I am marooned in paradise with Piers Morgan.
I am marooned in paradise with Piers Morgan. At 5am yesterday morning the phone rang in the sea-facing Harbour Villa on Jumby Bay, off Antigua, where I've been on holiday for the last week. 'Mr Cash, I'm sorry to tell you that your 8.30am flight has been delayed until 3pm because of the volcanic ash travelling towards the UK.' Then I checked The Times online and read that this was wishful thinking.
The chances of actually travelling in the next 72 hours are slim. Whilst Jumby Bay Island can be reached in around nine hours door to door from Chelsea, getting back to London looks like it will now take at least three or four days.
To be honest, I can think of many worse places than a 300 acre private island (owned by its 42 ultra wealthy private homeowners) whose five star hotel, managed by Rosewood, has just had a $28 million facelift, to be stuck in for an extra few days. There are no cars on the island and you drive around on electronic golf buggies (although a few owners have got super-charged mini Hummers).
When I heard on Friday about the volcanic smoke that has grounded European airspace for the first time since the War, and that I had better unpack my suitcase, my first thought was a Proustian kick of nostalgia for the days in the Seventies when I used to be regularly snowed for several days at my family home in Shropshire, which is reached up a mountainous hill that is so steep and Alpine like that it is actually used by various professional cycling teams to practise for the Tour de France.
For some reason, the borrowed time of being snowed in for a few extra unexpected days – which often meant not having to return to school – always provided more joy and pleasure than the legitimate holiday or exeat time that had proceeded it.
And I feel the same now: when you no longer effectively have the power to make any decisions, or change your travel plans (my girlfriend woke this morning to say she dreamt that we had somehow arranged to travel back to London by train and boat via Marrakesh and Casablanca), life becomes so much simpler, easier and enjoyable.
I always loved the moment in John Le Carré's wonderful novel, The Perfect Spy, when Magnus Pym, traitor, spy and all round number one Mr Perfect English diplomat is stuck in his rented Corfu villa in August, manically scribbling away on his autobiography (before he kills himself), whilst his wife paints happily outside, and he starts getting onto the subject of his Eastern networks, and the agents he has betrayed and why he did it.
'There is no greater pleasure than being a well run Joe,' Pym writes. And what he meant here, I think, is that people often are at their happiest when choice and decision is taken away from them. The truth is with the rise of the internet, and emails, and texts, and TripAdvisor.Com and all the other hundreds of electronic diversions and ambushes that we have to deal with when we are supposedly in control of our lives, there is simply too much choice and it can be overwhelming.
It takes a good old fashioned natural eruption – like the Icelandic volcano bellowing out enough lethal smoke to ground the entire global airline fleet – to bring us back to our natural state where we are happiest being unable to control our fate; when we are controlled by nature rather than the other way round which increasingly seems the norm for our digital information age.
'Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains,' wrote Rousseau at the beginning of The Social Contract. 'One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they.' Sometimes it takes a bizarre freak of nature to remind us how much we have allowed ourselves to become slaves to technology and the illusion of choice.
And that's why I am so excited now about heading off down to the beach with my sun-oil stained copy of The Power and The Glory. I am imprisoned here – albeit with Piers and his three kids – in paradise for three unexpected days and I have never felt happier on holiday as there is absolutely nothing I can do about even trying to get home.
In the meantime, something of a Blitz mentality has come out on the island from the wealthy homeowners who are stranded here. What do you do in paradise when you can't even leave the place? The first thing you do, of course, is throw an impromptu pool-side party for those marooned here which is exactly what happened last night after it emerged that it was the birthday of one of the island guests who was due to fly back to London and that they weren't going to make it home to celebrate.
Within a matter of hours a guest list had been assembled, invitations photocopied and delivered to various villas and homes and within a few hours half the island residents (mostly wealthy British and American entrepreneurs along with a former Helmut Newton Swedish super-model who now runs Cecilia's restaurant just across the bay on the mainland which has to be the most glamorous airport beach restaurant in the world – and certainly the only restaurant in the world I have ever visited that boasts its own shower) were assembled around the bar drinking rum punch and champagne. A huge chocolate birthday cake, cooked that afternoon, emerged out of nowhere. </p>
I have known Piers Morgan ever since we first met at the Eden Roc Hotel at the Cannes Film Festival in 1991. In the hotel bushes to be exact. During the party, Piers said that he had heard on the news that the last time this volcano had erupted in 1821, it had bellowed out volcanic ash for about a year afterwards. At which point his nine year old son interjected: “Does that mean we could be here for another year?”. If so, I can see an entertaining reality TV show in the making.