Faraway laughter

“Far from home. Tell us about the farthest you’ve ever travelled from home.”

There’s a website – of course there is: did you really think there wouldn’t be? – that will tell you the precisely opposite position on the globe to wherever you are in the world. Useful to know.

Thus it tells me that if, unaccountably, I wanted to dig a tunnel from my garden, straight down through the centre of the earth, I would emerge in the southern Pacific ocean, a few hundred miles south-east of Christchurch, New Zealand.

Sadly, I have never been to New Zealand. Therefore – and germane to this latest of ‘365 Days of Writing Prompts’ – I have never been as far from home as it is possible to be. However, I have got pretty close, as this prompt reminded me.

Once upon a time I took a flight from Sydney to Los Angeles, at some point during which I really would have been the furthest I’ve ever been from home. It would have been 1989 or thereabouts: a time when, as I used to tell people, I lived in Scotland and worked in London for an American investment bank, covering companies in Europe and Australia.

I was, as you might guess, a bit of a frequent flier.

On this particular trip, I had flown directly from London to Melbourne, but spent most of a week in Sydney, visiting banks. Edge of the seat stuff.

After that, I was to fly to LA and then spend a second week working my way west to east across the US in a haphazard fashion – dictated by a specialist salesman with a sadistic streak and no grasp of the basic geography of that vast country – undertaking an activity known as ‘marketing’. This involved expounding the merits, or otherwise, of various bank equities to largely uncomprehending, and essentially disinterested, investors. Fulfilling.

Finally, I would be allowed to catch a redeye from Boston to Heathrow, jump a shuttle to Edinburgh and, after three weeks away, spend two days at home before heading back to London. How we laughed.

The ‘glamour’ of jet-set travel soon palls – familiarity breeding contempt, perhaps, although it’s more likely because, in truth, its benefits are nowhere near sufficient to compensate for the long absences from home that it entails.

But it would be idle to pretend that it didn’t sometimes have its good moments, and this was one of them.

On this particular Qantas flight across the Pacific I had the first-class cabin (the markets must have been good that year) almost to myself. Never one to eschew the possibility of getting my (or Merrill Lynch’s) money’s worth, I had already allowed myself a few beakers of vintage Veuve in the lounge before boarding and really couldn’t see much point in stopping then.

After all, I was going to be on this plane for about sixteen hours.

Sitting there eating caviar with blinis, washed down by a glass of deeply chilled vodka, and looking out of the window at the endless blue ocean beneath wasn’t too bad in itself. But what really fixed the memory in my head was the fact that at the same time I was listening to the slow unfolding of this wondrous sonic landscape.

Sometimes you just have to make the best of the hand you’re dealt….

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