Before this summer, when was I last on a plane? 2018 – a disastrous trip to Amsterdam for a friend’s 60th, when I managed to be so ill I barely left the extremely underwhelming hotel room. And before that…can’t remember. We’re campers, so we tend to do a road trip – and don’t get me wrong, I love a road trip.
Back in the day, though, I got a massive thrill from those departure boards. Yes, I was on my way to Dublin, but look – I could be going to Bangkok, or New York, or Melbourne, or Cairo, or, well, anywhere, really. Going There from Here – wow!
I love road signs, too. Not all of them, obviously, but in the south of Spain there’s one that says Seville, Granada, Cordoba – and what could be more redolent of southern Spain? You can smell the oranges on it. It’s a far cry from Manchester, Leeds, Wakefield. Mind you, I’ve just been up to Liverpool and I did enjoy the big signs saying THE NORTH-WEST. And I love the clarity of the MI: THE NORTH. THE SOUTH.
What I love here is the possibility. The thought that you could go anywhere. The thought that you could just drive north and north and north, past Yorkshire, past Northumberland, into Scotland, nothing stopping you but the North Sea. And in airports, even the sea doesn’t stop you. You could literally step out of a plane into a different hemisphere, a different continent, a place where you can’t even read the street signs, a city where the streets smell of heat and sesame oil, a city where everyone’s wearing fur-lined boots, a city that has no idea who you are or where you come from.
I missed all that. And I’d become afraid of going too far from home. And then, this summer, we flew to Italy. It was a difficult decision – flying is ecologically unsound, airports are tricky places – and then a stressful one, as we watched footage of people stranded in airports for days on end waiting for flights that had been cancelled and re-cancelled. We’d decided to fly because of the narrow windows between my treatments, and we didn’t want to have swapped days on the road and nights in provincial French hotels for hours sitting on the floor in a crowded airport.
In the end, it was fine. The flights ran smoothly, Italy was…Italy!…you know, amazing food, wonderful wine, fantastic architecture, the whole package – and the departure boards were still there, still magical.