Thursday 13 September 2007


I was in Chicago for most of last week, and the time difference in the Windy City is 6 hours behind the UK. This means that most flights home leave in the evening and arrive the next day, the premise being that it's easiest for everybody: passengers try to sleep on the flight and then have to stay awake as long as possible after they land to quickly adjust to the different timezone, and the plane is then waiting in the UK for the early morning flight back to Chicago.
The flaw in this plan, of course, is that sleeping in an economy seat in a plane is nigh-on impossible. The light, the noise, the smell from the toilet and from the unshod feet of the person sitting next you, the turbulence, the howling babies, the agonising cramp as you feel the Deep Vein Thrombosis forming...I know of some people who can blot all that out, but I'm not one of them, and I sit in increasing anguish just wishing for a few hours of sweet oblivion.
This time, however, I decided I'd knock myself out with a sleeping tablet. I've tried this before with a modicum of success, but at the airport I realised I was out of sleeping tablets - so I bought a U.S brand that I'd never used before from the pharmacy in Chicago.
They worked very well. Much too well, in fact. Clearly stronger than their UK equivalent, I was out like a light as soon as the meal was cleared away. But problematically, they are designed to knock you out for about 8 hours, and when I took them there were only 5 hours of flight time left. Not even the remarkably rancid breath of the passenger next to me (which could have stripped paint, and which I got a waft of every time his acid indigestion bubbled up into an indiscreet belch) could wake me. In fact, the stewardess had to shake me roughly awake for landing, with over 3 hours of medicated sleep still to have - so instead of being just exhausted, I felt both exhausted and drugged for the rest of the day.
Nini and I have christenend the jetlagged state I am in after long-haul flights as suffering from 'plane-brain': I am physically present but not really tangibly connected to the real world, and all I am really doing is taking up valuable space and oxygen. I forget very basic things, like sentence structure, common nouns and my childrens names. Trying to communicate is pointless: my wide-eyed incomprehension can drive her to the brink of madness. When the number of times you have to repeat every question goes into double-digits, it's probably very tempting to simply bludgeon your partner to sleep...
However, the sufferer of plane-brain moves through 3 states during their convalesence, which if you are cunning and wily (like, to give an illustrative example, my wife) can easily be manipulated for personal gain. These 3 states are:

  1. Smiling incomprehension: the patient is pliant and agreeble, because simply nodding and saying 'yes' is the path of least resistance and seems to involve the least amount of that complicated 'thinking' that normal people do.
  2. Savage rage: the patient spikes briefly and blows up over nothing, but will have forgotten why within a few minutes. These spikes are infrequent and random.
  3. Asleep.
By carefully monitoring my progress through these phases, Nini was able to suggest we needed a new washing machine (I agreed, as I was in stage 1) drive me to the shops (stage 3, so no problematic 'driving advice' was forthcoming), choose the model she wanted and get me to pay for it (back in stage 1), and time things so that I didn't hit stage 2 until the drive home, where I was able to vent spleen at other road users. A masterclass in 'husbandry'.

I don't remember much else that day: scenes come to me as little vignettes from a surrealist film, as if I was channel-surfing reality. I do recall waking up with a start in the lounge to see some fuzzy pink shapes wobbling around in front of me and realising with horror that both Neve and Amelie had randomly decided to take off all their clothes while I slept, and further that Amelie was doing a headstand on the settee that gave me the kind of view no father really wants to see. I also recall staring for some minutes, toothbrush stilled and silent in my mouth, at what appeared to be a vast red novelty condom left on the bathroom windowsill. It was of terrifying proportions and simply did not seem to fit with any kind of reality that I could recognise. It was only when I had prodded it thoughtfully for a few minutes, using the non-business end of my toothbrush, that my brain was able to process it - I finally recognised it as a latex mould for making plaster-of-paris farmyard animals, part of a set that my mother had bought Amelie a few weeks ago. The curiously knobbly 'teat' on the end that had caused me such disquiet was actually a sheep in a pasture of daises...

Amelies first words, as soon as I arrived home, were of course: "Did you get me a patch?" (see previous posts). Fortunately, I had. The U.S appears to have embraced the idea of the souvenir embroidered patch far more wholeheartedly than the UK - for which this besieged father is very grateful...