If you’re ever on a plane and the passenger in the next seat won’t stop talking, just tell him you’re a life insurance salesman; he won’t say another word. He might even try to get off the plane… in mid flight.
I should know — I’m a life insurance salesman.
Anyway, three weeks ago, after seeing a friend off at Heathrow, I grabbed some spaghetti at a restaurant in Terminal 5 and was just about to catch the train back to Paddington, when I glanced up at the departure screen.
Paris, New York, Sydney, Athens, Tel Aviv…
Suddenly I thought: “Why don’t I just get on one of them?”
By chance I had my passport in my pocket, and I didn’t really have to work next week.
I turned to an Israeli couple at the next table. “Where would you go anywhere in the world right now?” I asked them.
“The Greek islands,” the man declared after a short but heated discussion. An Athens flight left in two hours.
I rang British Airways. “ I want one seat on the Athens flight.”
“It’s full,” the BA lady said.
“Where do you recommend I go?” I asked.
“I don’t recommend you go anywhere, sir. You tell me where you want to go, and I book it for you. That’s how it works.”
“Look, I like surprises. I’ll go wherever you tell me to go,” I said.
Reluctantly, she said: “There’s a flight to Nice at 6.30pm.”
“Great!” I said.
“It’s full,” she said, sounding pleased.
“Is there another to Nice?”
“There’s a flight leaving at 8.30pm.”
There is one seat left.”
“I’ll take it,” I said
On arrival, I checked into a small hotel in the hills. Next morning, I went to the pool.
“Which is the deep end?” I asked the attendant.
“I don’t know,” she said.
“Nobody ever asked you that before?” I said.
“No, never,” she said.
“Hey buddy, why don’t you try the end with the diving board,” an elderly American man wearing a T-shirt bearing the legend “Rocky Goldberg” on it shouted.
After one length, I hauled myself out, doing my impression of an overweight seal, and flopped down at the feet of a slim, bald, tanned man wearing Speedos.
He was standing looking at a eight foot-high metal sculpture.
“What is it?” I asked.
He looked down at me. “It’s a Calder.”
“Alexander Calder, the great post-modernist American sculptor,” he said. “You clearly know nothing about modern art.”
He told me he was Jacques, an architect from Basle.
“What do you do?” I asked. “Loft conversions?”
“No, not exactly,” he said. “ Perhaps you know my Tate Modern, my Beijing Birdsnest.”
I admitted I had heard of the Tate Modern, and the Olympic Stadium.
I told him I was a world famous life insurance salesman from London. “Perhaps you know some of my policies,” I said.
At dinner on the terrace that evening, we were at adjacent tables. I told him how I was there by accident.
“Amazing! You just got on a plane! Just like that? Incredible! What a life you have! I wish I could do that!”
“Jacques mate, you should have chosen a more exciting, more glamorous profession,” I said. “You should have become a life insurance salesman.”
November 5, 2009.