Flying from Heathrow to Copenhagen Friday morning, I started out drained. About 3 hours of sleep, a marathon of work and preparation to get ready to go, the last work email flung into the ether 20 minutes before I boarded, surrounded by a family of particularly irritating children, their staccato whining gratingly punctuating the tinny din of music from the shop selling digits of every noisy kind near where I poked at my keyboard.
As I got onto the plane, the flight attendant noted I had three flights on one boarding pass. “I’m going to Svalbard,” I said, truly excited for the first time.
I had an empty middle seat next to me, and then was joined in the window by a guy around my age with a drift of alcohol around him. It was 8 am. I helped him stick his rucksuck and his duty free whisky and smokes in the bin, and was flooded by his voice as I tried to sort myself out.
Canadian, an investment banker, spent a year in Edinborough, which he liked so much he’d never left, “not even to go to the countryside.”
Against every effort, I ended up in conversation. He was on his way to Moscow, sort of, in a round about way. “I’m meeting a friend in Finland, then taking a ferry. Three hours, SMORGASBORD, all you can eat!” He mimed tipping a bottle to his face. “They don’t know how much I can put away!”
Ten years younger than I am, it turned out. Originally from the small city near the one I grew up in, he went to my undergraduate university. Along with patchy stints in … Monaco? “Girl trouble.” Another Ontario university. “Too snotty.” After Finland, he was planning to meet “a young lady” in Moscow. Someone he’d met online. “Not like English girls,” he gloated. “Russian girls don’t just want you for your money.”
I expressed mild surprise.
“I worked in the City,” he confided. “I mean, I wasn’t one of them, not the chaps in the wine bars. I like a pub, full of brickies and the like. But I saw what happens in the City. The women, they’re just out to snare a man. They lie and say they’re on the pill, then…” He mimed a belly. “Next thing you know, you live out in the country, and you have an extra two hour commute, and you’re away 14 hours a day. Your kids don’t know you, and they resent you, and then your wife is having it off with the gardener. Suddenly it’s 15 years later and you have to give her all your money and you’re stuck in a bedsit with no one to love. English girls. Pfft.”
Olga, he said, was different. But she didn’t like bellies — he looked ruefully down at himself — and he wasn’t sure it would be true love. He shifted around and pulled a piece of plastic off his torso. “My no smoking patch. She doesn’t like smoking either.”
Just in case, there were back up Russian women on his itinerary. And plans for a beach, somewhere. He described the “mankini” his mates in Edinborough had given him as a leaving gift. I looked perplexed. “Borat? Didn’t you see Borat?” He mimed some sort of bathing suit involving a neck piece I couldn’t quite get. “I’ll go to the beach, get my picture taken in it with two lovelies on each arm. Put it on Facebook.”
Suddenly, onto his mother. She’d come up a couple of times. “She works so hard,” he said, his voice breaking. “Never asks for anything for herself.” His eyes filled with tears. “Saint of a woman.”
I offered him a tissue. “I hardly cry,” he said. “Hey, how long are you in Copenhagen? The best restaurant in the world is there. We could scoot out and you could come back for your next flight.”
I declined, grateful for the irrefutable space that would barely leave me time to grab a sandwich before I was on to Oslo.
“I can’t wait for that smorgasbord,” he said again. “I live for that kind of thing.”