Belfast to Punjab

4:17 am

I am up 13 minutes before the Friday morning alarm is due. The Husband is asleep but unconsciously hugs me as I battle with the duvet in a futile quest for a comfortable spot to tuck myself into. In the eve of an early morning flight, the conscience flits through several undesirable or unattainable thoughts. Lust for sleep, stress over botched alarms, visions of oneself running towards an aircraft already in mid-air…

I let the alarm go off, then quickly roll out of bed. I am usually dehydrated when I wake up so I make my way to the kitchen and pour myself a glass of water. We leave the lights above the stove on at night. The pool of light shone like a beacon in the darkness, the only other thing alive at this hour of the morning. Good morning, Sleepyhead!

I can see the Husband had tried his hand at dinner. A pot half full of maggy glowed stodgyily at me as I did my routine check. What needs freezing? What needs binning?

The Husband had sought my advice on the machinations of instant noodle-ry as I climbed into bed much earlier than usual last night. Just read the instructions on the back, I assured him. You’ll be fine. I am not sure how much of that turned out to be true, though. The maggy looked untouched.

I get ready like a clockwork mouse. I always dress in jeans and tees when travelling for work. It is so much easier than stretching myself into stockings in the morning, usually stubbing my toe or knocking something over in the sleepy process. I slip my backpack over my shoulders, a Cath Kidstone buy I had snagged from Heathrow Duty Free. It’s floral, and girly, and so me – the perfect compromise between a handbag and a backpack. It’s rapidly becoming a favourite travel pal.


Southampton Airport is not the biggest but at this hour of the day it’s abuzz with activity. Vanilla latte and Costa sandwich later, I start waking up and noticing those around me. Some holiday makers are dressed in causals while others enroute to business meetings are sat stiffly in carefully pressed suits, waiting patiently for boarding announcements. The work day has just started but the smell of Friday freedom is rife in the air. Airports on weekends run on steroids.

6:45 am

The flight to Manchester is full. I have the last seat at the back, near the aisle. The guy sat at 21D, a 50 something year old fellow, smiles at me as I settle in beside him, trying not to drop coffee on either of us. In a Dash 8 aircraft cabin, the limited space guarantees any havoc wreaked will not be limited to the perpetrator alone.

Mr. 21D is quite big, his hands resting rather encroachingly on my armrest. We both quietly try our best to accommodate the situation without making it obvious. He tries to keep himself off me as much as possible and I in turn tuck my arms over my lap to give him space. It’s far from comfortable. Gotta love Fly Maybe and their spacious fleet.


Landing into Manchester airport after three years, I eagerly seek out the control tower. I lean forwards towards the window and, before I can stop myself, point at the radar whirling on top. ‘You see that? I put it up there! And then my hat blew off!’ I laugh as though this is a big joke.

Mr. 21D is the perfect audience and looks impressed as if on cue. I feel like a silly child for being such a show off. We chat in the short time we have before alighting from the plane. There is much to be said to strangers.


The Manchester to Belfast City flight is scheduled at 8:55am. The terminals aren’t that big and I walk around aimlessly, ending up at the back of the queue when it is time to board the flight.

The plane remains on the tarmac for a while and I keep flicking the airplane mode on and off. I remember the nail polish I had packed while dashing out of the house (so random) and by the end of the first coat, the air hostess comes around, sniffing the tell-tale smell. She mumbles something about safety and fumes and I take the hint. I’ll wait to take off before the second coating, I promise.

She smiles, goes away, comes back and compliments my nail varnish. It’s much like mine, see, she says, and we exchange a weird kind of sideways fist five as we both hold out our hands to compare. Womanhood is a precious, precious bond, as varied as the nail varnishes in an OPI showroom.


It’s much cooler in Belfast. I am glad I am carrying a light jacket. A bottle of water at Costa confirms I am no longer in England. I take a taxi to Belfast International Airport, my final stop. It’s a 30 minute ride. Ten minutes in, I can see the city speeding past, beautifully set against a backdrop of rolling hills and lush greenery. Too bad I am not going to get the time to explore. This is my second time in Belfast but I can hardly claim I have seen any of it.

I am struggling to stay awake so I try chatting with the taxi driver. As is common up North, it’s hard to maintain the flow of conversation. Three years in Glasgow have given me enough experience demystifying the Scottish accent to be able to recognize and grasp it and for a while I thought I could get away with Irish too. I was wrong!

UK is not that big an island but the varying accents across the country are startling. I have formed a habit of placing people in their hometown by unlocking their accents (not because I am good at it but because I like doing it). I can safely separate the Northerners from the Southerners but my geography between Glasgow/Edinburgh and Manchester/Birmingham is poor and I always get caught out.


I already need a second cup of coffee as I wait at Belfast International Airport for my colleague. A ‘wee’ bit of hazelnut, did you say? The barista asks in her Irish twang and lingo. I smile. Yes, please.

Everything in Belfast seems to start with the prefix ‘Bally’. Like ‘Clyde’ in Glasgow and ‘Solent’ in Southampton, both nods to native rivers. I dont’t know of a Bally river. What’s the origin, I ask the local Engineer. He isn’t local after all, having just moved form Newcastle. Turns out he was mulling over the same question with his fiancé last night  on their way to Ballygalli castle for a wedding. A Google search reveals the term ‘Bally’ is derived from the Gaelic phrase ‘Baile na’, meaning ‘place of’. Suddenly it all makes sense.


The work day is over and I am waiting for my flight back to Southampton. I am finally having lunch – a delicious stir fry of beef, rice and ginger. As is the case on most field work, food is never high on the priority list. Also, I note that the food at Belfast City is much better than  Belfast International’s.

The Friday stink in the air has grown stronger and I am so tired, I sit like a useless lump waiting for the flight attendant’s call. I wash a lemon drizzle cake down in one gulp of tea.


Home time and I arrive at my doorstep with a bag full of Tesco goods. Husband and I order Indian takeout. It’s crap but we overeat anyway. I doze in and out of ‘Udta Punjab’ and find myself struggling to keep up with the nuances of dialects twice in the same day. I fall asleep at 1 am, dreaming of Irish baristas and Punjab junkies.



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