Sunday, April 18, 2010

Vapour trails in the sky

The skies are strangely unblemished by vapour trails since air-traffic has been suspended, and I am in an odd - but not disagreeable -psychological space because of this.

It's as if the unblemished sky reminds me somehow of another more innocent time, and I feel a small tug of nostalgic yearning for that time, a small hope that the sight of intercontinental jet aeroplanes high in the sky above our home in South-East England has gone forever.

I've done my share - perhaps more than my share, indeed certainly more than my share - of careless jetting around Europe in recent years. It hasn't even been entirely careless: every trip has caused me a twinge of guilt about the self-indulgence of cheap flights to European destinations, but the twinge has never been sharp enough to make me desist. It's always been possible to rationalise my discomfort: for example, as a concerned spouse meeting his wife's legitimate need to visit a daughter abroad, and - of course - his own need too. And I've also made a fair number of more expensive and tiring trips abroad by car, and on the train, to 'reduce my carbon footprint', although I have no confidence at all in this 'fig-leaf' of self-deception.

Next week my wife and I were to have travelled to Italy by air for a four-day break, two in Rome and two in Florence. This visit to Rome and Florence has long been a dream of my wife, who craves the warmth and sunshine of the countries of southern Europe as a temporary respite from her forty year exile in the nippy Northern hemisphere - her birthplace was sub-Saharan Africa.

Along with millions of others we shall need to grin and bear the disappointment, and find some consolation in the early Spring sunshine here at home. At least we shall be here to see the flowering cherry we planted in our garden ten years ago come into ravishing blossom, a heart-stopping display that quickly tarnishes and fades a day or so after its pristine first flush.

Alongside the disappointment I shall feel (more for my wife, vicariously, than for myself) there is something like satisfaction, perhaps vindication of my long held view that my life of self-indulgence is intrinsically hollow and illusory, although I have often felt locked into it by circumstances, by powerful social convention, ties of affection and family solidarity that can't be undone, not that I want to undo them.

I am only one individual in a family of (currently) five constituent members, and the other family members don't necessarily agree with my purely theoretical ideas on the merits of self-denial, and abstinence from small pleasures which they - quite validly - feel they have earned. We do have discussions about this, as I imagine most families do - I may be wrong about this, I often am on such matters. Such discussions sometimes mar the serene skies of family accord with vapour trails that disperse only slowly, and are replaced quickly by new ones when they fade.

The trouble with me, as always, is that I'm not as ready to give up my own pleasures as I am to point out to my loved ones the value - to them - of giving up theirs.

Perhaps there's hope for me yet in terms of personal turn-around, although I think there may not be a lot of time.....

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