• Vol. 08
  • Chapter 01

New Normal

I used to get on a plane at least every six weeks, sometimes more. Entrusting my life to fantastical flying machines, the technology of which I don’t understand and seems quite impossible. It’s all in the wings, apparently. Specifically, the shape of the wing that channels the air beneath it at speed, allowing take-off. But we are not birds, and we don’t have wings, and strapping them on – however well engineered – seems both remarkable and terrifying.

My grandmother remembered the introduction of flying as mass transport. She also remembered vowing she’d never get in a plane. What would be the point? After all, trains could go everywhere she needed to, and she could bring the whole family and maybe even a pet when heading off to the mountains for skiing or walking holidays, or to Warsaw for some urban delights.

But her most memorable journey turned out to involve bundling everyone together in just a few hurried hours. She stuffed her aging parents, a toddler, and her pregnant belly into a small car and sped across the border. Eventually there were other cars, trains and an occasional boat. First Romania, then Cyprus, on to what was then Palestine, and eventually – whether she liked it or not – she got into a screechy plane that took her over the expanse of war-ravaged Europe and into Britain, which she never really left again, not properly. As testament to her stubborn refusal to accept her new normal, she never really learned English either.

She told me those stories in Polish, having arrived to visit us by plane, of course. I couldn’t grasp that sense of urgency she’d felt all those years before, that desperate need to flee, and subsequent fear and horror at what happened to the people and places she’d left behind.


New Normal

I still don’t know those emotions, nor do I want to, particularly as I’ve watched the news in recent months, seeing big hateful men carrying big hateful weapons, refugee children torn from their parents, and police that make the streets less, and not more, safe for its citizens. Images my grandmother would recognise.

But travel by plane is very much my normal, or was, until everything got upended. I feel cast adrift, yet also trapped, when I hear that the new Covid-19 restrictions include banning almost all outbound travel. And I want to flee.