Flying at the Edge

For 11 years, only chloroform would have got me onto a plane. I’d never been that big a fan of flying sheets of metal anyway, but something in me snapped and I decided I would never get on one again.

The irony is that 9/11 changed everything. I wondered what, if I’d been on one of those doomed planes, would have been my one regret in life. It was that I’d never lived in Paris. Within the week, I was on the Eurostar and renting an apartment in the city I would come to know as home for the next six years.

It was also around that time that I went on my first cruise, writing about it for a travel piece. There, I met Lisa, an amazing woman who has remained a great friend, and she gave me this piece of advice: “Travel while you’ve got your health.”

Since that day, you cannot keep me out of the skies. I’ve been to so many places, met some incredible people and now live in New York, from where I travel regularly to LA on the opposite coast, catching planes in the same way I do buses. If it all ended today, I’ve had a better life than most people in the world.

My impending 60th birthday has set me thinking about everything I’ve done but also everything I still want to do. I’d love to see India, Australia, China, Japan (I’m still planning to go to the Rugby World Cup there). I want to see the Northern Lights, Lake Como, the fireworks in Sydney Harbour on New Year’s Eve. I want to live and breathe so many riches before time runs out: to travel, physically, mentally and spiritually – while I have my health.

Since selling my house in Wales and apartment in Spain, people keep asking me whether I would be wise to invest in another property. With deep frowns, they question whether my renting is “dead money”. I tell them that the years of being tied to interest-only mortgages was dead money, too, and that my advice to any young person today would be, don’t do it.

I’ve invested in living. That’s probably the single most important thing I’ve learned in my six decades on the planet. I haven’t been irresponsible. My dad told me to take out personal pensions because I was self-employed, and the fact that I did (three, to be precise) is the main reason I am able to enjoy travelling as much as I do now. 

Having spent years with banks on my back and sleepless nights worrying about mortgages, I’m enjoying freedom. I genuinely don’t feel any different being in a rented place from how I did in any that I owned (well, the bank owned, really). Heck, I’m writing this from my apartment in mid-town Manhattan and looking out over the Hudson.

I’ve been writing a book about money and our relationship to it (to be honest, I need the money!). I’ve written about the tough times I’ve endured and no one really knows just how bad things got. Within the past three years, there were two occasions when I was, literally, crying because I had no food and I was really, really hungry. With absolutely no money and an empty fridge, I also resorted to taking toilet rolls from the rest room in my building (not to eat them, but you don’t need to know the gory details why I needed them).

Now, don’t get me wrong: I know I brought this on myself. I could have stayed in my gorgeous house in Cardiff and Spanish penthouse and carried on until the end of my days. Nobody made me take an apartment in the most expensive area of New York City; nobody made me jump ship to a whole new life before I’d wrapped up the old one.

But I have carried with me a piece of blue paper that goes with me everywhere. I was in my twenties, in London, on the dole, stealing chicken drumsticks from buffets at events I gate-crashed (some habits die hard) because I couldn’t afford to eat. 

I lived like that in London for over four years and it was tough. I met a guy called Nathaniel (I’ve tried to track him down and, alas have not been able to) who, in an instant changed my life. I’d been bemoaning my fate, my foolishness in moving to London without a job, and he took my notebook and wrote this poem by Christopher Logue, often wrongly attributed to Guillaime Apollinaire:-

   “Come to the edge,” he said.
   “We can’t, we’re afraid!” they responded.
   “Come to the edge,” he said.
   “We can’t, We will fall!” they responded.
   “Come to the edge,” he said.
   And so they came.
   And he pushed them.
   And they flew.”

I’m not saying I’m soaring as well as I might, but I found my wings.

And some of them give me Air Miles, too.

What more could I want?