Getting from A to B in this world isn’t always straightforward. With so many people trying to get to so many different places, and so many events – natural or otherwise – to affect those journeys, it’s not surprising that our carefully laid plans so often go awry. Add to that the unpredictability of mankind and you have a few interesting tales to tell. Over the next few months I will be writing about a few of my most interesting “journeys”, some of which went wrong, some which didn’t – but were interesting for different reasons. I’d also love to hear your stories – please let me know if you would like to contribute to this occasional series. I’m sure there’s a few “memorable” tales out there.
I start this series with a journey whichstarted out going in completely the wrong direction, and included a silent brother, a wedding cake and a very long wait at Moscow airport.
Off to Cameroon
Back in the early to mid-nineties, my father was lucky enough to be appointed to a job as her Majesty’s representative in Cameroon. A country that most people know little about, it was the chance for us to discover somewhere that really was a bit off the beaten track. Many of the places we visited were other-worldly. It often felt like we were back in time, especially when we got away from the main urban areas into the rural parts of the country, where people still lived a very basic, simple life around hunting and their communities.
At the time of my parent’s posting, I was living and working in the UK, but I managed to make trip out to see them two or three times. However, for some reason getting to Doula (the commercial centre – they lived in Yaounde but I don’t think there was an international airport in the capital) wasn’t as straightforward as it should have been. There were of course flights. But there didn’t seem to be direct flights from the UK – I don’t ever remember getting on a plane at one end and off at the other and that being that. We always had to go via somewhere.
If you were lucky, that would be via Geneva with Swiss Air. But one time I wasn’t lucky. One time I had to go via Moscow. With Aeroflot. Accompanied by my very sulky brother.
If you look on a map, you will see that to get to Cameroon from the UK, you really should not be flying via Moscow. But for some reason, this wasn’t just the cheapest flight – it was the cheapest flight by MILES. So with four children to pay for, I guess my parents thought they could afford the cost of seeing us for Christmas by making us go the long way round. So off we set.
The flight from London to Moscow was uneventful. The only thing I recall about it was one of the other passengers complaining because she wasn’t served the vegetarian meal she had ordered. Having visited Russia just a few years earlier, I smirked to myself – she really was living in cloud cuckoo land if she thought she was going to get the same experience as she would on BA.
We arrived safely at Moscow – and disembarked. All I knew at this point was that we had 12 hours to fill, no food, no roubles – and had been told strictly NOT TO EAT ANY FOOD THEY TRIED TO GIVE YOU. Looking back, I can only assume the airline gave us a complimentary meal to make up for the long transit time. But I was careful not to touch any of it. One of my parents’ friends wasn’t quite so cautious – he arrived at their home after following the same journey and was severely ill for the first half of his holiday.
So no food, nothing to do (although I am sure I must have had a book with me) and a brother who wasn’t talking to me. We couldn’t leave the airport as we didn’t have visas. Plus it was winter and we were dressed for the Cameroonian weather not for the snow and ice or Russia. I am pretty sure there wouldn’t have been much to amuse me for the time we were at the aiport. It’s all a blur now but I can make a guess that one of my favourite pastimes – people watching – probably filled a few hours.
Eventually we were allowed back on the plane. At this stage we were joined by the Cameroonian contingent. As anyone who has lived in west Africa knows, the people you are going to get on a flight to that part of the world are going to be very different from the ones you would have had on the flight from London. For a start, there’s the carry-on baggage.
I don’t know whether ground staff just give up on trying to control what people take on flights to certain parts of the world. This was, of course, pre 9/11 so everything was a bit more lax back then. Remember, this was also Aeroflot in the nineties. Yup, it felt much more like getting on a very busy, noisy, excitable bus than an international flight.
To add to the effect, one of our fellow passengers was obviously on his way to a wedding and had with him a complete wedding cake in a box. Which he carefully placed in the overhead locker above his head. There had already been some kerfuffle over seats resulting in a bit of tension between this man and another passenger. But things seemed to be calming down and we took off.
Things go downhill…
It wasn’t long though before it all started to go downhill. Wedding-cake man was sitting comfortably in his seat, but the other man was obviously still not happy. Whether it was to do with the amount of space his cake was taking up I don’t know, but the second passenger decided – perhaps with the intention to annoy, perhaps innocently – to place an item (possibly a coat) in the same overhead locker as the cake. In fact, right on top of the cake.
Well, all hell broke loose. As well as the earlier argy-bargy over seats, I suspect insults had continued to be traded as the flight got underway. Whether these men knew each other, or whether they recognised each other as enemies for some reason (tribal?) was beyond my understanding, but one thing was clear. Both men were looking for a fight. And a fight was exactly what they got – right there, standing up, in the middle of the plane’s aisle. A proper, viscous, fist-fight. About two or three seats from where we were seated.
I don’t remember much more about what happened – I am pretty sure they were separated by the crew, who didn’t seem massively overwhelmed by this turn of events. I suspect they’d seen it all before, and worse. Passengers were moved around, new seats were found, the cake was checked and found to still be intact. Everyone calmed down and the flight continued in peace.
But for me, one thing had changed. Despite the fact that for the past 18 hours or so my sulky brother had barely said a word to me, this excitement had made him finally come out of his shell. Again, I can’t remember what he said but just that it was a relief that he finally spoke to me. And that for the rest of the flight I had someone to make conversation with. Even it was just the odd grunt. So thank-you Mr Wedding Cake man, you not only provided us with the best entertainment in an otherwise gruelling 24 hour journey which started by going the wrong way, but you also made my brother talk to me.
I never flew Aeroflot again.
Remember – I’d love to hear your stories. Let me know if you would like to write a guest post for this series, I’m interested in all sorts of journey’s not just flights. Planes, trains, automobiles – all welcome! Leave a message or send me an email – firstname.lastname@example.org.