It is important to have people like Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary around who can say the unsayable

Apart from in bad turbulence, when I would still much rather be somewhere else, I am OK with flying these days. But I used to have a problem with it and would have various rituals that helped me cope, such as keeping my feet flat on the floor, pointing straight ahead. For those who can’t relate to aerophobia (yes, it has a name) it is to do with ceding control of your life to someone else (the pilot). That and being trapped — trapped, I tell you! — in 200 tons of gravity-defying metal, 12 miles above the earth. My seatbelt, needless to say, stayed on at all times.
I had to smile, then, when I heard Michael O’Leary’s comment the other day. “Seatbelts don’t matter,” he said, “because if you crash in a plane you’re all dead anyway.” He’s right, of course. I just can’t believe he, the boss of Ryanair, was the one who came out and said it.
You have to admire his Olympian tactlessness. He is one of those people — the Duke of Edinburgh and Boris Johnson are others — for whom normal rules don’t seem to apply. Imagine the uproar if Richard Branson had said that about seatbelts, or if David Cameron had cracked Boris’s joke about the Olympics producing such joy on the sofas of Britain that they not only inspired a generation, they probably helped to create one as well. “I can get away with that,” he added.
And so he can. It is important to have people around who can say the unsayable. Like Lear’s Fool, they seem to have a licence to mock and make honest, commonsensical observations. As well as the sexual politics of the Olympics, Boris has been able to speak his mind on the basket case that is the European Union. I only wish he would now do the same with the NHS, that most sacred of cows. Someone needs to say something, because you could treble its budget and it would still be dysfunctional. And what about Pakistan? It is supposed to be our ally yet it keeps playing host to terrorist training camps. And Mick Jagger. Why does no one say anything about his dancing? He is always hailed as a great mover but the man has no sense of rhythm at all. None. (Actually, perhaps Boris isn’t the best person to comment on that one.)
A tip of the hat to Sir Peter Hall for the excuse he has come up with for heckling during a Chekhov play: he did it “accidentally”, claiming he was “briefly disorientated” after falling asleep. I’m going to start using that one. “Why did you eat those tuna steaks that were in the fridge when you knew perfectly well that I had bought them for myself as part of a diet?”
“It was an accident. I was briefly disorientated after falling asleep.”
It will have plausibility in my case because my wife knows I am always disorientated when I wake up – never more so than when she catches me having a post-prandial nap at the weekend, after I have claimed I was too busy to do something that involved shopping, or the children.
There will always be a book lying across my chest and sometimes, in my disorientation, I will pick it up the wrong way round when I pretend to be reading it. This action is accompanied by my blurting out: “I wasn’t asleep!” She will then cock her head and stare pointedly at the damp patch on my collar where I have been dribbling like a baby.
I think old age, crashing planes permitting, will suit me. My parents, both still fit at 80 and 81, can now legitimately factor into their daily routine an after-lunch nap. It is expected. No one questions it. Lucky devils.
I think we would be much less cranky as a nation if we all adopted the siesta regardless of age, in the manner of Spain. There is something civilised about it, even if it doesn’t do your economy many favours. Perhaps a British version might be along the lines of the Churchill catnap, something he did for five minutes here and there throughout the day; he even had a camp bed for that purpose in the Cabinet War Rooms. Or perhaps the Colin Powell approach would suit us. He has trained himself to have a nap after lunch, while still seated at his desk.