The Aeroplane Games

Our journey home from Sicily last week was eventful. There were three pissed Mancunian louts with silly haircuts being loud and obnoxious across the aisle from us on the flight from Gatwick to Manchester. The steward had a quiet word with them, not that it did any good.

They were so obnoxious that I spent the entire journey confined to my iPod. Bloody tossers, I thought to myself. Who do they think they are, Oasis or something?

It turned out they were an Oasis tribute band.

Anyway, being on an aeroplane game me the perfect opportunity to play both of my aeroplane games:

Aeroplane Game 1:

When the captain comes on to the P.A. system and begins with words along the lines of:

"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, this is Captain John Mitchell welcoming you aboard flight BA1234 to Manchester…"

…you should turn immediately to the person next to you (who, in my case is nearly always Jen, and, therefore, fully familiar with the game), and blurt out in an alarmed voice:

"Not Captain John Mitchell! He's rubbish! He's the one they struck off last year, isn't he? How the hell did he get his licence back?"

But, as the captain continues his announcement with words along the lines of:

"My co-pilot on today's flight will be Andrew McTavish…"

…you (or, if they are familiar with the game, the person next to you) should sigh with relief, saying:

"Oh, that's good! Andrew McTavish is great! He'll look after us OK!"

That's it, basically. A harmless bit of fun which greatly amuses your fellow passengers.

Aeroplane Game 2:

As you are disembarking from the aeroplane, either down the steps or walking through the tunnel, you should call out:

"Hello, Cleveland! Rock and roll!"

(It's a quote from This Is Spinal Tap, and is, therefore, extremely funny.)

Market research

Talking of oranges, when I was in Sicily the other week, I spotted a bloke selling oranges from a stall. He had set it up under an orange tree which was full of fruit.

I'm no businessman, but I reckon that guy needs to do a bit more market research.

The man who mistook his hat for a telescope

Jen and I were sitting at a Sicilian coffee table last week, drinking (as seemed only appropriate at the time) coffee, when we noticed a whole pile of Italians behaving very strangely. Nothing unusual there, you might think, but this lot kept rushing out of their shops to look into the sky. I deduced (correctly) that we were in the middle of an alien invasion a partial solar eclipse.

What to do? Caught during an eclipse without any dark plastic to view the sun through. So I borrowed Jen's sunglasses and looked through them at right-angles to my own sunglasses, hoping that the polarised filters set at 90° would cut out most of the light. It's a trick I used with polarised camera lens filters to take photographs of another partial solar eclipse in 1986, but the sunglasses' filters were clearly of inferior quality, so the trick didn't work.

Like I said, what to do? Then I had a flash of inspiration and whipped off my rather dapper Akubra hat. Carefully angling the hat so that the sun shone through the ventilation holes, I placed a copy of that morning's Guardian newspaper in the hat's shadow. As if by magic, a near-perfect image of the solar eclipse was projected on to the paper. It was, in effect, a slighly lower-fi version of the trick I used in 2004 to document with great accuracy the transit of Venus.


Step 1: Set hatescope at jaunty angle.

Image of eclipse

Step 2: View image of eclipse.

…I must say, I was rather pleased with myself, re-inventing the telescope in the land of Galileo.

Culture shock

View larger image

An amphitheatre last week.

We forget, you know. We Brits forget that we didn't invent civilisation. We forget that Johnny Foreigner might have something to offer us when it comes to matters cultural.

This time last week, I sat in an amphitheatre built almost two-and-a-half-thousand years ago. While the Ancient Greeks (who were in charge of Sicily at the time) sat and watched plays and poetry recitals with Europe's largest active volcano as a picturesque backdrop, the equally ancient yet illiterate Britons were still living in huts, daubing themselves with woad. Politically correct cultural relativism notwithstanding, I know where I stand in the poetry vs woad debate.

Even today, as you walk through the streets of Taormina, things feel very different to back in Blighty: there is no litter; there is no chewing gum polka-dotting the pavements (presumably because everyone still smokes); even on Friday and Saturday nights, there are no drunken louts and loutesses yelling their heads off and vomiting—people simply go for a walk down the main street, windowshopping; the coffee is superb (although the tea, it has to be said, is dire); the food is proper food; people are courteous and friendly (although I did wonder whether they don't go a bit over the top with all their male-on-male kissing); the shop-fronts have retained their individuality, and have not degraded into the standard, British corporate monoculture; there are no in-your-face street hawkers (apart from the occasional flower-seller); there are no advertising hoardings; there are no broken paving stones; everyone seems relaxed and totally unstressed. Yes, you think to yourself, this is all very civilised. Maybe there might be something in the continental lifestyle after all. Maybe, just maybe, we Brits might be able to learn something from our European cousins.

And then you go back to your hotel, and you look down at the bidet, and you think to yourself, Those dirty, dirty bastards!