The most confusing thing about international travel is working out what time it is. Even the one hour difference can trip you up – you can easily find yourself arriving somewhere an hour early or an hour late. On this trip, the difference will be variously 4, 8, 11 and 13 hours.
I’ve decided to keep my fitbit on UK time, so I know what time it really is. My anchor is home time. After all we, the British, invented time – Greenwich Mean Time. Then I will adjust my watch, laptop and phone to the local time. This is pretend time.
I am flying to New Zealand, via Australia and Dubai, then back through Singapore. For us British home birds, New Zealand is far too far away to be real place. It’s a big virtual reality pair of islands on the other side of the world – a dream destination. Like those pretend islands we used to make up and map out as kids. I’ll be back, feet on the ground, awake from my dream, reconnected with real time on one week. I’m already looking forward to it.
Flying is like being on one of those airport travelators – it’s unnaturally fast. Almost as fast as the spinning of the earth. Like fast-forwarding a film on double-speed. It feels like time travel. Its impossible to keep up with the change.
I don’t think we are designed to travel through multiple travel zones in one day. We aren’t meant to have to cope with days which can shrink or stretch by several hours. We left Birmingham at 9pm. I have already flown over western Europe, eastern Europe, Turkey and the Black Sea. According to the TV screen on my little business class pod- it is now 4am. I have lost 3 hours of my Saturday somewhere – I suspect the Black Sea has swallowed them up. Maybe I can pick it up from left luggage on the way home next Saturday.
As I was saying, New Zealand is a very, very, VERY long way away. Half a world away. To rephrase what someone once wrote – you might think it’s a long way to the chemist, but that’s nothing compared with New Zealand. In fact, I am going to the opticians, not the pharmacist. Several of them. Specsavers has the same number of store in New Zealand as it has in Finland. Soon Finland will have the same IT system. I am going to check it out in Auckland and Christchurch. I’m vaguely responsible for Finland – so it had better be good.
Finland is a convenient three hour flight from the UK with a two hour time difference. That’s just about manageable. Three hours into this journey and I’m only a seventh of the way to New Zealand.
It has been pitch black since we took off. When I check out the external camera on the TV screen, there is a red flashing light below us in the darkness. Some sort of warning light? Soon we will be above Iraq, Iran and Syria. On the map of our flight path on the screen, I can see the names Tehran, Aleppo and Basra in Arabic and English. Places in the news really do exist. At 40,000 feet we are too far disconnected to see or feel the horror and destruction. As with the time gap, so with space gap – it’s hard to connect to that reality. Half a world away.
I fly from Birmingham airport regularly, normally to Copenhagen. Today was different. I arrived with my wife, rather than on my own; in her car not mine. We parked in “drop and go” not in my space by the fence in Car Park 3. My suitcase was a large two wheeled Australian-style monstrosity, rather than my slick Scandinavian-design four wheeled spinner. It was like a dream – a familiar place with a weirdly different set of actors and actions. All very disruptive. Half a world away.
It is 2am real time according to my fit-bit. According to the TV in front of me, apparently its 5am at my “present position”. Go figure. The earth spins on its axis and dispenses a kaleidoscope of dysfunctional time zones and parallel universes.