You could say that landing in Hong Kong by night after thirteen long hours spent eating highly questionable airline food, watching ruthlessly edited in flight movies and breathing cold, dry, recycled air whilst Faye lay with her head on my shoulder, gently drooling onto my shirt collar felt like something of a relief. But that would be like saying that George Best liked the odd glass of wine with friends. I quite simply couldn’t wait to get off the plane. My intensely irrational fear of flying had kept me both wide awake and bolt upright for the duration of the journey, painfully aware of every tiny shake, quiver and judder of turbulence the aircraft experienced. My hands had been gripping the rigid plastic armrests so tightly and for so long that I was unsure as to whether I would be able to let go of them when the time finally came to get off the plane.
I also seemed to have once again developed what I call my ‘spidersense’, a phenomenon that occurs every time that I set foot on a plane Removals London. This consists of an almost superhuman sense of hearing, the tiniest sound amplified in my mind to some precursory indication that the wings were about to fall off and we were all going to plunge, screaming into the side of a mountain, to die in a ball of flames or survive for a few more painful weeks, cold and hungry in the unforgiving, isolated wilderness of some far flung dictatorship.
Luckily for me, I had already planned for this eventuality by watching endless long hours of Ray Mears and the Bush Tucker Man happily surviving, in fact thriving, in some of the harshest environments in the world, accompanied by the gentle noodlings of some dreadlocked, pot smoking acoustic guitarist who always seems to be just off camera.
This somewhat heightened state of mind was probably eased slightly by my excessive alcohol consumption since arriving at Heathrow about fifteen or sixteen hours earlier. Not to mention the two packs of seemingly totally pointless nicotine gum that I had chewed my way through whilst on board the plane. However if it was then it was an imperceptible chip out of what was otherwise a mountain of irrational anxiety.
Interestingly, since banning smoking on all flights, airlines have saved a hefty fortune recycling the air that we breathe in the cabin. Before smoking was banned by airlines, the air that we breathed was completely replaced every three minutes. Now they use a mixture of fresh and recycled air, saving a not insignificant six percent on their fuel bills. The downside to this is that levels of carbon dioxide in the cabin are significantly higher, causing various unpleasant side effects, not least a sizeable increase in airborne bacteria and an elevated likelihood of ‘air rage’ incidents. This in turn means that the majority of modern day travellers leave their flights in a bad mood and are quite possibly ‘coming down with something’ too. 1
However, all of this is very suddenly forgotten as Hong Kong finally begins to slowly creep into view like a burning beacon on the dark horizon. Edging its way closer until before you know it you have flown right over it and are now watching it out of the cabin window. The plane then banks steeply around on itself, allowing you a momentary glimpse of the vista below and joins the stack of aircraft waiting for their turn to touch down.
The view from the cabin as the plane begins circling the city is nothing short of phenomenal. Neon clad buildings reach into the clouds in juxtaposition with the tree covered slopes that enclose the city like a huge, natural medieval curtain wall, all starkly silhouetted against the dark horizon. Huge billboards advertising familiar western brands tower alongside their more exotic cousins which stand beside them, equally as colourful and splashed with Chinese characters, serving to illustrate the influence that one hundred and fifty six years of British rule has had on the city’s culture. From the air the city appears infinite, sprawling and twinkling below you as if the stars themselves have fallen from the sky and carpeted the ground beneath. Yet, at the same time Hong Kong appears insurmountably finite, hemmed in by the hills and ocean that surround it like a beautifully iridescent jewelled egg nestled snugly in the majestic landscape.
As the city has developed over the last thirty thousand years from the collection of small Stone Age settlements uncovered by archaeologists beneath the foundations of the city into the vast metropolis that it forms today, these obvious topographical limitations have had to be overcome. Instead of sprawling endlessly outwards as many modern cities have, Hong Kong has had no choice but to build upwards. As a result of this almost every building in the city is at least ten stories high.
As the plane embarks on its final approach it becomes apparent that the runway in fact stretches out into the sea. This is not a pleasant realisation to dawn on a person, particularly when that person is mortally afraid of flying. Thankfully though, as I’ve mentioned, I had been wise enough to get drunk in the extortionately expensive Irish bar in Heathrow airport by sharing more than a few beers with family and friends who had come to see us off on our big adventure. Outwardly, of course, I endeavoured to appear cool and relaxed although it was probably fairly obvious that I was trying to consume as much alcohol as was humanly possible before the last call to board the flight. I continued along a similar vein once on board the flight and nearly fifteen hours of Dutch courage coupled with the magnificent vista stretched out beneath the plane seemed to ease the stress of grappling with my irrational fears for over half a day more than a little.