The Third Leader: Travel trauma

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The Independent Online

Are you sitting comfortably? Not, I would suggest, if you are reading this on an plane. Unless, of course (an important qualification with Independent readers) you're in first class, or whatever they're calling it at the moment.

The thing is, according to research, a lot of us are getting too wide for the seats and our comfort. Actually, the way it's put is that we're getting too wide for our neighbours' comfort, which I mention to demonstrate what we tall, large people often find ourselves up against: unsympathetic smaller neighbours.

Indeed, in our crowded, mechanised society, there's increasingly little point, and much inconvenience, in being tall and large. This has been true longer than you might think. Famous tall, large people: Goliath, Charlemagne, Oscar Wilde. Famous short, small people: St Francis, Voltaire, Napoleon, Einstein, Picasso, Dolly Parton (well, short, anyway).

But although Goliath, Oscar and the Holy Roman Emperor had much to contend with, they were at least spared narrow airline seats. And spared, too, that particular cross (forgive me, BA) of the large and tall, the seat in front suddenly tipped back. I wonder how Oscar would have handled it. "Sir, we are not similarly inclined!"?

More bad news: another study has concluded, in the face of centuries of insistent advice, that reclining is better for the back than sitting up straight. I could speculate about the physiques and travelling habits of the researchers, but will conclude with the only reliable tip for airline travel, passed on by my late father: "Sit at the back and you'll get a longer ride."