Spring Notes


As though in the blink of an eye, winter out here has somehow slipped away, the halcyon days of pleasant twenty-five degree mid-day weather and leisurely late evening walks replaced by mid day temperatures in the low thirties. Whilst not truly hot enough to be unpleasant yet, the days leave one with a sense of borrowed time, a fleeting, finite block of time to be enjoyed before harsh reality hits. To make the most of it, and prepare myself for the long slog ahead, I pack the lightest bag I have and catch a flight back to London. Heathrow seems the same way it has always been – functional, frenetic, and increasingly arranged around minimising human contact. Trying to get cash from the ATMs for my taxi raises the spectre of having to pay a withdrawal fee for my UK debit card. A rude shock, and a first for me, if my memory serves me right. A mix-up with the telephone number they have on file for me means we spend the better part of twenty minutes trying to find each other, the blasts of cold, wet air a reminder of the stark difference between here and there. Several phone calls to the taxi company later, he gets my correct number and we find ourselves for the twenty minute ride home via the M25.


Taxi rides for me have always been one of the understated delights of travel. They are simple: two or more people, stuck in a man-made machine and beholden to each other by a transaction for a finite amount of time, have to make small talk, unencumbered by the weight of knowing and being known. Invariably, the driver is an immigrant or visible minority of some sort, which being what I am tends to create a certain element of shared experience. This trip, I get someone of Pakistani extraction who, when he finds out where I am coming from, proceeds to regale me with stories of a year he spent there working. He rode a taxi there too, his days spent ferrying military contractors to and fro airports, bound for Iraq in the days of the surge. I learn he has a daughter who is studying to be a Chemical Engineer, a wife who spends too much on henna and that he is planning to take his son and father on the Umrah next year. For my part, I nod sagely at the daughter who is studying to be an Engineer – I am after all that guy who thinks STEM is everything to an extent – and smile uneasily at the complaint about the wife. I suspect that in any other setting, this is not information that would be shared but being almost perfect strangers bound together for a brief moment, white lies and unverifiable anecdotes help pass the time.


The cul-de-sac on the banks of the Wey has changed quite a bit since I was last here. The houses which lay empty along the way now have occupants; a lady with a strong Geordie accent and her Swedish beau – both ex Airline folks, a Ghanaian couple two houses down and a Hong Kong repat amongst others stand out. The days are spent taking in what little sunshine peeks out from behind the clouds as I take leisurely walk along the Wey with podcasts for company, ferry L to and from nursery and catch up on sleep and TV when I get the chance. As with all days spent chilling they pass all too quickly. All too soon I find myself in a taxi speeding back to the airport and the onward journey of return. On the other side of the trip, Ramadan starts, and with that an extra hour of work without trips to the coffee stand to break the monotony.

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