I am not, by world standards, a particularly large man. I weigh between 80 and 90kg, depending on how much I have needed to run away from Mrs 23thorns in any given month. There are times, however, when I feel like a huge, misshapen freak. Antique shops terrify me.
They all seem to have been laid out by the same entry-level sociopath, who gets his kicks out of watching physically awkward strangers sweep tiny glass statues of swans off tables, or knock over hat-stands that form the supportive bases of complicated structures made out of imitation Ming vases and peeling mirrors in elaborate gilded frames.
I suddenly feel like I have grown three extra elbows, and my clothes all seem to billow out like Batman’s cape. This would be cool if I was chasing a villain down a darkened alleyway, but doesn’t really help when I am trying to look intelligent while waiting for Mrs 23thorns by picking up delicate little porcelain vases and looking at the bottoms of them while surrounded by serried ranks of poorly balanced glassware.
I have absolutely no idea what I’m looking for, but it feels like the right sort of thing to do, and I can practically feel the admiring glances of the more attractive and sophisticated antique hunters around me as I peer closely at the bases before I look thoughtfully at the ceiling for a second and then nod firmly to myself and place the offending article back down on the table with a resolve bordering on contempt. “No,” my body language says, “That was not the funny little blue and white vase I was looking for. Wrong stuff on the bottom, you see.”
Aeroplanes make me feel the same way. Like antique shops, they are trying to pack as much stuff as they can into as small a space as possible. It starts in the corridor as you try to find your seat. South African men tend to be fairly large. We are also one of those cultures that is uncomfortable with physical contact with other men. Since there are very strict aviation laws requiring that at least 30% of all the men on any given flight must remain standing and bugger around with their overhead luggage for the full fifteen minutes before take-off, avoiding such contact is no easy thing. But we’ve found a way.
Instead of vigorously grabbing our corridor-mates around the waist and executing an elegant half turn like contestants on “Dancing with the Stars”, like normal people, we turn away from each other and vigorously thrust our groins at the unfortunate souls in the aisle seats next to us as we shuffle past each other like hoboes with bad feet trying to carry bowling balls between their knees. For some reason we are not at all concerned about physical contact with the groin thrustees. There is no danger of eye-contact, so we can pretend they’re not there.
The seats are no better. I understand. Margins in the airline business are tight. To keep prices down, you have to pack in as many people as possible. Fine. It’s just that I happen to have some knees, and I have to keep them with me because my hand-luggage is full of duty-fee liquor in case prohibition is introduced at our destination during our flight.
I know that this is the way that things need to be, but it does mean that a flight is something to be endured, not enjoyed. “I”, I have never said to Mrs 23thorns, not even once, as the person on the other side jostles me for elbow room and a passive-aggressive woman in a sky-blue paramilitary uniform and 8kg of makeup hands me a tiny, brittle cup of water, “must have you now!”
But others apparently feel differently. Yet again, a couple have been arrested for sexy shenanigans on a busy passenger flight. I am fully aware that the full spectrum of human sexuality is a wonderful and varied thing, but I find it hard to get my head around the idea that there are people out there so turned on by tiny plastic tables bouncing off their knees while someone drones on about his cruising speed and altitude that they will risk arrest and exotic infections by falling upon each other right there, as the drinks cart rattles romantically past and a small child tries to ram a foot through the bases of their spines.
You could, unlike the happy couple in question, who clearly, and incorrectly, felt that a pair of tiny hamster blankets thin enough to watch a solar eclipse through would provide them with sufficient privacy, take your passion to the toilet. I actually like aeroplane toilets. They’re cool in a tiny-houses, compact-living kind of way. It’s all so small and tidy. And small. They are filled with cute little touches like tiny cup dispensers and concealed boxes of tissues. And urine. Turbulence tends to mess with some men’s aim.
They are also a little tight for an 80-90kg man. Alone. Bring someone else in and the only “Oh gods!” would come from getting stabbed in the back by the sticky-uppy toilet flusher and having your nether regions drenched in that startlingly blue liquid.
And then there’s that whole consequence thing. Getting arrested for smuggling heroin or hiding a bomb in your shoe has far more lasting consequences, but does have a certain quiet dignity to it when compared to being plastered over the world press as “the plane rogering couple”. And you will get caught. If you can have sex in the middle of a busy plane without anyone noticing, you are very, very bad at sex and should take up macramé instead.
But no-one is going to learn from this. We will keep seeing reports like this, because some irresponsible fool decided to call rogering someone on a cramped seat with a flotation device underneath while your neighbours try to watch documentaries about Latvia’s most thrilling tourist spots “joining the mile high club”. People like clubs. They want to join them.
I have the solution. The brig. Sailing ships used to have on-board prisons. When you were out at sea for months, you needed somewhere to put your bad guys. They could build tiny little ones on aeroplanes next to the toilets, and we could throw the rogerers in them to give the rest of us a little peace and quiet. I for one would love it.
I would wait around the check-in desk until a honeymooning couple appeared, and make sure I sat next to them. The first few hours would be a little busy, as I slipped Viagra and Spanish fly into their drinks, turned down the lights and lit tiny candles on my tiny plastic table while playing “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye at full volume on my crappy little headphones. But after that, the flight would be a pleasure. It does, I will admit, seem a little unkind, but I really do need somewhere to put my knees.