This is an extract from the book The Honest Tribe by Max Boyle.
There was padded leather beneath my buttocks, for which I was grateful, but I’d need to keep an eye on the dozing middle-aged woman a few places away. If she showed signs of wanting to stretch out, full length, over the row of seats, I’d have to beat her to it. Both of us, it seemed, were here for the duration.
‘Here’ was the concourse of Helsinki Airport, and ‘the duration’ was the forthcoming half a dozen hours. I’d flown in on a night flight, with no evening’s accommodation booked. A hotel room was barely worth the effort or money, given the late hour of my arrival. I’d bed down on the leather seats, under the glare of harsh lighting, then take an early morning bus into the city.
For the time being at least, there was the pretty girl behind the hot-dog counter, an airport outlet, to claim my attention. She folded, then unfolded, her arms. She paced distractedly in front of her ketchup bottles. How many hot-dogs was she likely to sell just minutes short of midnight?
The middle-aged woman stirred. Her face was creased and worn, intimating a hard-lived life. Her jeans and jacket were tatty, though the luggage by her feet, with flight details attached, proclaimed that she was no vagrant who’d wandered in off the street. Whatever her status, she was a rival. Let my attention linger too long on the pretty hot-dog seller and I could have my cherished sleeping-space usurped.
A group of teenage males approached and, just yards from me, inexplicably emptied the contents of their bags onto the floor. Under the supervision of a teacher, who issued instructions in Finnish, an impromptu luggage re-packing exercise was soon underway. Clearly the bags’ contents had not been arranged satisfactorily, and no one could proceed further until order was established. Jeans and tracksuits were folded and laid one on top of the other. Sweaters and sweatshirts, now neat and rectangular, followed on. Socks were matched in pairs. Underwear was gathered together. With the task done, and with a symphony of the zipping of sports bags to announce it, the group moved off. Their stuff was tidy and their minds could rest easy. All very meticulous. All very Finnish.
The contents of my rucksack, I reflected, were packed in an orderly fashion, with items I’d need often arranged at the top and those I’d use less frequently, packed below them. At the very bottom there lurked a ‘festival tent’, purchased cheaply at a Huddersfield town-centre shop. ‘Festival tent’ was not, I thought, a name to inspire confidence and conjured up images of half a dozen Glastonbury gig-goers crowding into its two-man capacity and bringing the flimsy structure down upon themselves. Mud-soaked revellers that they are, they might not care too much if it let in the rain. All part of the Glasto-fun, I expect, and a good yarn to tell your undergraduate peers later. (‘You should have seen us. We were absolutely drenched!’)
I’d taken a cheap tent with me during my travels around Estonia six years previously, only to discard it in anger when I’d found it impossible to erect. The festival tent proved no less a challenge, as I’d discovered when grappling with it in my garden. The instructions, being solely in written form, were inadequate. I needed explanatory illustrations to accompany them. Eventually, when packing, I opted to take just the ground sheet and the tent itself, leaving the fiendish poles, ropes and pegs behind, a halfway house measure that would at least give me something to sleep on, and a cover of sorts, if I became stranded somewhere and had to spend the night beside a Finnish lake or in a field or forest. The tent – or, rather, the half a tent – in my rucksack was, then, for emergency use only. I’d probably get through my trip without using it. I certainly hoped so. As you’ve gathered, tents and I don’t get on terribly well.
In the days prior to my flight to Helsinki, the festival tent had been the least of my worries. I’d moped gloomily and had little appetite for the second leg of my Finnish adventure, for the news in Britain had been dominated by the infamous attack by a suicide bomber at an Ariana Grande pop concert in Manchester, in which over twenty people died. This was followed shortly afterwards by an assault by knife-wielding Islamists in London, and the horror of it all got me down.
What was the point of my gadding around Finland and working on a travel book in this darkest of hours? The project seemed frivolous, unwarranted. Yet I rallied, telling myself that Brits succumbing to demoralisation would be a victory for the terrorists. The show must go on. I’d take up my pen, I’d travel, and write, write, write. I’d produce my travel-literature book, a manifestation of the Western culture that ISIS and their ilk so bitterly and mistakenly loathe. It would be my way of fighting back.
It was now 1.15 a.m. At tables at the hot-dog outlet, five customers were dining, and two more were purchasing at the counter. Maybe there’s more money in nocturnal airport hot-dogs than I imagined.
My rival for the leather seats eased on a coat, slid her feet into socks, pulled her shoes back on, and departed. I lay down, placed my hat over my eyes, and hoped for sleep.
* * *
This was an extract from the book The Honest Tribe by Max Boyle.