You’ll believe a man can fly!

Please by reassured that no lycra was harmed (or, indeed, worn) in the making of this post.

Recently, my working life has required me to take to the skies and visit foreign parts – and there will be at least one further such occasion later this month.  Given the failure of mother nature to provide me with my own pair of functional wings (or any other way to overcome the surly bonds of gravitational attraction), I am forced to use that modern mechanical contrivance: the aeroplane.

I am, at best, a nervous flyer.  I do realise that my life is far more likely to be brought to a premature conclusion on my journey to the airport than it is in the air, but being trapped in a packed, metal box high above the ground still makes me decidedly twitchy.  I have come to suspect that airlines – and/or their staff – share my anxiety about the whole process.  Faced with these fears, they have – as generations of fearful humans have before them – fallen back on observing a series of rituals.  These seem entirely arbitrary and vary somewhat from airline to airline, but are fiercely adhered to with all the fervent commitment of the religious fundamentalist.  I am particularly amused by the insistence by all UK-based airlines that in the event that we land on water, our life-jacket should be secured using a double-bow.  I feel this would be a fairly challenging call when relaxed and in a wide-open space, but will be well-nigh impossible when under significant stress in the very cramped confines of a modern aircraft.  I do wonder if it is an attempt to forestall panic, as the passengers will be far too busy trying to tie a double-bow to worry about the potential for their imminent, very damp demise.

I also wonder why, if it does not inflate, my yellow plastic oxygen mask is supplied with a limp, dangling plastic bag.  What purpose does it serve? Other than to extend the safety demonstration by an additional sentence.  Is the plastic bag, perhaps, lucky?  Or does it permit the passenger to indulge in a little auto-erotic asphyxiation as he (or she) plummets to their fiery doom?

As a nervous flyer, the first thing I do on reaching my seat – after my seat belt has been safely fastened (“like this”) – is to check out the safety card.  This identifies the location of the exits on the plane (in a way that the mime used by all cabin crews worldwide does not) and how they are operated – which I feel may become important information.  This card is free of words and instead relies on pictures and pictograms to convey its various messages.  Those are normally cryptic in the extreme – frankly I think I’d have more chance if the card were printed entirely in Chinese – but those used by FlyBe on my flight to Dublin last Thursday were in a league of their own.  So far as I could tell, in order to exit the Dash 8 aircraft one needs to do something with some nearby, geometrically patterned wallpaper – though I was unable to locate this wallpaper or determine what to do with it once found.  On the Embraer 190 which delivered me home, one pictogram showed the front and rear top surface of the plane burning merrily, but no nearby pictograms seemed in anyway to relate to this image.  Was this a serving suggestion?  Would Monsieur Mangetout recommend that the Embraer be eaten flambéed?  I am willing to make myself available to review flight safety cards (for my usual fee) in an attempt to make them a little more readily understood by a typical passenger (or failing that, by me).  I shall await the call from IATA.

I feel some of you may be feeling short-changed by the title, as the only flying covered so far has been the rather prosaic form which relies on a commercial airliner.  Fear not, this post has also been crafted to cover a more personal form of flying achieved by the author only yesterday.

The regular reader will know that I am aiming to represent TeamGB in Rio as a gymnast.  As part of the intensive training required, I am attempting to master the back lever.  This is challenging and a series of progressions are used to reach the objective.  This last week, a giant rubber-band was delivered to the good people at Brightside PT to assist in this process – and yesterday I had my first chance to try it out.  As well as helping me achieve the back lever, it also offers help towards a number of other ring-based activities which I hadn’t previously considered, but which now look to lie within the realms of possibility (or at least share a land-border with them).

With the aid of the rubber band, I was almost immediately able to manoeuvre myself into the correct position for the back-lever – albeit supported in the middle by the aforementioned band.  Cunningly – as you will see below – this band was chosen so that it can easily be removed by use of a green screen and so the user will appear to be performing unaided!

Is it a bird?  Is it a plane?

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

Of all the things I have done in my 48.5 years on this planet, this feels the most like flying – and it feels wonderful.  It is worth all the hard work and DOMS involved in preparing for the back lever, just for the amazing feeling of being airborne.  I’d highly recommend it to all readers – though they should perhaps seek medical advice (or check their life insurance is up-to-date) before attempting it (I, of course, take no responsibility for any distress – mental or physical – caused to readers from following any of the advice given in this blog).  Obviously, it will be even better without the support – but that is going to take a little more work.  I can’t believe how stony-faced the typical gymnast looks when performing such manoeuvres – after 24 hours it has still proved almost impossible to wipe the smile off my face.  I do worry that traditional gymnastics training either leaves one hopelessly jaded or is wasted on the young.  I shall endeavour to retain my child-like (in terms of mental age, at least) enthusiasm – even should I become a world famous gymnast (or failing that, a terrible lesson to you all).

Feeling my age

This is, of course, a very different proposition to acting my age.  I have largely avoided acting my age, and when I am called upon to portray an adult in a public setting then “acting” is very much the mot juste.  In this context, I am very much NOT a follower of Messrs Stanislavski and Strasberg – I go with the “just pretending” school.

One the whole, I do not feel my age – unless there has been a dreadful accounting error and I really am only 22 (or thereabouts).  Over the summer, a number of incidents illustrated the distance between my internal view of my age and actual chronology have been allowed to diverge over the years.  I have realised that when in the company of “proper” adults – generally, but not always, those of my age or greater – I feel rather like a child who has been allowed to stay up past his bedtime and as though I don’t really belong.    With those aged around 20 (±5), I feel as though I am among equals and act as though I am just one of the gang – which I presume they must find a little disconcerting (or just creepy), but probably endure as I’m quite good about buying the beer.  When availing myself of the cake at T H Roberts in Dolgellau, I felt far more at home with the very youthful staff then with the more stricken-in-years clientele – despite being much close in age to the latter.  I suspect there must be quite a backlog of updates to my self-image waiting to be installed in a cloud or buffer somewhere – and long may they remain there!

My pretence at continued youth is also being bolstered by my gymnastic exploits.  A little while ago I learned that one of the other clients of Brightside refers to me as “the gymnast” (as though this were my profession – which luckily, for my continued solvency, it is not) and today discovered that I am a major topic of conversation among their wider clientele (in my absence, fortunately).  It would appear that I am a marvel of the age (or at least, my age) – though to be honest, it is just practice and a bit of application on my part.  At the risk of frightening the horses (you will be seeing a lot of leg), here is a picture of me practising one of the progressions towards the elusive back lever.

Just hanging around

Just hanging around

The more perspicacious reader may have noted that my head seems very pink (née red).  In my defence, I would point out that I am upside-down and this is a hold – but I will admit that I do not recall seeing this same effect on real gymnasts.  Luckily, according to the Mortician’s Gazette, I see that some gymnastics is to be televised next week so I shall have an opportunity to check out the head-directed blood-flow of the participants.  I suppose it may be that hanging like a very distended bat is not a highly regarded activity in proper gymnastics…

So, why you may wonder should I be feeling my age?  Well, partly it comes down to hanging around with the young and recalling an incident from my adult past, only to discover it occurred before any of them were born.  This can really take the wind out of a chap’s sails.

However, the spark that ignited this post was going to see the film Pride a week or so back.  The film is excellent (if you haven’t seen it, you really should) and (mostly) set in 1984 – the year in which I took my A-levels and started university.  Yet, even to me it feels like a period piece and I was shocked to realise that I was basically an adult when it was set.  The vehicles, in particular, look to be from a bygone age.  It made my feel very old and to wonder if it is time for me to start buying Werther’s Originals, carpet slippers and a tartan rug.

NO!  I refuse to act my age!  I refuse to wear anything made of fleece!  I shall re-double my efforts to grow old disgracefully.  I feel in need of a new age-inappropriate hobby to take up (to add to the gymnastics).  What do people feel about seeing a man of 48½ on a skateboard?  (I promise to eschew the strangely sculpted facial hair and pony tail).  I’m also willing to entertain suggestions for other pursuits which would allow me to retain my juvenility – but, be warned, if I like the idea I may act upon it and you may later be exposed to photographic evidence thereof!

Conference time

In days of yore, Autumn was poetically associated with mist and mellow fruitfulness.  More recently, for those of us using the trains, it has also become associated with the menace of “leaves on the line” – the curious ability of a little vegetation discarded by some (careless – or perhaps, malicious) deciduous plants to bring the 21st century rail network to its knees (and, yes, I do realise that a network probably doesn’t have actual knees).  However, it also seems to have become associated with the conference – and not just the pear!

I found myself speaking at two such conferences last week, have another couple next week and yet another towards the end of the month.  You readers may mock (or merely ignore) my output but there is a greater call for my services than you might have imagined!  It’s not just a local audience – my victims have been drawn from across the whole of Europe, and even given positive feedback after being exposed to my “content” (proof – if proof were needed – of the reality of Stockholm Syndrome).

Actually, one of my recent gigs was held in the French Salon at Claridge’s – so a brief opportunity to discover how the other half live (I did feel dreadfully common).  It was nice – but if I needed somewhere to stay for the night, give me a student room at a Cambridge College or a budget hotel chain every time and I’ll spend the money I’ve saved on something which would give me more enjoyment.

However, it is not just me attending conferences – our political masters (and would-be masters) are at it as well.  In the past, these conferences tended to be held in remote seaside locations (presumably using similar logic to the siting of nuclear power stations), but now they infest our inland conurbations without a second thought.

Of late, some of our politicians have taken to speaking without notes – and being lauded for this as though the achievement were comparable to that of a talking dog.  In all my years of public speaking, I have only once used notes – and that was only because the conference organiser insisted on it – and even then I ad-libbed extensively.  It would seem that poor old Ed Miliband came a little unstuck with this approach and forgot one of the key strands of his speech.  I know how easy it is when talking off the top of your head to lose track of your key messages, though I’ve found this can (usually) be fixed by introducing a strong narrative element to your talk.  Still, missing possibly the most important element of your talk does indicate very poor short-term memory, a tendency to get carried away by the sound of your own voice or too many messages for a single speech (to all of which I would have to plead guilty in my own less than illustrious past).  Loath as I am to admit it, less can often by more when haranguing a crowd.

Both Labour and now the Tories seem keen to convince us that, if elected, they will spend more money on the NHS.  Now, I know I dropped biology in the 3rd form and so am no expert – but I’m pretty sure that the primary objective of the NHS is to heal the sick, not to spend money.  Money may enable it to achieve its objectives, but I think I’d rather see some promises couched in terms of health-based outcomes rather than spending ones.  One could easily increase NHS spending by purchasing a Ferrari for every senior NHS manager, but whilst this may offer a lifeline to the Italian economy (and please at least some of the NHS management) I would be sceptical that it would do much for waiting lists, antibiotic resistance or the nation’s health.  I suspect spending more money is just easier than actually tackling any of the real issues which affect the NHS which I am quite certain (as it is a large organisation established by and involving human beings) wastes vast quantities of money (if, by chance, it doesn’t then it truly is unique and should be extended to cover a far wider range of activities – it would certainly be able to teach “the man” a thing or two!).

In the last couple of days, the Tories have continued to live by the dictum that if you thought the previous Home Secretary was reactionary then just wait.  It would seem that in the pursuit of soi-disant extremists my rights and liberties as a citizen are to be still further eroded.  I did wonder if this was, in fact, nothing to do with fears about the more frothingly insane members of Islam (and the young and impressionable that they have influenced) and is in fact a package of measures targeted at UKIP.  Then again, given some of the views coming from her own party, Ms May may find she has scored something of an own goal.

Still, at least someone has finally had the courage to take a stand against the evils of human rights: as a non-human myself, I feel that far too much is being done to molly-coddle the fleshy pink and/or brown bipeds that infest this planet.  Time they realised that they are allowed to exist (if at all) at the sufferance of their political masters (and the small number of wealthy individuals and corporations that are their masters, in turn).  Rights should only exist where they can be taken and held by force – whether that be physical or fiscal in nature – which has surely been the message that the world’s religions and philosophers have been banging on about for millennia.  I’m sure none of us want to live in a world where the rich and powerful might be brought to account should they chance to murder a citizen (or several) on a whim.