Thing no.45

2006

8.05pm: I’m giving a talk in Glasgow. I’m tired from too many parallel jobs, so to make my life easy I’ve decided to fly. I arrive at the train station with my wheelie just as the train pulls in. I board the Stansted Express and find a seat. Lost in the kinds of thought that train travel brings, I stare out at the English landscape unraveling through the window. Places I will never visit blur past me.

8.30pm: The train doesn’t seem to be stopping – I’m on the wrong line. Instead of Stansted Airport I find myself in Harlow. I walk into the dead centre of early evening – running down empty streets, pulling my suitcase behind me, trying to find a taxi. The cabbie drives fast and I check the plane times on my palm-pilot.

9pm: I arrive at the check-in five minutes after the flight has closed. I plead with the people behind the desk but their answers are carefully scripted. There is one more flight that night but going to Edinburgh not Glasgow. I decide I have to take this and they transfer me. As I am waiting to board at the departure gate there is announcement. The room is watching me as I walk past the random group of people that will comprise flight 245 to Edinburgh. The stewardess hands me a piece of paper with the Taxi driver’s mobile number scrawled across it. He has returned to the airport with my Palm Pilot. The plane is boarding but I need the location and name of my hotel – which is stored on my Palm Pilot – and so I ring the number on the slip. My flight has nearly boarded but I’m still trying to talk the patient driver through the menus of my organizer. He doesn’t know how to work it and I can’t remember my filing – I give up and board the plane.

11.00pm: The flight was short and tense – populated by silent anxieties. How I will get from Edinburgh to Glasgow? Where I will stay?

11.15pm: In the airport I find an Internet terminal and retrace my Google search until I find the hotel that I am pretty certain is mine. I rush out of the terminal into the night with directions for the main road. The Edinburgh to Glasgow coach passes near the airport. Dragging my wheelie, I run along an empty pavement. Before I reach the stop, though, the lit-up coach sails past me. I’m standing alone in the hopeless night. Another coach appears but its lights are out. In desperation I put out my arm – the coach stops. He isn’t actually working but the fat driver tells me he can catch up the coach at its next stop. We drive through the night. In a thick Glasgow accent the driver tells me things. I nod and laugh where I guess it is expected but I understand almost nothing.

11.30pm: The coach driver ahead skips his scheduled stop. My driver swears and abuses his colleague. Silent miles pass with the unknown Scottish expletives hanging in the air. Finally he turns to me and seems to have decided – he can take me to the depot on the edge of town but he isn’t allowed to take me in. The driver tells me he will drop off the coach and return in a quarter of an hour with his car. We turn off the main road and drive through a deserted industrial estate. He shows me where to wait beneath the one working streetlight. The doors hiss closed. The coach disappears round a corner and for a few moments I can hear its engine receding in the silence.

12.05am: I am alone again with my wheelie – this time between a scrap yard and cement works somewhere on the outskirts of Glasgow.

12.15am: It is a still night.

12.30am: The orange lights of Glasgow glow behind the silhouetted stacks of broken cars.

12.40: A pair of lights drives up the desolate road. A fat friendly face looks out. We drive into the city and his stories resume. Half listening and nodding I watch the landscape go past. At every stage of the journey I have been orchestrating chaos, trying to lose myself but the universe doesn’t seem to except this. The driver waits outside the hotel to make sure I have found the right one. I wave from the window and the coach driver salutes as he drives into the night.