Books: Flying Visits: Preliminaries |
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Postcards from the Observer

To Martin Amis

Then, forehead against the pane, I suddenly feel
The longing open-armed behind the bone
To drown myself in other worlds, to steal
All lives, all times, all countries not my own.

Francis Hope, Schlossbesuch


Author's Note

These articles, along with some of the Introduction, appeared in the Observer from time to time between 1976 and 1983. Here and there I have restored some small cuts which had to be made if the piece was to fit the page, but otherwise I have added very little. The occasional outright howler has been corrected, but only if it was a matter of detail which I should have got right in the first place. Hindsight would have allowed further improvements but there would have been no end to the process. In the second article about China, for example, it seemed likely at the time, and for some time after, that the Hong Kong dollar would hold up. A year later, the Peking mandarins having proved intractable, it fell. If I were to rewrite the piece so as to predict this fact, it would become a claim of prescience, or at any rate no longer a report written at that moment. But like any other flying visitor, in the Far East or anywhere else, I was there at that moment, ignorant as to what would happen next, and fully occupied with making the most elementary sense of what had happened already. That has been the real story of mass jet travel: the world opening up to people who have no qualifications for exploring it except the price of a ticket. But I have never been able to believe that all my fellow tourists were quite blind. Even a postcard can be written with point.

— London, 1984


Preface to the Virgin edition

My ambition for this book, while I was writing it, was for it to be sold from the book stall at the airport. Unashamedly in love with air travel, I wanted nothing more than to be the perpetrator of the kind of artefact which people bought just before they got on the plane. When a woman told me that she had read the whole of Flying Visits between London and Cairo, I was pleased rather than insulted. (The man who said he read it between Paris and Berlin, I didn't believe.)

As the author of a book which air travellers purchased at the last minute, along with the chocolate and extra batteries, I thought that I had come as close to the great thrill of the twentieth century as I was going to get. But now, Flying Visite is to be handed out by Virgin before you start your trip, leaving you fully equipped long before you get the blankets, head sets and the drink from the bar. After having flown a million miles myself, I am no nearer being blasé about those pre-takeoff hand-outs than a child on its first trip.

As a feature writer, I went to a lot of different places but I never fell for the common idea that air travel had made all the places the same or that flying itself had become devoid of interest. Even a sea of cloud is something to look at if you haven't seen it before. If you have, there is always the movie, and if you've seen that before, then why not read a book?