Who wants to be free as a bird?

WHERE do birds go when they die?

We know there’s a lot of them, and we can assume they’re not increasing in numbers at any great rate or we’d notice, so presumably – they die.

Why aren’t we at risk of being impaled on one when it drops out of the sky, or off a lamppost? Or is there a bird graveyard somewhere?

Maybe they simply fly off to heaven or — in the case of the more sinful species — nosedive straight through the ground and keep straight on to the other place.

I mean, you never see dead birds. Okay, the occasional pile of bedraggled feathers turns up glued to the middle of the road, but that’s all. That’s not the death of a whole generation.

I know some of them — albatrosses, for instance — live to be 30; but (according to the world’s biggest encyclopaedia, the internet) the smaller ones have a life expectancy of about 10 months!

At that rate the sky ought to be raining birds! And they don’t die of old age, either. Something gets them. Eats them, no doubt; which is why we don’t find the carcasses. Ask a chicken.

I always thought it would cool to be a bird. Free as a bird. No problem going anywhere (although the statistics seem to suggest there is a problem actually arriving). But it seems I’m wrong. It’s a dangerous occupation.

That’s the price of freedom. It comes with bonuses you don’t want; like the freedom to be eaten. The human race gave it up in favour of driving licences, passports, planning regulations and no smoking in pubs.

Good job, too. There are plenty of people out there whom I think would be better off as birds. Especially a very small bird that is about to be stabbed out of the sky by a very large eagle. And I’d like the freedom to be the eagle involved.

But if everybody had that kind of freedom – maybe they’d get me first!

Why am I telling you this? I’m about to book a flight to England. I’m not leaving for a few months, but whenever I consider the prospect of living without my feet on the ground it always reminds me that life is a gossamer thread with me hanging off one end. And I weigh 76kg.

True, I used to do a lot of sailing, when the land was as much as two miles away, usually straight down, but at least I could throw something over the side and hang on.

With aircraft you can’t do that. Their wings don’t even flap, for heaven’s sake. Although that’s generally considered a good thing.

There’s only one bonus in flying, as far as I can see – it places your life in perspective. When a 386-tonne Boeing 747 is trundling up the runway at an ever‑increasing speed and the doors are locked, the unpaid electricity bill you left on the side in the kitchen doesn’t matter any more. The row you had with your partner seems somehow trivial (it probably was; they usually are).

Even if you’ve just received the divorce papers it doesn’t somehow have the urgency that the next few seconds command.

And there’s absolutely no comfort in the fact that, unlike with birds, if you drop out of the sky – someone will notice the mess.