Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Jumbos, then and now.

Sitting in the delayed plane at Heathrow, as I peered through dense fog outside the window, noting the shivering deported asylum seekers strapped to the wings, my thoughts wandered to the early ‘70s when I first flew in one of these monsters of the skys…

I was a small kid going to see Mummy in the UK. In those days it took ages to book, pay and get a ticket. I think my Father had to book almost a year in advance. There would be all sorts of paper work involving foreign currency allowances etc, but one day the tickets would be there to be picked up. They were really impressive. A thin little book, full of flimsy sheets of paper, all with red carbon on the back.

Then the day would come and the whole family traipsed to Salisbury airport to see me off. Checking in was a breeze. No security scans, no daft questions, no men with lollipops checking your genitals. In fact, time and mad Arabs have reversed everything. Now you can book online in seconds but need hours to actually get on the plane. In the early ‘70s it was all so romantic. After checking in the luggage the family would go up to the ‘observation’ balcony. There we could gaze down on the brand new Boeing 747 of South African Airways and smell the fumes of avgas whilst I sipped a rare glass of coke and my parents drank tea. Then the flight would be announced and I would pass swiftly through customs and immigration, walk across the tarmac and board the monster.

I remember that first trip on the Jumbo very well because I was the kid from hell! Using my natural charm (whinging, moaning and wailing), I was allowed to check out the cockpit, wander around First Class, including a visit ‘up-stairs’ and after much yowling, was escorted through the duty-free at Jan Smuts airport (the plane first went back to SA), to purchase huge amounts of chocolate. Back on board, I was forced to part reluctantly with £1 for a pair of earphones to listen to the on-board entertainment. This was a real con. The music was piped. The ear phones were nothing more than hollow plastic tubes you stuck in the armrest and the other end in your ears. You were also supposed to give them back! No chance of that. In fact I managed to thieve three more pairs which I flogged for 50 pence each to my fellow inmates on the return trip.

There was plenty to keep me entertained. Between wolfing down copious amounts of chocolate, I made frequent visits to the toilets. Inside were loads of plastic bottles of fancy stuff like Ode-To-The Toilet, Channel 69 stinky stuff, little bars of soap with the cool SAA springbok logo, hand creams, face creams, all beautifully embossed. I thieved the lot! My hand luggage under the seat was bulging. If I had had more space I would have taken the cool looking life jacket as well.

The service was excellent. Every few minutes I would push one of the buttons on the armrest and a white servant would appear to take yet another order for a tin of coke. I poured the stuff down my neck as fast as they could be delivered. Dinner was superb. A lovely huge chunk of steak, but things went slightly wrong in the middle of the mid-flight film. I even recall what it was. 40 Carats It was about some old hag messing about with some young dago, when suddenly, without warning - I vomited. Buckets of the stuff! Coke, steak and chocolate streamed out, all over the seat in front and all over me. I had a huge stinking puddle of the muck filling my lap, with partly digested lumps of steak bobbing around like fishing corks. I landed up moaning in pain, stretched out on the floor by an emergency exit. The servants flatly refused to wash my trousers and I had to try and clean them up in the tiny sink, where much to my disgust, I discovered some bastard had stolen all the soap!

Well, 36 years later, here I was in another giant vomit bucket, but I wasn’t feeling sick – this time I was shitting myself with fear and people could smell it. Heathrow is stuck bang in the middle of west London. If the plane runs out of runway, it ploughs into enough houses to make way for the new Olympic stadium. Not like the runway in Salisbury all those years ago. Did you know, that at that time Salisbury airport was the longest in the world? The story goes that SAA phoned the airport and told them that if they wanted the new Jumbo to land there, they would have to extend the runway. The bloke on the phone in Salisbury said it would not be a problem, but after hanging up realised that he had forgotten to ask exactly how long it should be.

Too embarrassed to phone back, he hazarded a guess and reckoned a couple miles should do it. In fact, when they finally ran out of tar to lay, at an amazing 15502 feet (2.9 miles!) it went into the Guinness Book of Records as the longest civil runway in the world that no one had any use for. I also recall that in the same edition, Rhodesia also had the world record for the largest farm, somewhere in the lowfeld, where every cow had about 200 acres to get lost in.

Anyway, Dec 2007, back in the giant sardine can, the plane just went on and on and on. The engines were screaming, I was farting and after what seemed an eternity, the thing finally lumbered up, grazing half a dozen chimneys in the process….

The headphones were free this time but not worth stealing. The movie selection was impressive but sadly blew up in the middle of watching Casino Royale…

To be continued

Here is the next YouTube from Nambia.

Finally, to end today’s posting, I have been asked to tell you about my mate Robert Fowler and his ambition to change the world whilst based in his newly purchased lodge in Victoria Falls. He wants to revolutionise tourism by making it eco-friendly. This he has decided to do via Facebook. So if you use Facebook, search for Ben Gula's Eco-Brigade

Quite a few people have joined. There is a rather disturbing video about ‘canned’ hunting.

Next thing is to try and arrange some free lodgings at his pad. It looks quite cool.

No comments: