23 November 2013

Saturday morning, nine a.m.

This morning reminds me of when I was young(er).

When I was 16 or 17, my mate Drew and I hitch-hiked to London, to see the lights and experience ‘swinging London’ for ourselves. Music, theatre, shops – Carnaby Street, the steps at Piccadilly Circus, all that kind of stuff.

We had very little money, of course, and soon spent what we did have. I can’t remember quite how the weekend went, but we ended up spending the Sunday night sleeping on Ferro-cement benches outside the South Bank Theatre. At about five o’clock we got up, cold and stiff despite our Army surplus greatcoats, and went down to the Underground. In those days you could buy a ticket for one stop on the Circle Line and then go round and round as much as you liked. You just had to remember where to get off the train. So we lay down on the bench seats and slept as we went round and round the Circle Line.

It was just after eight o’clock when I was woken up by the not-too-gentle jab of a furled umbrella. Here was one Londoner who had not been touched by the peace and love movement, a businessman who obviously felt that a northern oik taking up two bench seats during rush hour was not the natural order of the world. Drew had woken up earlier and was sitting opposite, pretending not to know me. I sat up and we waited until we got back to the South Bank, and then took the next exit.

I was reminded of this at six o’clock this morning. I’m in Istanbul. My colleagues and I got here last night, at 10 pm, and we went to the lounge to wait for our flight to Kabul. At midnight the notice board changed and indicated that our 0155 departure was now delayed by two hours. We muttered, and had another coffee. At three o’clock the notice board changed again, showing a 1200 (noon) departure. We went to the desk and were assured this was the new departure time.

In the lounge we considered out options. A hotel was available, but this would mean buying a visa, leaving the airport, busing to the hotel, catching 3 hours sleep, then fighting rush hour in Istanbul to bus back and check in again. Or, we could sleep in the lounge.

We rearranged the pseudo-leather seats, covered in some beige plastic-like substance. These are designed for flexible seating arrangements, with a back and only one arm rest. By putting four chairs together one can make a big square, with the arm rests forming an outer wall. One can then lie diagonally across the ‘bed’, and try to get some sleep.

One has to ignore the men with the floor polisher machines, of course, and the drills and bangs from the construction zone next door. But at least those drown out the automatic piano, and the clatter of the trolleys removing the food and drink from the various stations around the lounge.

I dozed fitfully for an hour, and then must have slept for another hour because when I woke it was nearly six, and the room was filled with people on their way to an early morning plane. I separated my chairs, and sat in one – the others filled immediately.

One of my colleagues had taken half a sleeping pill, and he was fast asleep across his four chairs. I watched as people circled around, clutching their coffee or pastry, staring at him and muttering to themselves. Nobody had a furled umbrella, but if they had I’m sure they would have used one to give him a not-so-gentle nudge. They tutted and glared, and made rude signs. He slept on, oblivious. I sat in my chair, and pretended not to know him.

23 November 2013

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