MY CLUB • December 2019
Born in Chingola, Zambia, author Elanor Dymott spent her childhood on British Airways planes, flying between homes and schools in Africa, America, England and Indonesia. The question is, why is she flying now? We sit down with the Executive Club Member to talk writerly retreats, jazz and what it’s like to grow up in the skies
According to my mother, I did something like 15-20 international flights by the time I was one. My parents were flying everywhere. Before settling in London for five years, we’d been split between Africa and America, and after London we relocated to Indonesia. I vividly remember that first transfer in Changi airport – which is a destination in and of itself – and stepping off the plane to the heat and scents of Jakarta.
There were whole groups of teenage expats in Jakarta who would fly to England for boarding school as part of British Airways’ unaccompanied minors service. We’d all get on the same flight ahead of the school term, and then back to South East Asia again during the holidays. BA staff would navigate the transfers for us, make sure we didn’t lose our passports, and there was even a little room at Heathrow where we’d watch movies and drink lemonade. It was very strange, having your trip to school be a 24-hour flight.
The first chapter of Slack-Tide opens with a quote from BA pilot, Mark Vanhoenacker’s book, Skyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot, and the incredibly romantic way in which I view flight is a huge part of the narrative. For me, flying is the perfect metaphor for a relationship. Love mirrors the ways in which we suspend our belief during flight and decide to give ourselves over to this incredible, irrational thing. Love is about asking ourselves, when is it safe to land?
For me, it has to be London. Whenever I think about leaving it, the energy and the theatre scene pulls me back. There’s nothing like watching a play for generating new ideas. Last year I went to Martin McDonagh’s incredible A Very Very Very DarkMatter at the Bridge Theatre (pictured below) and it ended up prompting a whole new plot strand for the novel I’m writing. I’m also a huge fan of the National Theatre on the South Bank.
I’d say Greece – I’ve spent my summers on and off for 20 years in the Peloponnese, in a tiny town called Kardamyli. I fly into Kalamata, hire a car and drive 40 minutes through the winding mountain roads to my favourite hotel, the Kalamitsi Hotel, where writer Bruce Chatwin wrote Songlines. The town has a rich literary heritage; it’s also where author Patrick Leigh Fermor built a house and retired. This last summer I visited with a group of fellow writers; we spent the morning swimming, the day writing, then dined amongst the olive groves come evening. It’s an amazing place to escape.
A weekend to celebrate my 40th birthday in Berlin with an old friend. In every city I go to, I try to root out a good jazz club, and we found a great one, A-Trane, in Charlottenburg. It was the most amazing night; the club was packed and the acoustics fantastic. I’d also recommend a walk around Bebelplatz, where the empty book shelves are sunk into the ground to memorialise the Nazi book burnings (pictured below). It’s very powerful.
I worked for a while in Singapore – a very intense position in financial law – and took a break about half way through to Datai Bay in Langkawi, Malaysia (pictured below). It was complete luxury in the middle of a dense, elemental rainforest, where otters and kingfishers would join you in the river for a swim. Then, every night, there was a different orchid on my pillow with a little card outlining its history. On the very last night, there was nothing. This was to represent the ghost orchid; an endangered species that needed protection.
If I’m going somewhere hot then I always wear a pair of Uniqlo leggings under a skirt or shorts. That way I’m cosy for the flight and then just before I get to the destination I can peel them off and be ready for the heat. Especially when I go to Greece – it’s just a wall of heat as soon as you get off the plane.
Yes, Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cream. They claim it’s inspired by the first ascent of Everest and contains ‘glacial glycoproteins’ for softer skin. It’s in a tiny pot, perfect for hand luggage and has always worked for me.
It’s always my first choice. Part of it must be the brand association of my childhood. You go with the thing that makes you feel safe. It’s a mind-boggling thing as a kid to fly half way around the world multiple times a year, and BA made that experience far less daunting with its service. I got looked after then, and I still am now!
Elanor Dymott’s latest novel, Slack-Tide is now available to pre-order in paperback.