The voice coming through the public address system is honey-toned, calm and reassuring.
‘Ladies and Gentlemen, my name is Silk and I’m your senior cabin-attendant this afternoon. The Captain has advised, due to severe weather conditions at our destination, that we will be remaining on the ground for…’
Here, the amateur-thespian within the afore-mentioned 'Silk' inserts a melodramatic pause; the drama ahead clearly to be played out to the maximum. Part-repeating herself, she continues: ‘We shall be remaining on the ground for a further fifty-one minutes.’
Another farcical pause ensues – presumably to allow us all time to admire Captain Fantastic’s stop-watch precision regarding the hold-up – before her pearly-dew-drop-vocal chords announces that ‘due to statutory regulations’ no ‘refreshments’ will be served during the enforced wait to become airborne but…
‘For those of you who have cellular devices, feel free to use them at this time.’
The elation felt within seat 24D is palpable.
Across the aisle to my left, the lady occupying the window seat is first out of the traps… within moments she’s loudly engaged in discussing a recent appendectomy in all its most delicate detail.
Other ‘phones further up-front squawk into life; within this enclosed space, a cacophony of personalised ring-tones abounds… ranging from Celine Dion trilling a chorus to one of her songs (a perennial favourite of mine) to the sound of a cat miaowing…
The man of middle-age at eleven o’clock (tick tock) of me, meaning he’s occupying seat 23C, ingratiatingly announces himself as Howard to the small child seated across the aisle from him and, thus directly in front of me.
The child makes no response so the mother, seated next to her, informs Howard – in an equally booming voice – that said four year old is known by the unlikely name of… Madison.
Doubtless the parents were of Posh / Becks persuasion – naming their offspring from where the child was conceived… which’d mean nooky was conducted in either the boon-docks of Madison, Wisconsin or somewhere along Madison Avenue, NYC.
Madison’s father is seated immediately across the aisle to my left. He has been forcibly placed there by the voluble mother who has forcefully informed the woman chattering gaily about the appendectomy that he (that’s how she refers to her husband) has to sit next to an ancient lady who’s make-up style has been derived from the Bette Davis school; all plucked eyebrows and severity of lip-line. As appendectomy-lady moved seat, the Bette Davis look-a-like turned a strange shade of orange, looking like she may expire any moment.
Madison herself, however, proves not terribly talkative so Howard unrolls his laptop and starts editing what I presume to be a speech he’ll be giving in the next few days: glancing down the aisle, I can’t help but notice that he seems to be a leading expert in the effects of Methane production in animals.
Meanwhile, the appendectomic conversation three seats and an aisle away from me has reached a crescendo of intimacy – signalling it is time to retreat under the noise-abating headphones and get back to my book; a fabulous yarn called Requiem concerning the end of The Crusades and Edward Longshanks war on Scotland and William Wallace in particular thereby tickling all of my Mediaeval leanings.
However, the next page-turn leads me into a sombre dissertation on the precise levels of pain that a prisoner banged up in the Tower of London would undergo in 13th century England when sentenced to being hung, drawn and then… quartered.
Mediaeval agony or modern day aural torture – time to unfurl the trusted i-Touch and lurch into a tune-shuffled world of my own; one that’s not peopled by bloody Celine Dion ring-tones – a smattering of operatic choruses before Massenet’s exquisite Meditation of Thais cuddles up neatly to some of Malcolm MacLaren’s sadly-unheralded ambient musings that dovetail tidily into The Maps’ own quasi-Icelandic ambionic delights.
Which all goes swimmingly until a larger than life figure hoves into view, waddling up the aisle – her posterior (which is the size of Bermuda) brushing each arm-rest at the same time - while her lips have been not only rouged but glossed into an unlikely shade of crimson, one that my Dad would have described as being the colour of a Baboon’s arse. Her eye-make-up is synchronised to a rather fetching shade of powder-blue.
The name on her lapel reads… Silk… and I’m informed that, since we’re about to get airborne, I have to unplug.
As we bump, bore and claw our way upwards, my own musings lead me to thinking about this emerging cellular-device-dominated generation.
Lets just imagine that one is pretty high up the food chain in corporation X and been working like the proverbial for the preceding Y months – putting in a heck of a lot of long, seriously stressful, hours and therefore badly in need of a break; a few days away from the hurly-burly and the inherent pressures of modern-day commercial life.
Time away to recharge the batteries with a spot of good, old fashioned, R+R somewhere warm, tinged by palm-trees, fabulous food and beautiful sunsets.
Everyone at your office knows you’re off on a short holiday; one’s in-bound email alert has been set to something along the lines of: ‘I’m away from my desk until such and such a date and will respond to you at that point.’
Cases have been packed and re-packed; swimmies and sun-cream are to hand, the far horizon beckons.
So far, so splendid.
However… such is the dominance of the Blackberry / i-Phone / HTC / Palm – take your pick… it means that, however one wants or tries to unwind – nowadays, its harder than ever.
Because… the time to chill-out and switch-off in this cellular-device-led age has been set by the bullying bosses and un-thinking power-brokers… to… zero.
And, man / woman management is in crisis-mode.
Harsh economic times mean jobs are at a premium equals bosses have become empowered by… fear.
In any situation you can conceive, look around you… people are checking their mobile e-mail. From lifts (elevators) to the beach; from restaurants to dinner at home; from the back of a taxi to a ‘plane just landed. Shopping and what happens.. one constantly collides with militant mothers weaving from one aisle to another, their eyes diverted to the small screen. In any municipal park you can think of... Paris, London, Cairo, New York, Cape Town or Melbourne... joggers are jogging and runners are running but... next time you're out and about viewing the self-same, just have a look to see how many stop to check... their mail.
Our new economic, mass-communication-led, culture has bred a work-ethic of fear of being out of touch.
And an even worse fear of... not being seen as ‘available’ twenty-four hours a day.
Both are pressure-fears of ‘if I’m not then person X might be’ which equals… the bosses know you’re cornered, therefore they – unthinkingly and entirely unreasonably – believe they own you and your time.
No matter that one’s in-bound e-mail alert has been set as it has – messages (no matter how trivial) still keep popping up.
No matter that one is attempting to enjoy the pleasures of a pair of dolphins frolicking under a tropical sunset, there is always someone trying to reach you – most often on a inconsequential issue that can, quite properly, be solved / sorted out on one’s return.
No matter that human nature dictates that any person needs to recharge overwrought life-batteries, work in the 24 hour-a-day, 21st Century now has assumed a level of self-righteous importance whereby bosses (surreptitiously) demand that one keeps in touch.
As handy a device as the crackle-berry or its many variants are, its building a culture that is slowly but definitely signalling the end of an epoch.
And, in this Voltaire from its position on the windswept prairie’s view… its ushering in an era that is unbalanced.
Mass-communication is absolutely brilliant but it should never, ever, result in dis-respect.
Lest we forget.