Thursday, 11 August 2011

Fly with Respiratory Airways

Oh deep joy... written a couple of weeks ago when i still had a holiday to look forward to.

Once more I find myself in an airport. Terminal one at London Heathrow. I have hardly travelled this year and this is the first time in nearly two months that I have assumed my business persona, clicking into the routine easily and without undue thought.
I like to travel comfortably, but also with a slight dash of style and so today I am wearing my favourite summer suit in cream linen, referred to as "That Suit" by a friend of mine who was most taken with it when it graced my frame in a profile picture somewhere. So, beautifully made is it that it even has a small, lined pocket in the left breast for my reading glasses that I can no longer deny I need.
Refusing to be one of those business types, all grey suit and self-importance, that one sees so many of in the course of business travel tapping on a laptop hurriedly and worriedly or talking loudly and obtrusively into their phones, I use instead the email function of my phone. It has no text editor and so this is the only way I can write on it. Its tiny qwerty keyboard is rather tortuous to use but such is the dexterity of the opposable thumbs so characteristic of our species that I can relatively easily enjoy a reasonable level of self-expression before thoughts elude me, otherwise escaping out of my ear and into the ether to be lost forever.

It occurs to me that in most of the airports I have been in this year, the only way from security to the flight gates is actually through a shop. This strikes me as somehow cynical and mercenary: You cannot avoid this minor temple of commerce, selling as it does, overpriced spirits, perfume and general tat. It would be forgivable if there was an alternative route and you could choose not to wander past the deceitful "Low Price!" tags on the gin bottles, but there is not. No, the path takes you through the shop and you have no choice but to go with it. Of course, it snares enough of the unwary and ill-informed whose foraging urges lead them to hunt a bargain, only to discover disapointingly on their next visit to Tesco that it in fact was anything but.

Two Chinese girls alight beside me on the adjacent seats. So happy are they to be in a departure lounge in London that they try to take a photo of themselves. I offer to take it for them and they are embarrassingly grateful, all unfeasably cheerful smiles and schoolgirl excitement.

And boarding commences. Up everyone rushes. I can see no point in standing in a queue that moves so interminably slowly so I stay here writing until there is only one person left in it. I wander through to the jetway with my stub of boarding pass and on to the plane where everyone is still milling in the aisle deciding if they should keep their jacket on or roll it up and stuff it in the overhead locker. They dither, doing neither and we all wait while indecision rules the space.

So, now, later, sat uncomfortably in seat 30b, sandwiched between two fellow inmates, I am wedged for two hours or so. It is an unfortunate fact that the space allocated for each of the passengers in economy class is insufficient to house my frame. I am not unduly large but my straightened legs allow my feet to be visible to the person sat in front of me and my shoulders are wider than the seat so they occupy the spaces where my neighbours' shoulders should be. This is unavoidable. The seats should be at least as big as the passengers and not comfortable only for the person of average size, such that by definition 50% of people are too big to fit.

I can see now below us, a beautiful blue English Channel, as we English feel justified in calling it. At various angles to each other are tiny ships, their wakes visible as white streaks behind them. I feel a sudden pang of longing to be by the sea. That possibility seems a world away to me now. Indeed, it will be several weeks before I am in a position to contemplate such a trip, such are my commitments.

Momentarily disheartened, I sink back into my seat and indulge myself in a daydream of being sat on the step of my van, a mug of tea in my hands and the breeze and seagulls making the only sounds I can hear. It gives disproportionate comfort to imagine being there and though I can conjure up immaculate details of what I would see, its not the real thing, solace though it is.
We hit turbulence. It seems strange that clouds can be so bumpy. They are after all merely water vapour and we know we can pass our hands through fog and feel no resistance. But at five hundred miles per hour, the change in density is as significant as that of the coffee table as your shin hits it at four miles an hour in the dark.
I watch, amused, as two hundred heads wobble left, then right, then left again, as the plane lurches and bounces along. Only from the back of the plane can this collective capital oscillation be seen. It makes me smile every time.

Such flights are, happily, not crowded with eventfulness. Again, it strikes me how mundane it has become to soar above the clouds at inconceivable speeds. I turn my mind to the idea.
Somehow, at 500 miles per hour, one tends to think a little more clearly, removed as we are from the distractions of modern life by the confinement to an aeroplane seat, with all the attendant discomfort and privations that implies.

That I should, in the course of my day job, be frequently on an aeroplane would have bewildered my young, wild self. I may have occasionally looked up from the fields and footpaths of 1970s Gloucestershire at a passing vapour trail and wondered briefly at the mechanical and chemical processes by which it had been formed, but it would have seemed sheer folly to suggest that on a regular basis, my employer, one of the world's biggest computer companies, would pay me to travel up there, albeit in cramped discomfort.
But here I am, en route to Munich where I will speak the German that I felt was so pointless when I was first compelled to learn it at age twelve.
And the words of the song come echoing back to me "and you may ask yourself How did I get here?" How indeed?

So, lulled by the engine noise, I close my eyes and lean my head back on to the too-low headrest and nod off. Until..

Phlegmatic: Not given to displays of emotion, difficult to excite, full of phlegm. Its definitely the latter definition...
Sharing an aeroplane with several hundred other people in enforced proximity always causes me to remark to myself just how revolting certain aspects of respiration really are.
The only other time the mechanisms by which we supply oxygen to our blood and hence bodily tissues is at the theatre when I am astonished at just how much people cough.

I did not ask to sit next to the rude, taciturn bearded man. I suppose that I did choose my seat myself as I checked in, from the screen in the departures hall, and so I have some culpability in my subsequent location.
But the grunting, hacking and snorting that has assailed my ears since boarding has been utterly stomach-churning. Never have I been so aware of the movement of this most particularly unpleasant and seemingly viscous of the humours.
It makes me quite bilious.
Now, I am a tolerant person, but I am certain that all this hacking and squelching is unnecessary. Frankly, I fear it may drive me to violence ere long. I put in my earphones and find some music that feels appropriate to being at 37000 feet: Ether Song, by Turing Brakes. Yes, that will do. I have forty minutes now till we all stand up and mill about with nowhere to go. I might as well go back to sleep.
With the building criscendo of the guitar, I slide into happy oblivion.

3 comments:

Librarian said...

Don't know what's worse - coming to sit next to a person who is so large that they take up part of my seat as well, or someone who, like your travel companion there, has some very noisy ailment or other, or someone who is extremely chatty when I am not.
Sometimes I am, but other times, I prefer being on my own on a plane or train journey, letting my mind drift where ever it chooses to drift.
And I so agree with you on the indecisive bit - people never seem to learn, do they, that when they get on the plane or train, the best thing is to get quickly to your seat, get rid of your luggage, sit down and make room for those who need to get past you. The same is true about everyone getting up way too early and then standing about uselessly in the aisle for fifteen minutes or longer, before the door opens and everybody can get off.

westwood said...

Munich is so clean-cut. That's what overwhelmed me about the... the lack of grunge, of punk, of freaks. It felt artificial, somehow.

PerlNumquist said...

Bavaria is a strange place with respect to attitudes. It is quite conservative. Munich embodies some of that but also has a rather high opinion of itself. there is a sense of the metropolitan but with a desperate fear of not conforming and being judged. I occasionally go dancing in Munich and it is quite strange to be told "You are doing it wrong!" to which I reply "No, I am merely doing it differently". This typifies what I feel to be the central neurosis at work n Munich. But i still have a lot of fun there.