On the bright side of the clouds

It’s before dawn. The taxi driver swings our cases into his boot and we move off past black eyed houses and blinking burglar alarms, shrugging off dream fragments as the line of the world begins to take form and home is left behind.

We catch the coach to the airport. There are twenty odd other passengers with bags and shoes and travelling clothes and haircuts and pumping hearts and breakfast-toothpaste on their tongues. Their eyes are unavailable.

The motorway is a bulging vein, under countryside skin, pumping cars through the clod; and the clouds above are upside down sand dunes at the edge of a dark sea.

We reach the airport with its control tower, like a Wellsian Martian, silhouetted against the rising sun. The terminal is an altar-less transport cathedral where even the air is conditioned. We follow a trail of moving staircases and pavements, sometimes using our legs, sometimes allowing hidden machines to carry us forward. Suitcase wheels rumble on grids. The steps on the escalator display rows of tiny teeth as they flow down into the horizontal. Green lights shine up through moving cracks.

Inside the plastic cylinder of the aircraft we are on the runway, waiting for take-off. ‘Welcome aboard this’…. ‘We’d like to welcome’… ‘Make yourself comfortable, build your nest, sit back and relax.’ Evidently we are birds now, or about to be.

Trapped in the triple glaze of the oval window to my side tiny, delicate, ice crystals catch the morning rays.

The plane turns and points at a long line of lights, straight as an arrow, and comes to a standstill. Engines roar. There’s a sense of brakes straining. We are being held back. Against ever-stretching rubber. Then suddenly we are released and are hurled forwards as the plane tries to punch a hole in the horizon in an insanity of commitment that cannot possibly deliver, and it does, and we are off, floating, floating on a curve, as the shaking corridor twists upwards and the airport car-park lurches away below.

Inside the plane we are tight contained – elbows compete for arm rests, shins are pressed against solid, Advertising magazines and safety instructions compete in mock leather pockets, compulsory screens are just a forearm ahead. There are tiny margins for manoeuvre: tables clip and un-clip, seat angle can be adjusted, belts can be fastened/ unfastened . We are tightly directed actors playing in an awkward scene that’s a cross between a slow serving restaurant and a cinema.

But outside all is revelation. The view ever more expansive. Sunlight glints on lakes, there are farms and rivers and now a glistening line of coast. We are nosing into the clouds … and now we are on their bright side. The ever-changing clouds. They are ripples of froth racing over fields. They are icebergs floating on sea, swept snow, bubbling folded pastry, stretched floss, dry white paint scratched over a dazzling canvas, multi-layered, multi dimensional, shadow-bellied, shadow-chased. And, as the plane still climbs, pitching an impossible line against a curve, for a moment it is as if the familiar has been stretched beyond breaking point and there’s an alien planet below that we are about to leave.


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