Just Another Form of Sitting

People often suggest I should be exhausted by travel. I travel a lot, I suppose, but mostly over short distances in Europe, and I always carry my own bag (as, I note, the Pope does nowadays). There are many people my age, older, and younger, who travel much more than I do. David Cameron, for example, and he looks well enough on it, and Angela.

I’ve taken 44 flights so far this year, flown around 90,000 km (just more than twice around the world) visited about twenty countries and still have the appetite for more. I’m off to Sofia today, and thence by bus to Plovdiv. But don’t think for a moment that I travel in great luxury or style. Only 10 of these flights were not economy – most of them were on low-cost airlines, on planes where the seats don’t recline and conditions are cramped. Wizzair, easyJet, and the like (though I avoid Ryanair if I can  because I can’t bear their pizzazz).

No, I don’t have patience with the view that travel is tiring. Of course, jet lag is unpleasant, and getting up early, or arriving somewhere late at night, but that’s not the point. That’s not the travelling part. To my mind, travelling is just another way of sitting. Sitting on trains, sitting in taxis, sitting on buses, sitting in other people’s cars, sitting on a plane, in a departure lounge, in a hotel room. It’s all just sitting. Sitting, and generally working. Sitting is not tiring at all. After all, what else do we do at home, or in the office? Sitting, doing emails, that’s actually the whole of life, with a little lying down thrown in at night.


Standing, of course, is tiring, a lot more tiring than walking (think of how exhausting it is to stand in front of paintings and glass cabinets in museums), and I will never buy a standing ticket for an aeroplane if they ever become an option. Ryanair once mooted the idea of ‘standing seats’ and came up with a design, but surely for no other reason than publicity. Perhaps they were inspired by those discreet ledges that medieval monks perched on to relieve their legs after hours and hours of standing and praying.

Ryanair’s proposed ‘standing seats’…

standing seats

Salisbury Cathedral economy class

monks standing

No, I don’t find travel tiring. I still find it stimulating.

What’s important, is to follow some basic rules:

  • Don’t fly early in the morning. Get up at the usual time.
  • Don’t arrive late at night. Arrive in time for dinner.
  • Don’t drink alcohol at all whilst on the road, or in the air, but eat everything they put in front of you.
  • Don’t be anxious about departure times. Arrive at the airport an hour before a flight is due to leave. It’s always plenty of time, whatever they tell you. After all, there’s always another flight, or an airport hotel, and in all my years of travel I’ve only ever missed one flight. (Note that if your flight is about to close, there’s always an official who will shout out your destination and call you to the front of the queue.)
  • Treat the queues at security and passport control with a Buddhist nonchalance.
  • Treat delays with a Buddhist nonchalance.
  • Always have some work to do. I do my best work at 10,000 metres, blissfully uninterrupted.
  • Don’t talk to the person sitting next to you until the plane starts to descend.
  • Don’t join queues until you have to. I’ve never understood why passengers queue just in front of the gate as soon as the flight starts boarding. You have an allocated seat, so what’s the point? They won’t go without you. Just sit and watch and wait, with a Buddhist nonchalance, if possible.
  • Sit near the luggage carousel and wait for your luggage to appear before rushing forward to pick it up.
  • Take your own tea bags.
  • Don’t be anxious about turbulence. The wings never fall off.

Avoid the temptation to improve

‘I can resist anything except temptation.’

Oscar Wilde’s wry comment is true of all of us who believe we can make just one more small improvement.

We add one new flavour (and ruin the dish), one more option to a software system (and make it incomprehensibly complex), or one more dab of paint (and ruin the picture). The cliché ‘less is more’ is very often true.

The expert knows how to make things better, but the genius knows when to stop.

In my field, the design and development of business software systems, the risk of ‘improvement’ is at least twofold. Not only is there the danger that no one will understand all the system’s possibilities, but there’s also the risk that with ever more numerous configurable permutations, testing will become ever more difficult and expensive,. Bugs then enjoy a field day.

The dangers of improvement lie in all fields, including that of ecclesiastical architecture. Salisbury Cathedral, in the West of England, is a perfect example of can’t-leave-it-alone meddling. The main body of the cathedral was finished in around 1280, but someone had the idea of improving it with a spire. It nearly brought the whole thing down. You can see, seven centuries later, how the main pillars that support the tower and spire at the crossing of the nave and transepts, are bent by the extra weight. Indeed, if Sir Christopher Wren had not devised a way to strengthen the structure in the late 18th century, it might not be there today.

In my view the spire was a step too far. It’s a case of Gothic purity and dignity ruined by ambition and excess. Were it not for the fact that it’s the tallest spire in the land, I think that my Campaign for the Removal Altogether of Salisbury’s Spire (CRASS) would gain the support of all reasonable people.