Tag Archives: language

Economy Comfort

I’ve had the unfortunate fortune to spend a lot of time on planes recently. I’m fortunate because they took me somewhere I love being, if only it didn’t take so damn long to get there.

Long haul flights are bearable – just – so long as we abide by certain rules. Don’t talk to me, unless offering a hot towel, food and drink or, in an emergency, offering to assist me in gouging out the eyes of the moron who’s stopped beside me to get at his hand luggage. There are no exceptions to the second rule: don’t touch me. Never keen on human contact, all I want on a long plane journey is to be left alone to hunker down with the seatback TV, a copy of the New Yorker and the sound of my sanity folding itself up and slipping into the overhead bins at around hour eight.

On this trip, however, nobody had read the factsheet. Boarded early at Amsterdam and settled into my seat (on the aisle of the middle four), the Japanese couple with the middle allocation arrived. They snuck up from behind so I didn’t see them coming but still, there was no attempt to get my attention or generally indicate their presence before the woman started literally climbing across me to get to her seat.

“Woah, hang on, let me get out, no, stop, oh God that’s your arse in my face, please, just wait,” I said, but as I was to be constantly reminded over the next fortnight, my Japanese is abysmal and English isn’t that commonly spoken by the natives. At least that’s my hope, since I muttered “for fuck’s sake” as I finally vacated my seat and let her husband through. Later in the flight, the woman vaulted the person sitting in the other aisle seat on her return from the loo.

All right, I thought, maybe just this one woman is nuts, or too shy to attempt communication with horrible Westerners. Until a couple of hours later when I saw a middle-aged European woman stand on the armrests to get past a man sitting in an aisle seat. Did she know him? I don’t know. I hope so. He was definitely awake though, and appeared to be neither disabled nor halfwitted and thus, I assume, able to stand the fuck up.

Is this a thing now? Are people now too lazy to stand up for others, or has it suddenly become acceptable to clamber over one another? Is it a new sexual fetish I missed while reading the New Yorker rather than Cosmo? Or has society descended to the point where we can’t be arsed to expend a couple of seconds to say “excuse me”?

On the return leg, the airline upgraded my schlubby cheap seat to ‘Economy Comfort’, right at the front of the cabin. Nice. I was slightly less happy to see a woman with a baby across the aisle. But, you know, families have to fly as well, and I’d have headphones for when it started screaming.

Except screaming wasn’t the problem. I don’t know this baby’s age; as is going to become very clear, I’m not the maternal type. Whatever the age is where they’re still breastfeeding and able to toddle about. And mum saw absolutely no problem with letting baby wander around the plane. Including into the row where I was sitting. She helped it walk over to the window. Now, there’s improved legroom in Economy Comfort, but not that fucking much. Then she left it to explore its surroundings, which included my TV screen and legs.

Increasing horror doubtless apparent all over my face, mum says “Oh, is he bothering you?”. Yes. Yes, he’s bothering me, smearing his breastmilk-and-sputum coated fingers across everything in sight. Rather than say this, I more politically highlighted the face mask I was wearing to shield my increasing attempts to cough up a lung (when we all start to die in a few weeks of a hybrid Asian-European flu, I apologise now as patient zero) and said something about how it’d be better if the fruit of her womb wasn’t in my immediate spluttering zone.

This was all while still at the gate. During take off, the kid sat on her lap and she pointed at things out the window, finger hovering inches from my nose. When the seatbelt signs were off, the baby went free range again and nearly got run over by the drinks trolley appearing from behind the business class curtain. (At one point he went running into business class, with mum aware but unconcerned. Cabin crew had to ask her not to let this happen again.) I myself had to dislodge the baby’s fingers from an abandoned dinner tray, which it was about to pull down on itself, and swiftly remove from my own table a bottle of water and tumbler of (medicinal) brandy when the kid got curious again. Maybe I should have left it to its own devices and had a guilt-free conversation with a steward along the lines of: “Please may I have another large glass of free booze, as my last is soaking into this child”.

Personal space. It shouldn’t be hard. Even on planes, where several hundred bodies are densely packed together, we all have delineated areas. Respect mine and I won’t have to cause an international incident. You have been warned.

To Europe

To Europe. Family there, in Spain. Horrors await.

Andorra first, because it’s there. Gatwick to Barcelona to Andorra. Piece of piss.

Curious place. Every other shop calls itself a ‘bazaar’, selling everything from watches to pet food to knives I stare at sorrowfully knowing I could never get them past airport security, even at somewhere remote and terrifying, like Luton. Its capital, smaller than your average provincial town with police vans lined up on its main thoroughfare every weeknight, is loomed over by a huge and unexplained white line on one of the enormous mountains surrounding it. Looks like a zip. Unzip to be fucked by the freshly released hatreds of France and Spain pent up over the centuries, in the form of a colossal toreador wielding a sharpened baguette, wearing a Messi shirt and refusing to work more than 35 hours a week.

Back to Barcelona. Europe’s Sydney; look at meeeee, I am so colourful and fun and if you don’t love me there’s something unforgivably black in your heart. I prefer Madrid, austere and unloving as a spinster aunt. Please, do not be the 50th person to say the name Gaudi at me.

Barcelona is, pickpocketers notwithstanding, successfully tolerated. Escaping south to one of the Costas that English people retire to in their fevered search for skin cancer, which becomes a greater farce by the month as global temperatures soar and Pacific nations clamour to become the new Atlantis. To ‘Sants’, Barcelona’s very own Euston, moulding and haphazard. A train? No train. Bugger.

Thankfully there’s an excellent Frenchman with me who can get by in the all-tongues tongue of eastern Iberia. No train? No train: strike.

It’s been a few weeks since I needed to patiently explain to some simpleton why London’s tube drivers are quite right to embark on industrial action, in the face of demands for them to sever all ties with their families so they can ferry the shitfaced likes of me home in the small hours and clean up the sick of those unable to remain in their cups. But put me in Europe, that incomprehensible land of brown Caucasians and riot police firing water at families fleeing war, and striking train drivers become the embodiment of my so-far-in-check id which thinks wind turbines ruin a good view, inheritance tax is a crime and the best way to stop this ‘swarm’ of refugees is to dress up in red and black and hunt them on horseback with many, many beagles.

Relax – replacement train an hour later; ticket still valid. Different route. Think I heard Zaragoza, Gibraltar, Toulouse, Lime Street?

Need another train from Valencia – what of the strike there? Shrugs of the type only Europeans can get away with. Bonus info: strike temporarily suspended for three specific hours of the afternoon, because it’s siesta time, and why strike when no-one wants a train anyway? Get through Valencia before 6pm or doom yourself to wander round and round that city’s monstrous orbital road in search of the bus station where all the crack fiends go.

Now alone, silently begging a heroic, picket-breaking train driver to shovel that coal a little faster. Surrounded by people sickened that I type in English, not Catalenian, Catalunian, Catalanian, whatever the fuck it is they cling to here in the face of all progress, like the Welsh. The vaguely useful map on a nearby screen has been replaced by some diabolical Spanish soap opera with no sound. Start to make up plausible dialogue to go with it. “Don’t blame yourself. It was only a guinea pig. I’ll clean the defibrillator.”

The brief appearance of an information screen telling me it is 14:16, this train is travelling at 166km/h and the next stop is Benicassim. Think that’s Morocco. If I one day make it to Valencia I have an unappealing combination of local buses ahead of me, assuming at the train station I’m met by a ruddy-faced shop-steward solemnly shaking his head. I imagine being ushered gently out into the street to be slammed into by a demonic taxi driver, my corpse ferried to its final destination in return for all the Monopoly money in my wallet and the three quid left on my Oyster card.

Hope the strike is for something worthwhile. Can’t check, because of the Englishman’s fear of ‘roaming charges’. It’s the word, ‘roaming’. Thought that was something *they* did, not us; we crusade and enslave, leaving the roaming to lunatics with names ending with ‘the Great’ and ‘the Hun’.

The countryside offers no clues as to where I am or am going. Desiccated trees, parched fields and an occasional startled farmhand. Can see the sea, but it doesn’t even have the decency to be the Atlantic, let alone the Channel. The Mediterranean, the 21st century Styx. If that’s not a dolphin or a seal, it can only be…

A woman over the tannoy. Hear the word ‘coffee’ but I’m already desperate for a piss and too afraid to go lest my stop flies by as I micturate. Must rely on my eyes alone; the only word I can speak or understand in this silly language invariably ends with a nasty liquid, golden and fizzy, in a glass far too small.

Tired, lost and distressingly sober. Europe is not a place for a lone Englishman. I would hate me if I were them. Perhaps the strike is aimed at the likes of me, coming over here, taking their train tickets.

Didn’t imagine my end lost and alone in a foreign land, unless south London counts, and it does. If I make it I vow to found a pan-European train union, swallow every smaller union and collapse the entire syndicate in a maelstrom of industrial-scale corruption, protection rackets, prostitution rings and out of date Rich Tea.

We are sorry to announce that the…11…hundred…hours…train to…Murcia…has been cancelled. Passengers are advised to use…local bus services…where possible. Tickets will be valid on all…participating…local bus routes. We are sorry for any inconvenience caused and wish you a buen fucking dia.

Buzz taught me how to swear

When I was about five years old, I had a pal who was a year and two days older than me. Stuart Burrows his name was, or Buzz to his mates, and he taught me the ways of the world.

Please don’t get the impression that we’d sit in fields and show each other our genitals; that didn’t come until much later. No, Buzz enlightened me in ways I remain truly grateful to him for, wherever he is right now, probably in some Berkshire shed with his hands up a cow.

Buzz taught me how to swear.

I got in all manner of trouble when I was younger for cursing like a fisherman with his foot caught in a wicker basket. Long before I knew what fucking was I describing every single object on God’s earth with that adjective, and the type of words that would spring from my cherubic face would have Mr and Mrs Burrows wincing as they took me back to Chapel Lane and my soon-to-be-enraged parents.

The best thing was it made me feel like an adult. They all swore and then told us not to. Fuck that, I’m a big boy and if I want to tell Mrs Lees to piss off because I haven’t yet learnt how to filter it out in dangerous situations I’ll bloody well do so. If I remember rightly I told her to ‘piss off please’, which with hindsight is an even funnier thing to say to a primary school teacher.

But I did eventually learn to filter it, after a great many goes at a hundred lines and countless furious phone calls to my exasperated mother. Swearing became something I did in genuine rage, for comic effect or simply lazily when everyone else around me was bandying around a bollocks or two. I do the same today, because I’m a wanker like that.

All the while it was very obvious that these are just words. They can certainly hurt; a well-aimed ‘fuck you’ can wound like a blade and must never, ever be used if you don’t mean it. But they’re invariably funny, or just silly.

What they are not, at all, and never have been, is offensive.

If you are offended by a selection of letters of the alphabet written or spoken in a specific order, you must be one of those people waiting for something to take offence at. You know, like the religious, or parents, or any form of self-appointed moral guardian who probably gets up to a lot worse than the rest of us ever would or could when nobody’s about. Feel free to get on your high horse sir; it’ll make it easier for us all to see those ladies’ panties you guilty snuck on this morning.

People who take offense at swearing claim that ‘there’s no need for it’. Well I wholeheartedly disagree my good fellow; sometimes there’s a clear and definite need for a cheeky cunt and when I’m presented with someone moaning about the use of just plain words I’m almost certainly on the verge of letting one loose. They also say that it’s not funny. Clearly they’ve not seen The Thick of It.

They say that if you can’t get across your point without swearing you suffer from a paucity of both language and imagination. Oh I can perfectly well get across my point without swearing old boy, I simply choose to call a shit a shit to see your outraged face turn marginally redder, arming you with the offence you so desperately crave.

And who is the biggest prude of them all in this regard? Who hates swearing more than Tom hates Jerry? Tim Berners fucking Lee, that’s who, or whoever we must blame for the creation of that at which you now stare. This website has had to change its name because it has been causing me more problems than I can be bothered to deal with, solely by virtue of having four specific letters in a row in its URL. Christ alone knows how Scunthorpe United manage their online presence.

But I am not the type of man to position myself at the vanguard of a quest to make swearing commonly accepted across the internet. For one thing, I don’t care anywhere near enough. That’s the only thing.

Swearing is a glorious form of expression that is not used too much, because they’re just words, and not used too little because those of us filling that swear jar up with 10p coins are providing the world with a service in entertainment, pointless offence, and just showing the rest how to be a fucking adult about life.

And if you don’t like it you can, well, you know.