The dark tower for Childe Roland

I just took a short holiday. But nothing that involved air travel or the removing of your shoes to expose the sock with the hole or that you do indeed have stinky feet. Nobody to ask if you packed your bag or whether you are carrying a pocketknife, scissors, or hatchet. No going through the detector and fearing the electronic sirens will sound because it is discovered you forgot to remove the band of matrimony in the land of marriage.

And when you finally board on the delayed flight, you realize you’ve forgotten your belt, your wife, and the chip-implanted family rodent. Then you are pushed and shoved down the fuselage like a dairy cow resplendent with full bags like udders and discover your seat is the one squeezed between Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Next it’s a fight for the shared armrest and a lot of squirming around for the dropped ear phones while the hot cloth, now cold, has soaked your jeans.

Finally settled in your stall, you are shown a video of what to do in case of a crash. A wonderful world of entertainment as you settle back into your seat that has a flotation device beneath as your mind imagines the plane in flames, the plastic oxygen mask shriveling in the heat like a sad flower of fate, the dead-weight passenger beside you immovable now as smoke fills up the cabin and a crocodile line of frantic and screaming people claw to have a go at the lovely fluorescent slide into cold and frigid waters.

And forget using the toilet. First you’ll have to climb over the Teton beside you, then navigate the aisle with bared-teeth toddlers, louche teenagers with angst, a big breasted woman with nowhere to move but up against you, and gas-filled adults disguising their anal orchestrations with aerodynamic stretches. And then when you finally reach the coffin-sized cubicle it will be occupied until the stewards begin to roll their rattling carts down the aisle with shouts of “Bring out your dead!”

Driven back to your seat by Gestapo-like stewards behind their armored cars, you slowly ingest a meal that sloshes in your stomach more than the last drop of plane fuel and try to fork the last fresh pea while your neighbors slurp and belch. As full as the overhead compartments, you decide on a doze just as the turbulence sets in, a baby begins to wail, someone a few rows down begins to retch into a bag, and the stewardess with the confetti-smile, Vegas-chip eyes, hair like a waxed car, body like a fine-tuned engine asks if you’d like a pillow the size of a toupee to drivel on.

Finally on the verge of sleep, you are awoken by the captain’s booming voice declaring the time and temperature at your destination that is still hours away. Hoping to alleviate your sudden tension, you plug into the movie that turns out to be United 93.

A book, you think, will save you. But it turns out that your over-weight bedfellow in the next seat has just read the thriller and is all lips and jowls and blubber and sweat and the inside of a jock’s duffle bag breath intent on telling you the spoiler.

After what seems like what a monkey must endure in a zoo after being born in the wild, the stewards, now referees, patrol the fuselage spotting for unlocked trays, reclined seats, and terrorists.

With heart in throat, ears in a big beating drum, feet like logs, some unknown tyke’s sticky fingers in your already messed up hair, the plane lands with a mere jolt while the two passengers beside you roll in fleshy waves, squashing you between their deep sighs.

Prodded awake by the urgent need to flee, passengers run amok, go AWOL from families, out-maneuver better than fighter jets, nudge and tussle like dueling beasts, out-smart the other rats in the Skinner cage, and dash to freedom like lemmings.

And although the flight is over, the real hell’s only just about to begin.

The Vacation as a Tourist.

That’s why I stayed at home for my holiday and had an adventure with Jan Morris’s The Matter of Wales, bottle of Portuguese wine, French bread, Italian sausage, Celtic music, and Irish linen.

I always think it’s better for the world to come to you than for you to crawl to the world on all fours.


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