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Unidentified Flying Objects


Across the aisle from me sits a wax inspector, drilling his ear for gold with a podgy finger. He examines then sniffs the results before finally putting his finger in his mouth for an official taste. Yes, we could have told you, the flavour hasn’t changed since the dawn of time and isn’t it wonderful what you will do when you think you are invisible.

About ten minutes into our flight to Toronto a curly-headed boy appears over the top of the seat in front and clobbers me with a teddy bear. It’s funny the first time but it is to go another nine rounds before poor teddy finds a new home under seat 26D. Curly tells his mother that I have taken his bear and won’t give it back. I smile. Really, love. How preposterous. Oh look! Could that be it over there, being cuddled by that cute child.

Somebody behind me complains that their headphones don’t work. Across the way a baby girl lets out a piercing scream which the captain mistakes for a golden eagle getting liquidised in engine Number One. Well, there’s many a day I’ve travelled. A hundred miles or more. But a baby with a trombone for a mouth, sure I never saw before. Two seats behind, another kid is yelling, “I want granda! I want granda!” and this triggers off other screams the length and breadth of the plane.

I become convinced that travelling children and adults should be separated. Kids should have their own planes. Strap them in, take away their dummy tits, switch off the film and let them screech and squeal their lungs off. Or, let them travel by boat, without navigation maps or compasses. That’ll put manners on them.

I try to sleep. The plane hits turbulence and I wake up and look at my watch and I have been asleep for two minutes. Curly looks down at me: “You were snoring! You were snoring,” he declares in a nehhh-nehhh-neh-neh-nehhh voice. I want to poke him in the eye but there are too many witnesses.

The woman sitting next to me is to stare straight ahead for the next seven hours, which suits Dan. You can’t be pleasant all the time. I read my book, but not for long. Am I the only one with a nose because if I am not mistaken that child over there with the pigtails has had a serious accident. But still daddy jostles the child on his knee, wafting a wind which blows in my direction. There’s many a day I’ve travelled. A hundred miles or more. But a baby spreading slurry, sure I never saw before.

Daddy and mammy cluck at their little, humming progeny. Yes, be as metaphysical as you like, but it is still your pong, right down to the last strand of DNA. Daddy tells mammy to take Pigtails to the toilet and change her ‘diapers’. Mammy is a young, fat woman, wide-hipped, wearing leggings that stretch just below her knees. Fashion-unconscious as I am, I know that this is a sight and like mustard and ice cream just does not go.

Anyway, five minutes later, mammy returns with Pigtails who is now a stone lighter, and I return to my book. Shortly afterwards a cabin attendant comes on the tannoy.

“Would passengers please note that only paper towels should be put in the toilet. We have a blockage in one of the wash-rooms.”

I don’t know if it is still the practice but years ago there were signs on toilets on trains asking passengers not to do Number Ones or Twos while the train was in the station. And for good reason. The only place steam should be coming from is the locomotive.

I was now quite worried. I know that aircraft routinely ditch excess fuel which is quickly atomised and falls to the earth relatively innocuously. I was seriously concerned about the Eskimo directly below us, fishing, who could at this very moment hear the whistling of an unidentified flying nappy, quite literally steaming towards him at a great velocity. Sure, he’d have some claim but which country would he sue?

People certainly fascinate me. Their faces, their bodies. The way they walk, talk, dress and interact with each other. I love airports and that distinct atmosphere which is so different from railway stations, bus terminals or ports, because the thought of flying – defying gravity – will always feel unnatural and excites or stresses most people. It brings out a special edge, heightens emotions, which explains that extra bickering or drinking or shows of affection. I listen in to their conversations like a spy, invent scenarios about their lives and relationships.

Here I am three miles up, five o’clock in the morning, surrounded by a spectrum of humanity, young and old, lovers and loners. Feeling mighty philosophical about my brothers and sisters, the children of the universe, when some spoilt brat marches down the aisle beating a drum, another repeatedly takes my picture with a flashing camera, and Curly next door starts pulling the window shade up and down and up and down and, boy, are they making a good case for infanticide.