By Will Jones
Did you hasten from the warm sanctuary of your home, shrugging on heavy coat, fur-lined boots and trusty toque, to collect your copy of The Highlanderas soon as it hit the streets?
Are you back now? Ensconced in your armchair by the fire, cup of tea in hand, ready to peruse the pages of your favourite newspaper? If you are, spare a thought for the Outsider.
I’m currently folded somewhat untidily into the few square inches of cabin space that your average air carrier allots to economy class passengers nowadays.
Yes, I’m at 35,000 feet, enduring seven hours of pure hell, otherwise known as flying back to Blighty to see my folks.
I’m looking forward to three weeks vacation but for now my life is akin to that of a factory farmed chicken.
I was going to equate my predicament to that of a caged tiger but I figure the tiger would have more room, and it’d cut a rather more dashing lope around its enclosure than I do as I stagger clumsily down the central aisle of this aging 707.
Back from a brief trip to the rear of the plane, a horrifying sight greets my eyes as I reach my seat — or rather my 28 by 18 inch internment space: Little Z is laid across it and his own seat too, and he’s smiling sleepily at me. Fabulous! Not only did I pay handsomely to be cooped up in this giant metal culvert pipe with windows, but the tiny space that I paid so much to be cooped up in has now been taken from me by the little guy who refused to sleep all the way to the airport and who forced me to listen to nursery rhymes for the full three hour drive.
As Z closes his eyes I gesticulate (quietly but assertively) to my lovely wife about my problem.
“He’s got my seat,” I hiss, pointing sharply at the boy. “Where am I meant to sit?”
She looks at me, then at him, then back at me.
“Doesn’t he look peaceful,” she purrs, stroking his hair as he begins to snore softly.
I realize that argument, via words or pointy sign language, is futile and I stalk sulkily back to the rear of the plane, getting uncomfortably close to numerous other inmates as we pass in an aisle narrow enough to make the skinniest broiler chicken feel plump.
I stand in that space at the back of the plane: the bit where the emergency exit doubles as a queue for the bathroom. Every minute or so I inform another set of enquiring eyes that I’m not waiting for the loo, before going back to staring out of that tiny little window in the exit door.
The window’s shape, oval-ish, makes me think of staring down the toilet bowl. My hunched position is quite reminiscent of that too, but the view, thankfully, is less one-too-many-beers, more wow-ain’t-the-world-beautiful-from-up-here. I do worry where that little island we just passed over would end up if someone flushed, though!
When an airhostess offers me the fold down seat next to the door, I realise that I must have been hunched in the window for some time. I wonder what films I could have watched. Then dismiss the thought, as the films in my own special version of economy-airline hell are all at least two years old. And factory farmed chickens don’t get to watch TV so why should I!
Gee, I think I’m getting to enjoy my purgatory, in some kind of masochistic, empathy-towards-poultry kind of way.
As I realize this, the hostess pushes the food trolley past. Yes! The torture is being ramped up to the next level.
I bundle back to my seat, fold Little Z in half, so fitting him neatly into his own seat without waking him, and pull down the folding table just as my tray of assorted gruel is delivered.
Hot food unwrapped, roll buttered (read steel-hard butter substitute pressed into cardboard-tasting bread) and orange juice poured: Little Z wakes, stretches, kicks and upturns my entire dinner into my lap. Oh joy. Just another four hours till we land.
And so, if you are ensconced in that comfy armchair beside a roaring fire reading this, I’m very jealous.
So jealous in fact, that I hope your dog wakes from his fireside nap, bounds over to say hello and knocks your tea off the arm of the chair right into your lap!