This is a song about an emotion I call aeroplane nostalgia. I wrote it several years ago. It is not much of a song — just a bit of ploddy weirdness I threw down in a few hours one night. It shall never be revisited, like most of my demos, the poor things.
Is it me or does the sight of an aeroplane way up high in a big blue sky trigger vague yet potent nostalgia? Is there not something about the two white lines it leaves behind that makes you long for an unspecific moment of your distant past? You know, that sort of hazy, unfulfillable longing the Portuguese have a good word for.
It is tempting to lie, and describe memories as though they are movie scenes, pretending to recall details I don’t. Something like: You are six years old, standing on the aisle of a small ferryboat with your family, eating a Loop-the-Loop, delicately stripping the yellow part of its chocolate like your elder siblings taught you. This is done for aesthetic reasons, and also because eating the chocolate separately seems better value for money. You have yet to develop an aversion to ice cream sticks — as an adult, if your teeth or tongue come into contact with an unvarnished ice cream stick, it causes a revulsion that can haunt you for days.
In trying to recall my early childhood, I could never conjure so specific a scene as this — swimming in a pool full of photo negatives is how I might best inadequately describe the process. Inadequate being the key word, since negatives are colour-reversed or kind of brown or whatever, whereas the images in my head aren’t (I would worry if they were). Also, these images arise in a fitful and haphazard manner; they certainly don’t come at me as densely as what “swimming through pool full of them” might suggest. Also, how might one swim through thin plastic strips? It would be either agony, or impossible. I am bad at metaphors in a way penguins are bad at sending threatening letters to snooker players.
The ferryboat is real and deeply felt, faintly imprinted on the back of my mind, expressing some longed-for but long-vanished happiness. The Loop-the-Loop bit is tacked on, only there to create the illusion of vividness, and also as it would seem I have much to declare on the matter of Loop-the-Loops in general. I probably have more to say about Loop-the-Loops than I do life itself, which may explain why I am never invited to Alain de Botton’s dinner parties, the bastard.
I have no vivid childhood memories, really. They are all sketchy as fuck. I don’t recall what or how I thought, or anything I ever said. This is getting tedious. I have nothing to say here. By unvarnished, I meant anything that isn’t a Magnum, I suppose. I can’t remember if Soleros have varnished sticks. I remember nothing.
Why do I even long for the past if it’s all so damn sketchy? Besides, if the past was really that much better than the present, would there not be less best-selling self-help books championing the latter? I suppose in the past’s defence, you do have more life ahead of you; you have yet to not take the chances you will regret you never took; you have yet to do all the stupid things you will spend the rest of your life periodically cringing over. That can be quite a nice state to wallow in. It’s not real though! Shame we never long for the past back when it is still the present… youth is wasted on the young, as they say. Is Long for the Present a best-seller yet?
Past-longing can affect your ability to function also. Moving away from childhood nostalgia for a moment, my opinions on music are so utterly and unavoidably blinded by late teen nostalgia, I no longer see the point expressing any. Maybe that album I loved in college wasn’t that good — who the hell knows — all I know is I want to listen to it now and not that crappy new amazing album everyone is talking about. Perhaps bitterness is built in to nostalgia… I refuse to embrace the present because the present won’t embrace me. Am I stating the obvious here?
Still, regardless of how counterproductive I recognise it to be, nostalgia will continue to follow me everywhere, that I know, and it’s not just aeroplanes that can set it off either — Imperial Leather soap, escalators, hotels, Mikado biscuits, any number of theme tunes, vomiting — pretty much anything can, really.
Aside from the evocative nature of contrails, my own aeroplane nostalgia may occur because, as a child, I collected Airplane – one of those series of weekly, special interest magazines that came with binders, where the first issue is always enticingly cheap and all issues thereafter are significantly more expensive. Such series tended to be heavily advertised on television. There is nothing especially untoward about that, though those ads did seem unusually pervasive. Am I suggesting the crappiest conspiracy theory ever here? One that is both baseless and boring. No, I am not.
Of course, some annoying internal quipster is now suggesting I quip how all conspiracy theories are baseless and boring. They are not, though I suppose it does depend on how broadly you apply the term ‘conspiracy theory’. Stuff always depends on stuff like that. Everything depends on stuff. Why bother even expressing opinions? There is no free will.
Do they still make this sort of thing, by the way? The magazine series things that come in binders, I mean?
I am now trying to guess at who might have been the typical Airplane reader. Was it adults, namely pre-existing fans of aircraft, who wished to expand their already pretty decent knowledge, or was it kids like me? Children are naturally fascinated by aeroplanes, no doubt, but would it compare to the fascination they naturally have for, say, dinosaurs? Or superheroes? This is really not a very interesting question.
Either way, I am not entirely sure why, as an 8 year old, I collected Airplane. I hadn’t much interest — special, passing, or even vague — in aviation. I just liked looking at photos of fighter jets and that was about it. I was never going to be an aeronautical engineer or, my long-held fantasy to own a state-of-the-art flight simulator notwithstanding, a pilot. I imagine most other 8 year olds who bothered to persuade their parents to buy them a magazine this esoteric, on an indefinite, weekly basis, ended up working for Airbus or Boeing. The rest gave up after the second issue, and resumed reading Shoot.
The first issue came with a giant poster of a Stealth Bomber and, because Stealth Bombers would even look cool to a compliant child raised by strict pacifists, this adorned my bedroom wall for months, possibly years. I shared a room with my older brother who had, on his side of the room, a poster of The Doors my mother absolutely hated. “They all look like they’re on drugs,” she would complain with unwitting accuracy. She didn’t seem to mind the super-sleek killing machine above my bed. That said, I didn’t really like the Doors poster either. I much preferred computer games and Italian football to music at that point. I always liked the song ‘Love Street’ though. Probably more than I ever liked aeroplanes. Apart from the Stealth Bomber.
From an educational perspective, the eight-year-old me collecting Airplane was almost entirely pointless, but not quite. My obsession with Top Ten of Everything style lists meant I would always end up acquiring at least some superficial knowledge, i.e., which planes could fly fastest (Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird – around Mach 3.75) and highest (Sr-71 again — around 90,000 feet). I retain this information to this day and haven’t even bothered to verify it via Google (if you could believe such a thing).
Each edition of Airplane would have a featured plane that included a set of lists comparing its top speed, operational ceiling (how high they can fly), size, weaponry, and so on, with its nearest competitors in the flight world. I know I said I had no interest in aviation but I must say, I loved those lists. As I alluded to earlier, I am incapable of recalling the content and flow of my thoughts from childhood, but I do know my basic little Kia-ora-addled brain delighted in comparing the specifications of the F-14 Tomcat with those of the MiG-25. The lists would also provide merciful relief from the paragraphs — each as dull and unreadable as the one before. I knew nothing of the Cold War but those lists pretty much told you everything you needed to know. Who needs paragraphs to learn?
I would sometimes accompany my mother after school to Nolan’s, a leading local newsagent’s, and eagerly check the relevant shelf to see if the latest issue had arrived. I was probably oblivious to the fact it more than likely arrived on the same day each week, and therefore must have needlessly nagged my mother into making unnecessary trips, though she probably had to pick up the paper anyway.
There would also have been several occasions when she visited Nolan’s without me, picking up Airplane by herself, while I was either still at school, or perhaps at home, watching television or kicking a ball against a wall. She may sometimes have picked it up in Nugent’s, a rival newsagent’s. There probably wasn’t a set routine when it came to exactly how Airplane was purchased and where exactly I was when it happened. Most storytellers use artistic license to iron out the vagaries and mundanities of real life, but I don’t seem to be doing that here. I find reasons to become self-conscious when I run out of things to say.
It may be more interesting to try recall how oblivious I was to Nolan’s “top shelf”. Did they even have a “top shelf”? In using inverted commas here, am I presenting myself as some kind of weird, naive, tittering prude (that is what I am but I’d rather people didn’t know)? So many unanswered questions regarding my failure to develop into a functioning human adult free of crippling neuroses and guilt.
In fact so many unanswered questions in general… like exactly how unhealthy are Bounties? Is the capacity to sit alone and watch long stretches of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire without feeling depressed, a sign of depression? (Other symptoms include quietly mouthing the answers as though to impress an imagined companion.) Is using Birdseye Potato Waffles as a pizza topping socially acceptable? Are people who unfriend you on Facebook for no apparent reason justified, or have they dickheadishly high standards regarding who they think deserves their friendship, not caring a jot about leaving the person they unfriend worried and confused? “Oh that John, he never likes my statuses, and his own statuses are weird and infrequent. I think, as punishment, I shall make him deeply paranoid.” (That was, by the way, a purely hypothetical scenario involving a fictional person who happens to share my name). Are fig-rolls truly disgusting or are they actually not all that bad?
Yes, I do have a lot of questions, though it would appear they are mostly bad food and ego related.
Back to Airplane (yawn), I recall being quite excited in the lead up to an issue due to feature a giant aeroplane known as the Galaxy. I mistakenly understood it to be the biggest plane in the world. It turned out to be only one of the biggest. Once again, a list — a wonderful, understandable list — revealed how the always impressive Soviets had built an even bigger one — the Antonov.
I am sitting on our old, abrasive green sofa, tips of the armrests like well worn velcro hooks, in our living room, the light above orangey yellow — less diffuse than lights of today, reading Airplane and relaying the relative sizes of the Galaxy and Antonov to my father seated on the armchair opposite. We must have briefly bonded over this easy-to-digest information. Lists — is there anything they can’t do? That was a pretty specific memory… what a load of nonsense.
Today, ultra-massive cargo-jets sort of fascinate me inasmuch as they sort of disturb me. I am drawn to footage of them on YouTube, similar perhaps, in a very mild way, to how others are drawn to videos of beheadings. There is something about preternaturally huge vehicles that turns the mind to thoughts of evil, death, and destruction. A sublime song/video called ‘Bagger 288’ illustrates this better than any human or sentence ever has, could, or will. I am going to watch it again in a minute.
I unearthed my old Airplane binders while writing this, finding them amid the jumble of abandoned books crammed into boxes in my sister’s old bedroom. With the mostly sedentary life they’ve led, they are in pretty good shape, except I had of course foolishly scissored out a number of fighter jet pictures for a primary school project. The poor old F-14 Tomcat was the main victim of this idiotic rampage. I left its chapter looking like a razed village… maybe it serves it right (though the F-14 would have been used in air-to-air combat, it still kept bad company).
I would like to look at the photo of the F-14’s cockpit again. I remember cutting that one out. I liked that photo; it used to fill my head with wonder. It would have been incinerated a long time ago, along with essays about visiting the zoo or the beach. If only eight-year-old me had realised the pining mess of a person he would eventually become, he might have acted with greater foresight.
Airplane had a weekly paragraph-dominated historical section I passed over as a child. It is odd to read these today as they present a view of war that focuses entirely on machine performance and completely ignores the inhumanity, suffering, and dodgy foreign policies. We are here to talk about planes motherfucker, if you want the other thing, go read John Pilger, or some other goddamn bleeding heart. I suppose it is a bit like presenting a view of contrails that completely ignores global warming. What kind of sick, deluded person would do a thing like that?