(written April 2014)

What can I say, despite evidence to the contrary, I can’t really say that I ‘enjoy’ flying. Nevertheless, the fact remains that it is the fastest and in a counter-intuitive sense, it is more often than not, at least here in Turkey, the cheaper way to travel.

In spite of this, as we were planning our trip from Istanbul to Antakya I seriously considered taking the inter-city coach. It is rather ironic that I was seriously thinking about this travel option in the face of the fact that it takes the best part of 17 hours driving time to cover the distance between Istanbul and Antakya – a distance in excess of a thousand kilometres. However, in its favour, it is relatively straightforward in that we could get a connecting service bus from Üsküdar to the inter-city coach departure point and on our arrival at the Antakya bus station, there is another service bus to the town centre and very close to where we live – all included in the price. Another big plus of the inter-city coach is they allow ‘all’ our luggage – it is not weighed nor is it counted (within reason). And unlike the cheap flight providers, tea, coffee, water, fruit juice and soft drinks are all provided through out the journey and at no additional cost.

But in making the comparison, it transpires that the price, is very close to the cost of flying which gets you there in about an hour and a half. That is flying time; to this you must add the time getting to and from the airports and the various security checks that are part and parcel of air travel which means the actual, total, travel time is approximately five or six hours – barring flight delays. Nevertheless, it is still just a snip of time compared to the 17 hours on the overnight bus and service buses.

Having said all that, and in choosing to fly, that does not mean that I ‘enjoy’ the airport experience, nor the actual flying experience – I just choose to do it. It makes the most sense and on balance, is the best, most intelligent choice.

Generally speaking, with flying you know what to expect…generally speaking…

For example, on Thursday, 29 March 2014, at London Heathrow we entered the normal security check area. However, unbeknownst to us, the rules had been tightened. This, I feel, is fundamentally a good thing, tighter rules should hinder the evil ones who desire to engender terror, but it does have an impact on the normal travelling public.

You see, in 2014, I would travel with a large number of hard drives, or I suppose, more correctly, I would travel with an inordinately large number of hard drives which I carried in my carry-on luggage (to keep safe). Today I carry fewer hard drives, but with greater storage capacity, and put them in my hold luggage for reasons that will soon become apparent.

Having all these hard drives allows me to have access to most of the material, photos, videos and such that I have accumulated over the years. I do this as I find it impossible to anticipate what exactly I will need in the three months that we sojourn in the United Kingdom. If I have this excessive number of hard drives it is highly likely that whatever I may want or need will be there – and if not, it, most likely, will not be crucial to the task at hand.

So now, in addition to the now-standard indignity of half undressing at the x-ray machine – belts, bags, coats and sometimes shoes – and in addition to taking my computer out of its bag, now we must virtually unpack the carry-on and lay out all the hard drives. And all this in a pressing queue of fellow-travellers who want to get this rather necessary but unpleasant aspect of their journey over and done with.

I’m normally in a hot sweat by the time I’ve undressed and unpacked and got things moving through the machine. Followed, of course by my turn through the detector door frame like apparatus being closely watched by the security personnel on the opposite side.

Well that is the system, or shall I say, I learned that, this was the new system on that March day.

We were not aware of this until my bag, containing my myriad of hard drives, actually failed the x-ray test. Thusly rejected, I had to return, take over a place in the queue (“sorry, sorry”) and then lay all the hard drives out and send them through the x-ray machine once again.

Of course, after passing this security check, this is not the end of the process, for we then have to re-pack the bag and not in a slap-happy, helter-skelter manner, but in a proper, well packed, everything once again fitting in and in a manner that it will not shift nor be damaged in the rough and tumble of the travelling process.

This is no biggie, nor is it an unusual task and, really, it is no problem at all. But when you are already hot and sweaty, in a crowded room, with your trousers falling down because you have had to surrender your belt to the x-ray machine and you are publicly unpacking and re-packing your bag – well that is a bit of a hassle and on balance, not the most rewarding nor pleasant aspect of our journey.

Then, once through security, you wait in the crowded air-side shopping mall which, regardless of all the restaurants, shops and coffee shops, is still just a glorified ‘waiting area’ where you, uh, ‘wait’ until it is time to traipse off to your gate.

Often you do not know to which gate you will be going and so you want to be where you can see the boards which will declare your gate…. you and everyone else who doesn’t know their gate – so finding such a locale is often not easy for they are invariably crowded or over crowded. If you end up in a seat where you can not see the board, you have this niggling imperative bouncing around in your mind, “Is it time to get up and check the board?”  “Have they posting the gate now – go have a look,” and so on. It doesn’t make for comfortable waiting. I, at least, feel inhibited and unable to freely allow myself to get engrossed in writing or reading or anything which may distract me  so that I might miss the essential information in a timely manner.

Sometimes, in spite of all the previous queuing, you go and queue up to purchase an over-priced, hot beverage and then while you consume it, you keep wondering if that was the wisest thing to do, for on the flight, you may need to use the ‘facility’ and you often have to climb over someone, walk the length of the aircraft and then, it is quite common to queue to use the facility.  “Should I really be drinking now?” All the while knowing it is too late because, well, I am drinking it….

When, finally, you learn the gate number – and by learning that you are only then apprised of how long it will take you to travel to the gate. You, or should I confess, I, head off, anxiously reading the myriad of signs to make sure I am going the correct way and do not inadvertently miss a turn or miss a sign. Additionally, if the moving walk-way is chosen – often I do not make this particular choice as walking to the gate is the last exercise before being cooped up in a flying tube for hours on end with no real opportunity for any significant movement – anyway, if the moving walk-way is chosen one must needs be careful as often the walk-way breezes past a number of gates and if you have chosen poorly, you can stand and watch your gate receding behind you.

When, at last, you arrive at the gate you may find that there are additional security checks you must navigate. Once in the actual boarding salon, or more accurately, just another ‘waiting room’, you once again have the opportunity to, well, ‘wait’, before they begin the boarding process.

They always take families with small children and those with mobility concerns first, as is right and proper. Then they take First / Business Class – and, well, they have paid a significant premium for this privilege – so that, too, is understandable.

Then it is time for ‘cattle class’ to board. Sometimes this is done by seat rows – semi-organised chaos, and at other times, ‘all remaining passengers’ and absolute chaos. You queue up, carrying your carry-on, your coat stuffed under an arm or if you have chosen to wear it to carry it, you are sweating as you shuffle towards the final ticket and passport inspection.

Once past that, you carry on, if fortunate enough to be at a gate with a sky-way, you shuffle on down and onto the aeroplane. Otherwise, it is down the stairs, onto a waiting coach which generally has precious few seats and is predominantly standing room. Once the coach is filled, and the driver has decided it is time to go, you are driven to wherever the plane is parked and there you disembark and join yet another queue to mount the stairs and so board the aeroplane.

Once on board, you find your seats, place your carry-on in the overhead bins and get yourself seated, You do this quickly so as not to obstruct the extremely narrow walk way.

Once seated you wait. You wait while everyone boards the aeroplane. You wait while flight attendants do their checks. Often you wait whilst the pilot waits for permission to ‘push back’ and you wait until he is given a ‘take off slot’.

Then comes the time when the aeroplane trundles around the airport on various taxi ways until it joins the final queue to the runway where other aeroplanes are taking off. Your turn comes, the aeroplane turns onto the runway, lines up, and sits there….

Then the pilot opens up the throttles but he is still holding the aircraft on the brakes – all around you is filled with the roaring and vibrating as the aeroplane strains against the restraints of the brakes, as if eager to launch itself down the run-way. Then, suddenly the brakes are released which is immediately followed by the exhilaration of acceleration as the aeroplane thunders down the runway. And so we carry on, shaking, vibrating and bouncing along until the point that speed and lift, thusly created, overcomes gravity and the multi-tonne aeroplane, together with its load of fuel, passengers and luggage angles sharply up towards the sky, the deafening roar of the engines filling the air and we leave good old trusty terra-firma behind and below us.

Once airborne we have the delightful roar of the engines as an accompaniment added to the sound of the air rushing by as we streak through the sky at 35,000 feet. In this manner we have our constant audio companion for the duration of the flight.

If you are one who can not hear well, you are one whose hearing under normal circumstances is not 100%, well then this is an added detraction.

Squeezed into your seat with the seat in front of you far too close, there really is not a lot you can do. Hence, strapped into an economy class seat, you will remain, basically trapped, for the four hours of the flight to Turkey. Deep Vein Thrombosis any one…

On arrival in Istanbul, the order of the day is once again to queue. First you queue to get off the aeroplane then you queue to go through passport control and then you queue to get your luggage – but, the journey is not yet over, no, we still haven’t arrived – there is still the hour plus drive to get to Üsküdar situated as it is, on the opposite side of the city, across the Bosphorous strait.

Once we have arrived in Üsküdar, we have the four flights of stairs up to the flat awaiting us…..

Nevertheless, choosing this form of travel is much, much better than any of the alternatives; let me emphasise that, it is much, much, much better – but, still, not something I look forward to with eager anticipation.

On reflection on the many such journeys we must needs undertake, I see that one of the fruit of the Spirit, ‘patience’ is an essential requirement – not for just surviving the rigours of flight travel, but the key element to positively living the ‘abundant life’ Jesus spoke of. A common, run-of-the-mill activity such as a brief flight is a simple example, of where the fruit of the Spirit of God has place, expression and is essentialy, essential in the daily reality of life.

Here this is no room for theory. In life, ‘nice-sounding’ truisms are not of any real, practical benefit. Here, in the normal rough and tumble of ordinary, real life – just plain, normal life –  here is where the fruit of the Spirit is not a nice ‘add on’ but is integral to life and living.

And so, after the flight we are safely are back in Istanbul, and it is good, very good to be back. Tomorrow (Saturday, 7 April 2014) will be the final leg of our journey as we fly down to Antakya (having not chosen the inter-city coach) – a journey where once again we will be called upon to ‘jump through various logical and sometimes illogical or superficial hoops’, publicly half undressing and the inevitable, mandatory ‘waiting’. Herein, too, is another, typical opportunity to practice ‘patience’, letting the fruit of the Spirit of God have the freedom to be born in me and for me not to be worn down by all the requirements, indignity or interminable waiting required to make a simple trip.

Another opportunity to be ‘patient’ and to exercise and to experience the ‘abundant life’ – now that is something that I can look forward to.

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