Captivating Economy

26 November 2010

The airline allowed only a single piece of hand luggage on the plane.

“Let me help you with that” said the flight attendant.

It had been a long day at the airport and now an hour’s delay was announced. The cabin was full and I was penned in at the window. My personal items, I realized, were all in that one piece of hand luggage: helpless captives locked up, tantalizingly, over my head.

A long time later I was still trying to make myself comfortable when I noticed the netted pouch in the seat-backs were missing. The airline was right to remove them. I would have been tearing at mine with my teeth by now, I am convinced of it.

They had dismantled sources of comfort in anticipation of just such ungrateful lunacy. Reaching in to my coat pocket, I found a pencil stub and small notebook but was promptly advised that, although we were delayed from take-off, I was not allowed to use my tray-table as a desk to scribble about my increasing anxiety. I humphed indignantly,  mumbling that these were conditions of prisoners-of-old! As the attendant turned, I glanced sideways at the window, wishing to scratch out the slow, passing minutes. Instead, somewhat sullenly, I used my knees as a table: words staggered across the tiny page. Occasionally an unlucky few fell off the far edge.

Then, out of the blue, a little theatre. Round eyes of bored attendants who trussed themselves up and tugged at their (orange) props. A ghostly mime of the damned: the safety demonstration played out like a surrealist’s Hallowe’en play.

To distract me from my noticeable agitation, my father handed me his book to read while continuing to attended to a crossword. For the last half hour, he had been throwing out random nouns in expectation that obedient synonyms would come flying back to nest in their small white boxes. He hadn’t looked up at all. The book’s title was Last Chance To See.  It was all about highly endangered animals with suggestions for particular moments at which each creature might have lost the plot.

Finally the plane began to move. Backwards.

“I hope he’s better at reversing than you are,” I remarked.

All my accidents happen when I reverse” sighed my father, without shifting his eyes in case any letter should escape its pen.

Forwards now and we taxied for so long that I began to consider whether, like the kakapo parrot I was reading about, this plane had in fact forgotten how to fly.

kakapo parrot

What wings? (a kakapo parrot speaks)


Mother & Filed

6 July 2010

Unique moments of parent-child exchange of looks must include: birth of the child (when the latter has calmed down sufficiently to return the gaze), witholding of car keys (from either side), King Lear disowning Cordelia, society families called to discuss their purse strings in court.

For society hostess, Lady Astor’s son, Anthony D. Marshall it was too late for any media types to try to describe any exchanging looks. Lady Astor died aged 105 in squalor and filth at the hands of her son, whom she had once described as “boring”. In 2009 he was accused of stealing millions of dollars from her through theft, forgery and trickery. His own son (the whistle-blower in this intriguing episode) did not attend court to receive any expression his father might bestow upon him. Alienated from both his mother and son, 85 year old Marshall read C19th French literature and sulked in the corridors of the Manhattan courthouse while he awaited the jury’s verdict (guilty).

And now it is the turn of Madame Bettencourt, octogenarian heiress to the L’Oreal fortune (currently she is worth 22-23 billion dollars) to swap looks with her daughter, who has brought her private life and her finances in to court and the newspapers. Francois Bettencourt-Meyers wants to stop the madness of her mother giving huge sums of money and assets to her ‘close friend’, Francois-Marie Banier. Mother wants her “cold child” to mind her own business and leave her alone to do as she will with her society-loving charmer.

While the legal wheels gather their own speed: Sarkozy twitches; lawyers stroke their wallets; the butler holds his spying breath. And Francoise tells her mother through the national press that she never stopped loving her.

Perhaps rich people do not really look into each other’s eyes. If only Madame & Mademoiselle had exchanged glances more often than they did, before the gregarious Banier stepped in to block their view.

Francois-Marie Banier & his friend Salvador Dali

A young Francois-Marie Banier with another of his friends, Salvador Dali