My journey began at Bournemouth bus station, where I was due to catch the early morning service to Heathrow. Having been up since four am, I was in a slightly bedraggled state, coaxing my tired eyes open with the thought of the adventures that lay ahead. After being dropped off by my dad, who has always provided a fantastic taxi service for me over the years, I walked – no, more like waddled over towards the waiting area. My trusty Berghaus rucksack was overloaded with everything I would need for all kinds of climates, from the sweltering heat of Melbourne and California to the frozen wastelands of Iceland. I took up a position under the concrete shelter and set Bergy down, and then my ears informed me that bagpipes were playing. Bagpipes over the loudspeakers. At 5:30 in the morning. This was a bizarre start to my trip. Appropriate if I was heading to the Highlands I suppose, but I was not headed in the direction of Braveheart and friends.
Sadly I later found out that these bagpipes were not compulsory listening for coach passengers on their way to Scotland, but instead a method of keeping homeless people from sleeping in the bus station. From midnight to 6:30am, Bournemouth bus station becomes a cacophony of squealing pipes, and according to the council, this has solved the problem. The Mayor, himself a bagpiper, says ‘You cannot play them for too long, it is somewhat of an acquired taste.’ If your acquired taste is being used to remove people from an area, that’s not an acquired taste, that’s just bad taste.
The first buses of the day began to arrive, so I joined the queue on the correct bus stand. I spotted some aircrew on their way to the airport as well, so I knew I was in the right place. Well, I would end up at an airport at least.
My fears of ending up at the wrong place were alleviated when I saw the bright orange lettering of ‘Heathrow’ bounding towards me through the morning drizzle. With a hiss and spluttering halt of the engine, my first of many buses was ready to whisk me on my way. The driver waddled down the steps, sporting a gruff demeanour and a lack of hair on his head. You rarely see a healthy looking bus driver. They may be anywhere between friendly, grumpy, disinterested or jovial. But it’s not often they’re healthy. This one had a classically round belly, and made clear his mood when he asked me where I was going.
‘Terminal 4?’ he said, reading off my what my printed ticket said.
‘Sorry?’. I hadn’t fully understood his question, as he reeled it off as more of a noise rather than actual words.
‘FOUR?’ came his reply.
‘Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, four’ I regurgitated back, in typical British fashion.
He seemed satisfied with my ticket and gestured me to get on board. As I took a seat, I realised not only that National Express coaches are rather nice nowadays (wifi and leather), but that I was now at the mercy of the world. It would be difficult to recharge over the next few days, and the jet lag would only enhance this problem. At least I would be able to meet Pete (my cousin) once I arrived down under. After Australia was the true no mans land.
‘Terminal Fouuuuuur’ announced the driver, in a tone that sounded like his lunch money had just been stolen. I gathered up my things, grabbed my bag from under the bus, and waddled into the terminal. I do enjoy airports. Which is unusual for an introvert I must admit. Airports have crowds, loud noises, and a high potential for stress. But I like them because everything is so orderly for the most part. If you read the signs and work out where you’re supposed to be and when, everything generally runs smoothly. And the people watching is simply world class. All kinds of people are going all kinds of places. Sit down with a coffee and a book in a corner and you can watch away.
This is a great example of using a ‘restorative niche’ to recharge in a place where an introvert cannot usually recharge. Restorative niches can be any place that allows recharging, not necessarily complete solitude, but away from people. Toilets are probably the most common one I use, especially at parties. Need a bit of time away from people and to re-charge a little? Spend a few minutes just chilling in the toilet. It’s an easy fix, and everyone else just assumes the the lumberjack is at work, floating his products downstream.
Fun fact – the phrase ‘High and dry’ comes from lumberjacks failing to float their timber cuttings down river due to insufficient river levels. So timber would be left high and dry on sandbanks rather than making it to the sawmill. Now you know.
A few hours later, I was on my way to Qatar, where I would have a stopover of 6 hours at Doha International Airport. I am by no means a plane spotter, but I do find aeroplanes interesting in general. I think everyone should take at least a small interest them. At the end of the day it is good to know what exactly is carrying you at 36000ft above the earth. The Qatari A380 I was flying on was simply magnificent. The way it looks too heavy to fly with its droopy wings and double deck, but then once airborne it’s by the far the quietest commercial plane in the skies today. But by far the best part of the flight was the fact that the seat next to me had no human presence whatsoever. So I was able to stretch my legs to the left whilst looking out over the wing onto the fields of Europe.
It takes seven hours to reach Doha from London, and as I had the space to snooze and the need to, having been up very early, I dozed for an hour or two after the inflight food. I slept awkwardly as per the norm on aeroplanes – it’s difficult to sleep without being sideways. I awoke to the smell of tea, at which point I realised I had missed a crucial event. The cabin crew had brought tea and biscuits round whilst I was unconscious. This was a complete shambles on my part. I should have predicted this afternoon snack round. And being British, there was no way I was going to make the crew go out of their way to address my urgent problem. I threw a jealous glance at my fellow passenger two seats next to me as he snacked away. Lesson learnt.
I now had six hours to kill at Doha International. Doha airport is a modern glass infested design, filled with treasures bought by oil, such as high end supercars and modern art. I can appreciate a bit of art in an airport; it breaks up the mundane and will get great exposure. But the art consisted of a giant yellow bear that looked like Winnie the Pooh had been enjoying a little too much of the Colombian snow. I half expected an overdosed Eeyore to be lying around somewhere. Sometimes there is such a thing as too much money.
Above: Winnie slumped upright, his right hand dipping into the ‘honey pot’.
There were plenty of shops around, and I eventually found myself in a food court, where I sat down and once again began to people watch. People watching will be a recurring theme in this series, mainly because it is a fun activity for an introvert, but also because it yields such interesting observations. This time, I spotted a man taking a selfie in the middle of the food court, with the half-filled seating area in the background. He appeared to be alone. I could not understand what made him want to take a selfie with such a bland background. People do take a lot of rubbish selfies I suppose. Crap photos used to be blurry disposable shots of your Nan in the garden; in the future grandkids will be going through reams of selfies.
‘Granny, what was Snapchat? Why did everyone alive in 2016 have the face of a dog?’
Because the airport was so big, I managed to find a little niche hidden away, and I settled down with a crossword book for the rest of my wait. A wait which would have been more enjoyable if the air conditioning wasn’t so freezing, but I suppose it was a preferable alternative to slowly roasting in the cloying Middle Eastern heat.
Track of Day 1 – Rusted Root // Send Me On My Way