While I stand in line with a boarding pass and passport, I’m looking around at my fellow passengers and thinking; ‘these are the people I’m going to die with’. Such is my fear of flying, which gets significantly worse each time, as my brain is convinced that this is the one that’s going down. This is my ticket. I’ve actually considered the possibility of flying after a recent air disaster, because surely the statistics are in my favour and the chances of a repeat catastrophe are slim? What the hell am I doing at an airport? What the hell am I doing getting on a plane? A plane that is flying to the UK?!
Wedged into a middle seat and strapping myself in I practice the brace position. I like other people around me to know that I’m shitting myself. I’ve tried everything to calm my nerves; drugs, booze, sleep deprivation and all night benders. Nothing can get me out of that panicked head space that this behemoth of a vehicle is going to take off into the sky and stay there for three hours, before coming to land safely and without incident. The usual clanking sounds strike fear into my heart and I whisper an audible “fuck” as we lurch down the runway. Little do I realise I’ve dragged the guy to my right down with me, and he starts freaking out too. But once at cruise height, we settle into conversation, and it does much to pass the time. His name was Stuart too. I made a plane buddy. He’s a lifesaver when about an hour to go I get the irrational fear that the fuselage is going to break in half.
A short time later and I’ve set foot in the UK for the first time in forever. I’m standing at the baggage drop and I feel a remarkable phenomenon. I can understand everyone. It’s like that movie What Women Want, where Mel Gibson can mind read all these girls and they’re all in his head. After two years and six months in foreign countries, it’s like someone has translated my ears. They’ve been unclogged. It’s something I’ve just never thought about. You become numb to the conversations around you because you can’t understand a word. It’s just a noise. Now everything is clear and it’s right inside your head. Everyone is speaking my language – and it’s weird.
Negotiating the tube is a nightmare, but even at the height of rush hour, I’m getting a certain kick out being able to read signs, listen to people, and cross the city with relative ease. It’s nice when you know where to go and how to get there, even if it is London. I’ve bundled myself into a McDonald’s (for the wifi I assure you) near Holborn, and I discover my laptop has died. I’ve got maybe an hour to contact my sister before she leaves for Newcastle and I’ve nowhere to stay. I reach to plug my machine into the wall socket, and discover it’s for a British plug. Obviously. I race to find a WH Smith.
Up and down the street I run, with time against me. There are far too many people in this city, and all of them are getting in my way. Eventually I locate a Boots, buy a travel adapter, and make a bee line back to McDonald’s. Of course the socket there is locked and the manager refuses to allow me access. Apparently they’ve lost the key. “Don’t you have a phone?” He incredulously asks. No I don’t have a fucking phone. Do you think I’d be doing this if I could call her?! He directs me to a sushi restaurant across the way. I narrowly avoid death on the London streets as I zip over the road, buy a token bottle of water and set up my net book. Plug sockets yes, wifi no. Screaming bloody murder and sweating like a rapist, I once again rush out into the night to try to locate power and wifi in one place. We put a man on the moon, surely it isn’t too much to ask.
Failing miserably and as a last-ditch attempt to locate my sister I wearily fall through hotel doors. The kind receptionist takes pity on my sob story and allows me onto the lobby computer. Within minutes I’m in contact, and I discover my sibling has been sitting in a Costa Coffee on the corner, the exact same one I’ve been running past several times. I’ll forgive London when I’ve supping a pint of real ale.
With her flat keys safely in pocket, an hour or so later and I’m making my way to meet the reason I’m back here. My heart is in my mouth and my stomach is turning knots, but this has to be done. Alarm bells have been ringing for days, warnings ignored, and better judgement cast asunder; but it’s all worth it when I finally see Ella. After days like today I’m convinced I need my head examined.