Alex James: The Great Escape

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The Independent Online

I was facing a whole day of interminable terminals – airports, aeroplanes and queues – and felt the best way to approach it was as horizontally as possible, sound asleep whenever I could be. When travelling by air now, I just want to arrive. I'd take being asleep in economy class over being wide awake at the pointy end, any day of the week.

I had to change planes in Paris and the only way to guarantee beautiful oblivion was, I figured, by staying up all night and then snoozing my way through the catalogue of excruciatingly tedious situations that would get me where I needed to be. Hopefully, the delirium due to lack of sleep would add interest to the day too, but with a bit of luck, I'd just collapse on the conveyor belt and wake up smiling in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso.

I rarely get to stay up all night any more. It felt quite liberating, and naughty. I had so much to do before I left. I was still on the ball at 4am, chucking back coffees and taking care of business with missionary zeal. Still, there is only so much business that can be done at 4am and soon there was nothing for it but to let my fatigued caffeine-enhanced mind soar at the prospect of the great unknowns it was facing.

It's the best time for grand speculations, the middle of the night. But all I could manage was a sudden understanding that I must clear the huge shed that is full of dead lawn mowers and fill it with things from the toys section of the Argos catalogue. What am I doing hoarding lawn mowers when I could have a bouncy castle?

The car to Heathrow wasn't coming until six and I was terrified of sleeping through the alarm. I needed to lie down but I didn't want to wake Claire up because she's pregnant and her moods are unpredictable. So I lay where the driver would be able to see me on the bench outside the back door under the porch.

It was dark, but not cold, just cool and calm and raining constantly, gurgling in the gutters, dripping from the eaves and sopping on to the lawn, a gentle cacophony that gradually brought me to my senses. The cats came and sat on me and we lay there the three of us, fully alert as the sky lightened.

It worked like a dream: a coffee and a cigarette in Paris and due south all the way to the other end of the Sahara. It was dark when I arrived. Temperatures had hit 45C during the day. Even under the stars it was like sitting in front of a huge hairdrier. "The wind's keeping us cool tonight!" said a smiling face. I thought of that gentle rain back at home and how nice it is and all we ever do is moan about it.

There was an obvious downside to my plan. It's four o'clock in the morning and I'm wide awake. Bouncy castles are brilliant, though.

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