We were both so tired by the Friday evening before leaving, after a very busy few weeks that we went to sleep very early and got packed and organised Saturday morning, very last minute. Dorotka very kindly cut short her marathon training to give us a lift to the station and then we looked for the coach we had booked from Gatwick to Heathrow.
As is often the case with coach stations it required local knowledge of someone who had done the same thing before to work out which was the correct National Express vehicle. The departures board was useless. Our coach was billed as departing for Derby and only a small reference on our internet booked ticket tied this into a coach for Derby. It would have been very easy to miss it but in fact we boarded in time and despite a slow patch on the M25 reached T5 by 14:15, where we were welcomed and serenaded by an enormous Rock School Choir tiered up on both sides as we entered the building. Quite uplifting.
T5 really is a nice airport, the light, space and acoustics combine to create a feeling of calm and as it was lunchtime, after dropping our two bags, we decided to try out Gordon Ramsey's Plane Food. In an hour we had had a delicious and not over expensive lunch with a great view of taxing aircraft and very good service. My pork and leek sausage and mash were to die for and Bogusia's korma curry left her very happy. Very different from the normal airport eatery.
A little shopping and then the transit to T5-B and we were waiting to board our BA 747 for Beijing. Lots of Chinese people. We watched all the priority boarders take their benefit and go first and we were then the very first in the moment the rest of us were called, In our seats at the front of economy we watched people filing on for at least 15 minutes. It appears that some people have no idea how to properly arrange their bags in the overhead lockers so I ended up helping a stewardess to repack them so everyone had space for their carry-ons.
The overnight flight east
After reading a couple of newspapers and enjoying the usual aircraft dinner, trying to persuade all the bits of wrapping to behave and stay out of the food I sampled the videos and after stopping an Avengers movie out of boredom was captivated by Kerry Mulligan in Hardy's "Far from the madding crowd". A lovely film and despite my great affection for Julia Christie I realise I have never seen the whole of the original film, nor read the book. Mulligan is excellent and the film is beautifully shot.
Having reset my Mac's clock to Beijing time it looks like we have under 4 hours to go now and are passing over Krasnojark in Western Siberia and will be entering Chinese airspace soon. We are flying a great circle route over Russia and into China from the north west. Standard cartesian projection maps always heavily mislead us about the relative distances in the far north and western china is actually only a few hours flying time from western europe. The Mongul Great Horde did cover thousands of miles across the Steppes to reach Europe but it is not another world away geographically. But culturally, there the distance may be far greater.
Derek & Nina have just returned from a month touring China on a shoe string and were very impressed by the kindness of everyone they met. The also remarked of being asked to pose for photos with people who had never seen a European before.
Time for a walk around the plane and spotting the sunrise which should be coming up in about an hour or so.
No dawn but an interesting conversation with a Chinese academic who had worked in Britain in the past who gave me lots of statistics about the Chinese housing market and incomes. I noticed that although his English was very good he often didn't understand quite a lot of what I said, despite nodding so it will be important to communicate clearly and carefully. He said that the growth of income inequality in China was a big problem. I said that UK faced a similar problem with increasing numbers of people working on the National Minimum Wage.
Interesting to reflect that when the Labour government brought in the NMW they probably hadn't anticipated the growth in low wage jobs this would fuel. There is an interesting parallel with companies being required to publish the salary of their highest paid employee which has fuelled the vast increases in senior executive salaries since those folk can now argue for comparables. How often it is the case that legislation has the opposite effect of that intended.