Magazine article The Spectator

Instant Dislike

Magazine article The Spectator

Instant Dislike

Article excerpt

When the cabin crew capo spoke on the public address system, she expected nothing less than our undivided attention. We had to suspend our conversations 'right now' or 'right at this moment'. Her accent, I think, was Sydney suburbs. But this one passenger had the sheer gall to continue reading his Daily Mail right through the safety demonstration.

Well, she wasn't having that. She abruptly suspended the demonstration at the oxygen mask stage until the offending newspaper was lowered.

The man was so engrossed in his paper he was oblivious to everything going on around him. She leaned an elbow against the wall in a sort of sarcastic 'against our better judgment we allow passengers to read newspapers on the flight, and this is what happens' posture. The man was wearing red braces and perhaps unaware that any vestiges of pretence that budget airline passengers are fellow human beings had been lately cast aside. He was beaming with pleasure at what he was reading. With a stab of her eyes, she dispatched a junior cabin attendant (he looked about 12) to have a word.

I was wedged between an elderly couple.

We were in easyJet purgatory bound for Gatwick hell. After the demonstration I said to the man, 'Thank goodness, that's over.'

I said it as a conversational gambit and it worked. I got the life story.

He was a proper cockney. He'd been a stonemason since leaving school and he'd worked mainly on castles, stately homes and cathedrals. He'd worked for all the high-ups: millionaires, billionaires, royalty. On one occasion he was doing a job at Windsor Castle and he'd walked backwards into Princess Margaret, sending her 'base over apex'. They were both in a heap on the floor and he'd said, 'Gor blimey, girl, are you all right?' And then he'd seen who he was talking to and said, 'Excuse me, ma'am, speaking to you like that. I didn't see who you was.'

In the middle of every other sentence he had to pause to catch his breath. After pausing on one occasion, he panted, 'Bloody 'ell, fella, I'm on me way aht.' 'Emphysema?' I said. No, it wasn't that. His doctor had put him on a new tablet for the rheumatoid arthritis in his arms, and his body had reacted violently against it. His skin had 'peeled 'orf ' in its entirety and instead of ameliorating the rheumatoid arthritis, the new tablet had somehow caused it to spread fatally to his lungs. …

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