Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Long haul limbo

Thirty six hours of travel from door to door is a shocker of an experience in anyone's book, so I should not have been surprised when, after our first eight hour flight and three hour transit wait, Sapphire looked at fellow airport passengers standing like pallid zombies gripping their wheelie cases on the flat escalator belts and asked, "Mum, what does purgatory mean?"

That's when I realised that the biblical references we take for granted are not fully understood by kids who have never been to Sunday school or church. Running my hand through my oily hair and blinking out the dried eye boogers whilst trying to keep my morning-breath mouth away from Sapphire's face in order not to make her heave, I tried to give a reasoned reply.

"Well, it's sort of like a half-way holding pen that God supposedly puts you in after you die when he's not sure whether you should be flung down into Satan's evil hands for all eternity or sent upwards to the angels. While he figures it out, you stay in purgatory feeling bored, powerless and in limbo."

"Like airports."


There comes a time when all the movies, soundtracks, thin blankets and bad selfies can no longer overcome the numbness of confined spaces, stale air and overheated oompa loompa-sized trays of in-flight catering.

A time when the urge to reach out and slap a person who is already comfortably reclining in their Business Class seat as you pass them by, cruelly out of reach financially and on proud display as a representative What You Can Not Afford as you trudge through to Cramped Class at the arse-end of the plane.

Mr Migraine had also decided to pay me a visit - just to make sure that the trip back to Australia had an extra element of discomfort to it.  He knew that swallowing tablets on a queasy, travel sickness-prone stomach wasn't an option, nor were ear plugs as they always tend to expand and shoot out of the sides of my head like startled wine corks.

And thus, the plane version of Purgatory began.

Firstly, the dreaded family with a screaming toddler who sat in the row directly in front of us.  Yes, there was genuine pity to be had for the two exhausted parents trying their damnedest to calm down an eighteen month old who was not given their own seat and did not have the capacity to understand why their ears hurt.  Well, for the first two hours at least.

Then, when the parents used up all of the nappies they had, the sympathy vanished quicker than a stewardess when the lighting's turned down and immediately flicked over to the baleful burning hot heat of hatred.  And that was before the kid shat himself so badly that it spurted up and over the top of his nappy, surging towards his shoulders and onto his mother's lap. The stench of warm diarrhoea filled the cabin as his parents struggled to fashion the excrement-encrusted enfant terrible a new outfit from a plastic duty free bag and a handful of serviettes.

Love Chunks nudged me. "The old guy's BO is maturing faster than stilton on a windowsill."

He was right. Ponky Old Geezer had also got on board in Switzerland, already ripe with the aroma of his fortnightly bath day nearly due and wearing what appeared to be his entire wardrobe of winter coat, cardigan, flanelette shirt, wool scarf and flat cap.  He immediately fell asleep when he buckled his broiling bulk into his seat across the aisle from LC, leaving all of his thick, sweat-creating attire on.  Somehow, the baby shit and the fogey funk molecules joined, creating a suffocating arch of repulsive reeks that caused the passenger behind us to start vomiting.

Oh and did you know that 'cabin crew' no longer accept used sick bags from passengers?  Something to do with health and safety or rules or disposal requirements or other. Therefore, the poor vomiting sod had to either a) hang on to the bag that eventually started dripping through the ill-made seal at the bottom; or b) find the strength to be well enough to stagger over to the toilet, wait their turn and cram it into the pencil sharpener-sized disposal chute; leaving a fetching fountain of chunder for other toilet users to happen upon.   We could now add vomit to the circling stench of faeces and elderly essence....

But wait, we too had something to contribute, apart from Love Chunks' rather whipper snipper-like snore.

Sapphire tapped me on the shoulder. "Mum," she whispered. "My head feels really itchy."

I pushed her face gently back into her chair. "Yeah, we've all had dry skin. You know, with the cold air in Switzerland and the hot water..."

Travellers' breath near my face meant that she had more to say. "NO, Mum. I mean my hair is really REALLY itchy."

We shared a sideways look of surprise and recognition.  It had been years. Years!  "OK then, put your head in my lap."

Her noggin looked like a blonde ant farm cleaning up after a cake crumb fight: it was crawling with lice and eggs. There was nothing for it: they had to be individually picked out with my fingers; squashed into a now-dry refresher towelette and destroyed before the little buggers decided to branch out and colonise the rest of Cramped Class.

Three hours it took me, leaving my eyes and finger tips burning. Lice eggs are miniscule and stick to individual hair shafts. Try doing that kind of monkey grooming when the cabin lights have been switched off for nigh-nighs and all you've got is a poxy overhead reading light to go by.  Eventually, all visible signs of infestation had been removed, shoved into a Unicef donation envelope and disposed of (thoughtfully, of course) in the toilet hatch, smearing the spilled chunder remains over the sink.

Ahhhh.  If the toddler would stop screaming or if I could miraculously ignore the noise, things from now on would surely be OK.

Oh, of bloody course. "Love Chunks?"  He stirred awake.


"Um, can you please check my head....?"

And so, for an hour it appeared to anyone still awake that I was publicly pleasuring my husband in Row 43 as he found eleven bugs and several dozen eggs.  The itching stopped, and he tiredly leaned back with his thin blankie to go to sleep, waving away my whispered dog breath-scented sweet nothings of gratitude.

I sat there in moral turmoil.  LC had finally entered the hallowed Land of Nod, his profile at peace, hands twitching occasionally in somnambulant memory of his recent nit picking. The last thing I wanted to do was disturb him, but Mother Nature was calling and I didn't fancy doing an adult recreation of the toddler's overflowing nappy.

"Love Chunks?"


"Um, can I get out to go to the loo....?"

My husband is a generous and kind man to me, and, rightly or wrongly assumes that I'm slimmer than I am.  For that reason, he decided to scrunch up his legs and just lean them towards the right, hoping that I could sort of slide past him without him being required to stand up in the aisle.

It was a noble thought, and no doubt a practical one.

And, for that, I'm still so very sorry that I involuntarily farted at the very moment my tracksuit-covered arse brushed against his cheek.


FruitCake said...

So, did you enjoy your holiday then?

[It's okay. I don't need to know the name of the airline for future reference. But a passenger list might be handy.]

MedicatedMoo said...

Er, mostly, FruitCake.

Passenger list! THAT'S what I should have done instead of farting!!

Cathy said...

Had a good chuckle at the nit-kill description! I have to do the exact same trip (but with a four hour train trip to the airport added on for good measure) and the exact same airline with my two boys in July. Now you've got me really looking forward to it...

Windsmoke. said...

Sounds like purgatory with wings.

Louise said...

OMG, I hope this is a fictionalised account, but remain quite certain that it's not. At least the screaming diarrhoeal infant was in front, it's always worse when they're behind you. Small positive I guess. Last time Singapore to Paris I had a 5 year old with a constant consumptive cough right behind me. Every time he coughed he kicked my chair. No sleep. Zombie purgatory.

On the flight back from NZ last week we were on a 777-300 and were paraded through the lying down chairs of first business class and then premium economy. It's a torture. The cattle class seats were particularly awful, with about 3 mm of foam separating your bones from metal plane innards. It was particularly cruel and we hope that when we board the same plane going to Amsterdam later in the year that perhaps Singapore will have spent 5 cents more per economy class seat in the hope of making our intercontinental misery lessened.

MedicatedMoo said...

Cathy, I just wish that we could all take a special tablet that knocks us out for the ENTIRE journey. Then the airlines could just slot us into racks and not bother with bad food, drinks trolleys or video screens.

Windsmoke, it was purgatory indeed. I'm in no rush to recreate it.

Louise, every single bit of this account is true. Even the farting!

Plastic Mancunian said...

Bonjour Kath,

LC is lucky he can sleep. I stay awake with Mrs PM snoring like an angry lion.

What a nightmare.

At 36 hours, you've shattered my record (24 hours back from China). Next time I go back Down Under I will stay for a week somewhere.




MedicatedMoo said...

Plasman, as I threw up into the sick bag just as we finally landed, LC looked tiredly at me and said, 'Next time we book a couple of days stopover.' All I could do was nod!

Anonymous said...

Completely laughed out loud!

and Ugggghhhh to NITS.. but Nits on a plane - so much ugh there are no words!

Hope your time is Oz was delightful, and that you were back on the plane before this 'heat wave' made your landing temperature difference somewhere around 50deg.

MedicatedMoo said...

Nits on a Plane, HWH? Sounds like a movie that Samuel Jackson should star in!

River said...

What a nightmare trip!
I'm guessing the lice were resident in the plane seats? So if I ever take an international flight, I'll be wearing a tight fitting bathing cap the whole time. And have a folded towel to sit on.
Maybe I'll just stay in Australia.....

Even with all the flight troubles, I'm sure your visit home was worth it.

MedicatedMoo said...

It *was* worth it, River, but the three week gap between such hellish journeys seemed soul suckingly short.

franzy said...

Are you phkking serious.

You know how they say that you should leave reality out of fiction because no one would believe it?

This is one of those times. But, while I desperately hope that you made most of that up, I know you didn't.


Are you still in Raddles? Want to catch up for a coffee or something?

Andrew said...

I've just cancelled any flights I may have been thinking of taking. God how I hate flying.

wilbo43 said...

Sounded like a fun trip to Oz. Can't wait for your report of the trip back. Are you back in CH yet?

diane b said...

The joys of international travel. We took our kids to Switzerland every 3 years to see their grandparents. We were lucky in those days 70's/80's there seemed to be more room and better service. They took sick bags for my youngest daughter. I needed new ones though, so I used older daughter's one, but I needed another and asked TOH, 2 seats away to pass me his but he and daughter 1 had their ear phones on laughing out loud at a movie while I'm trying to find something to catch the vomit in. A kind passenger from behind passed one over the seat. I was not impressed with the other two.
Another time, when walking down steps from the plane was the way to disembark in Athens, daughter 2 said she was about to throw up while we were in the queue waiting to get out the door. I hurriedly pushed past passengers and got her outside where she hung over the top railing and threw up. The wind got hold of it and splattered it all over the plane before hitting the ground two stores down. We always joke that she had the longest spew ever. We were the passengers from hell in those days.
Once the kids left the nest and TOH had heart problems we started travelling Business Class. It was much more humane and expensive. Since we have retired we have to watch our pennies so we have tried Economy Plus, which is also quite good.
Since retiring we always stop over somewhere, Singapore, Hong Kong or Tokyo. It makes a big difference. No jet lag and only 8 and 12 hour trips as against 24/36 hours.
Hope you enjoyed your holiday down under.

MedicatedMoo said...

'Craporama' indeed, Franzy. In fact, that's what they should rename 'economy class.' We're back in Geneva now, but you're welcome to come to mine for a coffee. Or fondue......

Andrew, the funny thing is that I used to love flying. Then again, my first flight was when I was twelve and the poshies were hidden far away from us peasants upstairs. Oh, wait - I chundered my way through from Bahrain to Aberdeen via the careful bag ministrations of my mother. She deserved a medal.

Wilbo 43, reports on the return to Oz are forthcoming. Still slogging through piles of mail, dirty clothes and the lingering remnants of a migraine on the way *back* too.

Dianeb YOU win the prize - I wonder what the mechanics thought of having to squeegee chunder from the *outside* of the plane? You should include this story/unfortunate series of events on your blog! Oh and we'll be starting to save up now for Premium economy - we've got two years to do so........

Elephant's Child said...

Oh Kath. My tummy is heaving in sympathy. I am a champion at in-flight vomiting and once threw up eight times between Sydney and Canberra (on a jet) and another few times on the tarmac. However, the horror air-sickness story belongs to my smaller portion. He was on a small plane which hit turbulence. Several passengers were sick. So the flight attendant sprayed Chanel No 5 around liberally - which did for the rest of the passengers.
I am glad that your stay in Oz was good - and sympathise/empathise about the trips.

MedicatedMoo said...

Oh E-Child! Chanel number five would have to be one of the strongest and most pungent perfumes around and to spray it in a tiny space...... Still, better than Brad Pitt wandering and talking nonsense!

Alexia said...

O M G poor you!
I actually really enjoy flying (still) - not just the trip itself but also the excitement of going somewhere different/exciting/unusual. In spite of that, after the last trip I swore that in future I will always stay over for a few days on the way to or from the other hemisphere.
How sad it is to be a colonial and have to endure this purgatory (yes, exactly the right word for it). But we still do it.

Hope you are recovering and that no members of your Australian family are suffering from the heat or the fires.

MedicatedMoo said...

Thanks Alexia. Stopover will be a MUST next time. I'm keeping a close eye on the news as the bushfires are featuring very prominently on the BBC. I'm lucky that no family or friend has been affected yet and hope it stays that way.

Wally said...

Sounds awful, far worse than some of the trips I've endured.

Premium Economy is about 50% more $ than bog ordinary. I've vowed that for long trips I will never ever again travel economy. To hell with the cost. We went economy (worse... JetStar) to NZ because there was no other option, but about an 8 - 10 hour trip is my economy limit. In premium at least you get more room. All the other "benefits" are largely bollocks but the room is worth the money.

It would have been nice to have a quick catch-up while you were here but its a busy (well, crazy) time all around. Next time... Or when we make it to Switzerland next. Except go light on the fondue, its not a lot of fun being (mildly) lactose intolerant AND having a bit of IBS as well :(

Fen said...

I have sympathy itches and tummy aches now! Wow.
I hope your holiday was worth the horror flight.

MedicatedMoo said...

Next time Wally, I promise. A few old expat hands here said that the first visit back home is the one where you often learn how NOT to do things; thus making future visits more pleasurable in every respect.

I've bought a Swiss lottery ticket to see if that speeds our savings for Premium economy tickets!

It *was* worth it all, dear Fernstar, and the itching has now thankfully disappeared. :)

Jackie K said...

Oh my GOD...! I was equally laughing and gasping in horror as I read that. That was not purgatory. You were in hell!
I thought our return trip from Greece was bad with every family member except me vomiting - but yours sounds way worse.
The glamour is definitely gone from air travel, hasn't it!

Jackie K said...

Oh my GOD, Kath! That was not purgatory. You were in hell!
The glamour has really gone out of air travel, hasn't it.

Jackie K said...

That's a great story!
And you're so right, in the 70s and 80s there was more room in the seats and more legroom. When we travelled to Greece last year even my 7 year olds were cramped in their seats! And you still have to walk down the steps onto the Tarmac at Athens!

MedicatedMoo said...

Yep JackieK, there ain't no glamour left. I remember getting a carry on bag, toiletries etc in Cramped Class back in 1980. Now you get a set of headphones that only work in one ear, about one sick bag behind every tenth seat and hosties who disappear the second the meal run's done.... *sigh*

nuttynoton said...

NITS ON A PLANE what a good title for a film, may be you could write the screenplay??
We have learned that on a flight over 13 hours you need a stopover its the only way we can cope and I have only done it twice.On our last flight back we were half way beween Melboune and Hong Kong and Mrs NN was in the toilet changing one of those Ladies items when the pilot said can you all get back to your seats immediately, 10 seconds later the plane dropped suddenly we all went in the air, our hearts missed a beat and Mrs NN was thrown around in the toilet and had bruises for 2 weeks. oh the joy of air travel. thanks for the blog made me laugh and feel sick at the same time!

MedicatedMoo said...

That's the story of my life, nutty - making you laugh *and* feel sick at the same time! :)

Lyndylou said...

So so funny! I felt your pain through my sniggers :)

MedicatedMoo said...

Thanks Lyndylou - and I haven't even thought about the hellish plane ride *back* yet!

JahTeh said...

Damn Kath, ever tried typing a comment while sympathy scratching with a heaving stomach. This is why I have no "fly-by" cards. Never. leaving. the. ground!

Anji said...

I will never, ever stay on a plane longer than 90 minutes. Especially after reading your post.

You certainly know how to fit in an ending with a punch (or fart)

Geoff said...

oh dear Kath. I had to read this just as i am booking flights for the fam to oz from Austria. By fam I mean loving wife, 2 year and 2 month old daughters. Flight is in 6 months... I will remember to check all hair before departure and stand up if the missus needs a pee.