Over the last 24 hours I’ve gone from sweating under a Bengal sun to shivering in the cold, British rain. My daughter, Thing I, joined me for event and it is the first time we’ve ever flown together as a pair without Wifey and Thing II being with us. It means blogging heaven for the pair of us without Wifey telling us to ‘get off the damned computers’ which is so commonly heard in our household it’s almost become out family motto. Thinking of which, I’ve added links to Thing I’s latest posts if you want to go read it. Better still, go join her blog and give support. She writes better than I do.
I’m writing this from Gloucester, a few days before the final course of my Masters degree I’ve been doing over the last couple of years. Last May I did a similar course while trying to get my first book written and this is the final stint before getting three more essays out of the way. Then next year I write my dissertation and, hopefully, come out with an MA to show for it (though if the performance of my last essay is anything to go by, it will be a close thing – it was not my finest hour).
Watching Thing I shivering in the cold, desperately tired and trying to keep it together last night took me back to last May when I was pretty much in the same state. I was completely unprepared for the British Spring time which, if looking at children’s books and encyclopaedias of what Spring is supposed to look like is anything to go by, is a complete joke – and not a funny one at that.
One of the reasons Thing I and I have come together for this rather than me doing a solo run again, is that we are going to a wedding after my course finishes. Thing I is a bridesmaid and I am Best Man. The wedding is between two friends of ours, one a Bangladeshi doctor and the other a British one, who met at LAMB a couple of years ago.
I feel sorry for my friend, the Bangladeshi doctor who has one just got his visa for the UK and made it out here just a few days before me. He, like Thing I, must be suffering badly right now. The British cold must be about as far away from his imagination as it is possible to get having lived all his life in Bangladesh where the temperature – in Winter – rarely reaches below 4 degrees.
Regular followers of this blog know that things don’t normally run smoothly with my family when it comes to flying anywhere. Amazingly, this time around, the whole journey went smoothly from start to finish.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that it went without incident.
The first was that we started off in Dhaka airport with a couple of British friends who had visiting us for a few days. We had different flights but both were in the morning so we accompanied them to the airport. After spending a few days together prior to this, it would seem one finally ate a dodgy prawn the night before and so looked very rough at the airport. And I mean really rough. Having no idea what to do with a sick person trying to get on a plane, and worrying we were all going to have to miss our flights to make sure this one friend stayed safe,I phoned Wifey who is the fount of all knowledge on such matters. Alas, at 7 am I had forgotten that it was a Friday and therefore the Bangla day off and my poor beloved was still in bed having her only lie-in of the week.
Nevertheless, she gave me good advice. The girls who were our visitors had Wifey’s phone number and if they really couldn’t get on the plane then they could call her and she would get LAMB’s Dhaka driver out to pick them up again and get them in a hotel until well enough to try flying again.
Thing I and I were off the hook and were able to leave for our flight with a clear conscience. As it happens, our friend started to feel better and I’m happy to report both guests made it back to the UK safely.
The next two incidents happened at Delhi airport.
As soon as we got off the plane we both need the toilet. We put down our bags outside the cubicles and Thing I went first while I stayed with the bags. Then I went and afterwards we picked up our stuff and took the long, really long walk to passport control. On the other side we were just about to line up to have all our bags torn through and meticulously checked as they do at Delhi, when Thing I suddenly realises she doesn’t have her small handbag with expensive MP3 player and headphones in it.
So back through passport control we go, fighting off the armed guards who wanted to know why we were now doing the traditional route backwards (in my mind it played like a Hollywood movie where I wrestled the guard. In reality I begged him while Thing I looked at him with tear-filled eyes). We ran (well, quick-walked in that kind of a way only a British gentleman can do and look rediculous) back to the toilets where, amazingly the bag was still lying having not been a) stolen or b) blown up in a ‘controlled manner’ by airport police.
When we got back to Passports control, of course, at least twelve planes had landed and all their passengers had descended to the spot where they go through your stuff and check everything including your dangly bits for drugs. We stood for hours. Well, as it was a two-hour stop-off until our next plane that might be a little exaggeration but it was long enough for my eyes to burn angry holes in to Thing I’s head for making this happen.
She hadn’t finished yet, of course…
It is an annoying fact that Delhi airport contains no cash tills anywhere near where the shops and restaurants. It’s something they really need to get sorted as many of the restaurants don’t take cards. I had no rupees, of course, but Thing I had to eat. We ended up with a pizza which took 15 minutes to arrive as the only food my beloved daughter would accept. We ate it and then listened, as we sipped our drinks, to the tannoy announcing the last call for our flight.
We hadn’t even found the departure gate yet.
Fast trotting (the British never run, it’s part of our genetic heritage) and making Monty Python‘s Ministry of Funny Walks look like serious art, we hurtled through the corridors to try and make it to our gate before we could watch our plane take off. I say we. I meant I. No idea where Thing I was – I left her way behind to fend for herself. We got there just in time and were allowed on. Another couple, one of them wheelchair-bound had also just arrived and were in front of us. As we walked along the connecting corridor to the plane, I pushed past with my miscreant daughter so that when we got to the cabin crew I could a) know I wasn’t last on the plane so relieving my guilty conscience and b) be able to turn round and tut at the couple shuffling along for holding everyone up.
There’s always a silver-lining in life.
The journey to the UK went without incident though I was glad Wifey was not there. She hates flying and the journey was incredibly bumpy. Every few minutes the signs went on telling us to strap ourselves to whatever we could and pray. Well, that seemed to be what the Asian ladies from London who were sat behind us seemed to think. Every bump was accompanied by a startled gasp and a whimper. No, Wifey would not have enjoyed that at all…
Neither Thing I nor I enjoyed arriving in London however. The cold air hit us as soon as we got off the plane and we instantly began shivering. It was evening time and we had to wait over an hour for the bus to arrive to get us to Gloucester. It was raining, of course, and for us it was about 2 am. My daughter did so well keeping it together but I knew just how she felt. There was nothing attractive about London and nothing much to appeal about the UK at all at that moment.
I dug out an O2 Sim card and put it in my phone. I tried to top up by card but it wouldn’t accept it as O2 has my card registered to more than two sims – of course it is! I have to buy new ones almost every time I come back! So I bought a voucher from the airport shop and topped up to £10. That should have been enough to then buy the £10 ‘Pay as you go go go’ option which would give me enough texts, calls and internet time to get through the next 10 days.
By the time I got off the phone with all the bewildering options O2 gives, the phone had already given me updated email notifications and taken £1 of my money for internet time which meant I didn’t have enough to buy the option after all. So instead, each day £1 is used instantly I get any internet notifications and a text costs a fortune. I’ll be lucky if that £10 lasts three days.
Why tell you this?
Because it reminds me just how bureaucratic the UK is and how everything is geared around making money. No one does anything illegal here and unlike Bangladesh we don’t figure highly on the Corruption scale with Transparency International (Bangladesh is ranked 144/176 Britain just 17/176) but I believe that’s because we don’t need to. We’ve made corruption illegal and called it ‘good business’ or ‘profitable margins’.
I call it mean-spirited, cold and callous. Just like the weather. They’re well suited.
Good to be back Britain…
- The Shahbhag Movement (justathirdculturekid.wordpress.com)
- Flower of Hope (kenthinksaloud.wordpress.com)