Tuesday 18 July 2006

Come fly with me

I hate flying, me. Actually, I rather like the bits up in the sky, when you can look down on the passing landscape or the tops of clouds. Just so long as I can manage to dismiss from my mind the fact that I am in a powerful flying bomb, which is considerably heavier than the surrounding air. I worry whether I will be able to avoid screaming or otherwise embarrassing myself when it starts plummeting back towards the ground, as it surely must.

The sister of a friend of mine survived the horrific crash of a hijacked plane off the coast of east Africa in 1996, in which 123 people died. Her descriptions of the event suggest it was a true foretaste of hell. On the other hand, she said that it had completely cured her own fear of flying, as she reckoned that it was statistically impossible for her to experience anything similar ever again.

Apart from the crashing in a fireball bit, I hate the hanging around in airports, the ever-more intrusive and time-consuming security checks, the overcrowding and the ghastly food. Oh, and that bit during take-off when the wheels are about to lift off and I always start thinking ‘what could possibly go wrong?’ Sometimes I can’t stop myself saying it out loud, making me about as popular as Margaret Thatcher at a Durham miners’ reunion.

For years my reluctance to fly, if there were any plausible alternative available, had me earmarked as a pathetic wimp. What a delight it has been to cover it all up in recent years with the cloak of environmental concern and political correctness. ‘Oh no, I never fly, you know. It’s destroying the planet.’

Which of course it is. Not just through the damage to the ozone layer from jet exhausts, but by dumping hordes of people in places which appeal to them because they are unspoilt. Or were, until they and the supporting paraphernalia of global tourism turned up.

There are quite a few places I’d like to have seen before I died, but I shall never be able to justify the trouble and expense of getting there, not to mention the annoyance to the locals from having a fat git from Northumberland poking around. What are David Attenborough and the miracles of high definition TV for, if not to enable us to experience the best of the whole planet from the comfort of our own armchairs?

As one who has always hated meetings, except perhaps over a lunch involving at least one bottle of wine per head, I also greatly welcome the marvellous new technology of video-conferencing, and look forward to a world in which we can all do our jobs as well as enjoy our leisure without going anywhere at all.

Having said all that, it will doubtless seem the most appalling hypocrisy when I say that I have just been onto the BA website and booked myself a couple of cheap returns to Gatwick. But the unreliability of the train service that cuts off Northumberland from the south of the country has finally become more than I can bear. True, the last disaster I experienced was the work of the Provisional London Fire Brigade, and their closure of King’s Cross, rather than the usual combination of Network Rail and GNER. But I’ve had it up to here with their train breakdowns, overhead line failures, extended engineering works, potential suicides on bridges, cows on the line and other incidents too bizarre and numerous to mention.

Of course, I could just stay at home, but then I’d miss the operas at Glyndebourne that are one of life’s few reliable little pleasures. Though I wouldn’t want to discourage any eccentric Northern aristocrat who fancies adding an opera house to his pile, to bring the experience rather closer to home.

Until then, it’s the air for me. Hello plane, goodbye planet. Does it make it any better if I say I’m really sorry?

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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