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Flight of Fancy: A Cautionary Tale for the Summer Holidays

If you’re off travelling this summer, be careful who you sit next to on the plane. You never know where it might lead. Here’s a cautionary tale from my pre-Hawkesbury days.

Geneva Bound

Lake Geneva (Lac Léman) with Jet d'Eau, Geneva...
Sailing close to the wind on Lake Geneva (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my 20s, I worked as a journalist for a trade magazine in London, often travelling abroad on business. When going somewhere new, I always tried to add in a day’s holiday for sightseeing. One Sunday on a flight to Geneva, I opened the novel I’d brought with me: Boris Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago.

“Oh!” said the middle-aged businessman next to me. “What a coincidence! I’ve got that book in my bag too.”

So began a long conversation that lasted till we touched down and ended with us arranging to share a boat trip around Lake Geneva that afternoon. He seemed pleasant enough, and after all, we had something in common – Dr Zhivago.

The sun was shining, it was a glorious trip, and we followed it up with a drink in a bar, where he asked if I’d join him for dinner. All of a sudden, I started hearing what he was saying as if through the ears of my fiancé back in London, who would certainly not have viewed this man as a platonic friend with no ulterior motive.

I made a transparent excuse and declined. The man gave me a wry smile, we shook hands (our only physical contact all day) and parted forever.

Falling to Earth

Doctor Zhivago
The enigma of Doctor Zhivago (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Only later that evening, alone in my hotel room, did I begin to wonder whether I’d been hoodwinked. Had I just been the victim of a well-practised chat-up line, an opening gambit honed by years of business trips? Suddenly I realised: I never had seen his copy of Dr Zhivago. I suspect now it didn’t exist. And I never did tell my fiancé.

So, wherever you’re going for your holidays this summer, have fun, take care –  and don’t talk to any strange men!

Boris Pasternak during the First Congress of S...
I blame you, Boris Pasternak (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you enjoyed this post, you might like these other tales of troubled travel:

Travelling Light – how to cope with your husband’s packing deficiences

Have SatNav, Will Travel (Less)  – skirting danger on the roads of Bristol

Nous Sommes En Panne – The Tale of Our Luxembourg Camper Van Crisis

With thanks to intrepid traveller and writer Laura Zera, whose call for stories of interesting people met on planes triggered this long-suppressed memory. Laura writes a fabulous travel blog too: This post also appears in the July 2013 edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News.


English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

12 thoughts on “Flight of Fancy: A Cautionary Tale for the Summer Holidays

  1. Debbie, I’m surprised at you for sounding so wimpy! Just teasing 😉 My take is that not only does it give one a laugh to be chatted up on a plane (unless he’s really ghastly, and it didn’t sound as though he was), but being a writer it’s a marvellous way for a hero and heroine to meet. I can even see it as a film. Meg Ryan being furious because she realises she never saw the evidence. Hero has to confess. They have a row. Then get back together somehow with sloppy ending. What more can you ask of a flight?

    1. I was very young and green in those days, you understand! If it happened again now, I wouldn’t mind at all (got a buzz out of being called “young lady” by a VERY old man whom I’d helped up some steps yesterday!) And yes, such things are a gift to writers – I confess that this anecdote will be morphing into a short story in my imminent new collection, “Travel Size”, 20 tales inspired by travel dilemmas! I shall now picture my heroine as Meg Ryan… 🙂

  2. Think the best of people. No-one can chat you up unless you want to be chatted. There is no danger and it sounds as if it made the trip enjoyable.

    1. You’re absolutely right, Ros – and I didn’t mind a bit at the time (only as I got older and wiser did I begin to worry about what might have happened!)

  3. Glad I could get the memory wheel turning and thank you for giving me credit! I really think this ranks as the perfect (as in, flattering) encounter with a stranger because you got to indulge in his attention but then you deployed your exit strategy at precisely the right time. Good job! 😉

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