A trip in the air
It's easy to clock up the downsides of longhaul flight: the discomfort, the person sitting in the next seat, the jet lag, the potential DVT etc. I have to say, though, that there are pleasures too. Some of these are negative. The absence of email and the mobile phone is top of my list (paradoxically, given my general affection for social media). To be honest, I look forward with dread to the day when wi-fi is freely available in the air. Because I know I will be weak-willed and use it, and spend the whole flight on my email and posting a few (possibly ill-advised) tweets.
Now, by contrast, it's a chance to get on with stuff that can be done without internet access -- like drafting the Preface to the next book, which is pretty much done and dusted in the first few hours of this particular flight… not bad eh?
This is the start of it…is it OK?
“When I gave the Sather Lectures in Berkeley in the Fall of 2008, I had the time of my life. I hope that this book captures some of the fun we all had then in thinking about what made the ancient Romans laugh – how, when and why Romans cracked up (or said they did)…..<it goes on for another couple of pages>”
I shall have to resist the temptation to sign off truthfully “Mary Beard, August 2013, Somewhere above Iran” and more circumspectly put “Cambridge”
But, to be honest, even more fun is listening to the audio on the entertainment system.
For me, the particular pleasure is going to the “Essential Albums” section of the audio and selecting the tracks to play -- over and over again -- on my personal “playlist”.
The fact is that British Airways must know that a good few passengers on its long haul flights are my age (or thereabouts), so the “Essential Albums” do go back a bit.
It’s a trip down memory lane, as each one of the selected favourites brings up all the recollection of when you (I mean, in this case, “I” of course) listened to them first time around, never imagining that they would come back into my life 40 years later at 30,000 feet.
There’s hardly a single one of the selections on my “playlist” that I regretted (though I did get rid of Brenda Lee's, “Sunny Side of the Street” after the first play). But they do bring pleasures of very different kinds.
Some of these tracks are actually very good, and really don’t need to be re-launched by memories. Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”, for example, still hits the spot as a really good track; like Pink Floyd’s “See Emily Play”.
A few work especially well in the air. Not this time, but I remember when I came back from visiting the daughter in Uganda a couple of years back, and went over the Sahara (which I hadn’t seen properly before…. as I wasn't by a window on the way out) to the wall-to-wall accompaniment of Leonard Cohen’s "Halleluyah". I don’t actually have a clue what the song is about (though am sure someone will be able to throw light), but it was the perfect celebration of the vast desert, which we seemed to fly over for hours.
But some can only be listened to as some kind of proxy for one’s life ‘back then”. Take the Troggs’ “Wild Thing” for example, number 27 of my current playlist. In the cold light of day it’s a crude, unmusical number, with three chords and not much nuance (“Wild thing, you make my heart sing”…right?). But it takes one back to all those days when you waited for the DJ to put it on, so you could have a good snog.
Much the same goes for number 21 on my playlist, Roberta Flack’s “The first time ever I saw your face..” A sweet melody + lyrics of no particular quality, but it accompanied so many romantic encounters that it is always going to be part of MY personal playlist.
The favourite though, as it’s where the past meets the present, is the Paul Simon stuff. I had always quite liked Simon, back to the “…and Garfunkel” days. But I actually saw him live a couple of years ago.
I went to Cambridge Mass to be inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (something that touched me hugely, both for the honour and for the forgiveness –to me – of at least one section of the American nation). It turned out that Paul Simon was also being inducted on the same day. And after we had all done the hand-shaking bit, PS got out his acoustic guitar and played to us motley crew of late middle-aged academics.
What it said to me was that not only did one’s youthful music last, but so did one’s youthful musicians… there was something that just felt right about being inducted with Paul Simon, and about the thought that we in a funny way (though we had never met.. and he presumably didn’t know me from Adam, nor ever would) did belong together.I now always play him on a flight… today it was "Graceland" and “Diamond on the soles of your shoes”.
(Written in the air, posted on the ground.. no damn internet up here!)