Saturday, June 26, 2010

Air travel

Until last Sunday over ten years had passed since I travelled by air. This has been for several reasons; I do not enjoy being nannied at airports; I am conscious of and try to minimise my carbon footprint; I enjoy seeing the scenery change as I travel through it and I enjoy making ephemeral contact with strangers; pleasures that are a part of overland travel but are absent when travelling by air; inevitably as far as scenery is concerned but also, and invariably in my experience, are absent with respect to human contact.
At London Gatwick last Sunday the nannying was less severe than I had expected; I was asked to remove my jacket and my belt. My travelling companion, a friend's daughter travelling to my destination on my flight who I met unexpectedly at luggage check-in, was was asked to remove her shoes. The people employed to do the non-work of asking others to remove items of clothing were polite and deferential enough but it is not only security folk and their paraphernalia that oppress me; at large airports I feel as though I am strolling nonchalantly into Hades along corridors and through doors which are silently disappearing and closing behind me forever; I dare not look back! If there is any probity in the idea that putting large numbers of people through the indignity and inconvenience of what now seems to be accepted as air travel ritual can protect them against terrorist attack, surely this ritual ought to be acted out at bus and train stations and at ferry terminals. Eurostar in and out of the U.K. excepted, I have travelled unescorted all over Europe, from Turkey to Iceland, on bus, train and ferry with little more let or hindrance than having to show my passport and a valid ticket. When I argued this with my unexpected travelling companion, a C.I.D. officer by profession, she suggested that it would be impractical to apply air travel standards to other forms of mass travel. If her reasoning is correct, that air travellers suffer unreasonable regulations and controls for no better reason than it is easy to make them do so, I am amazed that travellers, rather than silently acquiescing with kindergartenism at airports have not long since revolted against it.
While I am content and generally prefer to travel overland and sea I have always been prepared to use the speed and convenience of air travel in a case of emergency. After spending four months in the U.K. I considered getting home as quickly as possible to be an emergency! I wrestled with my conscience over the carbon footprint issue and assuaged it by reasoning that a man who chooses to live in a house free of mains electricity, who syphons most of the water he consumes from a well and draws drinking water from springs is making a fair attempt to live 'carbon neutral'.
The journey from London Gatwick to Kalamata passed without event; a smooth on-time take off, followed by three hours or so of zooming through the air 35,000 feet above the ground and a smooth on-time landing. Who could ask for more? But the journey was not so much without event as a total non-event. My unexpected travelling companion apart, we sat side by side on opposite sides of the aisle, I had all but no contact with any other passenger. The couple to my left quickly made clear to me that they wanted no contact outside of each other and I was isolated from people in front of and behind me by high backed seats. The disembodied voice of the captain came occasionally over the p.a. system with bulletins of our progress and cabin crew tended the needs of those wanting alcoholic drinks (The plane took off at 9a.m.!), rather plastic looking meals in cardboard boxes and 'duty-free' goods but it was all so impersonal; I began to understand how a statue might feel. On trains, buses and ferries that cross international borders there always seems to be some kind of spontaneous rapport between passengers even when, which is more often than not the case, there is a disparity of language between them.
On the entire flight I saw only one view. Shortly before the plane began its decent into Kalamata the couple on my left went together to the toilet so I took the opportunity to lean over their seats to peer through the small window and get a glimpse of the distinctive bay and airstrip at Preveza far below.
On the ground again at Kalamata I made my way across the tarmac from the plane. At the entrance to the terminal building an immigration official gave a cursory nod to my passport and I passed into the baggage collection hall where the friends who would drive me home were waiting. The passport person apart, I saw no other uniform; it felt good to be home.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Recent Reading

This morning I read, 'Uncivilisation: The Dark Mountain Manifesto', by Paul Kingsnorth and Dougald Hine. Far from being an expression of the dreams of a pair of woolly-minded Greens, this eighteen page pamphlet is a succinct, intelligent and inspiring questioning of the civilization with which we are familiar and an appeal to take up arms, (or, rather, pens) against an impending 'ecocide'. For their 'Maps in the Sand' visit
I also read Keith Levy's brilliant little book, 'How To Live Well On A Small Income'. This A6 size, 12pp + 4pp cover booklet has but two chapters each on one page. Chapter one is headed: 'Eliminate Debt', chapter two: 'Reduce Outgoings' and that is about it. Other pages are filled with a title page and verso, a dedication, a biographical note, an author's note, an introduction, a foreword and two pages of reviews. This book will make an excellent small present to give away to friends and family. For more information Google: flyingtortoise.blogspot.