2 JANUARY 1932, Page 14

Passant Regardant

Bird's-Eye View By PETER FLEMING.

IAWAKE with a guilty start, though for no particular reason. The cabin of the aeroplane is full of the loud, slightly over-confident roaring of the three engines.

One of them I can see through the window. It is almost at my elbow. To the eye of a layman it appears to

be working pretty well. The altimeter tells me that we are flying at five thousand feet. The speedometer tells me that we are doing ninety miles an hour. The seismo- graph, the anemometer, the oil gauge, and the instrument which, very ominously, always registers minus five tell me nothing at all, for I do not understand them. The clock, homesick for Greenwich, has stopped.

I feel slightly ashamed of myself for having gone to sleep. On my knees lies a pamphlet called Travel by Air : The Best Way to See the World. It is full of good, rich, meaty stuff about annihilating space, and the Romance of Aviation. In the circumstances, sleep seems a very earthy indiscretion. What a lot I must have missed ! Hastily, with a kind of frenzied curiosity, I press my nose against the window and peer down at the earth below


The coasts of a white, desolate, jagged country present themselves. So this is Baluchistan ? Most interesting. It reminds me of Gruyere cheese. I contemplate it for ten, for twenty minutes, with profound interest. The Persian Gulf, directly underneath us, is, I note, of a bright blue colour. It sparkles in a restful manner. A slight feeling of torpor creeps over me . . . I pull myself together. This will never do. I glare relentlessly at Baluchistan. After all, I shall probably never see the place again, and there must be many of my friends who have never seen it at all. I must not abuse the much- vaunted privilege of a bird's-eye view. When people say " And what about Baluchistan ? " am I to fob them off by mumbling something about Gruyere cheese ? Was it for this that I risked vertigo and suffered cramp ? Has man no more attractive spoils to show for his Conquest of the Air ? . .

The passenger in front of me turns in his chair. His face glows with pleasure and excitement. " Wa-wa-wa- wa-wa-wa ! " he shouts in my ear, which is stuffed with cotton-wool, and he points ahead of us. Following his finger, I am just able to discern what is almost certainly a Baluch, or Baluchi, village : a cluster of low rectangular huts, of the same colour as the desert round them. To us it looks like an unfinished game of dominoes on which the dust has settled. But the man behind me is not going to miss his glimpse of tribal life. He leans forward and roars at the top of his voice in my ear : "What did he say ? " " Wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-ova ! " I yell back, putting a bold face on it and passing on the information to the best

of my ability. He nods with an air of abstracted con- tentment (for it is a pleasing convention of air travel that even quite long conversations can be carried on without

either party understanding a word of what is being said).

We all gaze with a knowing and enthusiastic air at the village, in the purlieus of which hunianity manifests itself in a rash of little white dots. It seems so probable that those sexless, ageless, indeterminate speckles, our fellow-beings, regard us as something in the nature of gods that for a moment, forgetting our nut-shell, we remember to count ourselves lords of infinite space.

But very soon the village is left behind, and our arro- gance with it. For a time we continue to cast about us glances of gradually diminishing expectancy. Baluchistan withholds its secrets, and our curiosities are blunted by the large, accurate relief-map to which, for us as for the more energetic birds, the world is reduced. The man in front of me reverts by imperceptible stages to Edgar Wallace; The man behind me chews wistfully on his empty pipe; The loud engines, the glare of the sun off the silver wings, the smooth, slow progression of parched and broken lands below build up around us a spurious air of eternity. Our existence is at once unnatural and monotonous, like a tune -on the gramophone when the needle has got stuck. I eye with a certain resentment the pamphlet, called Travel By Air : The Best Way to See the World .

. There is a notice printed on the cotton-wool box in front of me : " Please do not throw any article out of the window. It is Prohibited by Government Regulations." Alas for Law and Order! Alas for a government vigilant to protect the inhabitants of the globe from a shower of banana skins and detective novels ! I pick up the pamphlet, the mendacious and deluding pamphlet, and consign it to the furious rush of air outside the window.

Then, long before it has reached the sinuous and desolate shore of the Persian Gulf, I fall once more, but this time with no sense of guilt, into a deep and dreamless sleep,