a cold and sharp wind, my duffel bag banging against my hips and getting entangled in my legs, and my heart on the verge of falling out of my chest.

Mawii, unsympathetic as always, kept turning back to me and shouting, "YOU'RE SO SLOW, TRISH! HURRY UP!"

It was easy for her to say. She had a suitcase on wheels that she could just pull along. She wasn't tripping over her bag. She doesn't smoke as much as I do either.

After a period of intense suffering (on my part), we spied the bus we were supposed to be on.

"WE'RE GOING TO MISS IT!" Mawii shrieked, and we doubled the effort, running towards it (well, in my case, stumbling), waving our hands, and shouting.

We were the last passengers on the bus, and the ticket conductor made it a point to lecture us on our lack of punctuality.

"This bus was supposed to leave at 6.45," he said. "It is now 6.51. You're lucky that we're even here." 

The English are so fucking anal, man. 

Mawii apologised profusely, I did not, and we were on our way. 

When we got to the airport, I insisted on having a cigarette outside, because my experience at Heathrow taught me not to expect smoking rooms inside the airport. 

As I stood there, shivering in the cold, puffing away on the Classic Milds I'd brought all the way from India, I observed the other smokers and it struck me that we were a sorry looking bunch. Everyone was dark eyed and pale and badly dressed and for a moment, I felt a pang, realising that I belonged to a group of people who are increasingly socially ostracised, and whom, just then, looked like they ought to be. 

But then I realised that it was seven thirty in the morning, and no human being with any sense of decency has the right to look, er, decent when catching a flight at that time, so I cheered up and went inside. 

The plane was naturally worryingly small and fragile looking. I didn't take the pill because I was saving it for the flight back to India, and I foresaw two hours of nail-biting agony. But England's weather, its emphasis on punctuality, and its dearth of smoking rooms had worn me out, so I passed out instantly and slept through my fear. 

I was going to wake up in Portugal, on the holiday that I could only have dreamt about in college, with my mouth open and drool on my chin - a predictably inauspicious start. But that belongs to Part 2. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The English are so anal oh god I died snorting