The perils of flying include dull seat neighbours.
I SKIPPED down the air bridge, completely untroubled by the prospect of seven hours' flying time from Dubai to Prague after being upgraded to a business-class seat. But as I entered the blessed pointy end of the plane, my heart sank when the man in the seat next to me stood up and made immediate eye contact, saying hello in a way I knew meant he was up for a chat.
Rather than let my elation dim, I looked up for a nanosecond, gave half a smile and looked away, which I hoped was universally understood code for "please, please don't talk to me".
No such luck. My heavenly journey would soon turn into seven hours in hell. He started before take-off with a soliloquy containing way too many details about the hotel he spent the previous night in, people he met during his stay in Dubai, what he intended to have for lunch and then a bonus lecture about the champagne we were drinking.
I plunged into a full-blown panic when we'd been flying for only an hour and I already knew the name of his wife (Stella), how they met (online), where they used to live (the US), where they now live (Prague), a spectacularly boring story about his wife's sister (Sally), way too much information about why they didn't yet have children and how they had just bought a dog (black and fluffy).
He then overshared that they'd just bought a bespoke wrought-iron bed (care factor: zero), that his wife had gone back to uni (so?) and, incredibly, they'd had dinner at their neighbours' house and eaten Italian food (you cannot be serious).
Out of the corner of my eye I saw him rummaging in the seat pocket. Oh god, not the BlackBerry, please not the BlackBerry. And with breathtaking inability to read my stony-faced silence, he pulled out the photos. Wife. Home. Backyard. Dog in backyard. The road trip to Italy. The neighbours' little Italian get-together.
The fact that I did not say a word in response to this tidal wave of the world's most tedious personal detail did not seem to register with my yak, yak, yakking neighbour. I wondered which bit of my face wasn't getting the message through? Surely my expression was screaming: "Please god, make it stop!" I realised the only way to escape the torture was to abandon good manners completely.
I finally turned away, picked up a magazine and pretended to read. But I flinched, gobsmacked, as he leant across me, pointing to an ad in my magazine for a watch he had his eye on. I turned the page hoping he'd go back and sit in his seat properly but he had decided to read the magazine, too. Even though it was on my lap!
The fact that I kept buzzing the hostie for more champagne must be why I didn't think to put on the headphones. There just wasn't a long enough break in the monologue to give me a chance to think up an exit strategy.
After we landed, I went to the ladies to freshen up before disembarking. To my utter amazement I came back to my seat to find he'd left without even saying goodbye.