The Days Of The Giant Cloud Of Ash

I’m pretty sure most of you will remember when I was trapped in Liverpool back in December, when airports across England were shut down because of “the worst winter in 50 years”. Beats me how some people can define a few milimeters of ice and a sprinkling of snow as “the worst winter in 50 years”, but then maybe I don’t really know what I’m talking about (unless you take into account the fact that every winter of my life, I’ve been living with half a metre of snow at least). Whatever. I told you that story to tell you this story…

There’s an even weirder phenomenon preventing me from travelling this week. A volcano in Iceland, with a name whose pronounciation escapes me, has decided to erupt after 2 centuries of being content with itself. And the bloody thing has coughed up a giant cloud into Europe’s atmosphere, so vicious, that all airplanes across most of Europe are now at a standstill in the worst air travel crisis, not just since 9/11, but since World War 2.

I’m not terribly upset this time though, because I’m trapped at home (as opposed to being trapped in Liverpool). And a few extra days at home really can’t hurt! The only thing I’m a bit concerned about is that it might affect the end of my academic year a little, but theres “mitigating circumstances forms” to be filled in for that. And if it suddenly starts raining ash from the skies, I can very quickly get indoors, or inside a car, so it’s all good.

But this whole situation made me muse a little. Volcanoes have erupted all the time, throughout history. Unlike WW2, or 9/11, it is a completely natural occurence. It made me realize how dependent we are on air travel, and by extension, on all modern facilities we take for granted (electricity, internet, even running water). I was reading an article on the website of a British newspaper this morning, saying that if the ash continues to ground planes, then supermarkets in Britain will run out of certain fresh fruit and vegetables within half a week. Britain is so dependent on those fruits being flown in from other countries, but people are not conscious of the reality of that, until something like this happens. Or the fact that John Cleese (in a brilliant Python-esque turn) had to take a taxi from Oslo to Brussels. Or the fact that the funeral of the former Polish president may be postponed because various dignitaries can’t fly there. Or the fact that Andy Murray has to drive to get to his tennis tournament in Barcelona.

So we are now dealing with a situation which is not in the least bit hypothetical. No air travel in Europe means what? Short of human beings suddenly developing wings, we have to regress about 3/4 of a century, and imagine a Europe where train, bus, car or ferry are the only means of travel. We’ve become so internationalized that airplanes are such a vital necessity for us today! Would I have gone all the way to Liverpool to study music if there were no airplanes? Probably not. Horse and carriage across Europe ain’t all that appealing to me, buster!

Incidentally, the air seems cleaner today, now that there’s no planes flying. 🙂

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