As those of you who have read my previous blogs will already know, my Labrador Bailey and I are preparing to move to New York to finally be with my New Yorker husband.
I must admit I've been feeling a little worried about what might happen if, upon take off, Bailey discovers he suffers from turbulence terror like me. My questions is: will he have a friendly paw to hold?
For years I regularly flew to Australia for work without a second thought. Twenty-four hours in the air and it didn't bother me one bit. I'd even been known to unbuckle my seat belt and walk (escorted by a friend of course) to the restroom. On one occasion I even did it after take off.
In Sydney I'd fly in sea planes, helicopters and small aircraft, laughing my way through the entire journey, even cracking jokes. But, mysteriously, a few years ago, turbulence terror suddenly hit.
On one occasion I was off to visit my husband in New York. A very large, very handsome American rapper was sitting next to me. He was blinged to the max. He told me, over a miniature packet of pretzels, that he also sold aforementioned bling as a sideline and was married with two kids before whipping out his iPhone to show me a picture. We had a very nice chit chat.
Turbulence hit about an hour into the flight. Well, I call it turbulence, most people didn't even notice anything had happened. I immediately gripped both armrests as if my life depended on it. My heart was hammering, my palms sweaty.
Despite bopping away to his iPhone, Mr. Bling realized something was amiss. As he removed his earphones, I explained through a very dry mouth, "I am petrified." And I was.
Very gently, he took my hand in his. Now, this wasn't just a hand hold; it was a "fingers intertwined" hand hold, but it was a hand hold of kindness, not a "come on" hand hold if you catch my drift. It was quite comforting; it really was.
I tried hard to stop thinking about the turbulence and focus on the in-flight movie, and it must have worked because when the credits started rolling two hours later, I was horrified to realize that we were still holding hands as we droned our way across the Atlantic, particularly as the turbulence had stopped around an hour and a half ago.
It's one of those situations where you are absolutely delighted there is no Skype on board and there is no way you will have to explain this innocent incident away to your husband. Of course I did tell my husband because I thought it was hysterical! I even wanted him to meet this guy who had been so kind in the sky but he wasn't keen.
In any case, there was another incident. This time I was heading back from New York to London and had been upgraded to first class, where they have the beds. Dividing each bed there was a fan-like partition so that you couldn't see the person on the other side. It was a night flight, and I was laying out. Once again turbulence hit and, as always, I grabbed the arm rest with my right hand and hung on for dear life across the entire Atlantic. It was a shocker of a flight. I now know that when the captain says, "Cabin crew buckle up," I am in for the fright of my life.
When we finally landed and the plane came to a halt, a very nice-looking chap stood up to empty his overhead locker. He was the mystery man sitting on the other side of the fan arrangement. He gave me a nice smile and a big wink and said, "That's some firm grip you have there!"
Mortified, I realized it wasn't the armrest I'd been clutching all night, it was his right thigh. I know this might sound a bit far fetched but no word of a lie -- these two incidents occurred.
In fact these are just two of many similar scenarios. On my last trip I was holding hands with a very nice woman who, it turned out, goes to the same gym as me. I did actually run into her there a few weeks later. She was going hell for leather on a stationary bike. We gave each other a polite nod of recognition and carried on with our respective business, which is quite odd really, when you consider we'd held hands for four hours at 35,000 feet.
I do think my husband was beginning to suspect I was making these stories up simply to amuse him. "Come on!" he said. "Nobody would grab some stranger's hand just because of a little turbulence."
Well, as things would have it, he was about to find out for himself. We were heading to London, having spent a few very pleasant days in Spain. My husband was sandwiched between me and a teenage boy who attended Eton with Prince William. He had a very posh accent and was clearly an academic genius as instead of looking through the in-flight movie info like the rest of us, he repeatedly attempted to open up debates about politics and the like, which was really annoying to be honest. I just pretended to read my magazine but my husband did his best to keep up his side of the conversation, quizzing him about what it was like to go to school with the future King of England.
"He seems really mature for his age," my husband observed when the teen headed to the restroom.
Anyway, an hour into the flight, serious turbulence hit. The captain did the "cabin crew buckle up" thing which sent me into terrorsville. Even my husband, who wouldn't be nervous even if the plane was struck by lightening, seemed a bit edgy.
Suddenly the "mature" teen morphed into a panic-stricken maniac. He confessed he was absolutely terrified of turbulence but, unlike me, he didn't sit silently praying for his life: he demanded to see the air hostess. (This is what happens when you hang out with a future king.) As luck would have it, he was able to grab the air hostess's attention as she staggered her way to her "buckling up" zone at the rear of the plane.
Frantically pointing at the TV screen, which displayed a route map, the terrified teen noted we were over France and told the air hostess she needed to inform the captain that we could safely divert and make an emergency landing in some area of the French countryside that he seemed to know very well as he'd holidayed there the previous summer with some Etonian chums.
The air hostess was very professional and managed to nod and even thank the terrified teen for his suggestion but explained she couldn't speak to the captain at this point. When he realized there was no hope of an immediate safe landing the Etonian did something for which I shall be forever grateful. He grabbed my husband's left hand and hung on for dear life. I have to give it to him, my husband took it in his stride. With a lunatic now suctioned on to each of his hands he shifted position so that his book was wedged between his knees. It was now his only hope of catching up on his reading.
The turbulence continued throughout the whole flight, and at the end of it the Eton teen belched loudly and proceeded to throw up.
By the time we ran into him again at passport control he had regained his composure. He shook my husband's hand (he was beginning to regain feeling in them by this time) and said, "Well, Charles, it was a pleasure to meet you, and thanks for letting me hang on to your hand!" before heading off to some royal bash.
It was one of those occasions that you always wish would happen but never do. I wanted to say, "I told you so!" In fact the words were positively hanging in the air, but for once, I didn't need to say a thing!