It’s 5:30 am, local time, and I’m sitting in Moscow airport facing a horrendously brightly-lit perfume shop, with the saddest-looking shop assistant in all the world behind the counter. Mind you, I can’t imagine I’d enjoy the night shift in the bask of severe fluorescent light and the cloud of Calvin Klein either.
I’m very, very tired. When I last left you, I had a long to-do list and only a few hours. At midnight on Thursday night, I had booked a taxi to the airport for 5:50 am, and I had done my laundry, but I hadn’t packed, or cleaned my flat, or done the paperwork I needed to do before I left.
Because I am who I am, I took a break, and watched an episode of Orange is the New Black. And then another one. And then I spent three hours rushing about like a mad thing until finally I was packed and ready to go, I had my forms filled in and ready to send off and my flat was kind of clean. At about 4:45, a bin bag burst all over me and the entire right-hand side of my body was smeared in gone-off coleslaw. A promising sign for what lay ahead.
And so it was that I arrived in Dublin airport, with 28 hours of travelling ahead of me and not a single minute of sleep under my belt.
I checked in at the British Airways desk (having first gone to the wrong terminal) and the friendly flight attendant handed me three boarding cards, telling me, “I’ve checked you in all the way through to Russia”. At that moment, all I wanted to say was, “But I don’t want to go to Russia. I want to go to bed!” But I held my tongue and went through security.
My first flight was to Heathrow and I was surrounded by Americans. There was an elderly and wealthy-looking couple from California and a young funky-looking woman from Chicago. I eavesdropped for a while. The young woman was working in digital marketing in Ireland. The couple asked her what that actually meant. She apparently runs the social media campaigns for big concerts. She named a number of acts she’s promoted, including Mumford and Sons. The elderly woman then uttered my favourite sentence of the day: “Mumford and Sons? They’re my tenants!” Apparently, this woman is propertied and she rents out one of her houses to the Mumfords. The story then got really complicated, but I didn’t care. I could smell fame.
I slept for some of the flight, and then got off in Heathrow. The flight deal we had worked out meant that there would be a 12 hour wait in Heathrow.
I love England. I get the tingles of excitement of being abroad every time I’m there. I love the small differences. Everything is written in a different font. And I always feel like I’m on telly when I’m there. Sometimes I feel like I’m in Harry Potter or Narnia, sometimes like I’m in Eastenders or The Full Monty and sometimes like I’m in Midsomer Murders or Poirot. This morning, as I heard all the English accents around me, I felt like I was on The Apprentice, and everyone I could see and hear was doing a task. But the drama only lasted so long, and the tiredness really hit me.
There was a hotel-booking counter, and I approached and asked about the possibility of finding a cheap bed from about midday to 6:00 pm. The woman at the counter said that it would be no problem, she tapped on her calculator and said that she could do it for £189. A hundred and eighty-nine pounds! I said that that was far more expensive than I was thinking. She said that it included a chauffeur-driven car ride to the hotel. Really? I had bits of my breakfast on my t-shirt. Did I look like the kind of guy who paid for limo service? She then asked if I’d mind taking the bus. I didn’t. But it was still too dear.
Now, I’m normally a timid agreeable sort, who obeys whatever I am told by customer service employees. But I was very tired, and this woman was pushing a sale on the wrong guy. After a few other really expensive tries, she said, “Well, I could go under £100, but it would only be a three-star hotel”. I don’t think I’ve ever heard so much sneer in my life, as the sneer in her voice when she said “three-star”. She was still in the £80 region. Eventually, after a titanic battle of wills, she rang a B&B and found me a bed for a few hours for thirty pounds including the bus, but she wasn’t happy.
The B&B was fine. And I did sleep some, but there were roadworks, including a pneumatic drill outside my bedroom window, so it wasn’t the best sleep I’ve ever had. I was still exhausted when I got back to Heathrow to discover that the flight to Moscow was delayed.
Eventually, I got on the plane to Moscow. I was sitting next to a Russian woman. Years of watching TV has taught me that there are two types of Russian woman. There are the older, downtrodden, tough-as-old-boots Russian women, who have a sense of style that is quite close to that of a hungover drag queen. There are also young, blonde, heavily made-up women. These are icy and cold women, who work as sexy spies or are bought as mail order brides by fat and inarticulate men from the midlands.
The woman next to me was young, blonde and heavily made-up. And it didn’t take me long to realise that she fit into the “sexy spy” type that TV has sold me. When the flight attendant asked her what drink she wanted, she answered, in a strong Russian accent, “I’ll have a Bloody Mary, with extra Worcester sauce” I knew she was fierce, and would kill me passionlessly with her thighs if needs be.
No one has killed me yet. I’ve been in Moscow Airport for over an hour, and it feels foreign, but it feels like an airport too, so I’m not rushing to judgement on the entire nation yet.
My Siberia Air flight to Rostov won’t leave for another two hours. Then I’ll meet the woman who will be my boss, my colleague and my host for the next month. I don’t feel like I’m in a fit state to make a good impression, but fingers crossed!