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Monday 24th March 2003

I spent most of today above the clouds. It fills me with wonder and gratitude that I am able to write that sentence and mean it literally.
Like most people, if I am flying somewhere alone I much prefer to have no-one sitting next to me. Sitting next to a stranger on a long haul flight means that you are in danger of getting into a 15 hour conversation with someone who is boring or stupid or insane and often all three. Of course you might be next to someone interesting and intelligent and erudite, but then the chances are that to someone like that, you yourself are boring or stupid or insane and you’ll be ruining their day.
All in all, it’s best (though unlikely) that you get to sit alone.
The man next to me on the first leg of this unbelievable trip (well second leg for me if you count the flight from Glasgow) initially did not seem interested in conversation, but was more keen on drinking. Which is fair enough. He was around about 50 and English and seemed affable, sane and had good bodily hygiene, so things didn’t look too bad at all.
I took advantage of the fact that for once I was going to be sitting in one place for 12 hours and did a bit of work on the book.
A few hours in though we fell into conversation. The man wasn’t boring or stupid or insane, but I think he must have been a little drunk and was certainly a bit deaf. He had seen me writing, and so I had to tell him I was a comedian. This is always something I do reluctantly as it usually results in the other person saying, “Comedian, hey? Tell us a joke then!” or “Really, I know this great joke……”
Unfortunately I don’t know any jokes and I don’t really like being told jokes. Especially the kind of jokes that people who like to tell jokes like to tell. They usually involve Irishmen or worse still Pakis (which seems to be a word that you thankfully only hear these days in the form of rubbish jokes). Also there aren’t that many jokes and so chances are you’ve heard what you’re being told before.
This man chose to tell me a joke (and threatened to e mail me some more). It was the joke that ends “Because every time I fuck your wife, she gives me a biscuit.” I suspect you know it. I certainly did. As jokes go it’s reasonably funny (ie it’s not totally unfunny), but it’s annoying to have to sit and listen to something when you know what’s coming, but are also aware that you are going to be expected to register surprise and hilarity when the other person finally stops saying the thing that you already know.
After I had registered surprise and hilarity, we had a chat. He is a retired engineer who now works on a freelance basis advising firms about engineering (mainly in Malaysia). Despite being told this, I didn’t then say, “Engineer hey? Do some engineering for me then!” Nor did I say “Really, I did this great bit of engineering the other day and now I’m going to make you look at it, even though I am not a professional engineer and doubtless anything I can tell you about engineering you will have heard before, what with you being a professional engineer and all that.” No, instead I said his job sounded quite interesting and it must be nice to get to travel the world.
Anyway, he’d seen me writing and when he found out I was going to the Melbourne Festival, he asked “So you’ve been writing some new jokes for your act.” I explained that I was actually writing a book and that the show was a male answer to the Vagina Monologues, but he didn’t seem to hear or want to listen. “Yeah, with everything going on in the world you must have to keep on writing new stuff and coming up with fresh angles on the war and so on.” I explained that I was actually writing a book and that the show was a male answer to the Vagina Monologues, and so wasn’t all that much influenced by war-based topicality. I thought he must have registered the facts this time. But wasn’t sure.
He asked if I was based in Australia or the UK and I told him that I was from the UK. He asked where I lived and I said “London”.
“Whereabouts?” he asked.
“I’m moving to Shepherd’s Bush, but I live in Balham.”
“What part?”
I was surprised Balham wasn’t specific enough (it’s too specific for most people) and figured he must know the area pretty well, so I said “Not far from Sistova Rd, sort of between Balham and Streatham.”
And he said “Not quite kangaroo country then!”
I thought that was an odd thing to say. I’d expected him to reveal why he was so interested in knowing the exact location, presuming that he must have lived in Balham at some point. But instead, there was just this kangaroo country comment. I don’t think anywhere in South London could really be classified as kangaroo country. Given that the nearest significantly large number of kangaroos is about 14,000 miles away. But I let it go.
As the conversation went on and he began telling me how much better my cricket team was than his and I realised that he had somehow got the impression that I was Australian. I don’t know how, what with me not having an Australian accent and telling him I was English and all. So I presumed he hadn’t been listening to me, or was a bit deaf. That would make sense of his “kangaroo country” comment. Maybe he thought I had said I lived in the Bush, not Shepherd’s Bush. But you’d think all the specific London place and street names may have tipped him off.
I decided to let it go again. The conversation had gone on too long and it would be more hassle than it was worth to correct him. To be honest as long as he wasn’t telling me jokes then I was happy.
He soon fell asleep, which was a relief (though he was an all right bloke aside from the not listening/deaf thing).
As we prepared to land I packed away my computer.
“So written any good gags for the show?” he asked.
I considered reminding him that I was writing a book, but couldn’t be bothered.
“So you write most of your act on the plane over, then!” he stated.
It’s obviously what he wanted to believe. He wanted to think that comedians are so laid back and cool that everything is thrown together at the last minute. He wanted to believe I was Australian. I don’t think he was deaf, I think he just wanted to have his preconceptions confirmed. So I confirmed them.
“Yes that’s right, we write most of it on the plane, mate.”
And for the only time on the flight I spoke with an Australian accent.

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