Heading North

© 2010 E.C. Lunnon

A Change is as Good as a Holiday (Part 2)

Friday 10 December 2010: 4 years 3 months on …

Saturday afternoon – 20 November 2010.

I (and my luggage) had been booked through to LHR – London Heathrow.

The flight headed north from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg. In the cockpit was Captain “Bomber” Anthony Bailes, another ex-pupil of mine. At school, he always wanted to be a pilot!

When I was in business, I had spent many days and hours at the erstwhile Jan Smuts International Airport, then the Johannesburg International Airport and now the O R Tambo International. I had not been there since it became the new enlarged O R Tambo built with the 2010 Football World Cup in mind.  It certainly is now an immense world-class airport, although, I thought, poorly signed for the new-comer as far as what Terminal A and Terminal B were. I remembered it as the International Section and the Domestic Section. (Maybe, it was just my stressed-out mind that wasn’t coping again!)

We arrived in Johannesburg just before five pm, and Andrew Jonker and Warwick Burger went through customs control into Terminal A (the International Section). They were headed for Germany. I did not join them as friends were due to meet me for a drink before I left for London and would not be able to get into Terminal A.

I found a seat in front of a TV at the Mugg and Bean, and watched the Bokke play Scotland at Murrayfield in Edinburgh.  I had been there with Barry van der Vyver exactly two years ago when the 1984 Grey matric class had hosted me in the UK. We had also seen Mike Carswell (who organised this trip) there.

That time, it was relatively warm in Edinburgh and the Bokke barely beat the Scots. This time it was cold and raining there. I was hoping that they would beat the Scots and be on a Grand Slam winning streak for the game that I would see at Twickenham on the following Saturday – they had already beaten Ireland and Wales. But, alas, they lost to the Scots and, with that, lost the Grand Slam dream.

But what a small world! Next to me, watching the rugby, sat a young couple from Ireland who were travelling the world. We chatted and discovered that she had worked at a coffee shop in Black Rock, Dublin which was just a few blocks away from where I was headed! (Later in the week, I had a cup of coffee there and passed on their good wishes to the owners.)  

Graeme Gathmann, an ex-business colleague of mine and a friend since 1995, and his girlfriend, Belinda, joined me before I left. Pera and I had spent time with Graeme in London in 1999 when he had taken a sabbatical to work for the British bookselling firm WH Smith. Together, we did “The Streets of London” on that trip (into the early hours of the misty morning when the trains and buses stopped and the London foxes joined us as we settled down to sleep on the narrow stoep because we had no key to get in!)  One of my all-time favourite songs to this day is Ralph McTell’s “Streets of London”.

It was also there that Graeme got me running and to complete my first of a few Knysna half- marathons starting in 2000. Since then, he has gone on to run in most cities’ marathons, including one on The Great Wall of China! (I tried to do a reunion Knysna with friend Uwe Tinhoff and Graeme last year, but went down with gout just a few days before the race and just barely got to Knysna – never mind run the race! Maybe next year . . . ?)

Graeme and Belinda guided me to the new International departures section and got me going through customs. (This was it – there was no time to turn around now!)

It all went without a hitch, although quite slowly when I was required to use my fingers to remove boarding pass and passport. They did not even query the pots of pills that I travel with and for which I had an explanatory letter from Dr Butters.

We were boarded and ready to fly on time at 21h00, but were advised by the pilot that due to flight embargoes at Heathrow in the early hours of the morning, we could only land there at 6h30. So we just waited until 21h30 when the engines were started, and we headed upwards and northwards.

A new innovation is a camera mounted in the top of the plane’s tail wing. It gives you a bird eye’s view on your screen of the runway as you taxi off and take off. Thereafter, in the dark you can only see the red flashing light mounted on the front fuselage of the plane (until, of course, we came in to land at Heathrow and got the same view of the landing as the pilot gets from the cockpit!)

As I watched this (and the map as we headed north over Africa, the Mediterranean and Europe,) I thought about the geography I had learnt at school and for which I had received some or other award for being the top student in the then Cape Province when I matriculated). We had learned that the earth revolves around the sun every 365 and a quarter days, the earth rotates around its own axis ever 24 hours and the moon revolves around the earth every 27 and a bit days. I wondered just how many people at any one time are sitting in these man-made satellite metal tubes flying around the earth in all different directions in flights of many hours at a time!

For me, in this SAA Airbus tube, in between take off and landing, at an altitude of 10 km above the earth’s surface was 11 hours of flying and 10 000km to be covered at a speed of 800km/hour. There was the chicken or beef for supper, the drinks, the movies (I watched Twilight which made no sense to me!), the non-sleep, the walking around the dark cabin, the more juice, the stuffing of pillows under my numb left bum, and eventually, the breakfast (Continental or English!) before the landing at LHR at 06h45 Greenwich Mean Time.

Because my body ceases up during sleeping and waking up (and the hours immediately thereafter) are the worst for me, I had worried about my arrival in London and how I would cope upon arrival. As it turned out, just fine – not having slept at all meant that my body had not ceased up and I just continued normally into day 1 in Londres, England. If only I never had to sleep, I could avoid the ceasing up …!