A week ago today, I arrived back in Auckland with Dark Princess and Miss Fliss, but as I drove along the waterfront into the city for an interview this afternoon, with the sun beating down on the achingly blue waters of the Waitemata harbour, I didn’t feel I’d arrived back from four years in England.
Oh no, I’m back. From outer space.
Everything has turned upside down.
It’s night here, it’s morning there. It’s -6 degrees C there, it’s 23 degrees C here, and we spent the afternoon in the pool.
It’s buttoned down, collar turned down, head down, wrapped up warm, close, personal, private…none-of-your-business there..
And every person we’ve spoken to here has asked about our journey these past four years. With a smile on their face, and banter laced with jokes. Everyone wants to know your business here.
Of course this is still the honeymoon. I’m not even over jet lag yet, I know we will see the negative stuff soon enough.
Hell, after an $18 parking fee for 1.5 hours parking in the city today, maybe I am already becoming realistic…
But it is still a huge change and does feel as if we have been on another planet.
I was thinking about this on board the first 13 hour flight from London to Singapore, which is pretty much half way between worlds – the old and the new. At least the flights Down Under are so long they actually feel like a journey. You can’t close your eyes until you magically arrive at your destination a few hours later. This isn’t an Easyjet flight to the sun.
This is an old fashioned journey, the likes of which my Mum used to tell me about, travelling by train (for days) down from North Queensland to Brisbane. It’s not quite the epic voyages with circling wagons and babies born en route, but it is a long enough journey to actually change.
To process. To sleep. To grow.
It’s as if you’re suspended from life for 24 hours in a self-contained bubble. Somewhere high above Chittagong, Bangladesh (Is that pronounced with a hard ‘ch’ or a soft one – ‘shittagong’?) I realised that for the first time in a very long time I was completely alone with my thoughts. No internet interruptions, no meals to cook, no washing to do, no tidying or driving people around. Nothing much to do but think, plan and process everything that’s happened.
Guiltily I realise that even if I have forgotten to do that thing, no one can bug me about it now, or even for another 15 hours or so.
But the other passengers populate our world and we become inexorably involved in each others’ lives. I overhear the young Kiwi Dad behind me telling off his young sons…
“Jack, you don’t gouge your brother. Ok? Seriously!”
Territory battles play out on the shared armrest between seats, as the girls moan at each other wearily..
“Stop it! You’re bumping me and I’m trying to sleep. Mum, make her stop!”
It’s all a slice of life… Vanity Fair…
Even going to the loo finds me offering medical attention to a hypoglycaemic passenger who urgently needs sugar! Not the first time I’ve saved a life with chocolate.
In my seat, I turn off the movies in favour of the Flight Path mode on the entertainment system. It somehow amuses me to know that we are moving at a ground speed of 957 kms per hour and that there’s only 4 hours 47 minutes to our destination – Singapore. For a moment I forget about the 8 hours we’ve already flown.
’4 hours isn’t far. 4 hours is a trip from London to Cyprus, or a long flight from Brisbane to Auckland, battling a head wind. ‘
I study the Flight Path some more and notice a curved line between dark and light that sweeps around the edge of Australia and shrouds the European continent in dark shadows. Curiously the map of Australia only has two lights on – one in Sydney and one in Brisbane. New Zealand has none.
Obviously no one’s there!
‘It’s not far now’ I remember thinking. ’Only the equivalent of two flights from London to Cyprus (on top of the three flights we’ve already had). It isn’t far..’
But it is. Any journey that includes two breakfasts back to back because of the flight time constitutes a big trip.
It is a long, long way from England to New Zealand.
Not just in flight miles.
And when we finally pushed our bags through the doors into the foyer of Auckland International Airport, we feel every single mile. We rub Heathrow from our eyes and Changi from our hair as we dry cough stale airplane air from our lungs, and take big, deep breaths in. Our first lung bursting fill of New Zealand.
We’ve travelled a very, very long way. And now we’re back.
From outer space.