Culture shock… in reverse

Getting back to the UK happened in a blur – I’d booked the plane ticket on the Saturday, was on the plane on Sunday after a taxi ride to Delhi through the night from Bhagsu, and got into Ipswich on Sunday night. The journey was easy until I got back to the UK – the trains from London to Ipswich were up the swanny again because of engineering works, so I had to get a replacement bus. All this time I hardly slept, so I was in a daze by the time I got here.

The taxi from Bhagsu to Delhi was an experience – the driver had, thanks to Anil at Sky Pie, been given instructions to get me to Delhi Airport as fast as humanly possible – and he did. I shared the cab with Fritz, a bloke from the guest house, and we hardly slept as the car was doing a hundred most of the way and the driver was weaving in and out of traffic. The car had a blow-out at one point, and I was starting to think that the forces of good were intervening for our benefit when he pulled into a roadside dhaba with the tyre flapping on the wheel, only to see a man sleeping next to a pile of tyres, a pump and a load of repair kit. It’s like getting a blow-out on the M1 and the lay-by you pull into having a Kwik Fit – except this Kwik Fit was staffed by one man sleeping on a mattress, and equipped with a gas canister, a mallet and a tub of water to try and work out where the leak was coming from by the light of a candle. After an early-morning search through the suburbs of Delhi to pick up my plane ticket from one of the employees of the travel agency, I was at the airport with hours to spare, waiting in a cavernous visitor’s lounge with no-one for company but a bunch of Indian men watching the cricket on TV, and nothing to drink but piss-poor chai.

I was served in Delhi Airport by a man with possibly The Most Pointless Job in the World – a toilet pointer. While waiting to board the plane, I walked into the gents where the man, with a big welcoming smile on his face, sprang out of his chair and pointed at the toilet so I knew where to go. Then when I came out he pointed at the sink for me. Then he pointed at the towels when I’d washed my hands. He obviously wasn’t doing this out of the goodness of his heart, helping confused tourists who have never been in a public lavatory before, so I tipped him ten rupees. I sort of felt sorry for him – working as a bog troll is surely a low point in anyone’s career.

The flight to London, with Virgin Atlantic, was really comfortable – a front-row seat with masses of legroom, constantly being fed and watered (roast chicken, fruit cake, cheese and crackers, vodka and tonic, white wine), and a cool stewardess called Natalie, even though the miserable cow behind me wouldn’t let me recline my seat, and I had to resist the urge to punch a young boy who kept pulling my TV monitor around. The boy’s mother was whining at Natalie as it seems Virgin Atlantic, as far as she was concerned, were responsible for providing her little boy with a Fun Pack for the flight – one of those cheap bags of colouring-in books and plastic toys that keep children entertained for precisely the amount of time it takes to empty the contents of the pack all over the floor. Natalie tried explaining that they only provided Fun Packs for kids on the outbound journey from London, and at this point I was thinking of offering to knock the kid out if that would help.

I’m going to be able to provide scores on the free packs they give away on flights by the time this trip is over – Virgin gave me a toothbrush and toothpaste, an eye mask, ear plugs, face towel, and a pen. I put the lot in my bag even if I didn’t use them, the same way you collect sachets of coffee from hotel rooms, because even if you never use them, they’re free aren’t they?

I’ve experienced a sort of culture shock in reverse after getting back to the UK. Everything seems unbelievably clean. Cows do not wander the streets. Dogs are on leads. Suffolk is as flat as a pancake and as cool as a cucumber. Tea is bland. Cars don’t look and drive like the Anthill Mob trying to catch up with Penelope Pitstop. Everything is unbelievably expensive. Warning signs are everywhere in case stupid people walk into ponds and sue the pond owner with the aid of some scumbag ambulance-chasing lawyer. I’m being a travel bore already, extolling the virtues of one of the poorest, most corrupt nations on the planet and dismissing my home country as an overpriced, homogenised nanny state designed for stupid people. It’s all very confusing.

Meanwhile, it’s a week since I got back to the UK, and it’s been spent mostly with the family, around Kate. I will be going back to India and continuing the trip, but at the moment, we’re all staying here.