As I type the beginning of this post, I’m sitting at a table overlooking the pool in my uncle’s Jumeira garden, with Max (The Best Dog In The World) at my feet and the UAE’s annual allowance of rainfall hanging overhead in the form of dense, black clouds.
This, the first leg of my journey to New Zealand, is the furthest I’ve travelled alone since a trip to Newquay in 2004. The journey, all told, could have been much worse. Part of me had anticipated that Anita and my parents would have to physically drag me from my room where I’d been holed up for a couple of days pretending to pack while indulging in some ill-timed nesting activity.
Though driving to airports is always a stressful exercise for the Kenny / Berry family, this part of the journey went smoothly. My parents were even thoughtful enough to make our parting at the security gate as unheart-wrenching as possible. Mum, for example, insisted on answering most of the security check-in questions for me. Dad did his bit to alleviate the agony of farewell by telephoning me during my traditional Customs frisking and bag search to enquire (at a level audible both from the tinny telephone receiver and from beyond the security barrier 50 metres away) what kind of gear I was smuggling this time.
Duty-free was a rush for flip-flops and earplugs and so the only chance I got to panic properly was in the toilets at the departure gate before boarding. The litre of Gordons in my hand luggage suddenly seemed very tempting: it was lucky for its intended recipients that I didn’t have a straw (I’m not entirely without class). Once on the plane, my escape options were even more limited. Admitting I was scared and asking to disembark was out of the question. Too embarrassing. Claiming to be wearing explosive pants might have helped me save face, but would ultimately have ended in jail, or at least some pretty searching questions from men with guns. I was stuck with travel and adventure.
Despite having flown quite a few times before, I still get excited by plane trips. The take-off is always pretty hideous (just what is it that keeps a plane, you know, up?) and I do like to have a window seat, to keep an eye on the wing and its enduring partnership with the plane. But once they turn the seatbelt sign off and start handing out the tiny, tiny biscuits, long-haul flights become a glorious excuse to sit back and do nothing for a while without feeling guilty. I’m also very much in favour of taking advantage of the full range of ‘complimentary’ beverages on offer. (In case you were wondering, the inverted commas indicate the extremely non-complimentary nature of said beverages in the greater context of the enormously expensive air fare). Nothing soothes the nerves better than two or three mini bottles of wine – which,by the way, you can also use to pretend you’re a giant. Impress your friends by drinking halves of beer to achieve the same effect.
The absolute best part of flying is the in-flight entertainment. As well as the capering of air stewards, most airlines now provide touch-sensitive computer monitors in the back of each seat that allow you to watch films as and when you like. My plane also had video cameras displaying views from the cockpit and of the landscape below, so that in the unlikely event of a crash, you can observe the details of your impending death in full colour. All my flights are with Emirates, who have an impressive selection of films, television programmes, games and music – check out the link and let me know your recommendations for my next flight on Monday, a twenty-hour marathon to Auckland.
I ended up watched Julie and Julia, which I loved, without really being able to explain why. Meryl Streep’s shimmering exuberance coupled with her character’s silly voice probably had something to do with it, as did the extensive and entirely luscious food pornography. I also watched Up (for the second time) and cried like a child throughout (again). If you haven’t seen it, do so now. It’s life-affirming without being sugary, fanciful without being ridiculous, and hilarious while remaining terribly, truthfully poignant. Go.
What else? The meal was chicken. It was ok. There was a madman sitting behind me and several air stewardesses on board who deserve medals for their restraint with cutlery. So much for travelling. The plane landed in Dubai just after midnight and I was was greeted by my uncle and his wife, and at their home by Gina (a twenty-something dog; like Boggins, terribly sweet but suffering from many ailments of the bottom), Binti (a traumatised desert dog who spends much of her time pretending not to exist), and Max.
I’m finishing this post after dinner and a neighbourhood drinks party at which I broke a statue belonging to the host, sitting in the living room with Max. It’s hard to express just how amazing Max is. He’s always pleased to see you, even if you did knock something over that can probably never be mended or replaced. He’s actually always pleased to see pretty much anyone, including people who spit on him in the street. He senses when people are unhappy and capers for their amusement. He becomes positively hysterical at the sight of round objects, and earlier today charged and head-butted a parked car because he believed the ball to be in its vicinity. (It was. I threw it there by mistake.) He likes to jump into the swimming pool with all four legs splayed out, and then uses the ladder to get out. He once broke his tail by wagging it too hard.
His head on my left foot, Max is lying in an anatomically improbable splay designed to afford his testicles maximum contact with the cool tiles of the floor. My foot is becoming decidedly moist. Max, at this moment, is behaving singularly unattractively, but I wouldn’t be anywhere ele. Max is The Best Dog In The World and a more than adequate incentive to begin my travels.