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Tuesday, 3 March 2009

A big trip

Heathrow airport, Saturday afternoon. I am cleansed, exfoliated and moisturised, wearing comfortable but stylish attire and standing in front of a charming young lady with flamboyantly constructed hair and a pale blue Air New Zealand uniform. She has just checked my bags in for my BIG TRIP. I am about to travel from London to Los Angeles to Auckland to Christchurch to Dunedin. This is a trip more easily measured in days rather than hours. "When you get to L.A.", the Air New Zealand lady says, "They will put you in a holding area for a couple of hours". "Sounds Terrific", I say. "Yes!", she replies, grinning broadly, "it is like a big cage!"

I'm thinking that this might be a tough trip, but I'm nothing if not a seasoned traveller. I know how to do this. I go through the security check and immediately head to a cafe and order a milk shake and a gingerbread man. Nothing bad ever happens to grown men who eat like children, that's almost a rule.

The flight to L.A. is uneventful, except for the quiz. There is a staff member - he doesn't seem to be cabin crew, and he's certainly not flight crew - he wears a stripey shirt and everso slightly wacky glasses. He seems to be - shudder - some kind of entertainment operative. Air New Zealand's equivalent of a Butlins redcoat. Bearing in mind we're to spend the next 12 hours in a confined space thirty thousand feet above the Earth, this is a grim prospect. The only task I am aware of him doing throughout the flight is the quiz. He gains control of the p.a. system, and cheerfully announces that seeing as it's Academy Awards weekend, we're going to have an Oscars quiz. He then - softly, and completely on his own - cheers. Quiz sheets are handed out to interested parties, of which I am not one, and later on in the flight a winner is announced and a bottle of champagne is awarded. A bottle of champagne which is, of course, a liquid, and therefore unable to be taken through any further security checks. So, fantastically, if the winner had any connecting flights, she would have had her Oscar quiz prize confiscated at the airport..

In L.A. we leave the plane, get lead to the homeland security interview, and then get shepherded right back to the same seat on the same plane we just came from. We only have to go through homeland security checks because we set foot on US soil, yet we only set foot on US soil in order to go through homeland security check. Fabulous. At least on the way back to the plane we are all issued with a complimentary bag of potato chips and a red apple. Kinda like a welcome to America, now bugger off picnic pack.

On arrival in Auckland I re-check in my bags and have a rather lovely 10 minute stroll over to the domestic terminal for my next flight. Nothing like fresh air when you've been cooped up on a plane with an Oscar quiz obsessive for a whole day. It's my first time in New Zealand and it seems nice. People are friendly, there are palm trees swaying in the warm breeze, and the air smells almost sweet. Blossomy, even. At an airport. Blossomy. This is a walk I enjoyed. Auckland's sunny blue skies make me feel awake and refreshed. I have a smile on my face. This is confounded when, on boarding my next flight I glance across the runway to see that the plane behind us is none other than Ed Force One - the jumbo jet that Iron Maiden use to transport themselves and their stuff from gig to gig and flown, rather wonderfully, by Bruce Dickinson - the lead singer of said Maiden. You can't beat a plane with a huge zombie painted on it, you just can't.

The planes are starting to get smaller. I sit next to a Barry Took doppelganger who is also from England. He is visiting his son. He asks me what I'm doing, and uses my answer to give me his opinions on how the Welsh and the Americans have no sense of humour, whereas his grandad did because he had TB when he was a kid. There was probably some logic in this, but I couldn't find it. This is why they invented noise-cancelling headphones.

Finally the last of my flights lands and I am picked up by a silver-haired kiwi who introduces himself as Leroy. We drive through Dunedin which, frankly, looks like a Coventry industrial estate. Elvis plays on Leroy's radio as we drive past the Leviathan hotel and Danny's - "The place to be for entertainment". Danny's has painted black windows and a burnt-out mini van out front.

At last I reach my final destination and board the frankly rather splendid Crystal Serenity cruise ship. I sign in, attend a mandatory immigration interview, attend a mandatory safety drill, check my schedule, then - and this is quite the moment - I order room service, have possibly one of the best hot showers in history and watch the Oscars, with a pizza and a coke, but without a quiz.

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