For reasons I won’t go into I had to pull a lap from Bangkok to London and back again in the space of sixty hours last weekend. Twenty-five of them in the air and another six cruising the shopping lanes of airport terminals. The rest involved a fabulous shepherd’s pie, a stroll round the mud of a common near Collier’s Wood, London on the river Wendle, an Alfa Romeo Giulia and many, many packets of Ella’s Kitchen food pouches. It’s been an interesting few days all told over Christmas and the New Year so here are a few moments to ponder from the journey….
As I sat in what turned out to be actually the best economy seat I’ve done to date on an Ethiad Airlines flight a voice came over the intercom system, spoiling my attempts to lock and load “Ted” – an irreverent movie about a foul-mouthed bear and Mark Wahlberg. Fairly amusing movie to watch if you see it listed on the movie channels, but not to go and waste money on buying.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Erik, your chief steward for your flight. I am pleased to announce your cabin crew staff of eight are able to serve you in English, French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Russian, Romanian, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Cantonese…” there was a slight pause and a muffled conversation crackled mustily over the airwaves…”and in Estonian” for your trip.
Estonian? No shit. I can see why they’ve just won World Airline of the Year for the 4th year in succession. As the cabin lady, who was to serve my section cruising up with the weapon that is the drinks trolley, proved by launching into effortless Russian for the entire contingent of Muscovites, on a trip to Pattaya, who had me surrounded.
I donned earphones and wished for the umpteenth time I was The Polyglot.
Ooh. A lady Thai taxi driver. First one of those.
She proved the most keen to practice her English as I headed to the Grand Palace with my two eldest children. A fair amount of chat about the New Year, the weather and then, as the soon-to-be-a-teenager slouched in the rear seat of the taxi…
“You have two beautiful daughters.”
What? “I’m sorry?” a polite query. Must have misheard
“You have two beautiful daughters. Very pretty. How old?” By this time the eldest son has taken note and is attempting a strange mix of crawling back further into his seat and thrusting out his chest manfully.
Merde. “Ah, my daughter next to me is 8, my son…he’s 11.”
“Ohhhhhh. He look like girl.” We’re rapidly going downhill. The object of the analysis squawks a garbled protest.
“Not because of hair. He has a very pretty face. Like a girl. Very beautiful.”
Try telling that to an 11 year old. We drive on in silence for some time.
Unfortunately, the trip to London and back resulted in jet lag kicking in before the Bangkok fiery crescendo to the New Year celebrations. Not to worry too much though as The Diplomat, three of the four hosts of the party we attended upstairs, several other Canadians with a military/defence career who had hopped down to Thailand from China, two children, three apartment staff, one nanny and a partridge in a pear tree all went down with a violent stomach ache.
I awoke shortly after the clock clicked into 2013 to hear the sound of projectile vomiting as yet another Asian exotic bug/virus claimed victory over poor humanity. “Happy New Year” chortled the microscopic lifeforms.
“Aha! I see you are a diplomat. You must have a really great lifestyle. I’ve heard all about you lot, seeing exotic countries, meeting people. You know!”
You’d be surprised how much of that is myth. “Actually, I am not a diplomat. Merely traveling with one. Tagging along for the ride, so to speak. My wife is a diplomat.”
This is a conversation at the AVIS counter outside the terminals at Heathrow at 21:00. It’s a trifle chilly, but linen shorts and T will suffice.
“Really? Still, I’d love to do that. All the travels, the sights, the wonderful, wonderful people, new foods to try. Awesome. Where are you based?”
“Wow. Really? Fabulous. Never been but all those beach parties. I’ve seen the film a dozen times, y’know. The one with whatshisface. Um. Chap from Titanic. Johnny Depp.”
“Leonardo Di Caprio?” I suggest politely.
“”Zactly.” Car keys are waggled in my direction.
At this point, the chap to the left of the person serving me leans across (there’s only the two of them and two customers) and, in a low, conspiratorial whisper, tells me “I bet you eat a load of Fererro Rocher.”
“No. Actually, no I don’t. Are those the keys to the Alfa Romeo? They are? Thanks. Thanks very much. And a Happy New Year to you.”
Whilst my trip out to London was a single Thai Airways flight the return trip involved stopping in Abu Dhabi. A flight that had me transfixed to my aircraft tracking screen as we sailed over Baghdad, peering out of the window. Saw nothing. And yet, when we dropped out of the skies to be in my first ever real desert, I got an odd sensation of achievement. As though I’d ticked a geographical box. Snow? Tick. Rain? Tick. Mountains? Tick. Sea? Tick.
Desert? Ticked now. Taken nearly forty years. An odd moment of introspection as myself and the Muscovites gazed down, but oddly happy enough. After all, the Mayan calendar misreading by conspiracy theorists and end-of-the-world cyberspace prophets has come and gone (incidentally, is anyone aware what the next date for the end of the world is? I can’t think if it’s in our projected lifetimes, to be honest) and 2013 beckons.
That’s it for now. 2012 has started a voyage, 2013 will bring many, many more experiences. I wonder, will I attend a diplomatic event and be given Ferrero Rocher? We shall see.
Happy New Year to one and all.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?