John Walker's Electronic House


by on Dec.09, 2009, under The Rest

Everybody who spends as much time stuck inside their own head as I understands those bizarre compulsions to do things that might not be entirely in line with that which is sensible. The ridiculous idea that fills your mind, either to be acted upon or shaken loose before you get in trouble. I think the most terrible example in recent times was when waiting for the toilet on my flight back from Seattle a few weeks back. I was stood next to the emergency exit door, with that deliciously big handle, and the words written in red with the chunky red arrow, instructing you to rotate it through the full 180 degrees. How incredibly fun it would be to turn a handle so large and appealing, to tug to begin its motion, and then satisfactorily clunk it into place. It would be like turning the lever handle on a giant bank vault, or opening a secret cave in an ancient tomb. I cannot imagine a more fantastic handle to turn. Except this one would of course lead to the deaths of hundreds of people on board, including me, and the plane crashing out of the sky.

Which then led me to wonder whether it was even possible to turn the handle while the plane was flying in full health. Surely terrorism would be far too easy if it were, there being no need for exploding Oasis bottles or box cutter knives if you need only rotate the unguarded giant lever with the big arrow telling you you should? There must be some rules to this door. But then, it’s an emergency exit, so what rules can there be? Admittedly I can think of few emergencies where you’d want the door to open while tens of thousands of feet in the sky, depressurising the cabin and likely failing to save anyone from any imaginable event. I am constantly disappointed that there aren’t parachutes on board for passengers, and without them such an emergency exit would be a little futile. So surely it can’t be possible to turn that handle? Which took me past the desire to turn the beautiful handle, and into a more terrible place: wanting to find out if it could be done. Suddenly the impulse to pull it became scientific enquiry, and despite not wanting to die, nor indeed to kill everyone else, the niggle of that lever, the flash of the fantasy of what it would look like, caused me to become terrified that I might lose control of my sense and give it a try. Fortunately the person who had been taking quite so long in the toilet was finally finished and I was distracted from my attempted act of terrorism.

But this wasn’t enough to shake loose those impulses. However those that followed were less murderous. A few days later travelling home from London I arrived at Paddington from the tube and was walking back to the main station, a one-day four-zone travel card in my hand. I always have the same thought: this card continues to work until midnight, and all these people stood in line at the machines are about to pay money for the same thing. I could give mine to someone and make their lives easier. And then walk straight past, afraid of going up to a stranger and offering them a thing they want. Insane. But not today. Today I would listen to this impulse.

So then I had to think about to who I’d give it. By what criteria would I make this judgement? My first instinct: a beautiful lady. I’d give her the ticket, a scruffy, hairy fat man whom she could never love, but for that moment she would smile and the world would be… what? More terrible. An attractive person getting more shit for free. That’s no good. So maybe I pick someone who looks like a loser? Someone who looks like they can’t afford the ticket they’re buying? Quite how much am I going to judge by appearances here? It’s idiotic. And so as I reached the lines of people waiting I was, well, mostly disappointed by how few people were waiting. So I turned to the person nearest me, a guy who looked maybe in his mid 20s, and said, “Is this any use to you?” And he looked up and with so much conviction replied, “I really need this. Thank you.” So I nodded politely and left. And I felt amazing! He really needed it! I was like a superhero. I was so happy I thought I might be about to enact my other constant compulsion, the one where I say to someone who looks incredibly lovely, but perhaps not the sort who would get constantly complimented on her looks, where I say, “You are beautiful.” And then just keep walking. Because I think even hearing that from a scruffy, hairy fat guy, that would still be a great thing to have someone say to you in the middle of Paddington train station.

And there she was. The girl who was beautiful, but not in a boring conventional way, and I took a breath in as I walked near to her. And then breathed out as I walked past. Not yet. But hopefully before I open any aeroplane emergency exits.


15 Comments for this entry

  • Neils Clark

    Apparently, due to the air pressure being so much greater inside the plane at 30,000 feet, and as the door opens inward, you’d need a STR of 18/00 to have the slightest chance of wrenching it open.

    But I say give it a go.

    And as for the pretty ladies, there’s this perfectly lovely redhead at the copy store. Last time I needed something printed in a pinch, we got to talking. She literally said, “Yep, nooooo plans for the weekend. Nothing.”

    My reply?

    “This Sunday I’m playing dungeons and dragons. Well, see you next time.”

  • GibletHead2000

    Nice post. I’ve often wondered if other people sometimes have trouble resisting doing stupid thinks like throwing their keys into the canal. I’ve almost done this more than once. Cheers.

  • NM

    The plane is pressurised, and the door is wider than the frame (like a bath plug). As such, there’s tons of air pressing on it, and you will not be able to open it in flight. Sorry if this spoils the frisson of your fantasy.

    Once you’ve landed and the air pressure is equalised with the ground, you’ll be able to open it and, assuming that the doors haven’t been returned to manual, the slide will automatically inflate. So you can still have *some* fun before you get arrested.

  • Lu-Tze

    I mostly have these whilst in the car. If i’m a passenger, sometimes I get this uncontrollable urge to just open the door. Can I do it against the rushing wind as we hurtle down the motorway? Will the car become a whirlwind? Could I lean right out into the air, fist clenched around my seatbelt, and watch the ground zoom past just inches away? Even worse when i’m driving, sometimes there’s that urge to crash. Hell, i’m only going 30, and car would totally buffer it.

    It’s nice to know i’m not insane, by the simple definition that i’m as sane as everyone else.

  • Mike Arthur

    Apparently giving your tickets to people funds crime IN YOUR AREA and other such horrible people. I love scaremongering.

    So you are not only a terrorist but also a crimelord now? I’m waiting till this site gets shut down by MI5 or something.

  • Ian

    I get this sort of thing, the most recurring one being while driving. “What would it feel like to smash the car into (for example) a tree?” Nothing fatal and I don’t want to hurt anybody else, you understand.

    What bothers me isn’t that people aren’t polite or kind to strangers (well, that does bother me but that’s a different matter) it’s when I say or offer to do something out of nothing more than courtesy and the other person looks genuinely surprised.

    Coming into a train station one evening there’s a woman on the train with an enormous pram and I knew the train/platform gap at that station to be quite large so I asked if she’d like a hand lifting the pram down. The look she gave me before accepting the offer made me sad.

    Anyway, ramble over. Go John! Next time I think I could do something like this I shall think to myself: What Would Walker Do?

    And hopefully I can make somebody’s day, too. :)

  • Ian

    …I just realised the rest of my post seems unrelated to the first paragraph. I’d jumped from random impulses to the reaction of the guy to your generosity.

  • Jazmeister

    Those sort of thoughts are funny, aren’t they? The kind of, “Do it!”, “No, don’t, bad things will happen!”, “But just do iiiiiit!” exchanges.

    As far as kindly impulses, I’ve had bad luck with them, I’m afraid. The first time I came to London I did so by train from Inverness (eek!), and I noticed they charged 20p to get into the toilet at the station in London. I sat a lot of twenty pence pieces on the turnstyle, and, not content to let my good deed get on with itself, I had to sit and watch people take them.

    Someone took one and used it, and then a passing security guard noticed them and just took them all.

    Also, in the trans-terminal train at Newark Airport, some old guy’s trolley-suitcase thing flopped over, and I bent down to pick it up for him. He actually whacked me in the shin with his cane, snatched the proferred suitcase away, and said, “That’s mine!”

    Moments later though, I met my wife for the first time, so that was alright.

  • coyote

    I don’t normally need travel cards what with having an oyster card and all, but my old job wouldn’t refund oyster transactions so I’d always buy a ticket so I could claim it back. Twice in one weekend someone gave me their unused ticket while I was queuing to buy one, for which I was very grateful.

    Also, I totally claimed back the expenses for the tickets I hadn’t paid for. If MP’s do it it’s ok.*

    *see also my auto-erotic hanging incident

  • MrsTrellis

    I see Nick has already disabused you but I will do the same because you’ve surprised me with how silly you are.

    No, you can’t open the emergency exit doors while a plane is in flight.

    I have an impulse to overcorrect people.

  • Nick

    I think such impulses (to do with the plane door) are written deep into our instincts. You can’t become one of the most adaptable mammals with out some quite suicidal thoughts along the way. “Hmmm, fire. That thing that animals flee in terror from. The thing that burns, destroys. I wonder if there is a way to tame it?”. Many a time the person with such thoughts has probably met a sticky end, but enough must have not for the genes that make us so damn curious to become very prevalant.

    I have a cartoon on my wall. It shows a stick man walking up to a button. The stickman presses the button and receive a nasty shock. Then there a two possible endings. One says “Normal person – ‘Woah I best not do that again'”. The other says “Scientist – ‘I wander if that happens every time'”. It was given to me by my best mate who says I have no survival instinct which is fair enough. When I was a child I was once a bit too curious about a lamp and lightbulbs. I wondered what magic happened in the socket that made the bulb glow. So I took the bulb out, put my finger in and turned it on. Ouch.

    Lovely post Mr Walker.

  • always_black

    “Moments later though, I met my wife for the first time, so that was alright.”

    There should be some kind of competition where all the entries have to end with this line.

  • MrsTrellis

    Nick’s post reminds me of a story I heard about a fan in a Spanish gents’ lavatory. A friend of mine was standing at the urinal and noticed a recessed fan in the wall at his eye level. He had an urge to stick his finger in the recess to see if this would stop the blades from turning. With his free hand, he reached out…

    Basically the story ends with the chap concerned covered in a mixture of his own blood and wee. He had to make up an excuse for his girlfriend when he eventually emerged.

  • Clare

    Why is this tagged under rants? It’s a story with a happy ending. I like it.

  • Dozer

    Every now and then, someone does try to open the doors like you said. They get jumped on by many terrified passengers, then incarcerated and/or incinerated.

    I have opened the door (of my car – not of an aeroplane) while driving along main roads at 70mph, when I realise I didn’t shut it properly when I got in and now all the air and noise is getting in. Nothing bad happens.

    More annoying is when someone tries to open the door of the bus when I’m driving it. Trying to board a moving bus this way will cause immediate tests to see if the cash dispenser can be equipped as a melee weapon.

    The RSS feed stayed quiet for months and then spewed eleven updates at once, hence, I am a month late!