Sunday, 5 December 2010

Retail flying

I very rarely fly so, on the occasions when I do, I tend to get a little over-excited. The whole thing is so extraordinary: the aeroplanes themselves (they fly! In the air!), the technology (my boarding pass exists as a sort of bar code on my phone), the bewildering iconography of the airports.

Last week I travelled to Northern Ireland for a conference and some meetings. I spent a couple of hours at Belfast City airport on my return journey. Although my flight was delayed only slightly, heavy snow at Gatwick and Leeds and Edinburgh meant that there was a degree of chaos, with many flights cancelled or heavily delayed.

Various television screens around the departure lounge provide information on the various flights that may or may not be taking off soon. “Go to gate 3”, they say, or “Expected 20.25”.

For a significant number of the listed flights, however, disruption caused by the weather meant that, although it was certain that the aeroplanes were not at gate 3 or any other gate, it was uncertain when (or even whether) the flight would actually depart.

As a result, those responsible for the screens had to offer some alternative advice; and it was this:

“Wait and shop”

I kid you not. Not “relax and have a nap”, not “settle down with a good book”, not “make a new friend by chatting to the equally miserable stranger to your left”, not “reflect in awe and wonder on the magnificence of existence”, not "ponder the fleeting nature of consciousness and reflect on how you might best use this extraordinary spark".

No, the only thing to do, if trapped somewhere with no instruction manual pending your eventual departure, is to wait, and shop.

More poetry

My son, who is studying A-level English, gave my recent sonnet [posted 19 November] a thorough critique, and we found ourselves having an interesting discussion about the structure of sonnets. He issued a challenge: how far could you push the structure and still have a poem that ‘works’.

I thought I could probably play with the internal rhythm, the rhyming pattern and the style of each verse. For the rhythm, I wanted to try 5:1:3:1, followed by 2:6:2, 2:5:3 and 5:5; for the rhyme, AABB, ABAB, ABBA and AA; and for the style – well, it snowed this week, as you probably noticed, which has multiple impacts and connotations… see what you make of it.

Winter’s nearly here – look! Look outside! Snow!
Want to go and play? Sure. Wrap up warm – go!
Yes I’ll come out too – wait! Where’s my hat? Where?
Snowball fight you say? Yes! Here it comes – there!
Later, switching adult guises, he flies
Business, a suited trip up north, a deal
Beneath, the whitened kingdom waits, it lies
Silenced, a billion solo flakes, unreal
Structure: our cities and fields, mesmeric
Aircraft: our engineered birds, titanic
Snowflakes, crystalline magic, organic
Poem: playful and rhythmic, and metric

What flexible forms, these various themes
Lifting our daytimes, upholding our dreams