* 200 articles. Two years. Whelk. The best of Upsideclown. Might be reprinted.

Strangers on a Plane

7 April 2003
Jamie's burnt his return ticket

The problems began right from the check-in queue. I don't suppose it helps, being one of the down-market flight operators flying to the most down-market destinations, but it sets the tone early on. Hundreds of badly-dressed (and I mean offensive) travellers heading to Liverpool and Luton - the orange-clad staff almost seem fashionable by comparison. I'm almost ashamed to be seen with them, but I console myself with thoughts of a higher purpose, a just cause to be stooping to these depths, and I take a deep breath so I don't have to inhale their odours with any greater frequency than absolutely necessary.

Looking back, the whole set-up is like a movie, or at least a filmed novella. The same characters keep recurring throughout the drama - first introductions at the taxi rank or train platform, the minor dramas of a misplaced passport or late arrival, the touching scenes in the duty free section, final calls for boarding - and it reminds me of the structure of one of those Airport films, where these segments of life are supposed to give you some sense of connection to the otherwise empty personas. In this case, it removes any traces of sympathy I might have had.

Let me run through the protagonists as they're introduced to me. First up is a guy who appears to be some sort of representative from Nissan. This judging from the fact that he is wearing a shirt with Nissan embroidered on the top part of the pocket. Yes, his shirt has a breast pocket. In which resides, quite openly, a pair of ballpoint pens. Oh, and it's short sleeved. He appears impervious to this fashion travesty, and will go on to retain his tie throughout the journey, despite the unseasonal warmth. [I can just see his bosses drilling him from his first day: 'While you wear this shirt you are a representative of this company and will maintain a level of presentation commensurate with our professional reputation.'] Each time I see him he is reading his book with the same precise stance, bolt upright with his cheap Casio showing, and all I can think each time is whether his arms are tired yet.

The next encounter comes in the departure lounge. A scrawny, wiry guy who clearly fancies himself as some kind of rocker is sat with who I can only assume is his girlfriend, though why either of them would consider propagating their species is beyond me. Absurdly, he has rolled up one sleeve of his black T-shirt to expose the very upper part of his arm, where sits a clearly fresh tattoo (I can tell it's fresh as the edges have a bruised, purple tinge) that I understand he's very proud of. Either that or he needs to expose it to the air so it can heal properly. What disgusts me more is the way he tuts and half-smiles in my direction when a further delay is announced by the tinny voice on the PA, like he is making some sort of connection between the two of us. Or the three of us, as his girlfriend is apparently getting in on the act as well. I just look away before anything serious happens.

I take my place on the plane and find, to my surprise, that Nissan man is sat across the aisle from me in the same pose as before. From the pockets of conversation I can hear around me I can discern no single demographical majority, which pleases me, as the impact is always greater when the social spread is wider.

Diagonally opposite sits an elderly gentleman of indeterminate class. His only distinguishing feature is the size of his nostrils; in profile, he resembles a sans-septum Daniella Westbrook viewed from below. I consider how much gak he could hoover up in one sniff - and then he stuns me by flaring the bastard as he mutters to himself (whether as a sign of madness or a prayer for safe flight is impossible to tell, and ultimately inconsequential).

Three seats ahead I can only make out the upper echelons of a Burberry baseball cap, which is enough for me to deduce the origins of its owner. Though this has been getting harder of late - it originally pinpointed location to within a thirteen-mile radius of Romford, but since Essex man has been colonising most of outer London and the surrounding counties with his hairstyle, outfit and accent this particular piece of haute couture has been spotted on football casuals as far and wide as Gloucester. All that can be seen of his travelling companions is the quiff-like lip at the front of their hairstyles, which is enough for me to build a firm mental picture of the three of them burlying around the airport, bellies full of lager and McDonalds.

The couple next to me are more reserved. They quietly talk about their break, already nostalgic for some of the sights and thinking of another trip, but also looking forward to their return home and the welcome they will receive from their children. There are mentions of another on the way, though from the look of the mother not very far advanced, and the talk reminds me of the family I left behind; it's times like this that most test your resolve, your dedication to the task in hand, your commitment to the journey. I've been told the way through is not to think of the family on the ground, but of my brothers who took this journey before me, and who I'm set to join.

I look around again at Nissan man; pseudo-rocker; nostrils; the Burberry crew; family. None of them knew they would be on a plane together this morning; none of them know where the others are going; at the end of the day, when I unclip my seatbelt, whisper a prayer and detonate the explosives strapped to my chest, none of it matters anyway.


This is the fucking archive

Current clown:

18 December 2003. George writes: This List

Most recent ten:

15 December 2003. Jamie writes: Seven Songs
11 December 2003. Dan writes: Spinning Jenny
8 December 2003. Victor writes: Rock Opera
4 December 2003. Matt writes: The Mirrored Spheres of Patagonia
1 December 2003. George writes: Charm
27 November 2003. James writes: On Boxing
24 November 2003. Jamie writes: El Matador del Amor; Or, the Man who Killed Love
20 November 2003. Dan writes: Rights Management
17 November 2003. Victor writes: Walking on Yellow
13 November 2003. Matt writes: Disintermediation
(And alas we lost Neil, who last wrote Cockfosters)

Also by this clown:

15 December 2003. Jamie writes: Seven Songs
24 November 2003. Jamie writes: El Matador del Amor; Or, the Man who Killed Love
13 October 2003. Jamie writes: The Persistence of Memory
22 September 2003. Jamie writes: The Email Eunuch
1 September 2003. Jamie writes: Credo
11 August 2003. Jamie writes: Brad and Jennifer and Me
21 July 2003. Jamie writes: Interruption
30 June 2003. Jamie writes: Do you remember the first time?
12 June 2003. Jamie writes: Forthcoming Attractions
19 May 2003. Jamie writes: Stupid Mistake
28 April 2003. Jamie writes: Hoping and Praying
7 April 2003. Jamie writes: Strangers on a Plane
17 March 2003. Jamie writes: Q&A
24 February 2003. Jamie writes: Altered States
3 February 2003. Jamie writes: How to say goodbye
13 January 2003. Jamie writes: In A League Of Their Own
23 December 2002. Jamie writes: What's in a name?
2 December 2002. Jamie writes: Lies, Damned Lies and Spastics
11 November 2002. Jamie writes: Memoirs of a Gaysian: A Preface
21 October 2002. Jamie writes: Love is blindness
30 September 2002. Jamie writes: Time for bed
9 September 2002. Jamie writes: Angry Exchanges Can Be Puzzling [10]
19 August 2002. Jamie writes: High Speed
29 July 2002. Jamie writes: Firkin Hell
8 July 2002. Jamie writes: Do you, er... haiku?
13 June 2002. Jamie writes: Unnatural Porn Thrillers
20 May 2002. Jamie writes: The Triumphant Return of the Septic Fiveskins
25 April 2002. Jamie writes: Meeting People is Easy
4 April 2002. Jamie writes: I Want I Want I Want
7 March 2002. Jamie writes: The Player of Games
11 February 2002. Jamie writes: Fat Man Walking
17 January 2002. Jamie writes: Passive/Aggressive
3 January 2002. Jamie writes: Love (classified)
29 November 2001. Jamie writes: A Lil' Nite Muzak
5 November 2001. Jamie writes: Natural born liar
11 October 2001. Jamie writes: All I need
17 September 2001. Jamie writes: Postcards From The Edge (of the pool)
23 August 2001. Jamie writes: Class act
30 July 2001. Jamie writes: Ritchie Neville is dead
5 July 2001. Jamie writes: A Letter from God
11 June 2001. Jamie writes: "If it's in French, it must be deep"
17 May 2001. Jamie writes: Reportage
23 April 2001. Jamie writes: Show me the Logos
29 March 2001. Jamie writes: Sobering Thoughts
8 March 2001. Jamie writes: Stupid, Stupid, Stupid
8 February 2001. Jamie writes: Spent
15 January 2001. Jamie writes: Full to the brim
21 December 2000. Jamie writes: fuck xmas
27 November 2000. Jamie writes: Eye Candy
2 November 2000. Jamie writes: World-wide-web?
9 October 2000. Jamie writes: Kids' stuff
14 September 2000. Jamie writes: Scatological Warfare
21 August 2000. Jamie writes: I can't stand up (for falling clowns)
10 July 2000. Jamie writes: The Etymology of Greatness

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