I've built up a useful list of rules of travel as I've made my way to various corners of the planet.
Never eat at a Korean restaurant in earshot of barking dogs. Always look out for an Adam's apple when romantically propositioned in Bangkok. Don't, whatever you do, speak English in Paris. Remember that American immigration officials are genetically programmed not to have a sense of humour. Avoid Frankfurt airport where possible. And in a fit of mock-socialist pique, don't travel first class.
The last of those is in no small part because it costs a kidney, your younger sister, or the GDP of Bolivia to sit in the front of the plane. But there's also a point of principle; one that insists that economy is perfectly acceptable and that the exorbitant cost of first class travel demands some form of protest. That the air hostesses in economy are younger, prettier, and far more likely to fall hopelessly in love with me. A perfectly deluded theory, and part of an approach that kept me contentedly in the working class quarters of Airbus and Boeing.
At the end of last year, I broke my first class travel rule. Ostensibly, it was my mum's birthday, we were off to Mauritius and I was playing dutiful son. The reality is that I simply caved in to the allure of the world I'd only heard muttered about.
Beyond the curtains into which disappeared Prada-encrusted women with lavish silicone enhancements and middle-aged Italian types sporting 22-year-old accessories, lay Willi Wonka's airline equivalent. An airborne Aladdin's cave of luxury and opulence. Temptation, in the end, was just too strong.
I'd thrown around the idea of flying first class with a group of mates prior to making the call, and got breathless responses.
"There's a jacuzzi at the front, with a Swedish masseuse," was one authoritative response.
"You choose your lobster live, and then they boil it in vintage Dom Perignon," was another.
Brazilian air hostesses hand feeding you Pringles. Hand-rolled Cuban cigars on tap. A live string quartet playing quietly in the corner. Ah yes, the time for First Class had arrived.
Victoria's Secret models in smiles and high heels
And so we boarded, and to my mother's great excitement we turned left, instead of the usual right towards what she refers to as "the intimate seats in the back". And what the rest of the airborne planet generally dubs cattle class. Left, away from the unwashed blue collar masses, and into the heady opulence of first class. First Class, and true love.
Alright, so it's not all Russian caviar and Chateau Lafite and Victoria's Secret models in smiles and high heels, but it's a world away from the commoners wedged in at the back. Gone is the interchangeable plastic of chicken or beef, the seats designed for amputee dwarves, the industrial strength vinegar passed off as wine. No more video screens made from recycled mobile phones, claustrophobic spacing, or the gnawing sensation that you finally understand how a hamster on a wheel feels.
Instead, it's French champagne on arrival, with warm towels to mop jaded brows, sparkling smiles from genuinely happy crew (you'd be too if you'd escaped the economy gauntlet). And then there's the chairs.
Airline seating designed by Dutch late-night television: reclining in every direction, from upright and formal to obscenely flat, with a vibrating massage feature that has you asking your seat if you can buy it a drink and get its phone number before you've even taken off.
Then there's widescreen television (with movies you'd actually like to watch), more French champagne, and then the deciding factor: the food.
Airline cuisine oscillates between bland and revolting, an industry-set standard that every plane I've ever been on had strictly adheres to. But - and I am not making this up - the soft, buttery, melt-on-the-fork piece of kingklip I was presented with was just about a good a seafood dish as I've had.
Salmon at the Salthouse in San Francisco, sea bass at Shu in Belfast, seared tuna at 95 Keerom in Cape Town, fresh cod at Sydney's fish market, any number of fresh fish meals in Mauritius - this, somehow, to my utter disbelief, was up there with all of them.
"If I hadn't seen such riches, I could live with being poor?"
I floated into the island in a Utopian stupor and stayed in that blissful state until last week, when I jumped on another international flight: Johannesburg to Washington, with a two hour layover on the tarmac in Senegal. In economy.
What was the line from James' seminal anthem 'Sit Down'?? "If I hadn't seen such riches, I could live with being poor?"
Which is how I now find myself. The Washington flight was a nightmare (can you believe they had no balsamic vinegar in economy?), a never-ending journey with me in a yoga position in 86F. Two months ago, I'd have been fine; but now that I've gone beyond the velvet curtain I'm finished.
My words of wisdom to you? Don't travel first class. Unless you can afford it each and every time, there's a very good reason never to try it at all. And not to break your rules of travel.