Night Flight

A long flight across the night. You know why late flights are good? Because we cease to be earthbound and burdened with practicality. Ask the impertinent question. Talk about the idea that nobody has thought about yet… Be poets.” From The West Wing

It’s a long time since I flew across the night. This trip was making me anxious. A rushed, last-minute work trip to a far away, cold place. Until I got to the airport. The minute I walk into the airport, I remember the thrill of travel. I still haven’t overcome my anxiety about leaving, being away, coping with admin and  visas and borders. Somewhere deeper is the thrill of movement and flight and the anticipation of wonder. I hope one day the thrill will overcome the anxiety. For now, I need to get better at anticipating to calm the nerves. It all disappears at the airport. I grab dinner, drop off my bags and head through security.

I’ve checked in early and have a window-seat. The plane beside ours is British Airways. I watch them load the luggage. We taxi slowly towards the runway and lift into the air. The lift is slow and gentle, steady. It’s a while since I’ve flown in a big plane – this one is a B373-800. The ride is smooth and steady. I have an empty seat beside me. I sleep on and off.

Somewhere above the coast of Libya, I lift my window shade. Below, settlements glow with light. They’re spread in all directions, along what look like roads. Like drops of water on a spider’s web. Bright lights against the dark ground. At the coastline, the lights stop abruptly and pitch dark laps against the line between dark and light.

Above, the sky is filled with a million bright stars. I see constellations that are familiar and some which are different, nothern stars. Orion fills the centre of the sky. It’s a breath-taking sight.

The next time I wake, we are over the pitch black hollow of the Mediterranean Sea. I try to spot boats in the Mediterranean or lights on the land in Europe. I sleep on and off and the world outside remains dark. Just that one glimpse of magical geography for the night.

We land in the early morning cold in Frankfurt. Stepping from the plane onto the sky-walk, our breathe is visible in the morning air. It’s just below freezing.

Second leg of the trip – Frankfurt to Brussels. We board in the dark. It’s minus 3 degrees and raising. We sit on the plane, waiting. Raindrops roll slowly, sadly down the window pane beside me. A short delay and an interminable taxi. Why is it that Frankfurt’s runways seem so far from the airport itself?

Finally we take off. The rain turns to cold misty cloud as we rise. Suddenly we break through the misty ceiling and we’re above the clouds. I catch my breathe. A rippling, fluffy-looking expanse of white stretches into the distance on all sides. Like virgin snow. It stretches to the horizon, where white and blue and purple fade to the gentle warm pick-orange-peach of dawn. In the distance, contrails pick out the pink against the blue-blue sky. Dawn at cruising altitude is as beautiful as ever – and universal.

After a while, through gaps in the clouds, I glimpse what looks like water. Lakes? A little later and I see it more clearly: it’s not water, it’s snow. Below the clouds, below us, we’re passing over snow-capped mountains. Above the clouds, a gorgeous sunrise; below a European winter.

All too soon, the brief announcement and a quick descent into Brussels, leaving behind the magic of the night flight and the sunrise sky for the grey, grim mistiness of early morning Belgium.

The Joy of Flying


I step from the Gautrain station into the airport and feel a little thrill of joy. A sudden sensation of well-being. I love this airport. The first of the Christmas lights are up. Twists of white lights along each railing, sprinkling the hanger-like space with sparkle.

I don’t have time to pause above the international arrivals area today. If I was here longer, I would. Just to stop for a few minutes and people-watch. It’s my secret joy, the opening scene of Love Actually in real life – meetings, greetings, love and hugs.

Today I trip past, run a quick errand, narrowly avoid a trolley-full of spinach, follow complaining south Americans up the escalator and head for check-in. Not too long to wait. I drop my bag and grab a paper.

Past security, I wonder about a little airport shopping. There was a time when Exclusive Books concluded that domestic departures OR Tambo was my “home” store  because I shopped there more often than anywhere else. They used to send me newsletters about it. No time today.

Past the boarding gate, on the sky-walk, that little thrill of happiness hits again. Up the steps, into the plane, find my window seat – always, for a Cape Town flight, especially. The plane is full but I have an empty seat beside me. I settle down and put my bag away. I’m smiling to myself.

photo-2016-11-11-9-33-14-amThe taxi and the take-off. As we lift into the air, I feel relief. Breaking away from the ground and soaring into the sky. Leaving the earth and its worries behind. I look down on Joburg – green, now the rains have come – until it disappears below drifting clouds.

Raising my eyes, I look up and out. This morning’s thunderstorm clouds. High, wispy ice-crystal clouds. Fluffy-white eiderdown clouds. We rise towards them and I wish were could go faster and be up there among them.

Then we are. Up above the cloud-line, looking out at a world of white and the incredible blue of the sky. I take a deep breathe. I feel my body relax. Below, glimpses of fields and houses still exist through the clouds. Up here we glide soundlessly, the clouds and I.

Somewhere over the Northern Cape, the cloud cover thins and I look down on a real live topographical map. A farm road angles and cuts through dry-looking land. There are a few fields near the road, stretching towards the red-grey-brown dirt. Two streams come together to form a small river that flows away, twisting and turning, into the distance. From up here, the land looks parched. A few minutes later, the earth disappears below the clouds again.


The fields in the Western Cape valleys are dark green and bright yellow and dull brown. The dams lie deep, dark blue. We begin our descent. The mountains grow higher and more majestic and more rugged as we get closer. Each ridge and valley, each farm and field become clearer, sharper. Song lyrics, nostalgic, long-not-thought-about, pop into my head:

Daar’s ‘n dorpie wat ek ken daar tussen die blou berge
En die lower van die eike oor die straat

First sight of the sea and Robben Island in the bay. From my seat on the right side of the plane, I’ve missed the sparkling blue of Gordan’s Bay on approach. Instead – a choice over and over again – the left turn reveal of the spectacular view of Table Mountain.

Durbanville rises towards the top of the hill, green and pretty. Table Bay. Lion’s Head. With an elegant turn, the striking, familiar beauty of the Table Mountain massif itself. A few wispy clouds rest on top, like a table-cloth about to fall off.

Over hostels and compounds and the plane comes in to land. We land with a bump – there is wind out there. The sensation of speed and resistance as we slow.

The grass beside the runway is Cape Town summer-dry. In the distance, from the window of my earth-bound plane, the mountains are green-blue-postcard-picture perfect.

Jacaranda Time

The blossoms fall
The purple against blue sky
Makes me think of you
You who aren’t and who were
You in London and Berlin and New York
You who have never been
Forgotten memories undiscovered
Daydreams that never happened

Another year goes by
Another season of jacaranda blossoms

You who aren’t and who were
You who have never been

Another year goes by
Another season of jacaranda blossoms