Mrs Monkeysized said that the scene was heartbreaking. The man she loved, quaking and repeating out loud, ‘What are we doing here? What the fuck are we doing here?’
I’ve written about the Majesty of Flight before. I simply cannot understand how some people are so blase about the whole experience. I cannot understand how people take the whole thing for granted. Flying will always be a magical experience for me – tonnes and tonnes of metal and flesh, hoisted up in the air in a dramatic roar of a jet engine (or four).
The downside of this is that flying also petrifies me. As the cabin crew announced on a previous flight, several years ago: ‘And the next time you want to blast through the air in a pressurised aluminium tube, I hope you think of us…’
A couple of weeks ago Mrs Monkeysized and I woke up in Buenos Aires, slightly nauseous from the large helpings of steak that we’d wolfed down the night before. We’d gone to bed with a clear sky; when we woke up, if there was such a thing as the sky it was hiding in the dark shadows, under cover of the clouds that hung as low as the second stories of buildings. The footpath on the opposite side of the street was under the same urban river as the road itself, and I half expected to see dead, bloated cow corpses washed along, as on the evening news.
The airport was little better. I watched a 737 take off as a lightning bolt hit the ground. Mrs M and I sat, second row from the back of the British Airways 747 as it rattled, swayed and roared down the runway. We rose like a lazy turtle above the suburbs, engines straining as we headed to the east of Buenos Aires itself, towards the brown waters of the River Plate. And a wall of thunder cloud.
Readers, I was terrified. Whumpf. Whumpf. And again, whumpf. Why were we even toying with the indulgence of the gods by presuming to enter their realm? Horrible, really horrible. And although it calmed down, when we flew through severe turbulence over northern Brazil and the equator, I’d already been spooked.
Yes, I’ve made it back in a plane since. Twice. I flew back from Paris this morning with red eyes and a sense of wariness. It was a singularly uneventful journey, thank god. They say that you ought to get back in the air as soon as possible in these circumstances. And, thank god, I didn’t take one second of it for granted. The magic is still there – and the most alluring gods have always been the ones with the big hammers who can crush you at any moment.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Eyjafjallajokull, industrial revolution, majesty of flight, newton, progess, unabomber, volcanos
I am not the Unabomber, I am Mr Moneysized.
That needed saying, because there are some things the Unabomber noted down in his woodland shack that I have sympathy for. The industrial revolution? Hmmm. Good and bad, and I say that as a son of Newcastle and Middlesbrough, home of so much that fired the world in those decades.
For a start, Theodore Kaczynski was right in putting his finger on modern life as a generally bad thing. It is, but not for the reasons he thought. For Mr Unabomber it took us away from a life of typhoid and hessian underpants and having spare children melted down to make glue to make enough cash to escape the workhouse: all things he evidently pined for. For me, modern life has taken away a sense of wonderment and replaced it with fleeting novelty.
And from this, the Unabomber and modern life brings me to the volcano Eyjafjallajokull and its wreaking of havoc across the airspace of Europe. One colleague was stuck in Greece and Albania; another in Ukraine; Mrs Monkeysized had to cancel a trip to talk about frozen snack food in Holland; I myself have a visit to Berlin coming up, involving a menu that I have glimpsed with Rack of Lamb and parfait of single malt. It’s a destructive old volcano, that’s for sure.
But as we live on our boat under the flight path to Heathrow, and the weather has been blissful, it’s been a rare old experience without planes overhead. Yes, my bicycle had a sprinkling of ash covering it when I unchained it on Tuesday morning, and yes, a duvet cover drying in the sun smelled like it had been dried over a fire, but wasn’t it a fine thing to have no planes overhead to disturb the coots and the woodpecker that I heard this morning on the riverbank?
Yes, absolutely. And in that I agree with Mr Unabomber. But I am not Mr Monkeysized for nothing – it’s not about regressing back to the days of making condoms out of birchbark and having weeping pustules instead of hamsters. It’s about remembering that we’ve created a world of wonderment that outstrips us in lots of ways. One is air travel. So use that short break to remember that – you’re an over-evolved ape that happens to have been born at a point where human society has exploded to the point where blasting through the air in an aluminium tube is now considered dull.
Monkeysizing is all about remembering that Newton and Galilleo and Pepys and da Vinci would have given their eye teeth for such an experience, and certainly wouldn’t have chosen an aisle seat. And then, amazement upon amazement, you end up within hours in fantastic places with utterly different weather, smells and stomach bugs. Wow.
Be thankful for the clear skies (unless you were affected) and now think again about air travel. Amazing, isn’t it?
Don’t take it – or anything else in this strange modern life of ours – for granted.
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: air crashes, majesty of flight, newton, progress
The final four minutes of flight AF447, the Air France jet that hit the Atlantic on a flight from Rio, are picked apart in a chilling article in Der Spiegel. It’s compulsive reading, even for those of us who love flying or depend on it rather too much to want to work out just when you would have realised that it was all going wrong, or exactly what forces of 36G (the impact) would do to your body. How much would you know?
Certainly, if I’m in an air accident I will be miffed, livid and rather put out. I may even purse my lips in silent anger (if I remember to do it before the 36G kick in). But they aren’t the real thing that bugs me about air travel.
People are what bug me about air travel. In particular the acceptance of air travel as routine. It’s not. It’s amazing! Grab that window seat and see the world from astonishing angles as you blast through the sky in a pressurised aluminium tube. What doesn’t look better from high up?
And then try to imagine just how remarkable what you’re seeing is. What you’re doing. How it works. Where you’re going and how quickly you get there.
How much, I start wondering, would people from a pre-plane age pay for just one Easyjet flight from Stansted to Marbella? A window seat, obviously. How much would the great philosophers pay? The natural scientists? How much would the great Sir Isaac Newton pay, out of his life earnings? Would he be able to convince others to stump up part of the fee, on condition that he described it to them once back on the ground? Would he calculate a payment based on fees for the fabulous written and spoken accounts where he would relate the experience afterwards. Far more, I would imagine, than what it would cost to fly to Australia on silk sheets while being caressed by a quartet of gorgeous lovelies made entirely of chocolate.
And he’d probably go for priority boarding too. Sensible man.