‘There are only two things I hate in this world,’ insists Michael Caine in the otherwise forgettable third Austin Powers movie. ‘Those who are intolerant of other people’s cultures, and the Dutch.’ And so it is with me and travel: I like people. I’m just not so keen on travelling companions.
This is not, let me stress, because I’m one of those chaps who firmly believes they should be travelling at the front of the plane, wearing a suit crafted by delicate Italian hands, sipping fizzy grape in a tall glass while marvelling at the running costs of chihuahuas.
One day, perhaps, but for now I’m content at the back of the paraffin budgie, in a suit hurriedly bought in Karama, sipping a warm Coke, pondering life’s big questions – why you don’t see white dog poo any more, or who answers the phone should you call the number at the end of the question ‘How’s my driving?’ (I always worry it’s going to be the actual driver, and I’m not sure how much detail to furnish him with – ‘Overtaking manoeuvre poor, complete lack of indicator, no use of rear-view mirror and you appear to be sitting in the wrong seat – I’m afraid at the very best it’s going to be a three out of 10’).
No, I don’t like travelling companions because I have a system, and like all good systems it unravels remarkably quickly with the introduction of unseen variable factors. The system is simple: sit down, eat, watch movie, pop on the blanket, sleep, wake up, coffee, land. It’s not a system that’s going to keep Stephen Hawking awake at night, but it works for me.
Yet of course it doesn’t always work. Invariably, my new travelling companion, whose oversized hand luggage was never, in a million years, going to fit into the overhead compartment (is it just me or is hand luggage becoming ludicrous?) finally sits down and demands to know my name, job, where I’m from and where I’m going, before furnishing me with his entire life story, illustrated with a few passport-sized wallet photographs. Over the past 12 months I’ve watched a lady drink herself into a fury, wrestled with a child (he started it) and held a man’s hand while he cried. It’s not that I’m unsympathetic, it’s just I have a system, and I really need to go to sleep now.
I’m not a bad person, really, and if we were anywhere else, anywhere on earth, I’d love to see another picture of your family, but isn’t telling random people your entire story through photographs exactly what Facebook was invented for? This is an aeroplane. I have a system. I’m going to sleep now. Good night.
Ross Brown is our group editor