It's 4am in Tokyo; I have absolutely no idea what time it is underneath this people-carrying tin can – or even what country is under this people-carrying tin can – only that it's night. This is hour six of an eleven hour flight; I've tried sleeping but only succeeded in jerking myself awake after five minutes and Up In The Air won't start a new rotation for another hour. What to do? Open the laptop, discover Open Office is the one programme I forgot to install after the factory reset so I can't even do any 'proper' writing, so I'll write to you instead, internets. You'll get it later. It'll be like old fashioned mail.
This is a strange place. Physically, cos I'm in the middle seat (amusingly, on a flight where the passengers must be 90% Japanese, I'm sat in between two Western women. One's a very nice Austrian; the other's nationality is still to be determined*, but if emo has its own nation state, I'm guessing she's from there. You have to commend anyone who wears thick eyeliner for a long haul overnight flight**) and psychologically. Planes at night are odd. The seashell rush of the air outside and the gas leak hiss of the air conditioning inside deadens all other sound; the cabin lights are off (save for the person behind me with their reading light); yet I reckon half the people here are awake. This is probably a lot to do with the fact our bodies think it's still – oh, hang on, I can work this out – 7pm (though I got up at 4.30am and am shattered; I just don't trust myself to sleep. My body seems to have conditioned itself, though years of waking up at the end of night bus routes, not to sleep whilst in motion. Except when pissed. Now there's a thought). I'm also just two rows back from business class and the sacred curtain of plebian divide. I'm not entirely certain what's going on behind it over the other aisle, but the flickering suggests candlelight. I'm guessing not, though. I'm sure I'd hear the sound of a seance / bacchanalian rite even over the roaring air.
What else, what else? I'm not learning Japanese – the crib sheet is in the overhead locker – and instead I'm thoroughly confusing my poor brain with German. The Austrian Airlines cabin crew have decided that I either am, or can speak good, German, which is interesting in itself given my poor Teuton skills, and are chattering away to me in it. I'm fine with this – the poor bastards are having to be trilingual as it is so I might as well remove the English part of the trifecta from the equation. And I can understand them, but can't come up with a suitable response in the time alloted, so I'm doing plenty of nodding and 'Ja'ing. (The crew are great, by the way. They keep coming round with water and juice ready poured out on little trays so the cart doesn't disturb the sleepers – the cart which, I have discovered, I am thin enough to squeeze past on my way to the loo. Erk – which is just as well, since security at Vienna is right at the gate so there was no opportunity to replace the big bottle of water I had to chuck. Let that be a warning, if you ever fly from Wien. Which you should, by the way, because Austria's beautiful – reminded again just how beautiful coming in to land.)
Maybe I can't sleep because the cabin is so jaunty? The seat upholstery is a vivid turquoise, the headrest covers variously red, yellow or white, and the blankets lime green. It works, oddly, but it's not what I'd call restful.
What else, what else? I had the heart-swelling joy of crossing the Thames at the precise moment of sunrise this morning, in the cab on my way to Heathrow. 5.30am, crossing Lambeth Bridge, as the light broke over Westminster and the remarkably still water. I know it's a river, and a torrenting one at that, but driving along the Chelsea Embankment I would have laid down my life to swear to you it was millpond-like. These strange new lands will have to go some to produce a sight like that. I will never forget how lucky I am to live in London.
Ah, 4.30am pot noodle break, followed by everyone waking up and going for a wee. The rhythms of life in the air, eh?
By the way, I am slightly concerned that my foot might be knackered again. Or it could just be a bruise from getting used to new (and snug fitting) trainers. I should know for certain by Australia. If it's broken again this will be beyond a joke, though.
* A sneak look at her immigration card before landing showed her to be Austrian. Maybe she spoke to the cabin crew in English to make up for me speaking in dodgy German
** She also had the window blind down for the entire flight and, with the exception of the 4.30am pot noodle snack, didn't eat a morsel. I think the Austrian thing is just a cover story