Setting forth on a voyage of mundanity

From Tuesday, Air New Zealand will be increasing long-term domestic fares across all routes....
Photo: RNZ
I tied my laces and we went to the airport.

From Christchurch to Sydney the double-decker plane was all but empty. Flight attendants chatted among themselves amid the ranks of empty seats. Awaiting the deluge.

In Sydney airport I drank wine with a helicopter pilot who was about to retire. He dropped the names of celebrities that he would fly to the Hunter Valley just for lunch. I’d heard of none of them. He pretended not to be miffed.

From Sydney to Dubai there wasn’t an empty seat. I sat next to an Iranian graduate student of environmental law. She was returning to Iran against her will. I didn’t understand why. She was tiny, nervous, unsure how things would pan out.

I read a novel by Tom Sharpe, ate, drank, then slept. Twice I woke to wee.

There are many ways to fall out of love with the human race. One is to come back from the toilet at midnight down the dimmed aisle of an airliner and to observe the ranks of sleepers, heads lolling, skin sagging, teeth jutting, vulnerable, unguarded, unlovely, sealed in a metal tube some 40,000 feet above their natural habitat.

Bleary, we trudged off the plane at Dubai. After just 13 hours the detritus we had generated was impressive. It was like wading through a teenage bedroom.

Outside the terminal it was four in the morning local time and 32°C. Inside, it was the air-conditioned middle of the day. Every shop was open and busy, as it had been for every minute of the year just gone and would be for every minute of the year to come.

And here in nowhere there were people from everywhere. I drank a beer with a South African physiotherapist on his way to Belgium to meet a woman he’d got engaged to online. I hope she finds charms in him. They eluded me.

The gates on either side of ours were sending planes to Accra and Sao Paulo.

On our plane to London, a fat man was in my aisle seat. I showed him my boarding pass. He moved with surly reluctance, landed heavily on the next seat and didn’t move or speak again for seven hours.

He slept a lot, once slumped against my shoulder, farted from time to time and woke unerringly for meals.

I watched a movie about a schoolteacher in a Spanish village in the 1930s who defied conservatism and the Catholic church. Then came the civil war and Franco’s fascists.

All fascists are the same — dear leader, flags and cries of patriotism.

They beat the teacher up, then shot him. I dozed a little, felt clogged with aeroplane food.

London’s sky was signature grey. The immigration officials at Heathrow have never been surpassed for sourness and suspicion.

But in the six years since I last came here they’ve been replaced by automated gates. For once, technological progress is not an oxymoron.

I remember when Heathrow Terminal 3 was new and futuristic. It now felt as tired and cramped and seedy as I did.

We took a train to the new and futuristic Terminal 5. It already seemed full to capacity, heaving with people and with the same overlit luxury shops as in Dubai and Sydney and every other village in this parallel world of travelling by air.

My watch, by now, had nothing useful to tell me. I drank two pints of English bitter, then we flew to Belfast.

Also on board was a junior West Indies cricket team. They had the longest legs proportional to the rest of their bodies I have ever seen.

I had arranged for us to be met at the airport but there was no-one there. We took a taxi. The driver swore a lot but in the end he found the place we’d booked on trust from the other side of the world.

I dropped my bags, slumped on to a sofa and bent to undo the laces I had tied at home some 42 hours before.

We had out-travelled Marco Polo, and done it sitting down.

And there is nothing left remarkable beneath the visiting moon.

 - Joe Bennett is a Lyttelton writer.