Monday, May 4, 2009


Friday afternoon found us on Easyjet heading south from Liverpool. For those of you who are not enjoying a Bank Holiday today, you should know that our English cousins are. And our flight was full of Liverpudlians (a word that it's just not possible to say too many times) who were determined to enjoy their Bank Holiday Weekend in the sunny south of France.

In the rain and chill and damp-induced fog that I was in when we boarded the plane, I did not grasp until most of the way through the flight that our flying compatriots were all English weekend-trippers. It began to dawn on me that something festive was up when, just before the drinks service, a voice behind me called Mimi! up the aisle. It was a young male voice, a voice redolent of (what I imagined to be) warm beer and snooker (what is snooker?) and football (not American style) and baked beans on toast. A younger version of Andy Capp.

When the flight attendant got to young Andy, he asked her what sort of sandwiches were available. Ham and cheese? he suggested. Oh no, love, said the young woman. Ham and cheese was only available on flights that originated in France. For this flight, he'd have to look in the flights originating in England column. And they had extra sandwiches, too, this time, a hot bacon baguette...

She pronounced the a in baguette to rhyme with hay.

I'll have that, please, love, said young Andy. A hot bacon baguette (again the hay). And a hot coffee with milk, and a Stella lager, and do you have any croissants?

No croissants, I'm sorry, but we do have some blueberry and chocolate muffins.

He chose a chocolate muffin to go with his hot bacon baguette, coffee, and beer, and as the flight attendant (twentyish herself; pink and white complexion; dyed blond hair pulled back into a knot, with the front section back-combed to suggest a bouffant) went up the aisle in search of the hot sandwich, he called after her: Could you just bring me another packet of ketchup please love?

I think it was the idea of adding ketchup to the hot bacon baguette that made me start taking notes. The man across the aisle from me, who was carrying twins, had just finished a plastic box of pasta salad that looked for all the world like egg noodles mixed with mayonnaise. In front of him was a man in his mid-40s wearing a black leather jacket and new blue and silver running shoes with a Chevrolet symbol on the heel. His salt and pepper hair was thinning in front, and he hadn't shaved that morning; he was reading a book called The Secrets of Sit-n-go, with sections called Playing a monster hand post flop, Playing a weaker draw, and Playing top pair, no kicker. His girlfriend sat across from him, in front of me, a slight blond in a blue hand knit sweater with small red wire-framed glasses.

Meanwhile, a strawberry-blond toddler staggered up and down the aisle with a plastic drink stirrer in his fist. His cheeks were chapped and his tshirt--I am the little brother, it said, in childish print--was stretched tight across his belly. His mother, or grandmother--older than I am, unless she had had a particularly hard life--was in loose jeans, a baggy linen jacket over a (proportionately) baggier cream-colored sweater, and I have no idea, none, what her cup size was. She followed him back and forth, up and down, and, proving once again that God looks after fools, the child made it all the way over the Massif Central without putting his eye out with the plastic stick.

Behind me, young Andy bellowed up to Mimi a few more times, and, in between, carried on an unbroken conversation with his friend across the aisle who had foregone the hot bacon baguette and chocolate muffin for a beer and a 7-Up and vodka. While I could follow most of what young Andy Capp said, I could only make out odd syllables of his friend's conversation. There, or food, or out, a bit of shut eye, whatever. After he was paged a few more times, Mimi--it turned out he was a beefy young man, not a tubercular soprano--turned around and threw an embarrassed grin in the direction of young Andy. I watched as he explained to the people around him--he was six or seven rows up--about his friends sitting back in steerage.

As the plane made the turn to cruise along the Riviera, everyone craned their necks to look out the window. Flashes went off as people took pictures of the view. My neighbors all looked like they'd been on the inside of a laboratory for the past six months, possibly even in cold storage, in petri dishes, part of an experiment to determine what would happen if humans were deprived of sunlight and fed a steady diet of hot bacon baguettes and pasta mayonnaise. I was in my travelling black and still feeling cold and damp, but they were dressed for the sun in capris, tshirts, and new tennis shoes, sunglasses at the ready.

There was a holiday spirit to the cabin. These English strangers demonstrated a level of intimacy in public that it's difficult to imagine French friends, much less airplane passengers, displaying in public after decades of life together. Any French man who yelled his friend's name up the aisle of an airplane--well, it's just unimaginable. Unless there was a dire emergency. Even then. It simply isn't done. And if it were done there would be a collective resettling, a recrossing of legs, shaking out of newspapers, an imperceptible drawing in and away, that would make it abundantly clear that it should not be done again.

The plane landed, and everyone leaped to their feet. They compared return flights--when are you leaving on Monday? maybe we'll be on the same flight--and then, slowly, they filed off. We watched them at baggage claim. Young Andy Capp--it turned out he was called Carl--was wearing black nylon cargo capris that set off his white legs and a pale blue knit sweat jacket. His Pumas were shiny white. He was standing with his unintelligible friend and Mimi, eyeing the French women standing across from them while they waited for their bags. The women were swaddled in various layers of white lycra--34Cs all around, no secrets there--and tight denim. They looked as though they had steered clear of the pasta mayonnaise. Or maybe it's just the red wine.

I hope those women let them down gently.


  1. LOL you have such an eye for humanity! I really do enjoy your blog!

    Okay, just for good measure...the airplane behavior does indeed belong to that particular culture group...not all originating from Liverpool, but likely... and at least likely of having something to do with football.

    However, that is miles away from Brits like DH who would indeed behave in a similar manner to your frenchmen. Or at least, they would pretend it Hadn't Happened At All. And you would not be allowed to Refer To It.

    Oh, and Snooker is similar to Pool or Billiards and involves a lot of forward thinking about angles (Maths) and forces (Physics) which would surprise most young men who avoid the academic to go to the pub and play. (but if you are recovering from an op, it is better watching than Eastenders.)

    I wonder if you will be able to watch Americans with a different eye when you return?
    Sandy in the UK

  2. My daughter said last time she was in England she was offered a "chip buddy" which is a French fry sandwich. I wonder if that comes with ketchup?