Eleven years ago I was sitting in an aeroplane, 500 miles of the coast of Brazil, when there was a sudden jolt. Drinks were spilt and people laughed nervously. Just as the atmosphere was returning to normal, there was another jolt and the plane started to shake. The fasten seatbelts sign came on and the Argentinian pilot cheerfully announced that we had merely 'heet a leedle beet of tarrbulence'.
I wasn't convinced. I had experienced turbulence before and this was somethinq quite different, but the cabin crew seemed to be taking it all in their stride so I returned to my book. However the turbulence got worse and I noticed that a deathly quiet had replaced the animated chatter of the plane's mostly South American passangers. Was this it? Were we going to plunge to a watery grave in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean? After the terrible events of last week, perhaps it wasn't such a ridiculous question.
I have been scared of flying ever since and although I haven't completely succumbed to my phobia, I don't go out of my way to travel by plane. However, rationally I know full well that it isn't travelling to another country that's dangerous. The trouble really starts when you've arrived.
Some people have the irritating ability to assimilate themselves effortlessly into new countries. By the end of the first day, they have a local bar. By the second, they've been invited for a meal, successfully bartered their way in the local market and climbed a nearby mountain. Their laidback bonhomie is the WD40 of social intercourse (and probably sexual, too).
When I travel my trips are marked by a succession of minor mishaps and near-death encounters which, in most cases, don't even amount to a half-decent anecdote.
I have been stalked by a mountain lion, had my car reduced to a small cube by a huge truck on an ill-fated trip to Bodega Bay (where Hitchcock filmed The Birds), dumped on a larva field in the middle of nowhere by a malevolent taxi driver and almost crushed under the wheels of a bus in Chile.
All of these things happened because I was clueless about my surroundings. I arrived with my own preconceptions about how things worked and naively assumed that the British way of doing things was based on some universal law of common sense, rather than being a variation on a theme. Most of the time, this ignorance resulted in minor frustrations, but occasionally I made near-fatal errors.
So flying isn't the problem. It's being abroad. I suppose I should take the hint and stay at home.