Sunday, March 11, 2007

The world at night

The thing which strikes me most about this photo is the lack of light from Africa. In 2000, I flew back from South Africa overnight in a British Airways 747. The skies were clear for most of the journey, and I had a window-seat. I was able to track the progress of the flight, and correlate it with what I saw out the window, on the small screen set into the back of the chair in front. Thus engaged, (and with various films to watch as well), I was completely absorbed for almost the entire journey, and slept for only an hour or so. Flying North over central Africa, all you saw below were the scattered, isolated lights of small villages and homesteads; coasting over Southern France, I saw Alpine villages adhering to valley-sides like phosphorescent lichen; and finally, passing over Kent and South-East England in the dark, breakfast hours of a Monday morning in early Autumn, I saw sad snakes of cars, filling A-roads which shone with ethereal light in the foggy atmosphere. What could be so important to these people, I wondered, that they were willing, before sunrise, and on a daily basis, to subject themselves to this repetitious frustration? It was the futility and the stupidity of it that I saw when I looked down.

10 comments:

Andrew said...

Slave populations I'm afraid, Gordon. They used to pull the oars of the galley ships, now tethered to different kinds of chains. I think the analogy was flailing manfully for literary success but probably failed.

Brit said...

The bird's eye view afforded by air travel does pose a danger of such philosophical musing on the triviality of our ant-like busy-ness.

But birds are not that much smarter than worms.

Thinking that Britons with an early commute are somehow worse off, unhappier or spiritually less fulfilled than Africans who can't afford electricity is just the kind of calamitous trap you can fall into on a red-eye flight.

Gordon McCabe said...

You're right about birds: a number of them keep flying slap-bang into my lounge windows. You wouldn't see a worm doing that.

Yzerfontein said...

Astronaughts say that a flight in space can be life-changing spiritually. I guess a flight from South Africa can also have some impact. Each of those lights in Africa represent several families, hardship, struggle, arguments, births, life, death.

Neil Forsyth said...

Great post, Gordon. We are all trapped. Some of us are trapped in poverty and some in prosperity. I think I know which is better. The apparent futility of my daily grind and the heartache it causes me is only made bearable by the thought that it could be otherwise. In other words, I still have hope in my heart. And, of course, children to come home to. Hope is difficult to make out from 20,000 feet. And I'd say it's even harder to see over some parts of Africa.

Gordon McCabe said...

Cheers Neil. But remember, only Bill Clinton comes from a place called Hope.

Neil Forsyth said...

I do a fine line in schmaltz, wouldn't you say? No coincidence that a signed copy of Bill's biography is one of my prized possessions. A great man. He was too good to be president (not in the moral sense, of course).

Susan said...

"Another working day has [started].
Only the rush hour hell to face
Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes
Contestants in a suicidal race."

Sting, "Synchronicity II"

Gordon McCabe said...

Mr Sting used to do a lot of commuting via Concorde, didn't he?

Susan said...

Yes, eventually. Perhaps you forget, though, that Gordon Sumner was a high-school English teacher for many years before he became famous as Sting. Not too many school teachers fly Concorde.