There are those who aren't the slightest bit perturbed by the prospect of sleeping with a stranger. I'm reliably informed that some women actively seek out opportunities to do so.
I've never fancied the idea. I'm not the type. I require at least an introduction along the lines of a “How do you do?” or a “Do you come here often?” or a Majesterial “And what do you do?”
A small tincture doesn't go amiss either. It's only polite after all, to break the ice and put someone at their ease if you're going to spend the night with them.
But by the time I reached my sleeping quarters on Friday night, it was too late for introductions. I knew where I should go, because I'd checked it out earlier. But at 11.30pm the room was very dark indeed and I only managed to locate the place by taking a bearing from a now almost indiscernible painting on the wall of a French cottage.
That was my recliner, the empty seat by the aisle. But there was a man in the next recliner. He was a big bulky bloke built like a Toulouse prop-forward. Instead of sitting back and reclining in a disciplined way as in a chair, he had twisted on to his side, facing and uncomfortably close to, my seat, semi-curled like an enormous, unruly foetus.
He overflowed his recliner in all directions and was very soundly asleep. He looked like a professional traveller. He was wearing one of those Joan Collins eye masks which gave him the air of a burly cross-dresser. No doubt he had earplugs in too but if he did, they were hidden by a bushy thatch of dark hair. A blanket provided by Brittany Ferries was slipping off his legs.
I didn't immediately take to him. He looked like a man who was fond of food or beer or probably both so there was a strong probability of noctural eruptions. He might need to go to the bathroom at least twice, which would involve disturbing me.
The worse thing was that his great thick left arm was sticking out stiffly over my recliner; an over-hanging bough with a huge pale hand on the end with fingers pointing downwards stiffly like an inflated rubber glove.
Even if stopped breathing, sucked everything in to make myself as thin as possible and limboed silently into my recliner, I figures that like the Sword of Damocles, The Hand would be hovering approximately above the region of my breasts.
I''d never be able to close my eyes for fear of The Hand descending suddenly or lowering itself very very slowly, at the speed of the London Eye and making contact during the night. Whether it was by accident or design was immaterial; the prospect was too real.
The whole room was full of people breathing heavily. As my eyes got used to the darkness, I located DT man and disturbed him. He was unwilling to move, having consumed soporific quantities of very reasonably priced merlot. DT man's sleeping companion was a small slightly-built shaven-headed chap who was snoozing silently in a very disciplined way entirely enclosed within his recliner.
“A big man's got his hand over my seat” I hissed.
“Oh just nudge him,” DT man mumbled somewhat incoherently.
“He'll shift and go over his own side.”
Quite frankly, it wasn't the chivalrous response I was looking for. I was firmly of the opinion that squeezing in next to the Toulouse prop-forward was DT man's job, rather like putting bins out or using a power drill.
Gradually it became clear to him that the urgent whispering was only going to continue and sleep would be impossible unless we swapped places.
So he went over to sleep with the prop forward and I settled in nicely next to shaven-headed chap, who I decided was probably a Tibetan monk in civvies, unlikely to make any inappropriate lunges in his dreams about begging bowls and prayers.
I must have got a solid couple of hours before I was woken suddenly by the sound of a terrible prolonged groan/sigh which shook the room.
“Fuck,” I thought. “Someone's pegged it.”
Packing for three days on a bike in Brittany, I hadn't included the resuscitation mask which I usually carry. I shot bolt upright in my seat and scanned the darkness for signs of distress. No-one else had moved. DT man and Toulouse man were slumbering undisturbed. If someone was dead, it was going to be quite tricky to determine who. Should I creep between rows, silently poking people to check they were alive? Not a popular move. Maybe I'd dreamed that noise. Someone with sleep apnoea? Everyone else was still. I calmed down.
I must have drifted off again and I slept pretty well, except for the stiff neck and the not knowing what to do with my feet and legs, which seemed not to fit anywhere, as though I'd drunk, like Alice from the “Drink Me” bottle for especially long legs. Sometimes I crunched them up and sometimes I stretched out under the seat in front. It was not ideal.
I was sleeping very soundly indeed when the Really Useful Woman about three rows back woke me up by announcing to her poor long-suffering partner/husband/kid/friend “It's five past six. Did you sleep ok?”
Well I had until then. My shaven sleeping companion was still serenely breathing lightly in exactly the same posture he'd adopted seven hours before.
I looked over to see what the Hulk With The Hand looked like in the early daylight but he had already gone, no doubt in search of refreshment. A man of his stature would be needing an early breakfast before disembarking.