Business or pleasure?
As we landed in Los Angeles, I realised that one of the things I liked about British Airways was the cabin crew. The same would go, I guess, for most hi-cost (ex-)national airlines. Jump onto a budget carrier and you're in the hands of a posse of underpaid, size-8, late adolescents, who are either insufferably jolly or entirely uninterested. At least BA still employs a sprinkling of women of a certain age and a certain size, who appear to be treating the job as a career and -- as they will tell you given half a chance -- are worried about their pensions.
I'm sure that they are all equally well trained in the use of the escape slide (and the lo-cost version may actually be slightly nimbler in the event of landing on water). But, if disaster struck, I would certainly feel safer with these matronly types in charge.
Coming in on Saturday, the two middle-aged stewardesses belted into the crew's seats near me were discussing the relative merits of nail-painting establishments in LA and Chicago (Chicago coming out marginally ahead). Even on this score they beat their rivals hands-down. Many of the cabin crew on budget airlines will tell you frankly that they have never actually visited their plane's 'destination' . Understandably, given a turn-around time of less than thirty minutes on an ex-military airfield may be a couple of hours by bus from the city in question.
I felt rather wistful at the idea of flying round the world in search of a nail-job. It certainly might make things easier when it comes to meeting the US immigration officials, whose task is to quiz you about the purpose of your visit to this land of the free.
Like most people (except presumably those they are looking to catch), after an 11 hour flight I tend to be gormlessly honest -- as well as suspiciously forgetful about the date of my last visit to the States. 'I'm coming to visit my husband at the Getty Research Institute and to do my own research' is my standard line. Occasionally this touches a chord. At Christmas, the woman officer had me write down the titles of some books I'd written so she could buy them from Amazon. More often it provokes mild irritation. 'Is that business or pleasure?' I've learned at this point neither to make a joke (depends what you call pleasure . . .) nor to hedge my bets, but to opt for 'business', get through the finger-printing and iris photograph and onto the next stage.
That one's a lot easier, as US customs are much more interested in recent contact with livestock and animal products than in recent contact with books. And I can honestly say that I haven't been on a farm for more than twenty years, and probably havent set foot in a field for ten. What process of interrogation or purification awaits a muddy-booted rustic who tries to enter the United States, I dread to think.
Anyway, the precise purpose of my visit is -- at last -- to finish chapter 8 of my book and get the next and final chapter started. Cambridge is in that dead and anxious week between the end of lectures and the full swing of exams. And mad as it seems (and expensive as it undoubtedly is) I will get more work done in four and a half days in the little office off the library that the Getty makes available to its scholars' partners than in a whole month back home. So I'll be seeing those nice middle-aged ladies again on Friday.