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A Crash Course in Manners

It’s Friday afternoon, and therefore we once again welcome our weekly columnist, Ben Harvey.


They do this, every now and then. Someone comes out with a report, or a proposal, or a consultation on Pmpisp, which isn’t – as it sounds, the name of some short, camp Swiss composer (you can see him now, snuffling into his chocolates because he can’t think of any good tunes that aren’t about war-gold) but is, in fact, a freshly-minted acronym I’ve just made up to allude to people who want to Put Mobile Phones In Stupid Places.

There’s always a constant murmur of um-ing & ah-ing, mostly as to the Underground, with people trying to convince Red Ken to install aerials or cables or boosters or whatever little boxes will enable people to yell into their phones above the wail & shriek & rattle of the tube. It makes a lot of sense, in certain spheres, in that in any given day there’s about three million commuters, a captive audience in their cattle-truck rolling-stock, going to & from work with nothing to do but read skanky free newspapers that shed cheap ink all over you. When the very fact that they’re penned-in and listless means that they really ought to be texting! It’s a criminal waste. Absolutely criminal.

So, even though it would be handy for consumers – and enormously lucrative for the permanently cash-strapped underground network, since they’d have the networks over a barrel – to put this kit in, it’s never happened. A lot of people say that the technical challenges are just too difficult, or that Ken Livingston won’t give his permission simply because he takes the tube to work himself and doesn’t want to get calls from the office for an extra two hours a day.

The real reason, though, in my unhumble opinion, is because it’s a stupid idea. Some places you just need to shut up, to be alone with your thoughts, to process the past or the future; and for that you need the present, the now, to take a backseat. Not all of us want to talk all of the time – it’s quite normal, quite human, to want to cocoon away for a short time every now and then to just get off the ride, so to speak. That’s not to say it’s antisocial, or that it’s withdrawn or shy, it’s just the fact that sometimes you just want to get away. And, if – like most people – you can’t control when you can shut the world off then you can at least enjoy it when the world is the one shutting you off.

So the news that the groundwork is being laid to allow full mobile use on aircraft is, I think, a complete pig. As with the tube, a plane is a long, thin cylinder of bored people who are packed in tight enough to impinge each other’s personal space but, for some cruel & inexplicable reason, actually shagging anyone in transit is distinctly frowned upon. Especially if you’re the pilot. You’re not there for the hell of it, you’re there as a means to an end, which makes the whole event something that you endure instead of enjoy, and, obviously, people deal with this in their own way, either by reading, or watching the films, or staring out the window or, if you’re Peter Buck, by washing your sleeping-pills down with booze and then running around squeezing yoghurt over everyone.

The thing to remember here is that, the more people there are packed around you, the more valuable your privacy becomes. And so to have that invaded by the braying conversation of some buffoon sat three rows behind you would be torture. Imagine a similar flight to the one that Ewan took out to Los Angeles this week to go hobnob with our American cousins – eleven hours in a jumbo, where you can have up to thirty people sat around you close enough to squirt your yoghurt over.

That’d be sixty people for me, by the way, but only because I eat a lot of zinc and work my pelvic-floor.

Eleven hours listening to thirty conversations. Eleven hours listening to message-beeps. Eleven hours, when you’re trying to sleep, or read, and you can’t do anything except go gently mental because some inconsiderate dipstick wants to have an argument with his wife or a discussion with her accountant or wants to call their nutritionist to see if the airline food will give them the shits or not.

Jean-Paul Sartre stated that ‘hell is other people”. He was almost right – hell is other people when you can’t get away from them because, as I believe I may have mentioned before, everyone is normal until you get to know them. And there’s no better way to get a crash-course in how colossal a cock the person wedged in next to you is than to hear them bitch about how pointy your own elbows are whilst you’re pretending to be asleep.

…there’s also the small point about bombs being detonated remotely just by ringing a mobile wired into a golf-ball of Semtex, of course, but that’s just being pedantic, since al-Qaeda are quite a sporting bunch, really, and would never use anything so obvious, honourable lads that they are…

A little while ago, in the cinema, you may have seen Snakes on a Plane, where Samuel L Bad-Mother-Fucker-Jackson was trapped in the air with hundreds of vipers. This film came about through a bunch of drunk executives trying to come up with the most idiotic, chaos-filled plot in the least number words, and they did such a good job – by coming up with such a cheap, trashy idea – that they actually did make a proper movie out of it (you wouldn’t’ve seen this actually on a plane, though, for much the same reasons that they don’t show Titanic on cross-channel ferries or the Shawshank Redemption in prisons). But even Hollywood, with all its experience and imagination, could not brainstorm a movie plot as ghastly, as terrifying, as generally holistically & comprehensively distasteful as the irritating, frenzy-inducing claustrophobia bought about by the sanity-eroding burble of other people talking non-stop bollocks for what used to be a deliciously peaceful period of serene cloud-spotting. See? even the mere idea is making me froth and flail quite rabidly. Should this all come to pass, you could easily identify me at any point above the Atlantic because I’ll be the one trying to bite a window open in an attempt to let the air out and thus let blessed silence in.

The one upside to letting phones on planes, though, is that you’ll be able to call the police when the fights break out. Happy landings!

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