It began with an early start. Very early. Just after 3am, in fact. My boss was picking me up at 3:30am, to drive to Bristol airport, to catch a plane, to fly to Belgium, to catch a taxi to the office, to meet some people and talk about some stuff. I had a brand spanking new passport, little experience of getting around while abroad, very limited French and non-existent Dutch. And I felt very much like a very small fish in a very large pond.
Flying brings with it an array of emotions, provided you don’t do it so often that it loses its thrill. First comes the fear. Will I get to the airport in time? Will I be able to check in? Will they take my luggage? Will they accept my passport? Have I booked the ticket for the right day? Have I remembered my ticket? Have I remembered my passport? Will they let me through the scanner things? Will I be strip-searched? Will they unpack my bags? Will they find anything that shouldn’t be there? Have I got my passport? Will I look innocent enough for the security people to let me through? Have I got enough money in the correct currency? Am I at the right terminal? How long until boarding? Where is my flight boarding and how far away is it? Have I got time to get there? Have I got time to get a cup of tea first? Have I still got my passport? Will they announce my flight? What happens if they announce my flight while I’m in the toilets? Will they let me on the plane? Have I still got my passport?
But having got past all of that, having negotiated the airport security, having found the right place and boarded the right plane, with all luggage intact, still in possession of my passport, sitting in my seat, I can finally relax. This is my seat. Right by the window, in fact.
Next comes anticipation. It being a business trip, and with my boss sat next to me, I tried my best to remain professional, calm, blase about the whole thing. But inside I was still a child, bouncing up and down in my seat. There’s the inevitable wait as people take their seats and get comfortable, stowing their hand luggage in far-too-small overhead compartments. There’s the unimpressive and predictable safety announcement, given via audio recording and a thoroughly unenthusiastic stewardess. But then, sending a new surge of excitement into the atmosphere, the plane begins to move. Slowly at first, but the engines are quietly roaring into life. We taxi around the airport, and all the while I’m looking out of the window, trying in vain to see where we might be going, trying to see how far away the runway is, waiting for the main event to start. Maybe we stop and start a few times as we wait for traffic. The air conditioning comes on. I can feel the cats-eyes as we drive over them.
And then, out of the window on the other side of the plane, I see it. A runway lit with thousands of bright lights, beckoning and enticing like a funfair. The plane lines itself up. The excitement builds as we come to a stop, the pilot waiting for clearance from the tower. I know it’s coming, I know it is. The anticipation is killing me, and despite my efforts to remain calm I can feel my pulse racing, my breathing quickening, and I’m smiling as I watch out of the window. And then it happens. The engines are set to full with a satisfyingly surprising jolt, and I’m pushed back into my seat, the plane accelerating to impossible speeds in a matter of seconds. Scenery blurs as it speeds by, ever faster, and I wonder for a moment if we’re going to run out of runway. But then the nose begins to rise, signalling the ascent is imminent. As the plane lifts its nose I catch myself briefly panicking that the tail will start scraping along the runway, but no, at the last moment the back wheels break free of the ground too, and we’re rising, rising into the air. The world falls away impossibly, enormous aeroplanes and buildings shrinking as if the view is being zoomed out, cars and people seeming like tiny models, and all too soon the details are lost, and the world below seems more and more like a distant memory.
And then there are the clouds, which defy everything by looking even more beautiful from above. Carpets of white hang in the air, as if they should be suspended on wires or held up by poles. But no, they just sit there, seeming so solid, and yet so fragile. The sun shines off the glistening tops, highlighting hills and valleys, bubbles and silky plains, all made of cloud. God’s creation, as seen from above. And it’s glorious.
Oh, and the business trip was good too. Just not as good as flying.