At just after Mid Day I decided to take one more trip to the food court at Terminal 21. I don't mind admitting that one of my favourite things about Bangkok is the food and I am still unsure as to when or if I will be able to return again to get some more. The food from Terminal 21 had become a mainstay of my diet over the previous few weeks and I was sad to be leaving it behind. Nothing I have found in the U.K quite matches the flavours that you can find across places in Asia or in Bangkok itself. Nothing seems as vibrant in colour or taste no matter how much authenticity they claim. That's not to pour scorn on the food in the U.K itself, but somehow, for some reason, something is getting lost in the transition from the East to the West.
I had originally planned to get to the Airport a few hours before departure, but brought my times forward when it dawned on me that it was mid week and travelling at that time would sit me bang in the middle of the rush hours. I returned to the hostel to collect my things, removing my portable charger from the plug where it had been charging up to give it maximum juice to cover the upcoming hours, organising and re-organising my bags ready for when I arrived at the airport. At just after 3pm I said my final farewell to my hostess, took the elevator to the ground floor and stepped back out into the blazing heat to begin the overly long journey back home.
I arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport just after 4, and in the departures hall folded the straps of my rucksack into position, ready to be zipped away into the bag ready for transit. It was here that the zip of the cover failed which meant that I had to find other means to stop the straps from flailing about. Firstly I wasn't sure if the airline would accept the bag in the condition that it was now in, and secondly if they did, I didn't want the straps to get themselves caught up anywhere which might result in the bag being lost or delayed en-route to London. I tied everything close to the bag the best that I could using the strands or strap ends available and when the gates opened an hour later, made my way gingerly to the check in staff to enquire whether my lacing efforts were successful enough to allow the bag to travel on it's own.
Luckily the two slim, impeccably dressed ladies on the business side of the counter were satisfied with the results of my endeavours and over the condition of the bag was still o.k. For me however the day was now taking it's toll, and having hauled the bag up and down the arrivals hall for the last hour looking for the Gulf Air gate, I struggled a little to lift the bag onto the weighing belt for its confirmatory 19.4 kg reading. On the other side of the counter the taller of the ladies then lifted and carried the bag from the belt like it was full of nothing but air and feathers and placed it easily into the awaiting tray. "Wow" I said, flexing my arm up through 90 degrees at the elbow and pointing forward, "very strong". It wasn't meant to be patronising and luckily wasn't taken a such. Both the counter staff seemed to see it as a light hearted acknowledgement of both their natural strength and my obvious weakness, the manner it was intended, and refrained from kicking the hell out of my checked in luggage, at least until my back was turned and my focus was moved onto getting through to the duty free area, and getting a bite to eat before the now imminent flight out.
To be fair the choice of "Seafood and Vegetables" before flying could be seen as risky at best, foolhardy at worst, but with a hand in the bowels of both good fortune and bad, what arrived in front of me bore little resemblance to what I was expecting to see or taste. Instead or succulent, fresh fish there was the occasional hint of something that perhaps, once, caught sight of water, encased in a thick blanket of overly greasy batter. Instead of a medley of fully flavoured vegetables, what arrived was a possibly a distant cousin to a British potato chip, hard and undercooked and coated again in yet more batter. On the plus side there was little or no fish present that was likely to make me ill over the coming hours, but on the other the distant cousin and sickly batter was probably what caused me to feel uncomfortable and off colour for the first flight from Bangkok to Bahrain. This was the worst food that I have ever experienced away from British shores, but perhaps, just perhaps it was their way of readying me and my innards for what to expect when I touched down again back on the other side.
The wait at Bahrain felt longer than the 90 minutes it actually was, probably because it is for an international airport at least, rather lacking in things to see or do. After arriving from the first flight I went through the obligatory mid journey stop over baggage scan before taking the escalator up a floor walking past the Duty Free shop and the McDonalds where I had eaten 6 weeks previous, and plonked my "slightly slimmer than before" arse down at Costa. In that one sentence I have probably described half of the places that were present in the departure hall, and all of those that are of any note.
Before boarding the next flight out we again had to go through another baggage check process. Wallet, phones, injections, watch, medical bracelet, laptop and belt out into trays, bag and self through separate scanners before redressing myself and repacking my bag. Sometimes it feels the other way around. Next time I might not wear a belt when travelling internationally. Perhaps given that it was 02:20 by the time we boarded the next plane, it might have been more fitting if I had been wearing a dressing gown and pair of slippers anyway. If I had possessed the foresight to dress as such and been carrying my now discarded towel as a prop, I may have even been mistaken for to a modern day Arthur Dent.
The flight to London took over 7 hours and with the chair in front of me not in use, I was able to stretch out my legs under said chair until my feet had appeared from out the front of it. In what has become unheard of for me, I managed to get snippets of sleep during this time. 5 minutes here and 5 minutes there might not sound much, but that's only because it's not. With a few hours to go before we were due to land I was as uncomfortable as I recall ever being on a flight and now completely convinced that this was going to be my last trip, if not forever, than certainly for quite some time.
But here's the rub.
As much as I bemoan the lack of comfort and increase of physical toll that the more recent trips have seemingly taken on me, the fact still remains that I have seen and experienced things that many people wont, either through their own choice or through a lack of opportunity. It's important I think to remember that, and luckily there are still moments that present themselves, reminding me and reinforcing that sentiment.
It was in this moment, with the morning beautifully lurching over the horizon as we flew over Germany and Belgium that my I found tears were beginning to trickle. I thought of the people gone who would never see these things, or those with whom I could not experience it with. Travelling on your own certainly has its perks. You can move to the beat of your own drum, travel when you feel you are able to do so, and likewise slow down and rest when you feel that is something you need also. But by the same measure you are unable to recall many shared, personal moments in time, because as there is no one else there to share them with, those shared, personal moments just simply don't happen.
And that, in a nutshell is the danger of tiredness, and how it affects me.
Luckily though, as we flew over the English Channel towards London, the cloud underneath began to obscure the country below until it was no longer visible. The change from the picturesque, bright morning sunshine from over 30,000 Ft to ground level blanket grey and rain were enough to dispel any and all sleep deprived over romanticised notions that may have been lingering. The smackdown and rumble of the Heathrow tarmac came with not only the relief to have landed at last, but the reality that now it was back to life underneath grey, wet skies. It couldn't be further away from the climate of Bangkok that I had been working and living in.
Coming through arrivals was a relatively quick and painless experience, with the exception of the over complicated and non functioning passport readers. This meant that almost everybody who tried to use the machines was rejected and then had to go and be processed manually by a person and turned what is an efficient, one step manual process in many other countries where they still trust people to do a job, into an inefficient two step one thanks to the fallibility and reliance on technology in situations where perhaps it isn't really needed.
The last meal that I had eaten in Bangkok had tried to prepared me a little for my first meal back home, attempting to soften the blow between the previous Thai culinary experiences that had been both visually appealing and full of taste, and any expections that I had for the food that I would now be returning too.
But even with low expectations I still wasn't quite ready for food with a complete lack of either.
That flight away again might not be at such a distant point in time after all