We have been in Dubai and then Oman. More of that in a bit. I flew back yesterday from Bahrain. It was a memorable flight.
It was in the small hours of the morning before we were loaded on. The plane was far from new and the seat had developed ways of its own from years of Bahraini bottoms, forcing you to sit as if about to stand up, a quizzical posture not really consistent with sleep. Next to me was a little bald man. He disappeared head first under his blanket, from where he made burrowing motions, violent blows with his elbows and occasional appalling smells.
To settle us there was a light meal. This turned out to be a stale bun containing a slice of processed cheese and bits of gherkin, just like a Big Mac but without the all-important burger. The taste of the gherkin reasserted itself in the throat periodically throughout the night, threatening worse.
Surrounding my seat was a Nepalese family. The older ones were in national dress, the children in t-shirts asserting affinity to Kathmandu. They were bringing their goat and all their belongings to make a new life in England. Some Royal Highness (obviously not His Royal Highness the King of Nepal, as he is no more: maybe one of ours) had granted them a small holding on his huge estate in Berkshire, and they intended building a simple yurt, exploiting the goat for curry and milk and growing maize and other crops.
Apparently there are laws for the prevention of cruelty to animals which prohibit their travelling Economy on this particular airline, so the goat was in Business. It quickly got bored though and spent the flight lugubriously pushing the duty free trolley up and down the aisle.
The Nepalese family were good people and I hope that their dream of settling Berkshire works out for them. If they make it through the first winter, they should be OK. I’m sure that the native population will give them help and not scalp them. I hope that the children enjoy farming more than they enjoyed flying; between them they kept up a continuous yowl from take-off to landing.
Six hours into the flight the attendants reappeared, with the main meal. These were hatchet-faced, gum-chewing women, their standard greeting ‘Whaddayawant?” The meal featured a ‘white chicken sausage’, prepared, it said on the menu, by ‘five star chefs’ in accordance with strict Halal standards. What, by the way, are ‘five star chef’s’? Is it like a three star general? Or are they a cabal of Jamie Oliver, Marco Pierre White and three others who meet occasionally and decide that, yes, the white chicken sausage is what the people want? Anyway, if there is anything after a sleepless night being jabbed by a small smelly man and protecting one’s shoes from a goat that is more depressing than a white chicken sausage I should like to know what it is.
Immigration at Terminal 3 felt like gentle and sophisticated entertainment in comparison. They had one of those e-passport queues. You stand on the footprints, put your passport photo into the machine and it scans your face to see whether it looks the same as the photo, and if so, presumably, whether you have any outstanding library fines. Actually I imagine that it’s not just a question of looking the same as the photo, but that it makes incredibly sophisticated biometric analyses, based on a selection of subtle indicia invisible to you or me. I can only speculate, as the machine rejected absolutely everyone, and they had to be sent to join a conventional queue. One of the things that the machine hated most was people with backpacks. It said that people with backpacks were people with other people on their backs trying to get in without being spotted.
That would be an unexpected item in the bagging area with national security implications. If it were allowed for a second, ministerial resignations could only be a matter of time.
Then I thought, as I edged towards the front of my own, old-fashioned, queue, isn’t there a melancholy truth here for us all. We carry the impedimenta of our lives on our backs. We think that they’re for our good and the good of us all. In fact they strangle us like the old man of the sea, they use us and cast us aside as soon as they’re past Security.
The goat was Fast Tracked.