Monday, January 28, 2013

Between worlds

Is there a standard temperature at which they keep airports? I have it at two and a half degrees too hot.

My head’s full of soup. When I move it from side to side, the soup sloshes around and my temples hurt.

We take off and lots of children cry in unison because their ears hurt. Not all of the parents have figured out the cause and so a couple is trying to reason with theirs. At one point the father shakes her lightly in frustration. I feel like shaking him.

I suppose I could try to get drunk. I could order three Singapore Slings – the airline’s official cocktail – and eat none of the peanuts. They would bring them to me, too. I have seen them bring them to other passengers on other flights. But getting drunk wouldn’t be fun. Nothing is fun.

The comfort in economy class on long-haul flights these days borders on the obscene. I have all the leg room I need. There are hundreds of films, television shows and videogames on the dedicated widescreen entertainment unit in the back of the seat in front of mine. I can plug in my laptop or use a suite of PC applications – to ‘get more done’, as per the system’s promo. The great post-war social transformation in the industrial West was when workers became consumers. Now the consumer is merging with the worker again. I have all of these films to watch and they could help me take my mind off things but the range of options feels not a little like work. I worry that if I don’t watch Taken 2 it might mean I’ve failed to get enough done.

My head’s too sore and I am too tired to read. I start to watch 360. At one point the character played by Gabriela Marcinkova says to her sister, played by Lucia Siposova: ‘You should work on your English.’ Siposova replies: ‘Why? Nobody cares about my English.’ That is a good line. Then the film becomes about Jude Law feeling lonely in Bratislava, which could be okay but isn’t what I need at this point.

I sleep a little. Then I start writing this. Sometimes writing feels like bailing out a rowboat in the middle of a lake: ultimately futile, but it buys time.


My father was a loving man but not one to tell you his feelings explicitly. When he had his first heart attack they moved him to a unit that didn’t allow for visitors, so I had the nurse deliver him a message in which I explained that I had brought him something to read and a pen, that I would be back the next day and that I loved him. I found that note in my parents’ writing desk last week. So now I’m keeping it, this note that I wrote and that I never knew he had kept.

Saying goodbye to Mum was so hard this time.

This is what the apartment where I was born looks like. Except of course I don’t recognise it like that at all. It’s an accurate plan. I got a draughtsman to update the plan last year, to incorporate some changes Dad made in the sixties and seventies and never got consent for. But it is an abstraction. That is not the house I know. We need to draw plans of the house and empty the house so that it stops being ours and somebody will buy it.


In Singapore I have two hours to kill before the window-less transit hotel room becomes available and I can get some sleep.

I write home – wherever that is.

I am ludicrously familiar with Changi airport, but every year I find new additions, extra touches designed to make it even more comfortable. These men didn’t know about all the lounges and free sleeping facilities in other parts of the airport, which must exist also in order to eliminate the unsightly spectacle of travellers caught in such poses.

The quality of the service is monitored obsessively. The wisdom of placing a touch screen in the toilets seems questionable at best, but it’s the inclusion of the name and likeness of the shift cleaner that I find almost physically oppressive.

On any other day I might feel inclined to prat on about the brutality of global capitalism. What hides behind that comfort.

At Changi's terminal 3 there are chairs that deliver free of charge an alarmingly vigorous foot massage. I audibly yelp when the machine shifts from a gentle vibration to the actual massaging action. The older man sitting next to me smiles. Luxury versions of these chairs are sold in one of the airport shops. There is a model by the same manufacturer that is touted as ‘the world’s best selling massage chair and phone’. This thing runs on or with an iPhone app called uDivine.

The sleep in the airport hotel deals with soup-for-brains. I write home again. Justine tells me I’ll be back tomorrow but I feel it can’t be, that it won’t be for weeks. Time dilates and frays on these trips, then I get home and I forget almost everything. Which is why I have to make time to take obsessive notes about conversations with people and arrangements to follow-up on when I’m back in New Zealand.

I have breakfast at my usual place. I take the usual pictures. (How many times have I written this post before?) As always, I document the current advertising campaigns for beauty products. This year it’s Charlize Theron and Brad Pitt, everywhere, multiplied by their sinister reflections.

I log in. My friend Marco has sent me a recording of the commentary from the latest Ottawa Senators game, a distraction I really could use. I am an ice hockey fanatic and we have talked about doing this sort of thing for some years. Now we can. The game is not three hours old. I love Marco for this.

I board the flight to Auckland. This one’s only ten hours long. I feel less tempted to drink. In the spirit of Georges Perec and the infra-ordinary, I record my consumption of braised soya sauce chicken, mixed vegetables and rice for dinner; stir fried fish fillet with celery in garlic sauce, Chinese vegetables and fried noodles for breakfast.

I start feeling that perhaps I really shall arrive tomorrow – whenever that is.


Unknown said...

Welcome back. For me, the confusing thing about air travel is that I expect change, and on return, find none.

Megan Clayton said...

Close the curtain that covers the wall;
close your eyes.
There is the man with a mop and a plan;
close your eyes.
There is the feature, the meal and the fan;
close your eyes.
There is the map of the room and the hall;
close your eyes.