On the flight home from Malta I was sat on an aisle seat next to a couple to my right; a woman next to me and her partner by the window. They were already there when I went to take my seat so I initiated a chat because I had actually booked the window seat so I could try and get a view of Malta as we took off. I wasn’t particularly fussed that someone was sitting in “my” seat, I reasoned that I would get off the plane quicker being in the aisle but I was concerned about being asked to get up because my fellow passengers wanted to go the toilet. I raised the question with the guy at the window and he said that he wouldn’t be going now. It seemed a strange answer because I wasn’t expecting him to hold on, he was welcome to go to the toilet, I was only trying to get an indication of how likely I would be asked to move. Perhaps it wasn’t a strange answer but rather a strange question to ask, I guess it is unusual to discuss somebody’s peeing needs. It turned out neither of them went which strikes me as a bit unusual.
I settled into my seat and got my music player and headphones out of my second hand-luggage (something I was astonished to see Ryan Air do). I plugged in and decided to play through my 80’s compilation album though first watched the safety demonstration, not a great experience at the best of times (I do wonder whether I will remember any of this stuff if the plane actually crashes and I am alive in order to escape). Demonstration over, I closed my eyes, found my first relaxed position (soles of my feet on the floor, legs parallel to each other and perpendicular to my torso) and listened to a “Relax” 12 inch version by Frankie Goes To Holywood.
At some point the plane starts moving, taxiing to the end of the runway. I feel its movement and hear its engines. After a while the engines roar as full power is applied and simultaneously we turn 90 degrees onto the main runway. It is not the smoothest of take-offs, we bounce around a bit and the wings tilt a bit to correct gusts of wind. I try to listen for when take-off velocity has been reached but I underestimate how long the acceleration needs to go on for. I briefly open my eyes to glance out of the window and I notice my neighbour reach out and hold her partners hand, she seems a bit tense and the man murmurs something to her which I take as a supportive thing. I close my eyes again and soon after the plane is in the air and the landing gear has been retracted with a solid clunk.
I listen through the tracks and when that CD full of music is finished go onto the second CD of the set and finish with “Two Tribes” by FGTH. Normally I would keep ploughing on with the music meditating in some sense my way through the flight, but I feel a bit hungry and so finish off the other half of my pecorino and chorizo roll. The roll is much messier than I thought it would be. I shift my seating position, ankles now crossed which transfer the pressure from my bum to the top of my legs, and put on Hurts “Happiness” album.
The pilot is describing our flight. We are twenty miles south of Manchester, and twenty minutes away from landing in Edinburgh where it is overcast and 10 degrees Centigrade; maybe my request that my wife brings a hoodie and my blue coat to the airport was unnecessary after all. I look through my Sony MP3 player (old fashioned I know to have a separate music player but I think it sounds better than my mobile) album listing and realised that there were some tracks I don’t remember playing from the 80’s album. I look at the album and see there were in fact four tracks when I must have drifted off to sleep, a total of twenty minutes. Somehow I am happy to know I slept this long. I choose my favourite tracks of Ultravox’s “Brilliant” and eventually we land smoothly enough.
On coming to a stand-still I stand up and get my stuff together. I put a second jumper on, my hat goes on my head, my jacket is next and I pull down my rucksack to rest it on my seat. My aisle seat in row 28 should mean a reasonable quick exit from the plane, but no, an announcement is made that only the front steps are being used. Bemused I smile and catch the eye of a woman seated further back who is also smiling and share the cosmic joke. Note to self, don’t bother with aisle seats, whilst I was undisturbed by the fellow row passengers, everybody going up and down the aisle seemed to need to give me a bum bump hello on my shoulder. I suspect a wing seat would enable more sleep.
We have come to a stop literally at the east end of the airport but are transferred by coach to the west end of the terminal building. So much for those who are first off, buses have a tendency to mix up the ordering and those last on will be first off. We wend our way around the other stationary aircraft but come to a stop at a bit of a traffic jam. The bus driver is unhappy and waves his right arm at a tanker. After a few minutes it becomes apparent that another Ryanair plane is waiting to move off and behind it is an Easyjet flight. The planes move off in succession and the jam is released, the vehicles involved all move off quickly in three different directions like they are on computer controlled journeys; it seems too smooth and controlled for human drivers.
There is a flight in front of us in the customs area. We snake back and forth squeezing in as many people as possible in what seems like a tiny room compared to security checking hall we passed through to get to the departure lounges. The airport keeps expanding, I hope they make a bigger arrival bit otherwise it is going to get rather cold waiting to pass through customs. They are probably nigh on four hundred people in this space and the queue moves on at a reasonable pace. A younger scots woman keeps on insisting the queue length is “shocking” to her friends, but hers is a lone voice. My concern is that being without a child means I get filtered into the electronic identity gates which in my experience don’t work for me and having a rather bushy beard now, I don’t expect to pass this test. I am wrong however. With my glasses off I can barely make out the image that tells me to remove my passport, to my shock as I do so the gate opens and I am free. I walk out through the baggage reclaim hall and the customs check out into the main airport concourse. I know this place and head straight for the trams into Edinburgh.
I approach the machines to buy the tram ticket into Princess Street (£5.50 one way – if you have the time and inclination you can walk to the next stop at the park and ride and get the journey for £1.80 I think). A man in a broad scots accent says something to me. I had no idea of the actual words but somehow I automatically translate it into a comment about my shorts and the weather. I give a “aye, crazy” reply.
On the tram I finished up writing a blog post and used the free WiFi to post it. It was very quiet and as I sat there I remembered the woman sitting next to me on the plane and how she seemed to be anxious about take-off and landing; reflecting on the trip it occurred to me that I wasn’t anxious once I was on the plane. I thought about other times when I wasn’t anxious and the only other time really I could think of was being in hospital. Often the difficult time for me is deciding whether I need to be in hospital but once I am there and the staff are taking care of me, I can relax and rest. I think this is about giving up control of one’s life. On the plane there is nothing I can do to affect the journey in any way so I choose to switch off and relax, I trust the pilots to fly the plane and the engineers to make sure the plane is airworthy. Similarly in hospital, if I am ill enough, then it becomes a safe haven where I trust the doctors and nurses to make the right decisions for me.
On the tram, I wondered if this is what it is like to have a profound religious belief. Does one no longer worry about the consequences because one trusts a higher authority implicitly? As I write this, it occurs to me that I put trust in myself when I ride a bike, or swim in the pool; I set off trusting that I will make it back to the beginning. I don’t doubt my capabilities. I wonder if I can extend this trust into other areas of my life, if I could then maybe life could become less anxious. Illness has taught me that we really have no control over our lives, we just think we do; I have experienced this and yet it is a hard lesson to feel. Having times when I am less anxious though gives me hope that I can actually let go of control and trust in myself to cope.