Being a travel writer I fly around a lot – some of it by plane. I love taking off for an unusual destination. Even more, I love taking off from that unusual destination bound for home.
On one occasion I was flying first class to London – a rare treat but travel writers occasionally get upgraded – and I found myself sitting next to the head of the London Stock Exchange. (It wasn’t, of course, just his head on the seat. There was a considerable amount underneath.)
I shared with him my expert opinion on the world economy. He occasionally nodded and sometimes even seemed startled.
I had sworn that on this trip I would eat and drink in Spartan moderation and I had managed to stick rigidly to this resolution right up until I entered the plane and was offered champagne. Free champagne is difficult to resist. Then came dinner… well the meals are such that it would have been churlish to have sent back an unfinished one. The hors d’oeuvres was “Osietra caviar from the Caspian Sea”.
“I am rather partial to Osietra caviar,” I told my companion. “Much prefer it to Black Sea caviar.”
“Really?” he said.
I then had roast duck served with grilled mango.
My travelling companion had chosen a delicious looking fish dish. I peered closely at it and frowned. Then I looked again at the menu and saw he must have chosen the “Chef’s choice”. Now why didn’t I do that? I suggested we swop but he said he’d rather not.
I read out to him that the menu said the dish “was developed for the Culinary Olympics in Berlin”.
The Culinary Olympics! “Give me a knife and fork and get me to the Culinary Olympics and I’d do my country proud!” I said.
“Undoubtedly,” he said.
I chose a 1994 Pinotage because of its “soft tannins” and wondered aloud whether business class gets harder tannins and “cattle class” gets tannins as tough as old boots.
Airlines have, since then, mostly done away with first class and now meld it with business class which is also luxurious. Often, after travelling business class, I have difficulty adjusting to the social level of my family and friends.
I rummaged in the complimentary toilet bag and worked out how “Ooncle Jum” (as I am called by my English relatives whom I intended visiting en passant) would distribute the largesse among his nieces and nephews. I’d be able to give one nephew the shoehorn; another the tiny toothbrush with the tiny one-squeeze toothpaste tube; another the comb; while my four lucky little nieces would get, respectively, the little bottle of toilet water, one earplug each and the toilet bag itself.
My sniffy little cousin Prudence would get the sick bag.
After dinner I felt like pulling back the heavy curtains that divided first class from business class and then the curtains that separate business class from tourist and, in the name of egalitarianism, tossing my first class chocolates among those at the far back. But, instead, I ate them while revealing to my Stock Exchange companion my plan for accelerating the world’s economic recovery.
I noticed he drank champagne with his dinner. I mentioned that I had been told to avoid drinking anything sparkling when flying because if the aircraft has to increase altitude the bubbles in one’s stomach expand and one could find oneself floating, like a dirigible, against the ceiling with no chance of descending until the plane resumed a lower altitude.
He looked at me for a long time.
As I say, I enjoy flying overseas but there’s nothing quite like it when, at the end of a sojourn, one gets to the airport well in time to relax before one’s departure and settles in the business lounge where drinks and snacks are free.
On the return journey I acquire yet another toilet bag but the last time I did the distribution bit at home, one of my daughters said: “Oh no, Daddy, not another shoehorn!”
Talk about spoilt! There are some kids who’ve never even seen a shoehorn.
[Extract from "Recalculating" (The funny side of travel) available on Kindle and Smashwords].