Magazine article The Spectator

LIFE - Low Life

Magazine article The Spectator

LIFE - Low Life

Article excerpt

On the Thursday night, my grandson had another asthma attack. Because my boy had had a few drinks before going to bed, granddad had to get up and drive everybody to the hospital. That night I had an hour's sleep.

On the Friday night I had no sleep at all.

Check-in time for my flight to Lisbon was 4.30 in the morning, and it wasn't worth renting a hotel room at Heathrow, so I sat in the Costa coffee lounge from 10.30 p. m. and read a biography of the American short-story writer Raymond Carver. At around 3 a. m. , just as Carver's lung cancer was diagnosed, the genial barista made his way over to my table and with practised politeness asked me to please take my feet off the seats.

At 4.30 I went downstairs to the check-in desk and found myself at the back of a long, stationary queue. Everybody checking in seemed to have a problem. When I eventually presented my passport to the check-in woman, Carver was dead and buried and the plane was due to take off.

Far from being upgraded to business class and offered a bed, as I'd hoped, I was not even in economy class. My ticket, they told me at the departure gate, was a stand-by ticket. I would be fortunate indeed to get on as the plane was full, and would I please stand aside, sir, to let these other passengers with valid tickets pass through. Just before the gate closed, however, a spare seat showed on the monitor and I was allowed to go forward.

I was so wired by anxiety and artificial airport lighting and coffee, I couldn't sleep on the Lisbon flight. I promised myself I would gorge on sleep during the next one, from Lisbon to Salvador in Brazil, if I got on, which I did.

An economy seat was free next to what must have been one of the fattest women in Brazil. It took two hostesses to strap her to the chair with a seat-belt extension strap.

When I pointed out to them the folds of flesh overflowing the armrest and colonising my own pitifully small economy space allowance, they shrugged. She had a radiant smile, this big woman, and hated to be a nuisance, and I regretted my cavil. After dinner she slept peacefully, sometimes with her head resting on my shoulder. I slept not at all.

In Salvador, Brazil, on Saturday afternoon, I got off the plane feeling as stiff and misshapen as last year's artificial Christmas tree brought out of its crushed box. …

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