Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Weather you like it or not

I went to England for the annual state visit this month and was pleasantly surprised to discover that being there didn’t bring up the bile in ways it has previously. I attribute this to the fact that I only stayed two weeks, and last went over 12 months ago. England is better in small doses. Like Wasabi sauce, or Alaa El Aswany [when was he nominated Egypt’s official spokesman exactly?].

The prolonged absence made everything a bit fresher I suppose, even if the rows and rows of terraced houses we descended over did remind me of prison wings.

I was unable to look out of the window too much because of the presence next to it of a South African lady of an indeterminable age who spent the flight alternately taking unsmiling photographs of herself looking out of the window ponderously, and doing Afrikaans word searches. Since I had got up at 6 a.m. I was obviously beyond word formation, and something about her cheerful smile and carefully-labelled rucksack told me that there would in any case be no such thing as a short chat with this woman. I was unwilling to be dragged into the skydive of an untrammelled conversation and quickly fell into a deep, dribbling, sleep.

Only to awake to find the woman straddling me. I imagine that somewhere there might exist a person who dreams of suddenly finding himself thus encumbered with a portly South African lady on a plane, but up until I was jerked out of my slumber, eye-level with a crotch, I had not realised just how high it was on my list of nightmare situations.

“It’s all right!” she said cheerily, smiling the perma-smile and rubbing me on my arm as she attempted to squeeze her way over/through my seat on her way to the toilets. It distinctly wasn’t all right, but the terror of it all had temporarily robbed me of an ability to speak.

When we entered British air space she knocked me on the shoulder – interrupting my viewing of ‘What Happens in Vegas’ – and exclaimed, “Look at the pretty little snowflakes on the glass! CAN YOU SEE THEM???” while pointing excitedly at said objects. I again found word formation impossible, and wondered whether it was advisable for her to be travelling unaccompanied – while wishing that I was.

Luckily my death stare did the trick eventually and I spent the rest of the flight unmolested, before successfully meeting up with my father (no mean feat). He decided that it would be fun for me and my suitcases to go home by tube and train, despite his being a car owner. This decision can only be attributed to his latent tendencies towards parental cruelty and privation, although he kept on going on about fuel prices and nearly-empty suitcases.

We arrived home (eventually and inconveniently) halfway through TV game show ‘Deal or No Deal’ which meant of course that my mother could not receive me immediately and instead launched into a spirited description of some women and her box, if you’ll excuse the expression.

Weather continued to provide the subject matter of 89% of conversations between strangers thrust together in everyday situations – gripes about the Mubarak clan fulfil the same role in Egyptian taxi cabs. I was assaulted with a continuous stream of tedious remarks about how wet/unexpectedly sunny it is, all of which I had no idea what to respond to with other than “yes”. My father claims they are conversational greasers, but never have I seen “it’s a bit better out, isn’t it, today?” evolve into anything other than “bye”.

One joker more than made up for that while I was in a bookshop in central London. “’Ello luv, got anything worth nickin’?” a voice behind me boomed, and I turned around to see a woman at an inquiry desk glaring at a grinning man. “Only joking!” he said.

News arrived shortly after I arrived in Blighty that Ibrahim Eissa had been granted a presidential pardon, and would not therefore, be going to prison for saying that Hosny is poorly. While I’m glad that Eissa isn’t going inside, there was surely never any real prospect of him doing time, was there? The regime cracked the whip in the sentencing, and that was enough. Maybe nobody said so at the time because they were scared of tempting fate, and because of the mercurial nature of this regime.