Returning Meditation / 25 September 2013
Like a badly fitting wig, my days have slipped. The bright and sunny Japan mornings that greeted me at five-thirty, now brood in slow British darkness until almost seven. I shiver into lunchtimes, unhungry and confused. And the balmy evening dark that I expect to drop suddenly towards six, now lingers, seeping chill reluctantly into a day that has only just found warmth. Balmy being alien to its vocabulary, dark closes coldly around me from sevenish.
Being back in British grey has yet to offer welcome.
My flight, unusually restless, sleepless even, was missing the comforting, majority presence of Japanese cabin crew. Western body language speaking of tension and tiredness. And I was scolded repeatedly for not organising my dietary requirements.
I did try before leaving England, but booking assistance (and explaining my powerchair), needs me to telephone 48 hours before the flight. The helpline does not accept any other details. I was informed that all other requirements should be made at my physical check-in (on-line check-in not being available for people needing special assistance) on the day of my flight.
And I was met at Heathrow's Terminal 5 by a roving member of staff who volunteered to check me in at one of the DIY check-in points. That went quite smoothly until we got to my dietary requirement. The male gave up and handed me over to a female at a regular check-in point. We went through the whole procedure again with things being rather confused by the fact that my check-in form already had details on it.
It was, I was told, too late to book special diet.
But someone found food for me and, flying out, the cabin crew coped without a murmur. Checking-in for the return, I was assured that my details were already on the computer; the Japanese ground crew explaining that the fold-up nature of my powerchair meant they wouldn't have to put it in the hold, but could carry it in the crew coat-locker. This would avoid the long wait while they retrieved it at Heathrow.
The diet details however were not carried over for the flight back. I was informed at mealtime that there was absolutely no possibility of meat and dairy-free meals.
Some time later I was offered, and accepted, an halal 'wrap'. Heavy on wrap - with just a hint of spicy spinach and potato, and a banana.
The mid-flight snack was offered by a stewardess who was unaware of its contents and claimed to be unable to read the label in the poor aircraft light. My own eye injury made it quite impossible for me.
I was scolded again at breakfast and offered the standard choice - take it or leave it.
I felt quite uncomfortable about the atmosphere. Had the feeling that the cabin crew were doing their best, but battling some overwhelming, unseen stress. That their body language and tired faces were not singling me out for any special reaction or disapproval, but just a fact of life. And the western way is not to hide it.
My lingering memory of returning to Britain is the heap of dried-up stinking vomit in the corner of the escalator taking me to arrivals and baggage reclaim.
living here I would
have acclimatised to
the slow creeping away
of daylight; the autumn mist
and advancing cold. I would
be focused on the gentle
hints of gold, mellow fruitfulness,
seasonal texture. And I too
would be the body language
of tension and tiredness;
unable to hide the common
pain of east and west. The burden
of frightened, hurting people;
ordinary people whose joy is being
stolen away for profit, for capitalist
appetite for anyone other than strong.