John Walker's Electronic House

A Very Long Story About Thursday And Friday

by on Sep.09, 2008, under Rants

Thursday night wasn’t good to me. I’d been remarkably lucky on Wednesday, flying to Seattle, going straight into the developer’s offices after getting off the plane, then wandering the town finding somewhere to eat, and heading to bed by 10.30pm (6.30am in my head). The likelihood of the first night in America is waking up around 5am, because your brain, as tired as it might be, is certain it’s 1pm and it’s ludicrous that you’re still in bed. Wednesday night/Thursday morning I woke up at 3.30am and was a bit disappointed. Then fell back asleep until my alarm woke me up at 8.30. Amazing – 10 hours sleep.

So Thursday was spent in the offices, followed by dinner with a few lovely people who worked there, and then back to my hotel. I had a lot to write before my flight home, leaving from the hotel at 4pm Friday. 4000 words needed to be written, and I had figured I’d do some Thursday night, and as much as possible on Friday. But getting back to the hotel Thursday evening, I was already exhausted, and went to bed at 10.30pm again. I set my alarm nice and early so Friday could be all work, and fell asleep by about 11. And then woke up at 1.30am. I rolled back over to go to sleep, but that didn’t happen.

By 2.30am I got up, and went to my laptop. It was 10.30 in the UK, so people were online, so I could moan to them about being awake. At about 3.30 I went back to bed, figuring the insane, aching tiredness that was making every bit of me hurt would be enough to see me off to sleep. It would not. By 5.30am I was starting to have peculiar waking dream/hallucinations. If I closed my eyes I was in some office corridors. If I opened my eyes I was in a hotel room. But then sometimes when I opened my eyes I was still in the office corridors, and my mission was to see the hotel when I closed my eyes. It didn’t work.

I had now seen the same news stories roll around a dozen times on the cheap-ass local NBC news. There then might have been some drifting/office corridors for the next half hour or so – it’s the only time period I don’t vividly remember being awake through, but by 7am any hope of sleep was gone, and I gave up. Got dressed. And sat down to start work.

It’s funny how just by being the next morning, my body said, “Okay, fair enough, it’s the morning now,” and gave up wanting to be asleep. I wrote a lot. In fact, I wrote about 7,000 words during the day, around 3000 of them transcription from interviews recorded the previous day. And then 4,000 (although some duplication) on the game. I got it all done by 3.15pm, with half an hour before I was being driven to the airport. It was pretty swimmy in my head for the last few hours of this. By 3 I was beginning to feel grotty again – hell, I’d been up for 14 hours already. Jetlag plus almost no sleep is a pretty unpleasant combination. But the real issue was the dread of the flight back, and the far more awful jetlag that was to come. Nine hours on the plane, followed by it already being Saturday lunchtime when I landed, when it really should be time to go to bed the night before… I feared insanity.

Just before I got on board I texted Jo requesting she pray I sleep on the plane. Sleeping during a flight is something I very rarely do, and I think I’ve figured out why. I sleep on my front. I don’t ever sleep on my back – I’d say I probably couldn’t if I wanted to. So sleeping in a chair, pretty much upright, is on my back times ten. Bending yourself to sleep on your front in a chair – awkward to impossible. The exception is lucking out and having an empty seat next to me, giving room for at least sideways leaning. But there was to be no chance of this – the website’s seating plan showed the flight was packed. But it was earlier on this site I made a mistake so stupid it can only be attributed to not having slept.

My right knee is a hateful beast. I need to straighten it every few seconds to click my knee, as anyone who’s ever suffered sitting next to me in the cinema will know. Not being able to do this creates first tension in my leg, which then builds to pain, and worse, a feeling of an achy itch on the inside of the bones that could only be scratched by a metaphysical lightning strike. I just cannot be in a situation where I can’t straighten my right leg. So brilliantly I put myself on the left end of the middle row of seats. Right leg as trapped as it could be. I had some nonsensical logic for this, and were it an ordinary seat I think it would have been fine. There’s normally at least room to click my leg under the seat in front. But as a matter of course, I always make sure my right leg’s in the aisle. Except, you know, this time.

British Airways, in their constant desperation to be as awful as possible, have these amazing metal footrests in their “World Traveller” section (economy). They are harsh, cold, sharp steel bars, that fold up against the seat pocket in front. When bent down they reach exactly to the floor thus making no difference to foot height at all, but now blocking any access to leg room. They’re like a special prison for the space under the seat in front. In this seat the leg room was so madly minimal that my knees met the back of the seat in front, with the footrest bars digging into me. The guy to my right had his legs apart, and was jiggling them, with no concept of personal space. I was trapped, tired beyond understanding, and despairing.

During taxiing, I asked a lady across the aisle, apparently sat on her own, if she would object to swapping seats. They were essentially identical. She replied in a grumpy British accent, “Yes, I would object.” So that was that. Behind her was an American guy who I thought was with the person sitting next to him. I didn’t want to ask him to move. But then the twitchy, twinging evil in my knee stopped me caring. I asked him, and he warmly and generously said, “How could I not if you’re so uncomfortable?” After checking that I wasn’t hiding a screaming child in the seat next to me, he said he’d swap after we’d taken off. I apologetically thanked him, and felt guilty and tired and confused.

During take off, he somehow fell asleep. People who fall asleep while a plane is taking off are clearly not human. But he was a generous alien, and I knew he’d be woken up soon enough as the drinks were thrown around. Sure enough he did, but only after the man in front of me put his seat all the way back the very second the seatbelt light was switched off. This is terrible plane etiquette as everyone knows. It’s accepted that once they do pretend bedtime (the lights are off at 8pm, it’s time to sleep everyone! And then everyone but me immediately conks out. What happens to these people in the Winter? Do they go to bed at 4pm? During a powercut do they just slump onto their work desks and snore?) that people will fully recline, and so will you to escape them. But when they’re handing out drinks and food? That’s just being a shit, man.

So the shit man in front of me had immediately, and unapologetically, removed the illusion of space I’d started with. I don’t know if his seat was broken, or if BA have introduced the most insanely reclining seats in their economy section, but the seat was so close to me it would have been impossible to get the tray table even halfway down. I could have kissed the top of his head. I was trapped, unable to reach my stuff under the chair, unable to use the tray, basically screwed beyond words. With about two hours’ sleep in the last 35, my right leg about to explode, and a certainty of nine hours awake until Saturday lunchtime, I didn’t know what emotion to react with. I was defeated. The guy across the aisle woke up, and I said to him, “There’s no way I can ask you to swap into this.” He looked a bit guilty and agreed he wasn’t going to do that to himself. We chatted briefly about how ridiculous it all was, and then cabin supervisor walked past.

No one said anything to him, and he hadn’t heard our conversation. He just looked at me and said, “You can’t sit there like that.” It was like an angel speaking. I figured he was going to ask the man in front to sit up, which they often do to evil reclining bastards. But he did not. Instead he walked away. Me and the nice man across the aisle looked at each other confused. “I guess he’s going to try and move me,” I said, hopefully. Very quickly he came back and said, slightly resigned, slightly regretful, “There’s a spare seat in 29F. It’s not an aisle seat…” Two thoughts at once in my head. Absolutely at once. First: Not being on an aisle means being more trapped – that’s even worse. Second: Isn’t row 30 the first row of economy?

“There’s a spare seat in 29F. It’s not an aisle seat, but it’s in World Traveller Plus.”

An angel. A bald, stocky angel. I was being upgraded! Screw an aisle seat! I was upgraded! The cabin supervisor walked off, still as if he was barely helping me. The nice across-the-aisle guy held out his fist to me, which I met triumphantly with my own. (I want to note that Mr Wobbly Leg next to me, in his broken-English confusion about all that was going on, had made the sweetest effort to give my leg more room, despite all I had told him was that I was about to move so he could have as much room as he wanted). Stuff gathered I moved forward into the hallowed turf of the curtained area in front, and settled into a seat that felt the size of an armchair after my previous prison. I could stretch my legs out with my toes pointed, the chair in front far enough forward that when full reclined it would still keep the TV screen a little too far from my eyes. It was beautiful. To my right was the thinnest man of all time, who took up about a third of his seat, and presented no personal space dangers. To my left were two lovely, middle aged British women who told me about the cruise they’d just been on.

I caught the cabin supervisor’s attention as he passed a few minutes later, and with everything in me tried to express the depths of my gratitude. I told him, perhaps pathetically, “I haven’t slept for so long, I can’t tell you how much this means to me.” And then thanked him about three times.

World Traveller Plus isn’t exactly luxurious. It’s just a chair big enough for a human, far enough away from the chair in front to stay human. It’s all you need really. I’d love to experience Business or First one day – they must be ridiculously great. The idea of being able to actually lie down, on my front, on a plane. It’s the primary reason for being rich. But what WTP let me do was twist to my left or right to let my body think it was on its side sort of. I was drifting. And then, in that dozy state, I leant forward, gently leaning my forehead on the back of the chair in front. I believe I slept in this position for about three hours. I SLEPT! On a plane! For maybe four hours. Astonishing. And enough to mean that I survived Saturday, and didn’t die of exhaustion.

Credit to Jo for her clearly awesome powers of prayer. God too, I suppose. Unless… unless Jo IS God! I might be onto something. With her cabin supervisor angel.

And that’s the story of how I come to still be alive.

5 Comments for this entry

  • Stacey Derbinshire

    Just wanted to say HI. I found your blog a few days ago on Technorati and have been reading it over the past few days.

  • Helen

    Having failed to pull strings for our honeymoon or other Canada trips Dads mason friend finally got us upgraded when we moved here, somewhat wasted by it already being the most difficult flight I will ever make, which no amount of chair space or legroom was going to lessen… and moving us from carefully selected window seats into the central section so we missed the final views of Blighty… nice gesture tho, and definitely a more humane way to travel! glad you got some sleep, and impressive productivity on Friday – worryingly I have often worked in that state on nights since returning from Mat leave (so tired that my brain literally feels empty and i struggle to string a sentance together – the best was the second of a 2 night run where J was in daycare the days I was to work nights – so I’d not see him for 48+ hours, which- a good reason to have moved out of Emerg!

  • bludr

    I was flying with BA from Seattle on Saturday. With British Airways I usually check-in 24 hours in advance and choose good seats (with help of, however although I did it exactly at the time check-in was opened, all of them were already taken. Bad luck, but to be honest, it was still one of my better flights, mostly because of ideal time of flight (18:40). I slept for 7 hours and barely have any jetlag! Flying from US at evening is great.

  • botherer

    bludr, this is a bit like going on an alcoholic’s forum and saying, “I love drinking booze! And I don’t get addicted at all!”

    While I obviously don’t hope your planes crash while you’re so happily sleeping on them, I do.

  • The Poisoned Sponge

    I’m a fellow front sleeper, and I can’t sleep on any sort of travel. I’m a big guy, so this creates even more of an obstacle when trying to get comfortable, and not only this but my legs go to sleep quite painfully if I don’t keep them mobile in transit. Because of this I usually manage to wangle my way into an exit seat or at least an isle, but it’s not always a safe bet. So I feel your pain…