exerpts from a travel journal: inflight interludes;
The day before I was due to fly to Israel, I went to give blood. It seemed like a pretty logical decision at the time, but the nurses were horrified to discover I was planning to fly the next day. “Medium haul?” somebody tutted. “Well if you feel sick tomorrow, like you did last time, don’t say we didn’t warn you. And no aspirin.”
I was determined not to complain no matter how I felt, but all credit to the nursing staff at Nelson Mandela Place: when I ended up head swimming and my legs in the air, nobody said I told you so. And nothing tastes better than the orange juice they give you when you have just given blood, no matter where else you may drink the same drink.
You know the chat you get at the hairdresser? Holidays, celebrities, Saturday nights? It’s got nothing on the chat you get when you go to give blood. I’ve had some of the most obscure and most random conversations of my life in there, regardless of whether the lightheadedness contributes or not. They liked my stripes and red dress – my “nautical” look – and I was certainly sodden thanks to the April rain. “I wish I had worn my hat,” I sighed.
Oh, you like hats as well? It seems there had been a girl in the centre, just before Christmas, whose boyfriend was donating; and that she had been wearing this incredible red-trimmed top hat which it turned out that she had made herself. The technician gave her £20 to make a commission: “just the cheapest material, the cheapest of everything, and don’t take offence when I tell you what I want it for,” she said. She has a scarecrow which is famous in the village you see, and it’s going to look so dapper in its new top hat trimmed with yellow ribbon. “I need to get him a matching coat now,” the technician told me happily.
TERMINAL 5. Do you even remember me? The last time we met you were pure sex appeal, shiny and new; I hadn’t slept in a day and my ankles were the size of grapefruit. I suppose we all look the same to you, the millions of us who pass your way every year; us Manic Pixie Dream Girls with our wide eyes and our green suitcases and our hearts full of adventure, pretending to be Zooey Deschanel: anywhere you wanna go. Just you and me.
We landed in Tel Aviv late, and pretty tired, after a flight that didn’t make me sick. It’s always nice to break a curse. The horror stories we had heard about Israeli airport security either didn’t hold true, or we were lulled into a false sense of security by how pretty everybody was. There was a bit of a hold-up when the X-ray machine broke, but we were among the first to have our suitcases searched so we had time for an overpriced lunch at Heathrow. Security was a fellow Canon user, suitably impressed by my in-depth knowledge of exactly where everything was inside (as was I, given how hastily I threw in too many clothes and books I couldn’t beside between to give me more time to concentrate on playlists). It was easy not to notice getting asked all the same, seemingly innocuous questions, twice.
Mikhail, or Mike as he would have us call him, was waiting for us by the tour bus we’d be seeing plenty of over the next week. A native Israeli Jew with a selection of souvenir t-shirts from various American tourist traps; almost completely bald apart from a matted blond ponytail; speaking superfast in accelerated, hyperliterate English; full of life and punchlines and pearls of wisdom. “Welcome to Tehran,” he greeted us with a twinkle, “I’ve spent the past few days learning English especially for you.” And, just like that, I could tell this trip was going to be more of a riot than I had anticipated.
The road from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem climbs up into the mountains, and even in my semi-delirious state there was something magical and otherworldly about our nocturnal ascent. In one panoramic view from the bus window I saw the lights of McDonalds and a truck packed full of crates of living baby chickens. We entered the New Town and headed for our hotel over a bridge constructed to look like an upturned harp and ate quickly, conscious of our early morning wake-up call.