Fasten your seatbelt while seated

Thoughts while looking at Mark Tennant's 'Sin in the Suburbs'

Hi, i’m Jim. And this is…Well, i’ll let you guess. No idea? Really? It’s my wife Jody. She looks pretty, doesn’t she? And young.

I was too. 1956 it was, i had survived my first plane crash. At Jody’s left that’s the old Chevy, btw. Got a golden War Hero medal in 55 - sold it and bought the Chevy with it. You can’t drive a medal, can you? Well then. Man, did i like that car.

I like birds too: swallows, coal tits, pelicans: you name it and, as long as it flies, i like them. I even like pigeons, can you imagine? Nobody likes pigeons, but i do. Just because they fly. It’s crazy, i know. But that’s how it is: i simply cannot dislike anything that is flying by. One summer evening, at dusk, i started crying when a bat was passing. Just a bat, nothing more. Black claws, black wings, ugly face. Started crying. Just because it was able to fly. And i wasn’t. When i was a kid my role model was Batman. Or Robin. Difficult choice. Both could fly. Right, Batman drove the Batmobile. Sorry, Robin.

Okay, let’s admit right from the start: i like airplanes. That’s because of the flying. I guess i want to be a bird. I might have been an eagle in my former life. Even a coal tit might do too. As long as it flies you won’t hear me. I’d be perfectly happy. I’d sit on a branch of a tree, having a look around. See the sun rise. Rubbing my feathers with my little cheeks. Fly a mile, then sit down on a roof. Just because that’s what i want at that specific moment: sit down on that roof. I’d feel free. And no, it has nothing to do with Jody. Jody’s fine. Maybe, when i’ll be a coal tit, she’ll be a swallow. There’s nothing wrong with that. We still would be able to meet. Maybe not in the church, but on top of it.

But, alas, i’m not a bird yet. So most of my time i spend in airplanes. It’s part of my job. I’m Sustainability Officer for the British Government. Which means i have to fly to sustainability congresses allover the world. Yes, busy busy busy. It’s an important job: poles are melting. Glaciers are melting. Ice is melting. Everything is melting. If anything is not melting yet, it will soon. Except for the birds. They don’t melt. They keep their heads cool. They have too. They are the future. Birds and sustainability officers: we are united. We fly everywhere, to save the world.

I was in a Ryanair aircraft yesterday. I like Ryanair. I really do. One flies almost for nothing. Like birds. It makes sustainability congresses cheaper. Good. Actually Ryanair comes as close to birds as is economically possible. That’s why i like Ryanair. Malcolm O’Leary is my hero. He’s Batman. No: he’s Batman and Robin combined. Why? Because he invented Ryanair. If i was a girl, or gay, i would write a letter to Malcolm. A love letter. With marriage proposal. Because i’m convinced the most unbelievable step a girl can undertake in her life, is marry Malcolm O’Leary. Breed his kids: small O’Learys. Raise them, while Malcolm is watching over the costs. If you don’t watch the costs every day – no, wait: every minute -, then things run out of hand. Hopelessly. Then everything is lost, everything. You can’t let costs run out of hand. Everybody knows. So, do you think Malcolm O’Leary can sleep at night? With all these planes and employees up in the air? You naive moron. Of course he can’t. At night it’s double important to watch the costs; there are sneaky bastards everywhere.
     The truth is: if Malcolm would be asleep things would be lost forever. Bye bye low cost flying. Sustainability congresses would have to shut their doors. If sustainability congresses have to shut their doors the planet is lost.

Now yesterday the lady sitting next to me in the Ryanair aircraft was complaining. Complaining! “You ungrateful twart,” i was thinking, - so i asked: “What’s the matter with you, old lady?” I don’t think she understood me well though, she might have been Russian, or Uzbek for God’s sake.
     So this Uzbek lady next to me started pointing at the Drawings. If you’ve ever been in a Ryanair aircraft i bet you know them: those funny little drawings attached to the seat in front of you, at eye level, in a way you cannot but look at them from the moment the plane takes off until it touches down. I bet you too have been staring at them while listening to your fav music. You might even have been thinking: those drawings must be damn important, otherwise they wouldn’t be exposed in such an explicit way. You’re right. They are. Otherwise Malcolm O’Leary wouldn’t have put them there, huh?

But you don’t understand them, you consider them quite cryptic, and you’re wondering why that is. Well, the obvious answer is: because you’re not half as intelligent as Malcolm O’Leary. The Uzbek lady was neither (which is completely understandable: nobody is): she was clearly trying to figure out what they meant, for a full hour… She was trying to decipher them, unveil their secret. At the end she started crying. She should have known better. Nobody should try to be even half as intelligent as Malcolm O’Leary. If you set goals for yourself, be realistic.

Let me tell you this right from the start: apart from Malcolm O’Leary, the only people who are able to grasp the full meaning of these pictures, are the ones who survived a plane crash. Okay… it’s difficult to explain why that is, so for now: just accept it. (Simply said, when you’re in an air crash there’s that certain point… That point where one reaches complete enlightenment. At that specific moment chances are considerable you’re staring at those drawings. Suddenly you understand them. You can’t even believe you didn’t earlier. They’re so clear, so functional. Only a mastermind could have invented them.)

So, if you want to unveil the profound secrets hidden behind those drawings and you’re not part of Malcolm O’Leary’s Inner Circle (and let’s be reasonable: you’re not), then you’ll have to listen to air crash survivors.

Well, i have survived a plane crash. Correction: i have survived 6 crashes. Believe me, when i enter an aircraft it would be better not to follow me, because chances are huge you’ll be heading for a crash. Statistically speaking.I too am a bit nervous when i go up those stairs. The moment i feel some faint turbulence, i think: “Bugger. Again.” Sometimes i give my neighbour a nudge: “I’m afraid we’re crashing again.” No, i’m not a very pleasant person to sit next to, on a plane.

Btw, there’s something else i have to tell you. I was searching for the right moment to spit it out, and maybe now that moment has come. It’s this: most people participating in a crash suddenly start behaving in a very irrational way. Can you believe this? Just when one should stay cool, like in: extremely cool, everybody starts acting like a fool. It’s something all crashes seem to have in common. “How come?” i’ve always been wondering. There’s no logical reason for this. It’s rather silly. Darwin would have said: it’s plain stupid, and it has no evolutionary advantage at all when one starts swaying his arms the moment pressure falls. It has no influence on your chances to survive whatsoever. So, cool down i’d say. Stop acting like a nutcase. Is that the way you want to go: howling like a bunch of crazy kittens? I don’t think so. So, now i’ve said it. I hope next time people stop annoying me while we’re crashing. Just try to enjoy, and remember: you can’t do anything about it.

Let me give you two examples, of two very different styles of crashes i was in. It’ll make things clearer. They will make you understand it’s infinitely more pleasurable, if not functional, to keep heads cool.

Seoul 1952. Korean War. We get a blast in the rightwing of our Japanese two-seater. Half of it is almost falling off and we’re losing height. Apart from that, our tank is almost empty. So, things aren’t looking too great. Moreover, three extra squadrons of North Korean bombers, ten each, approaching ahead of us, firing. I look to my left. I can’t believe my eyes: right at that very moment, when we need cool heads and deep insight, my co-pilot, called Hemingway, panicking all over: i won’t go into detail, but of course i slap him in the face, i force him to change seats and hold the joystick. “Where are you going? Don’t leave me here!” he shouts, shivering, agony in his eyes. So, lighting a cigarette i sell him another slap, and tell him i’m going to mend the wing.

Fortunately we had some tape with us. I climb out of the window. First thing i see is a big North Korean smile, bent over a machine-gun: tak-tak-tak-tak-tak. He’s right in front of me, so i have to act quick. I move left, right, left, right, left again (there are 5 bullets), very swiftly, like Keith Carradine in that Kung Fu film. Maybe even faster. The last bullet goes right through my left leg though. Bugger. I put out my cigarette.“You Kim Jong-un bastard!” i shout, waving my fist. “You crappy rectangular face!” (Apart from Uzbeks i’ve got a profound aversion for North Koreans too, especially when they’ve taken place in sort of a Chinese Spitfire and are trying to blow my head off.) I crawl over the wing, not without throwing a glance at our cockpit though. Hem has thumbs up. He’s sweating. He doesn’t want to die. He has never been that close to a Nobel Prize, please don’t let him die. That’s what he’s thinking. I can see it in his eyes. I put my thumb, that’s red allover because of the blood pouring out of my leg, up too, just to calm him down. After all, even if he would only have written his first two novels he would have deserved that Prize. Or at least a Booker Life Achievement Award.

That’s what i’m pondering when i reach the middle of the wing. Fortunately the other half hasn’t fallen off yet. My ears hurt. Pressure is falling. I take some chewing gum (i always have it with me; and i warmly recommend it to all of you out there: nothing beats Stimorol when crashing). I put it in my mouth. A film of my life passes before my eyes. I’m kissing Sandra. My dad in that stupid orange Volvo. Ben who still owes me five buck. Then i take the tape, pull at the half wing, do the trick. It only works half though, so i go into my pocket, there’s, to my great relief, the Pattex! I push the pieces together with what rests of my power, wait for 30 seconds, and hey, no North Korean will blow these ones apart.

Right. We survived. Hem landed on a Kindergarten in the Seoul suburbs, btw. Fortunately the kids were having their Chocomel in Block C. We landed on Block B.

Other example. We’ve embarked in Ryanair flight FR2145 destination Rome. 2016.“A crash? Three years ago, Rome? Why, i didn’t read anything about this in the paper… You liar!” i hear you shout. Well you naive zombie. As if Mister Malcolm O’Leary will call the press every time one of his aircrafts crashes down. Come on. Don’t be such a moron. How old are you, twelve? Of course these things are covered up immediately. Hey, a lot of money is involved. 3 billion dollar. More. But okay, you had a brother on that flight, and you’re stubborn. You drive to the airport, “My brother, he was on flight FR2145, where is he?” you ask to the lady behind the desk, who normally would have been on the flight herself if she wouldn’t have been recovering from that esthaetical surgery –just some lifting of her skin beneath the eyes. They’ve given her a temporary desk job, on the ground. “Which flight did you say?” “FR2145, destination Rome.” “Hm. You must be mistaken. There never has been such a flight. And what was the name of your brother?” “Bill Oswarcek.” “Wait, let’s see… John Oswarcek, Joshua Oswarcek… I have lots of Bills here too, but nobody carrying the name Oswarcek. Can you prove your brother ever existed?” “…”

And there you are. She smiles in that invincible way. Ultra white teeth. No man can fight teeth like that and you already start to believe you never had a brother. Still… You go home. Parking your car on the driveway you notice there have been burglars. You run in. You open drawers. Everything belonging to your ‘brother’, the diary he kept, pictures… gone. At first you can’t believe Bill Oswarcek never existed. All those precious youth memories, could they have been fake? All the time? You were his best man when he married, for God’s sake! But then police squad tells you there never have been any burglars, “Look, cameras everywhere, no burglars,” the chief officer who’s resembling Russell Crowe in ‘Gladiator’ tells you. (Of course Malcolm O’Leary tricked the cameras. The man is, as i said, a genius.) You’ve been crying for nothing. There has never been something like a ‘Flight FR2145’.Three years later, completely impoverished, you die in the asylum. (Your parents signed the collocation papers. To do so they got 500.000 bucks, - right: from Malcolm O’Leary. They retire and spend the rest of their days on Barbados.)

So, 2016. The Ryanair craft is losing height very fast. The guy next to me, a big macho wearing a Metallica shirt, starts to cry. To cry! “We’re all going to die!” and stuff. Wow, original. Tell me something. So i nudge his elbow, and tell him: “Yes, actually we are. And so what, man? Why are you yelling in my ear like that? Do you extract any fun out of making me deaf for the last two minutes of my life? Are you well aware of what you’re doing? Do you realize that it’s an economic law that, when goods are scarce, they get very, VERY expensive? Well, my time has, unfortunately, become scarce: i only seem to have2 minutes left. As much as you, btw. But there’s a big difference between you and me, pal. It’s this: because of your yelling my last 2 minutes will be a lot less pleasurable: i’ll be deaf. Not you, me. So please, sit down man, give us all a break. Enjoy what’s left of your life. You see me weep? Tears? See them? No, you don’t. That’s because i don’t weep. I went through three divorces man, i’m out of tears. Does this old lady at my right weep? No she doesn’t (she’s dead, she had a heart attack, but that’s not the point). So don’t be so narcissistic. Don’t spoil it for others. You’re not the only one on this plane you know.” And i resumed reading. I wouldn’t have missed that last paragraph of Salter’s Solo Faces for no gold. I put in my earphones. I enjoyed the ride.

Okay, i was lucky: after a final bump or two (i had to hurry, i’ve never ever in my life read a last paragraph that quickly), the plane crashed against a church tower somewhere in Sussex; the yelling Metallica shirt finally was skewered on a weathercock, while i was so lucky to climb down and wave to a helicopter passing by, carrying a newly wedded couple to their wedding cake. They invited me! Coincidence! I had a wonderful evening. As a matter of fact (tatataaaam… small personal outpouring): i met my future wife. It was so romantic. Our first baby is on the way. A girl. Daphne.

But i’m digressing.

The drawings. Now that i’ve proven i’m the right guy to explain things to you as far as aviation goes: here we go-

Let’s start with a difficult one: have a look at the pic on the left, middle row, right picture: the girl with the crossed arms. Well… it seems difficult, but once i’ve told you what it’s all about you’ll be wondering how on earth it was possible you didn’t get it right from the first look. The guy standing in the doorway has a ‘Priority’ booking. So he’s enjoying lots of advantages. Like the fast lane while boarding, which means first on the airplane and no participating in the fights breaking loose when the overhead compartments are full. As the picture shows it also means first off the airplane. The girl sitting on the picture, clearly not a ‘Priority’ booker, apparently didn’t understand things too well. Or she’s a downright opportunist, that’s possible too. Anyway, as you see on the picture, she has to cross her arms, so the Priority booker can jump over her head and safely continue his trip. That’s the way it has to be done. So just check your ticket: is there ‘Other Lane’ written in the top right corner? Then just pull in your head when you’re on the rubber while crashing, so the Priority bookers can jump over it.

Picture 3th row, 2nd to the left, the guy pushing the seat. The meaning of this is clear. The aircraft is losing height. You want to enjoy your 2, maybe 5 last minutes on earth, and the passenger in front of you has left his chair because the Ryanair stewardess has told him his luggage doesn’t meet the Ryanair hand luggage regulations: yes, 40x20x20cm. (Is it Malcolm O’Leary himself who once spoke the magic words: “They should tattoo them on every flyer’s arm.”?) They’re involved in a discussion. It seems a full inch too large. A second steward is coming down the gangway, a meter in his hands. In that case you’ve got the right to push very hard against the seat in front of you: that’s what the pic tells you. That is: if you’re a ‘Priority’ passenger. After the seat has broken down (next picture) you can bend over, cover your ears and no longer listen to the nonsense.

Pictures 1st row, the oxygen masks. As a Priority passenger you are entitled to more oxygen than an ‘Other Lane’ passenger. A tip from a frequent flyer: don’t wait to take the mask until the aircraft starts to crash, because everybody will be trying to grab your mask. Believe me, not everybody has enjoyed the same upbringing, so people can act quite rude in that kind of situations. So already do this when the plane is taking off (the stewardess has just demonstrated how things work, so: piece of cake). I tried it. Just take the mask and start breathing heavily. Don’t let it bother if people start panicking around you.

Picture 2nd row, 2nd pic. ‘Life vest’ is the newest brand of ‘Choco Pops’. Few people know this. 

Picture 3rd row, 1st pic. People wearing glasses or pumps, and women wearing earrings cannot participate in emergency landings.

Pictures 3rd row, at the right, the 'Exit' pics. When the spectacular black gloved lady, enjoying extra leg space near the exit, says you have to go, you have to go.

And then there's this message at the bottom of the seat: "Fasten seat belt while seated". A very difficult one. It doesn’t mean what you obviously are thinking. Because there’s this other sign flashing on, above your head, once every while: sometimes you have to fasten seat belts while seated, sometimes not. So the message written on the bottom of the seat clearly must have another goal. It can – logically – only be this: don’t fasten seat belts when not seated. If you think very concentrated about this, you’ll understand: it’s very stupid, and also egocentric, to fasten seat belts while not seated. It can have lots of disadvantages, of which some are serious:

1.the lady next to you is sleeping. She’s having a nightmare about extraterrestrial dragons eating passengers in aircrafts. She opens her eyes.The first thing she sees is your fastened seat belt, with nothing under it. She has a heart attack. Are you happy now?

2.the plane crashes. Authorities spend hours, if not days counting and trying to get the picture. But there’s 1 seatbelt fastened with no mortal remains in it. They can’t close the case. Happy now?

So, give us a break: only fasten seat belts when seated.

That’s about it for now, my friends. Might comeback to you sooner or later with some other useful recommendations. Have to catch a flight now. FR6138 to London. Meet Boris. In the 70s we were co-pilots! Ah, the good old R.A.F. He said he wanted to talk to me about restoring the British Empire. Something to do with “democracy being for wussies”, if i understood well. It was kinda confidential. So don’t tell anyone. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?

“Jody, are you ready, girl?” I can hear them engines roar already. A Boeing 737 Max. Man, this will be fun.

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