Things that Vex Keith Dunn… Nightmare at 20,000 Feet

Published: 27th September 2004

It might seem strange to some, but I have grown up within a stones throw (alright the stone might have been thrown by Superman, but I think you get the idea) of Gatwick airport, but I have never flown in a plane. Don't get me wrong it's not that I didn't want to or that I'm afraid to, its just the opportunity never arose.

It's not that I never went on holiday when I was a child, but my parents never left the British Isle. We went on holiday to places like Bognor Regis, Littlehampton, Camber Sands and at one point the Isle of Wight (a great adventure).

This is the thing, it was the late 60's and 70's and we never went abroad, I don't remember us being poor as such (colour telly, food on the table, new clothes, and all the presents I asked for at Christmas and birthdays). Now I admit that such things didn't way heavy on my young cotton wool like mind, so if we were poor I didn't realise it (cue Monty python sketch) "Poor, Poor! POOR!! We had to get up in the middle of the night, half an hour before we went to bed, wipe the road clean with our tongues, eat a shovel full of cold gravel for our breakfast, work thirty two hours down the mines and pay the owner for the privilege, go back home to our shoe box where our Father would brutally hack us to pieces before we had to get up on the previous morning!"

"Aye and you try telling that to the kids to day and they won't believe you!"

It could have been that my parents went abroad before I came along but as they are no longer with us I can't ask them.

Then the 80's came along and I no longer wanted to go on holiday with the family. But the 18-30 club holidays never appealed to me (I was very sad and spent all my time and money in sci-fi shops in London and Brighton).

Then came married life and responsibilities, time to act like an adult (stop laughing Tony).

So here I am rapidly approaching my Fortieth year and until recently I had never flown.

So here I am in the early hours of Monday morning (3AM!!) crowded into a taxi heading towards Stansted airport (yes I know I live in the area of Gatwick airport but until two weeks after we went Easyjet didn't fly to Rome from Gatwick, cleaver dick!)

It's a seven seated car and I'm crammed in to the back with seat with Jamie traveling through the darkened streets of London and I get to see my first sunrise (cue Sleeping in Light moment).

We get there at five (our flights are at six), deciding to check in our baggage and get some breakfast airside. Its about here that my first disturbance begins, to get airside we have to go through customs, at the passport check I'm asked to put my mobile phone in my hand luggage. So to save its battery I turn it off (my bad). As with the films I pull my metal bits and bobs on the tray, put the luggage on the conveyor belt and walk through the arch. As soon as my bag hits the X-ray machine all the lights bells and whistles start up and I'm firmly but politely escorted to one side (where a man was trying to smuggle 24 bottles of H.P. Brown sauce in his case). The bag is emptied, the phone and the shaver is brought to me to switch on, three books that I was going to read are pulled out and examined, a small boxes is pulled out and opened and the Dalek is reveled. The custom officer gives me a "look".

I have a sudden vision of what the next two hours of my life is going to be like "Would you like orange or lemon scented swarfeger, Mr. Dunn?"

The custom officer asks as she snaps on her rubber gloves.

Everything clenches (I've always believed that the rectal canal was designed by nature for things to come out of rather then go up no matter how much K.Y. jelly or selotape is used). Fortunately for me she just smiles slightly and puts the Dalek down, makes sure the bag is empty, allows me to repack the bag and I'm allowed to continue.

So we pile through to airside for a hearty breakfast (I did think at the time it was for the condemned man). I plumed for the full English breakfast as it's going to be the last one I'm going to eat for awhile (or at all if things go wrong). Now this is not a gripe or a moan but an observation, If its meant to be a English breakfast why dose it include Hash browns (I'm not sure they're English, I think they're American) I mean I can eat them till they come out of my ears, but they seem to be a recent thing (when I say recent I mean within the last fifteen years). It just used to be bacon, fried egg, sausage and a piece of fried bread, but the fried bread got elbowed for toast (which is probably healthier) and the hash browns appeared, just a thought.

After breakfast we stroll down to the departure gate and the first Dalek pictures much to the bemusement of a couple of Americans (who I did run into again when we foundered around the Vatican).

Then it was down across the tarmac to board the plane. It's a big plane and all in a day-glow orange colour, it's here I decide we are not going to crash; I refuse to die in some thing that's such a ghastly color. We board the plane, take our seats next to the wing, once the plane is full I take a look at our fellow passengers, no nuns, no token blacks (the seats are occupied by a range of ethnic groups), no sick children that are being rushed abroad for life saving transplants, no newly weds and finally no pregnant women. It's not that I've got any thing against these people it's just that I've seen far too many airport movies (as it was I refused the Tuna sandwiches they brought round just incase). And finally with my heart doing the Mexican Rumber we taxi down the runway and soar into the wide blue yonder. Between being asked whether I alright by Andrew, Jean and Karen I settle down to read my book, the Saturday before I scoured the London book shops for something new to read, at the Forbidden planet I picked up Strontium dog, 'Bad Timing'. It wasn't as absorbing as I had hoped as my subconsious kept whispering in my ear, things like "You do realise that you are over thirty thousand feet high in a metal tube full of volatile aviation fuel probably built by the lowest bidder".

Or "You saw what happened to the car on the making of the Blues Brothers, that's what's going to happen to you!"

A sudden thought grips me, we are sitting next to the wing, I make sure it's empty of figures and quickly check round the cabin for John Lithgow or William Shatner.

It's then that I come to Chapter Three of the book I had brought to read, to take my mind off the flight. Do you know what the chapter was called? "Chapter Three: Crash Landings!!!"

Fate has a sense of humour.

I put the book down and offer to play a game of cards with Jean and Andrew, besides a magnificent view of the Alps nothing much more happened, besides that I realise that as a boy I wanted to be an astronaut and I going about the highest and fastest I ever will be in my life. For more information on the trip see Adam's Travelogue.

The journey back was uneventful and in the dark, when we hit the coast we also hit the storms and lumpy air (the pilots words not mine, how could air be lumpy, who is going round putting lumps in my air, I want him caught and shot!).

It doesn't help that the flight was delayed due to a power cut (don't these people pay there bills for god sake!).

But now sitting here a couple of weeks later, the feelings of apprehension has faded and the excitement remains a distant memory and I would happily do it again

Until the next time I find something that strikes me as odd,