Part One: We’ve never met, but can I hold your hand?

My job recently took me to India. Having never been to India before, I saw this as an exicting opportunity, a chance to see a different culture and ways of working. I was excited. I booked my vaccinations at the travel clinic first. 2 jabs and I was out. The nurse talked incessantly of the monkeys that I would encounter and how I should not feed them. I seriously doubt I would feed them, I thought, I don’t even remember to feed my own cat so I certainly could not imagine feeding a monkey. I laughed as I told her this, and she stared at me and said ‘This is no joke, if you get bitten by a monkey, you will probably die’. Comforting words. With 200 pamphlets (mainly about diarrhoea) in my bag, injections administered and the thought of becoming a monkey buffet table still lingering in my mind, I was sent on my way.

The  inspirational pep-talk given by Nurse E-Coli about her tales of inevitable diarrhoea, rabies and mammal attacks had diluted my excitement (and replaced it with anxiety which ironically gave me the trots) somewhat but I tried to put this to the back of my head as I boarded the plane. I was not comforted when the airline staff proceeded to move through the cabin before take-off,  spraying chemical insecticide with the following tannoy announcement: ‘we can assure you that the insecticide spray is perfectly safe’. I snorted. Yes, perfectly safe for now I thought,  until the effects are realised LATER,  when in 10 years time,  I grow an extra ear and feature as a case study in medical science journals.

I am not really a paranoid person but I certainly don’t enjoy the thought of travelling 500 miles an hour at 35,000 feet for ten hours – I certainly don’t want to linger on a topic of conversation about it. However, because I am me, and the ridiculous seems to haunt me,  my airline-neighbour for the next ten hours was a first-time flyer and thus, terrified. Her feeling of terror manifested itself in many, many questions – mainly about the percentage of planes that ‘go down’. “I don’t think it’s that many”, I told her, quite confident in my answer. “Do you have any facts to support this answer?” she asked. What? I told her that regrettably I did not have any facts to back this up, other than you were more likely to be involved in a motor accident than a plane crash. This just prompted more questions. I began to wonder to myself what brand of crazy was sat next to me and soon found my answer when we began to experience some turbulence. She was crazy. She asked if she could hold my hand, because if this was the end, she wanted to feel loved. I no longer understood what was happening.  “This is just turbulence, it will be over in a minute. No need to worry,” I assured her. “Do you have any facts to support this answer?” She asked again. Weighing up my options, I decided to just hold her hand and prayed for a swift change of circumstance – whichever came sooner, plummeting to my death or the turbulence ending. I no longer cared.

So, with the turbulence having ended, it was time to put a stop to this relationship. I informed Paranoia Penny that I would be going to sleep. Now, I am a good sleeper. It is how I have learnt to deal with intense periods of time where I am to remain still. I developed this skill mainly because I have the attention span of a toaster. I wonder why I was never diagnosed when I was a child as having attention deficit disorder.  Anyway, in these remain-still-for-a-long-time situations, I have learned to cope. Like a real student of Darwin, I adapted the ‘evolve or die’ theory and nailed the ability to fall asleep pretty much wherever. It’s quite a gift really but generally annoys those around me. I am no co-pilot to a road trip. However, on this particular journey, I seemed to have lost my gift. No problem, I thought, as I reached into my handbag.

I remembered that my friend Dave (everyone has a dodgy mate called Dave) had given me some black market sleeping tablets form America for moments of emergency. This was an emergency. So, with a mouthful of wine (the safest way to take black market drugs) and pop of the pill, I was gone.

I was woken quite sharply to a rather damp crotch. Like, really soaking. It occurred to me in a moment of horror that I had wet myself. Stupid non-perscrition prescription sleeping tablet. Oh, the shame. Stupid dodgy Dave and his dodgy American pills. What were my choices? To sit in my own urine for the next…6 hours? I had no spare trousers. I could feel my face reddening in the dim lights of the cabin. I was a glow-worm.I spied a stewardess approaching me clutching a handful of tissues and looking like she might burst into tears. Maybe she had also wet herself. “Oh I am so sorry, I spilled a glass of water on you as I walked past with the trolley!” She squealed in a whispered voice (this is possible) as she patted my crotch in an awkward way. Oh thank GOD. So, prising the tissues from her, I soak up the excess water. Paranoid Penny wakes up. She looks at me with the tissues and the dampness and my glow-worm face. She draws the only conclusion possible. “Don’t be embarrassed,” she says, “I was also very frightened during the bumps.” Okay, wrong. End. Of. The. Stick. The more I protested, the more she brushed it off as ‘nothing to be embarrassed about’ and ‘it happens to us all’.

On the plus side, when we hit more turbulence, she didn’t want to hold my hand again.


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