As you may have gathered, Giulia and I headed off for Hobart, Tasmania, having succumbed to the parental offer of a free trip if only we'd get married. Of course, we kept copious notes of our misfortunes for your amusement and delectation.
Hopefully this trip will be nice and peaceful, unlike the last time we went to Australia, when I woke out of a deep sleep, somewhere over central Asia, to find myself grabbing an oxygen mask from in front of me and clasping it to my face. It's amazing how 30 years of flying can produce these weird reflexes out of nowhere. A loud recorded voice bellowed "Put on the oxygen masks at once! This is not a drill!" Somewhere in the background came the faint plaintive voice of the pilot going "it's all a mistake..." Indeed, they claimed that some careless member of the cabin crew had fallen/leant/whatever against the emergency switch. I guess they're lucky no-one had a heart attack.
Once the masks descend they can only be replaced by trained technicians armed with special tools, which are somewhat rare at several thousand feet above Uzbekistan. So there we were with a plane full of oxygen masks dangling down every where like strange orange growths. Also, once the masks descend, the oxygen begins to pour out and there is no way to stop it, well, apart from lighting a cigarette and blowing the whole plane to bits. So there was no smoking, no naked flames, no nothing until we got to Bangkok and let a few breaths of good old Thai carbon monoxide into the plane. At this point, they announced that (1) they were legally obliged to replace the masks and refill the oxygen before they could take off, and (2) they didn't know how long it would take as this had never happened to them before. They guessed one hour. It took about four. When we got back on the plane, there were bits of tube and orange plastic poking out of all the panels where the technicians had been unable to completely stem the ravages of the masks, set free from durance vile to party about the plane for once. But that was last time, different airline, different route and this time everything was going to go right. Please.
Arrive London Heathrow just after 7pm. Our flight is at about 10pm. Join queues, lots of queues braided together; hopefully one of them might even be the right one. One of the countless hangers-around-in-uniform says we're lucky it's not summer, when the queues go right out the door and through the car park. Eventually, we fight our way to the front. We check in and hand over our luggage. "That was relatively painless" says Giulia as we go through an innocuous looking door labelled Departures. On the far side we findą more queues, all curled up around on themselves in the fashion of Disneyland so that they can't be seen from the outside. As we stand and wait for our free ride on the metal detector, we hear the occasional plaintive cry of "my flight's leaving in ten minutes!" from the hordes backed-up behind us. But we make it through, without even raising a bleep from the metal detector. Usually I walk through and the whole thing lights up like a Christmas tree, provoking a squad of security men to descend waving their magic wands. But not this time, they must have retuned their machines to ignore the steel pin in my shoulder that always used give them trouble. Then there's Passport where Giulia accidentally hands over her Australian passport instead of her Italian one ("How long have you been in England, madam? I can't seem to find an entry stamp") and finally... Duty Free!
If anything, the prices are higher than the computer shops in Tottenham Court Road, but we're desperate to spend money. I've been planning to get a digital camera for some time and the problem is deciding whether to go for a less-sophisticated model and know we'll have to upgrade soon, or go for an expensive model which will hopefully stay usable for longer. [Which did he choose? The suspense is killing me -- Alison.] I agonise over the superfluous tech but eventually can't resist the most expensive one. We also acquire some malt whisky for Cheryl Morgan, who we're staying with in Melbourne.
Now we join more endless queues to join more queues to join... haven't we been here already? Eventually, we end up on the plane and things start going wrong. When I asked for a window seat, I wasn't expecting to end up with a centre seat, two rows back from a rather flickery projection TV. I have epilepsy; I've only had one fit in the last 10 years, but that was a year ago and it left me with a dislocated shoulder and a curt note from the DVLC asking for my driving licence back. Anyway, Giulia goes into panic mode and starts trying to get the plane crew to move us. I'm trying very hard not to panic since panicking is about the worst thing I could do (apart from sitting 6 ft from a badly tuned projection TV, that is). Eventually, they manage to move me just before we take off. Later, they move Giulia up next to me.
Oh, this ever-lasting purgatory of long-haul plane travel. You can't get comfortable, bits ache abominably, everything is too noisy, too dry and specially designed to poke into you. My contact lenses dry up, my feet swell (last time I ended up with the world's worst case of athlete's foot, but this time I'm wearing sandals and all-cotton everything in an effort to keep it at bay). Not much to do except sleep, read book, read in-flight magazine, read label on single-serving packet of sugarą
Descending to Singapore, according to the pilot it's 6pm local time, according to my body it's six o'clock in the morning, or possibly the middle of the night, or some other ungodly hour. Giulia tells me the in-flight movie shows Spanish senõritas wrestling in mud. I'm not sure whether to believe her or not, but by now anything seems possible. Below us we see endless mudflats, it's so humid out there that the moisture is condensing on the cold metal of the wings and is streaming out behind the plane.
Singapore airport is fairly impressive, with huge open lounges and transit passengers allowed to go anywhere they like, provided they have money to spend in the duty free shops. There are book shops, orchid shops, toy shops, computer/photo shops (whew! no ultra-cheap Olympus digital cameras) and a fountain we dub Revenge of the Swamp Moose -- it has a deer-shaped frame covered with plants. I just sit in the departure lounge and try to work out how to put the batteries into the digital camera (with a conspicuous lack of success, hence no picture of the fountain). Singapore is so humid, that when we get back on the plane and they put on the air-conditioning we can see steam streaming from the vents.
By 6am Australia time we are nearing Melbourne and there's an absolutely glorious sunrise off the left wing (but it doesn't reproduce very well in black and white). We land and then it's the fast track through passport and quarantine. Do we have any foodstuffs or any material of animal or vegetable origin? We decide not to declare all our clothes, books, watchstraps, ourselves. One bar of chocolate. Sure? Oh, all right then. Then we have to get the bags back into the system to get them to Hobart. We stand for some time in a long queue, sulking; then I send Giulia to confirm this is the right queue. It turns out we should actually be in the First Class queue since that is where passengers in transit go (of course, there aren't any signs or symbols or anything to tell us this.) We check the bags in. Oops, it seems that on internal flights they strictly enforce weight limits (10kg) for hand-baggage so we have to have a re-organisation in order to allow for the duty frees and my laptop.
Gate 9 is at the far end of the terminal (naturally) and is full of people joining Antarctic overflights (together with a man in a very badly done promotional penguin suit). So tell me, what sort of lunatic voluntarily gets on a plane for 6 hours just to fly over a bit of ice and then come back home without even landing to harass the natives? Not that there are any natives in Antarctica of course, but you could always harass the penguins or sell them sun-screen or something.
It's a short flight on a plane that's only ¼ full, so we move around a bit to get the best view; at which point they tell us that Tasmania is covered in cloud. Eventually, we dive down through the featureless expanse of white and arrive at Hobart 'International' (courtesy of an occasional plane from New Zealand) airport. We walk off the plane, onto the tarmac, into a newly-expanded terminal building -- last time we had to wander around a large tin shed looking for our luggage. Fortunately for our few remaining shreds of sanity, we are met by Giulia's father and brother Robert who drive us home. It's 9am local time, about 10pm UK time and we've been in the air for nearly 24 hours. We want to stay awake as long as possible so we can synch with local time; however, that's easier said than done. We achieve it by chatting with the hordes of Giulia's relatives who keep descending on us. I cheat by having a 2hr siesta and Giulia keeps awake by showing off her wedding dress to anything that moves.
-- to be continued...
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