Somewhere over the runway

Isn’t it interesting how fast, in news terms, the volcanic eruption that brought North European aviation to a CNN 24/7 saturation standstill only a fortnight ago has gone as cold as old ash?

And just as I was warming to the idea of living in a world where I wouldn’t have to remove my boots and belt in order to visit my mother, who lives in England, but is not, as far as I know, on suicide watch in a maximum security facility.

No, I was starting to muse on more leisurely visits to my ancestral home, trips that would involve a slow boat, a trunk full of fluttery tea dresses and a bracing round of deck quoits before cocktail hour.

In this aspirational dream sequence, I wave farewell — in slo-mo with a lace handkerchief — to Kulula moolla, towelling air socks, deep vein thromboses and, with a small sob of relief, chicken-or-beef.

Life under the post-aviation volcano would be slow moving, if not entirely peaceful at first. But in my fantasy the folk who live in the lava belt will die fast, and forever be preserved in lifelike poses — iPhones soldered to ears, arms flung out in poignant death dives to cover small children and box sets of The Wire.

Thus will a fleeting catastrophe be richly compensated for by a fabby new museum. Future generations will gain invaluable insight into how life was lived in arctic Europe in the 21st century, and the area around Eyjafjallajökull will be declared a world heritage site if they can fit it on a signpost. This will go some way to helping Iceland to recover from bankruptcy and perhaps even from Björk, especially if she is discovered preserved in hairspray, straddling a team of Huskies.

The volcanic eruption that left much of the world stranded in Groundhog Day departures hell was, we hear from Iceland’s prime minister, just a dress rehearsal for the big one, which is historically on schedule to blow within a year. The ash plume, they say, may cover the Earth for years —

This news makes it even more worrying that most people have already settled back into their airline seats as though nothing much happened. Even Google is sluggish on the subject.

But a lot happened, and the unstoppable drama of nature may well bring about the end of the world as we know it quicker than the climate change we once tremblingly imagined would send us back to the Ice Age in our lifetime. Who could have predicted that the Iceland Age would get us first? Certainly not Al Gore or Miley Cyrus or any of the lesser-known climate change oracles whose names I can’t think of right now.

At first, the changes will be small, even domestic in scale. I predict the Euro divorce rate will rise significantly in coming months as a direct result of all the love cheats who told their partners they were going to a conference in Brussels just before the ash hit the fan, leaving them stranded in, er, Barcelona actually, wildly wondering if they’d get away with it because they both start with “B”. News won’t necessarily travel more slowly (please Nature Fairy, leave us our online powers and DStv) but it will be made more slowly because the newsmakers themselves — politicians, athletes, Miley Cyrus — will move more slowly through the physical world. This will affect even Usain Bolt, unless he decides to run to the next Olympics.

Space will shrivel or stretch to the distance a bus or a train or a large German car with a blue light on its roof and men waving guns out the window can travel in a day. This could mean the end of politics as we know it. Foreign Affairs will become the joker portfolio in the pack. Argentina can keep Tony Leon.

Business that cannot reasonably be conducted overland will be conducted via Skype or YouTube or the telly from small local studios. It will be much harder for politicians to shake the hands of innocent voters or pinch their babies or meet someone in a hotel room far from home for a quickie. Indeed, a quickie will become a slowie, requiring the kind of selfless commitment politicians are not really famous for.

Touching someone on their studio will become the best way to attract the voting public’s attention.

Somewhere, over the runway, lies the future.

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Charlotte Bauer
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