Friday, 23 August 2013

23/08/13 - Thrilling Tales of Aviation

Air travel is so ubiquitous and commonplace these days that we don’t give it a second thought, but it really is a phenomenal thing. The trajectory of early airplane development was in itself a staggering rush of innovation and cleverness, quicker than pretty much anything else you can name; the first manned flight happened in the early 1890s (or 1880s, depending on who you believe and how you define ‘flight’), and yet by World War I there were military biplanes whizzing about the place, their dapperly begoggled pilots wanging grenades and grappling hooks at each other in the spirited genesis of aerial combat.
Nowadays we think nothing of hopping on a plane to go on holiday, even though it’s pretty much the most unnatural thing we’ll do at that time (well, I don’t know what you get up to on your holidays, I’m just assuming), and its bargain-basement cheapness means that anyone can be a flying person. It’s open to all.

This wasn’t always the case. I can remember my first flight clearly. When we were kids, I never saw us as being ‘flying people’ - it was expensive back in the eighties to go on holiday in a plane (I imagine – I had very little concept of money at that age). Holidays as I knew them involved climbing into the family car, sitting very still while 80% of the contents of the house was packed Tetris-like around me, and then setting off to Dover to get on a rusting Sally ferry (ooh, or a Townsend Thoresen – they were iffy. Type ‘Herald of Free Enterprise’ into Google Images) and chugging off to France. So when my dad announced that we’d be flying to Spain for our summer holiday, I was giddy with excitement. At the age of 5 or 6, this was pretty much the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me. He might as well have said that we were going to the moon, or he’d bought me a dirt bike. It was that outlandish a concept.
The excitement grew when I learned that we’d be flying with an airline named ‘Monarch’. How swanky does that sound? ‘That has to be the best airline,’ I thought. ‘With a name like that, it must be the one the Queen uses. Maybe I’ll get to sit next to Prince William? He’s about my age, we could play about with the tray tables and make the stewardess bring us things.’
Obviously, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see that Monarch is far from premium, but that was totally irrelevant at the time. I had no frame of reference, you see, I didn’t know if it was the best plane in the world or the worst. All I knew was that I was flying. We were flying people after all.

Since then, of course, flying has become commonplace. Think I mentioned that. I have more flying stories than I have fingers. Wait, do I? No, I have five flying stories. But that’s more than, er, none. And if you count the above then we’re talking six flying stories. How modern.
One of them you might know, I’ve banged on about it before – Ryanair being pricks. Remember that? Click here, it’ll all come flooding back. Another one is kind of unremarkable - I sat next to Ruby Wax on a BA flight to Toulouse a few years ago. She was asleep under a blanket for most of the flight. Er, that’s it. OK, three more stories…

A while ago I went to the Dominican Republic with my family. It was the first time I’d ever been out of Europe, and my first properly long flight. I wasn’t really prepared for the monotony of being wedged in a cramped seat for ten hours. That sort of time-frame spans several meals, it’s hard to work out a structure for your day. There was a TV screen in front of me which showed a map of where the plane was (which was bloody depressing, frankly – once you’ve had breakfast and read a whole magazine, you don’t want to see that you’ve basically only just left home and have a whole load of blue ocean yet to cover), as well as one episode of The Simpsons – that’s twenty-two minutes taken care of, then – and a variety of films that I didn’t want to watch. Still, I didn’t get the choice, as the chunky lardarse in the next seat fell asleep pretty much immediately, and spent the entire flight jabbing at my TV control panel with his elbow, changing the channels in his blubbery slumber. It’s probably the most annoying thing that’s ever happened to me. But I got my own back by weeing in his water bottle, then aiming the aircon vent toward his mouth to make it go all dry.
(Obviously I didn’t do that, that’d be revolting. [Or did I…?])

Two more.

I got married in 2010. We went to Cuba for our honeymoon – something which I thoroughly recommend. If you haven’t been to Cuba, sell something (car/kidney/whatever) and go now. It’s brilliant.
However, one thing I did discover is that my body has a strict tolerance for the lifestyle of the gourmand. It can take so much, but no more. In our all-inclusive hotel, I learned that I can happily take on three delicious, meaty buffet meals a day, along with an absurd quantity of Havana Club, for a maximum of twelve days. From that point on, everything within me liquidises into an emerald-green fluid and tries to escape. (Too much detail…?)
Our honeymoon, as you may have guessed from the twin-laws of comedy and sod, was fourteen days. Meaning that at the end of it I was faced with the prospect of a ten-hour flight with a severe case of what doctors describe as ‘the slapstick Swarfegas’.
Plane toilets are nasty. And they get a lot nastier when that’s happening all day.

OK, last one.

We flew out to France last summer – me, my wife, and our little baby. She was only five months old at the time (the baby, not my wife, get your mind out of Yewtree you sicko), and I was a little nervous about it. We hadn’t really travelled any great distance before, I was concerned that it would, well, freak her the fuck out. And although it was just a brief jaunt from Gatwick to Toulouse, it still monkeyed about with naps and mealtimes to a complex degree.
As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. She slept in the car on the way to the airport, she stared about in amused fascination at the terminal, and we were hurried to the front of the massive easyJet check-in queue because of her tininess. There’s a special passport control area that I’d never seen before, just for people with babies – it has little tables to lay them down on while you fish out your tickets and everything – and then you get to board the plane first. She also slept through the entire flight. Travelling with babies? It’s a doddle.
What? No, of course it fucking isn’t. The flight back home was a bloody nightmare, she screamed for the ENTIRE journey. Trust me, there is no situation in the world in which you’ll feel more hated than an early morning flight when you’re holding a screaming baby. Everyone on the plane looks at you like you’re the worst kind of scum. And there’s nothing you can do.

Sorry, my plane stories are rubbish.

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