The Rain in Spain
Although the process of getting to (and then onto) aeroplanes is something I avoid whenever possible, seeing the earth from a great height is an experience that will always fill me with wonder. At times, one gigantic duvet cover of cloud – a forever perfectly-made bed in grey, white and amber – stretches to the horizon in a blaze of Autumn fire. At others, a break in the clouds provides a glimpse of high snow, perhaps with a river pushing intrepidly back down towards the sea.
I was thinking of stuff like this as I flew into Barcelona last Thursday, but then – looking out of the window – I saw a tight circle of spinning off-white tubes (like extruded vanilla ice-cream) and thought, ‘Never seen that before’. Three seconds later, a laconic pilot’s voice told us that there was a tornado bombarding the capital of Catalyunia, and we would probably have to divert.
Another glance at the sky below us revealed a dark, slate-grey mass behind the spinning circle. It didn’t look like the sort of place where you’d want to spend a holiday. Changing my focus back to the cabin, I found it hard to avoid the impression of stewardesses with thin smiles moving rather more quickly than usual.
There is an algebraic equation when travelling by plane, and it is this: the more laid-back the pilot sounds, the deeper the pit of shit you’re in. So when our cockpit man Francesco said he felt OK with the situation – and that he would make an initial approach to test the water – I had this feeling in my water that the level of dividend payments paid to shareholders by US Dow Jones companies using Zirp credit during 2016 was suddenly not very fucking important at all.
But before such bizarre comparisons could gain any brain traction, the dark grey below us became a choppy sea of black bean soup two centimetres away on the other side of my personal glass porthole. After a couple of minutes (during which Vueling flight VY9001 was casually tossed about as if it might be a National Lottery ball) we felt the pilot pull away and gain height.
At this point, I honestly believe that if Francesco had said we were diverting to Vladivostok, wild applause would’ve broken out. However, being something of a sad student of flying dynamics, another peek out of the porthole suggested to me that he was contemplating an alternative direction of approach to the home city of Gaudi architecture and Lionel Messi’s employers.
This proved to be true. The flaps went up and the wheels came down. We lost more height. The lady across the corridor from me wailed as if she had lost all hope. The entire cabin was silent….except for three young French students in the row behind me, all of whom kept up a giggly conversation about how existentially ironic it would be if they all died in a rain-soaked tornado as the result of searching for cheap early winter warmth.
The plane swung from this way to that, lightning flashes added to the general drama, and here and there a small minority of believers were crossing themselves. But then, the wheels hit the runway and the reassuring reverse-thrust kicked in. This time there really was wild applause.
A steward’s voice wished us welcome to Barcelona. It was a triumph of understatement.