The Thing Is with Steve Canavan - July 21, 2016

No matter how much older and therefore wiser, you'd think, I grow, I still can't shake my fear of flying.

Thursday, 21st July 2016, 10:52 am
Updated Thursday, 21st July 2016, 11:54 am

I know that statistically it is the safest form of travel. I know thousands upon thousands of planes take off and land safely each day. I know that there is no rational basis to be afraid of boarding an aircraft.

And yet every time I get on one, I send text messages to each member of my family thanking them for making my life so enjoyable and urging them not to grieve in the event of my passing but to carry on as normal.

It was the same the other day when Mrs Canavan and I departed for our belated honeymoon.

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We were heading to Thailand and Cambodia (“Where?” shrieked my mum when I told her, adding a touch dramatically “that’s crazy – you’ll never come back”) and flew on a huge jumbo jet carrying 500 people.

As I sat surveying folk of all shapes and sizes take their seats, I thought of how Charles Lindbergh, before his historic flight from New York to Paris in the 1920s, trimmed the edge off his map to make sure there was the minimum weight possible aboard his fragile, shaky plane. Even doing this, he only just made it to France to become the first man to traverse the Atlantic.

This thought struck as a man who must have weighed – and this guess is on the conservative side – at least 35 stone took his seat on the adjacent row and sat down with such force that I swear the aircraft dipped a bit to the left side.

How these things get off the ground still amazes me but, as usual – and despite me gripping Mrs Canavan’s hand so tightly she lost all feeling in her fingers for several hours – we soared into the air and the seatbelt signs went off ... only for a very scary thing to happen.

Just as various people had got up to wander about, the plane began to violently judder and the pilot’s voice came over the cockpit telling the cabin crew to ‘immediately’ return to their seats.

The air hostess nearest us, fighting to stay on her feet such was the force of the turbulence, bellowed ‘everyone to your seats - NOW’.

I watched this wide-eyed and petrified, and desperately trying to recall where you put your legs while adopting the brace position. Incidentally, a friend told me the only reason you are asked to go into the brace position before a plane crash is so your teeth remain in your skull and thus the authorities can identify you afterwards. He told me this two days before we flew; I thanked him profusely.

With that in my mind, and the cabin crew looking as scared witless as everyone else, I sat holding hands with Mrs Canavan (who had put her eye mask on - her slightly strange reasoning later being that if we did crash she didn’t want to see it) convinced this was it and my time on earth was almost done.

Then the plane stopped lurching from side to side, a couple of moments later the seatbelt sign went off, and everybody stood up and started wandering around again as if nothing had ever happened. The pilot didn’t explain what had caused it – was it bad weather, engine failure, had the overweight man leaned forward to tie his shoelaces too suddenly? – which meant that I remained convinced we were going to die until the air hostess passed around 20 minutes later.

“Excuse me, sorry to be a nuisance,” i asked, while Mrs Canavan – who had spent the previous 20 minutes imploring me not to ask – held her head in her hands and, not for the first time in our relationship, looked like she would rather be sat anywhere else in the world other than next to me – “but was what happened before normal or is the plane likely to crash?”

After laughing at my query – which seemed unfair given what was at stake – she told me such turbulence was perfectly normal and that, in all likelihood, we would make it to our destination without incident.

She was right. We did.

There are six more flights during the course of our trip. If I make it through without having to resort to valium, I will consider it a success.

Cat carrier carry on

While we are away, my dear mother has volunteered to look after the cat, Percival.

This meant transporting him to her house in Manchester, which in turn meant attempting to get him in his cat carrier. Now I don’t know who invented the cat carrier but it is my long-held belief that whoever did never actually tried to put a cat in one.

Why the opening is so small I’ll never know. If you were putting an inanimate object in there – say, a grape or a wooden spoon – it would be no problem.

But anything alive and not too keen about getting in – say a cat with exceedingly sharp claws – and you’ve got problems.

Getting Percival in involved a strenuous, not to mention bloody, 45-minute wrestling match.

Firstly he knows the cat carrier by sight (we used it recently to transport him to the vets for treatment on a nasty infection, so it holds bad memories), so as soon as I got it out he bolted up the stairs.

It took me 15 minutes and three cans of tuna to get him out from under the bed, at which point I grabbed him and marched downstairs.

A few feet from the carrier he shot out a beautifully timed swipe of his right front claw, catching me just beneath the elbow and opening a wound several inches in depth which almost certainly required some sort of emergency operation and a skin graft. Such was the pain and shock I instinctively dropped him and while I stood dripping blood onto the carpet and screaming rude words, he bolted back upstairs and the whole process started again.

Three more cans of John West later I got him to the basket once again and, like before, tried to force him in headfirst.

He twisted and turned, and even when I had his head and three-quarters of his body in, using a move Houdini would have been proud of he somehow managed to somersault his way back out, removing another not-insubstantial portion of skin from my arms and hands in the process.

I finally arrived at my mum’s bandaged and plastered, accompanied by a furiously unhappy cat.

Next time I’ll stick the ungrateful so-and-so in a cattery.