A postcard from 30,000 feet
Ah, the ineluctable delights of international business travel! Oh, really?
Is it just me or does everyone have the experience, after a few goes at it, that an hour or so into the current flight, you are not really sure if you ever left the plane after the last one. Or even the one before that.
Now the sense of being a modern version of the Flying Dutchman might just derive from the fact that most of my recent long hauls have been with KLM - always very happy with the service but there's now a lingering anxiety that up there in the cockpit there's a guy - narrow of gaze and firm of intent- condemned to plough the starry stratosphere for ever.
And making way through a sleepless night over the wastes of Central Asia, anxiety prompts all manner of other disconnected musings and recollections...
For example, I once met a bloke who told me that the watchword of his time in the RAF was: 'time to spare -go by air'. (Among current aviation folk whose real business is of course running a retail mall with a runway adjacent, this slogan has mutated into 'go buy lots of stuff - we'll give you more than time enough.')The same bloke also gave me another piece of instruction that has stayed as fresh with me now as it was in 1978 when he offered me it - and it too has a flight related element.
'Did you know ', he said 'that flies take off backwards? To sort them out, bring down your rolled up copy of the Express (he was an 'other ranks' sort of chap) just behind where the little b*gger is sitting on your window pane. His intended escape route will take him precisely into your trajectory.'
I don't know now why he told me this but it is utterly true (and this is something you can actually try at home.)
I learned this stuff on the Isle of Man, where I spent my time on the island as a Government Economist - indeed for some little while as the Economist as my boss languished grievously under the title Economist/ Statistician. A job title which, to be honest, didn't draw a big crowd around him at parties. So at a stroke, he morphed into the Senior Economist. When by some amoeba-like process of reproduction a third (and of course ' junior' ) economist arrived, the boss became Chief Economist - by dint of dashing in and then out of a convenient phone box emerging with pants outside his trousers. Is it's a bird ? Is it a plane? No it's an endogenous growth theorist in full flight and plumage.
One of my own more exalted tasks there was to construct a series of population projections using a pocket calculator, some purloined actuarial tables and a jotter from Woolworths (no spreadsheets then my boy). I haven't ever had need to check the forecasts, but can only assume that on the rate of growth in the two years I was there, that every last Manxperson is now an economist.
To come reluctantly to a bit of a point in all this though - boarding my own flight today (in Birmingham, of course)- I picked up a copy of the Post at the door of the plane, only to see on the front page that major airlines affect to spurn our airport with a meretricious disdain. Now I did used to earn a modest and quite agreeable living banging the drum for this part of the world as a great place - which I did with a light and eager heart - so maybe I am not a disinterested party, (my only gripe with the airport is that the free broadband I was once assured was on tap, never seems to stretch quite as far as my laptop - if they could extend that, as well as the runway, it would be great.) But given quite how stir crazy air travel can drive you (see above for evidence), why - if it's at all practical - you wouldn't choose to begin and end a flight at the airport nearest to heart and home is beyond me.
Or don't ask me; ask the flying Dutchman at the sharp end of this particular craft who is determined to keep us all aloft until he does spot his real home port. Though from the sudden change in the engine tone, maybe something twinkling below us has convinced him he is there.
(Just to avoid any Trade Description issues, let me insist that the above was all indeed written at 30,000 feet or more and has - as even the least practiced eye would confirm - had only the lightest of a subsequent editorial dusting).