Thursday, 27 March 2008

Something Silly, Really...

When people talk about irrational fears, they involve things like plasticine, squirrels or Pete Waterman. They are irrational because, barring a rabid attack from a grey rodent in a park, these things will not hurt you.

I've never seen a death-certificate marked "cause of death: Play-Doh" and I'll venture there are few sinister skeletons in Waterman's closet. (It's probably full of One True Voice EPs foraged from a BP bargain-bucket.)

I have one major fear, and there is nothing irrational about it. I am afraid of flying.

Taking off from Luton in Friday's increasingly heavy winds was, to the majority of passengers aboard flight ZB033 bound for Gibraltar, no more terrifying than the chief stewardess' make-up. For me it was hell.

It doesn't matter if it's the smoothest flight imaginable: I am still a nervous wreck when aboard a plane. Every subtle lull in engine noise is a precursor to total power failure. Every beep of the call button is by a vigilant passenger calmly informing the cabin crew that the starboard wing has fallen off.

I perspire, knuckles turning pallid as they desperately grip the polyester seat and I feel the acid burn of fear bleed throughout my heaving chest. I gulp in the recirculated air and pray for a safe end to my ordeal.

As any commuter will languidly inform you, "flying is the safest way to travel", but this doesn't cut it for me. It's not the safest way to travel, any more than on top of a flagpole is the safest place to do a handstand. It's the most dangerous way to travel.

What, I ask, is safe about hurtling through oxygen-free air at 500mph, at 35,000 ft, in a crackpot invention resembling a child model of a papier-mache bird?

If you listen to statistical evidence, you are very unlikely to die in a plane crash. If you listen to common-sense, it is a miracle you don't crash every time.

"It's because you're not in control", explains my Mother, with all the maternal compassion of Fiona Mackeown.

I'm not in control of the Victoria Line's planned engineering works, but my heart doesn't beat so hard I get a headache whenever I encounter them.

So what's the solution? Can I give up flying? I have an Uncle who, due mainly to environmental conscientiousness, always takes the train when he goes abroad. It's more expensive, takes longer and is probably no safer than a plane. But it sure as hell feels it. He crosses the channel by ferry - again, no less dangerous than a flight to Paris. However, I can swim. I can't fly.

I will have to come to terms with my phobia, and fast - I fly back to England tomorrow.

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