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The Smell of Socks20 June 2012 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar
I recently visited Cape Town to attend a book launch. I’d been looking forward to it. ‘Cape Town’ my acquaintances sighed with a hint of jealousy, as if they saw a faraway vision, but I was also thinking about flying for twelve hours in economy class.
Before I forget, the book launch was fantastic – but it came with a flight, and every time I’m reminded of it my intestines grumble.
It all began when we checked in. According to the check-in assistant my tiny slim travelling companion is only just short of carrying excess baggage. In contrast to the man in front of us – I mean he is carrying it on himself. If we converted his weight into baggage we could go on a six-week safari. ‘It’s not fair,’ my companion remarks, and we still have to clear the security gates.
A few years ago this security check got us into a spot of trouble. We had to remove our shoes, just like Pelé, the football hero, who was in front of us. He politely removed his shoes, but the security officer also wanted an autograph. Moments later one of my travelling companion’s shoes narrowly missed the same security officer, and then it was my task to talk us out of any unpleasantness.
This time the shoes can stay on but I clear the security gate without braces and belt. In the meantime my companion mutters that it’s quite ridiculous to be treated like a potential criminal and asks why people stoically go along with it. I give every security person as friendly a smile as possible and hope that this time my companion doesn’t tell them they’re all Nazis. They are, but it’s rather difficult to explain.
It’s even more difficult to explain that, if someone is keen to plant a bomb, this is most likely to be done in the baggage department by bribing some poor guy to put a parcel into the plane’s hold, and it’s therefore unlikely that my toothpaste contains a bomb.
The flight gets off to an excellent start. We’re flying South African Airways and the security video is hilarious, starring a small overweight white man and a black man with huge lips. The meal is even better.
After dinner everyone needs the toilet. A fat man causes a bit of a delay when he gets stuck between the toilet doors. By this time most people have removed their shoes and the first few small farts are being released. We’re not to know that on our way back they will tackle this by spraying the plane with toilet freshener: ‘People wearing contact lenses may wish to remove them.’
I have buttocks of Olympic quality but after three hours they are numb. All of a sudden I seem to have a lot of limbs. The lights are dimmed and the chairs seem to shrink. I’ve already hung my travelling companion upside down three times to combat her alarmingly swollen feet. No one sleeps a wink; everyone pretends. About halfway my companion proclaims: ‘It would be great if we crashed!’ There are only about six hours to go.
Every fifteen minutes we check the flight information screen: ‘Look, we’ve crossed the equator!’ Twelve people press the button for assistance, and a few desperate mutterings for ‘water’ can be heard up and down the plane.
Next comes the moment when you break out into a sweat, convinced that something big has lodged itself across your rectum. How are you going to accommodate breakfast? The cheery voice of the pilot asks if you have slept well and there is another queue for the toilets.
After disembarking I spot at least eight people who can no longer get into their shoes. One person leaves on all fours and a middle-aged lady checks, full of concern, whether her mother is still alive.
The Daily Mail reported recently that Airbus is going to modify its planes for certain airlines in order to accommodate fat passengers. They will get wider seats at the expense of slimmer passengers. I’m afraid my tiny travelling companion will have a fit when she hears this. The way economy passengers are transported on intercontinental flights amounts to a violation of human rights. I dream of a book launch in Siberia: we can get there by train.
© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press
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