There is a big, fat, bald man playing computer snooker on the back of my headrest using his big, fat, bald fingers. My first reaction to this repetitive nuisance is perhaps understandably extreme. I would like my fellow passenger to recognise the immature idiocy of his actions (and, ideally, the futility of his entire existence) seconds before our plane is vaporised by billiard-hating aliens. Admittedly, the knowledge that my last thought would be one of satisfaction at another man’s regret risks exposing a previously undiagnosed petty streak on my part. But after nine hours flying I’m well past caring.
Once arrived at Glasgow for a Fortress UK security check (‘Roll on devolution!’ the man in the luminous vest cries in mock jest when complaints are made by the English-bound amongst us) I have time to reflect on my minor sufferings. It is, of course, the airline’s fault for fitting such amusements inside supposed comfort items. If they offered me pictures of my niece and nephew to flick through, or screens of typos which, when corrected, would inexplicably lead to world peace and Internet freedom, I’d no doubt be tap-tap-tapping away on the seat in front of me too.
In any case, I should be used to such things. Travelling is full of such strange overgrown babies disguised as grown men – especially in the West. The US border is the only place I know where laughing politely at someone else’s grade school jokes is loaded with such an air of expectancy and menace that you’d be forgiven for slipping a crib book of humorous phrases inside your passport (perhaps covering the Vietnam visa in the process). Earlier in my holiday, at the private Q&A session I’ve come to expect Stateside (this one conducted under a skull and antlers as it’s the US-Canada border I’m crossing) a comedian poured snugly into his uniform that morning informs me that my home country and place of residence must be like ‘night and day’. In my nervous state (like Woody I also have a problem with authority, to which I respond just as pathetically) I can only think that the broadly-accented African-American border official must be referring to Manchester’s famous Indie music haunt, Night & Day; before immediately vaporising the thought – a small violence that the guard nevertheless perceives behind my shifty eyes and bearded features (it’s the training, you see).
‘I said, “They must be like night and day”’, he repeats, all traces of a smile now wiped from his features, ‘Very different.’
‘Why, yes,’ I manage, ‘they are,’ only just succeeding in stopping myself from asking if he ever caught Elbow before they got huge.
No prizes for guessing that at least some of the hang-ups I share with Woody are of my own making. I still remember the days when passports were interchangeable amongst friends and James Bond skied across borders without having to transfer his chemical weapons and duty free fragrances into a €1 plastic bag first. Maybe it’s best that those days are gone, but please – border people everywhere – be patient while I accept the new world order. In the meantime I’ll be petitioning the airlines, hoping to send video games on planes the same way as smoking, sitting on the pilot’s knee, and refusing to treat all travellers as suspected criminals.