Then, I turned to First Class and for a second thought that I had revolved a full 180 degrees and somehow ended up back in Economy. But no, there was the air stewardess, pointing excitedly at my complimentary newspaper - as far as I could tell the only perk not available to those I'd left behind.
I was expecting something a little more ... esoteric, something more in keeping with our position of the airline's most valued customers: perhaps a monkey with a jewelled necklace would come out and dance an amusing jig; or we'd be given temporary diplomatic immunity, allowing us to return to Economy and drive a car at high speed up and down the aisle.
But no, nothing like that. I spent the rest of the journey trying to understand what the extra pounds 40 or pounds 50 was going towards, and when it came to me I let out such a yell of astonishment that I was asked to return to Economy.
It's the curtain. You're paying for the curtain. You're paying so that the people in Economy can look at the curtain and imagine what it would be like to be behind the curtain. Of course, when you're behind the curtain, being behind the curtain isn't that big a deal. But when you're not behind the curtain, being behind the curtain seems like something to aspire to.
The curtain isn't just an airborne phenomenon. On the ground, it's used to separate VIPs from common folk at parties and gigs, and even if the atmosphere in the VIP lounge is tense and awkward, as it so often is, people will humiliate themselves by getting into arguments with the bouncers to gain admittance. ("I just want to check if a friend of mine's in there. Look, this is my girlfriend, she'll stay out here until I come out. I tell you what - hold on to my foot and I'll just lean in to have a look. All right, open the curtain and just let me smell the air. I just want to smell the air. Oh, wait, there's - JARVIS! JARVIS IT'S ME! Damn.")
I conducted a little experiment in my home to test the power of The Curtain. First I removed the door from my bedroom and replaced it with the purple curtains from the front room. Then I invited a friend over. I spoke to him for a little while in the sitting room, then said "well, nice talking to you" and went through the curtains into my room. After about half an hour, my friend entered the bedroom with a drink. For the next hour I ignored him, but so excited was he to be in the VIP lounge that he stubbornly remained there, even though there was obviously a lot of "bad feeling".
For the second part of my experiment, I invited a group of friends to a party in my home. This time, I placed the curtain so it surrounded a very small corner by a lamp in the sitting room. I placed a sign outside the curtain saying VIP Lounge. When the guests arrived, naturally they all wanted to go into the "Lounge". I let them all in, after the customary arguments, and soon there were about 12 people bunched together, bulging against the curtain, and no one left in the rest of the room.
Then I took the sign that said VIP Lounge and placed it on the inside of the curtain. Immediately people started asking me if they could re- enter the sitting room. At first, I refused, and watched as people starting realising that life behind the curtain wasn't that great after all. It was very cramped, and there was no access to drinks or the toilet.
At last I relented and allowed my friends to re-enter the sitting room. Everyone started spreading out, lounging around, generally having a good time. Then I placed a sign outside the curtain again. Almost without realising it, people started drifting behind the curtain. Soon, the sitting room was empty again.
In this manner, I was able to keep a steady flow of people going from tiny cramped space to sitting room all night.
I soon tired of this, along with the ceaseless chatter and unusually- shaped heads of my friends, but no one was in the mood to leave. The excitement of constantly being denied and then allowed access to the VIP lounge was making them as frisky as a group of overweight Dickens characters. So, finally, I put the VIP sign beside the front door, and everyone happily trooped out.
I don't feel bad about using my friends in that manner, because I know that even now, some of them imagine themselves to be wandering around the massive VIP area. It's my little gift to them. But they're not getting back in the house without a laminate, I can tell you that. And there will be no exceptions.