Lucky Numbers & Special Burgers: Stranded in the airport

Cultures all around the world have different “lucky” and “unlucky” numbers. That’s something I read a lot about when I was writing my post on luck for my finance blog,

In China and Japan, for example, the number four is considered unlucky, because it sounds like the word for death. In many Western countries, thirteen is the most commonly reported unlucky number – to the extent it has a recognised phobia associated with it – ‘triskaidekaphobia’.

Some people are so superstitious about these numbers it’s not uncommon to find buildings that skip the fourth or the thirteenth floor – or both!

When it comes to “lucky” numbers, again, there are differences around the world. While seven is considered lucky in many English-speaking places, the lucky number in Chinese-speaking circles tends to be one higher – eight.

But the name of my forthcoming satirical novel Number Eight Crispy Chicken (while I hope it enjoys good fortune!) has nothing to do with the lucky number eight. In fact, the title was inspired by (what I thought at the time) was a stroke of bad luck!

Stranded in the airport

A couple of years ago, traveling with some wonderful friends, we were due to fly from Europe to Asia, with a plane change in Moscow.

The first leg of our journey went brilliantly – Aeroflot’s planes were much nicer than I’d anticipated, we enjoyed the food and entertainment and amenities, and we landed in Russia feeling pretty chipper.

At least, until we realised that our plane had been delayed.

Not by a huge amount, but it was enough of a delay at that we were only able to get off the first plane at the time we should have been getting on the second plane.

Unable to enter Russia without visas, or to fly out until the next day, we experienced a farcical 24 hours stranded in the visa-free zone of Sheremetyevo Airport, enjoying all of the wonders that international burger chains and Russian bureaucracy combined can provide.

The benefits of a delayed flight

It might be a little strange, but I’d always secretly hoped to have a delayed flight, or a misconnection. To be put up in a hotel at the airline’s expense, with free food, and get to look around a city I hadn’t visited before.

But when this actually happened to me, I discovered that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be!

At the airline desk we were given vouchers for an unspecified meal at the vaguely defined ‘restaurant’, and were told to get something to eat and come back in two hours’ time for information about our hotel.

We made our way to one establishment that said they accepted the vouchers.

Unfortunately, however, the value of our vouchers would not cover a single item on their menu.

Without any rubles to make up the difference, we left for a burger chain, and were informed that there was just one burger we could afford on the menu.

You guessed it.

A Number Eight Crispy Chicken.

The beginning of Number Eight Crispy Chicken

I think it was after my second or third Number Eight during that 24-hour period that I began working on the manuscript that would become Number Eight Crispy Chicken.

Somehow, being stranded in an airport with no access to the outside world has always been conducive to my writing. With the surreal feeling that I was stuck in the film Terminal, or perhaps that dystopian immigration control game I’ve played a bit too much of recently, Papers Please, and going to be sentenced to eating nothing but Number Eights for the rest of my natural life, I began to appreciate that there is, indeed, almost always a catch with anything ‘free’.

More importantly, I reflected on how extremely fortunate we were to be accommodated in a safe environment with a specific timespan to look forward to our departing flight – an experience wildly different to that of asylum seekers detained indefinitely around the world. I can’t imagine how torturous it must be to be locked up indefinitely with all personal freedoms restricted.

And that’s what inspired me to write about Peter Ruddick – the fictional Minister for Asylum Deterrence and Foreign Investment who is trapped in an airport, more nightmarish than the one I enjoyed.

20 January 2020

I’ve always been drawn to certain numbers because of their ‘neatness’ – like the number 20. So as you can imagine, choosing a date like 20 January 2020 as the release date for my debut novel Number Eight Crispy Chicken makes me triply happy. January 20 will also be exactly three years to the day that I published this post about my experiences in the airport.

If you’re interested in human rights, travel, and a bit of fried chicken, I hope you’ll follow Peter’s adventures in Number Eight Crispy Chicken! Subscribe here for updates!

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