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‘I admit that I like…airline food’, The Times

‘Chicken? Where is the night out in chicken?’

Certainly the food in First Class is easy to like – the dimly gleaming caviar and petit four amusant, the port and Stilton that make your veneered cubicle feel like an Edwardian gentleman’s chambers.

But even in row 47 of Blocked Airways I find delight. Mysterious pieces of – what? Chicken? Fish? Who knows? That’s half the fun. ‘Pizza’ seeping enticingly through its cardboard box. Orange juice which arcs prettily on to row 44 when you prise off the skin-slicing tinfoil lid. Rectangles of cake and cheese. (Which is which?) The upside-down wine glass wobbling on the tiny bottle with a cheery plastic tap.

On the ground, this food would be disgusting. But you are not on the ground: you are 35,000 feet above it. That remains an exhilarating thought. It touches everything. The ordinary business of sitting to eat mass-produced food becomes extraordinary, five miles up. Cheap wine drunk while you are looking down on the Horn of Africa tastes like the sommelier’s priciest recommendation. Pizza over the Arctic wastes could have been made by Carluccio personally.

And when the exhilaration pauses and I think, “Hang on. Five miles. It’s a long way. We shouldn’t be up here. It’s against nature”, the rattling trolley and the cabin crew handing out trays like a thousand times before, become comforting, reassuringly grounded.

I admit that I don’t like….fine food. On earth, it’s much more complicated. You swig your aperitif and scoff olives, then the waiter spoils it with the menu. The problem is, choice makes me over-critical. What is jus but a tight-fisted portion of gravy? Garlic makes you smell, and burp. Fish means little bones between your teeth. Lamb means big bones skidding across your plate. Chicken? Where is the night out in chicken? Vegetarian? Well it’s all just vegetables, isn’t it? Resignedly, my gaze slips down to the steak, again.

2 May 2006

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