TRAVELLING FILLS me with dread. When a trip is looming - and loom they do these days, because I'm often invited to speak on the benefits of doing nothing at festivals and conferences abroad - I fret. I even panic, sometimes for days before the journey. I stomp around the house grumpily. I worry about clothing. Why did I say yes? Why can't I just stay at home? Where's my passport?
When the day comes, I remember how much I loathe flying. I seethe at the humiliation of
airport security checks. I come over all Prince Charles and fume at Richard Rogers and his ugly, sterile architecture. It's the horrific white blandness of airports that gets me. The way they are completely free of any personality, surprise, or interest of any sort. They are supremely boring places. If there is a delay, I will sink into a mild depression, unable to decide whether to drink beer at the fake pub or coffee at the fake coffee house. I feel lonely.
A few years ago, having been overcome, briefly, by an attack of middle-class ecological responsibility, I tried to avoid flying altogether. I was commissioned to write about Vienna by a magazine, and with great piety announced that I'd like to take the train instead of the plane, as I was opposed to plane travel. That was just as bad: this way I had a sleepless night in a couchette rather than a short plane flight.
In general, once I've arrived at my destination, my bad mood evaporates and I have a great time for a couple of days. Yet, when Robert Louis Stevenson asserted that, "To travel hopefully is better than to arrive," he clearly had never been stranded for three hours in the hope-free environment of Stansted.
This year I have been seeking advice on how to deal with my hatred of travel. And it seems that what we are talking about here is a question of mental attitude. My brother is a seasoned traveller. For his job, he flies all over the place to interview pop groups. "I enjoy the process," he says. "It's nice to be alone and to do nothing in airports."
And a friend in Australia actually treasures his long flights back to Blighty twice a year. "It's the one time I can get away from the phone and email," he says. …