February 1974, my first ever flight was looming, I had fears, naturally and was also excited but even at 14 I was beginning to rationalise my thoughts (yeah right…)
I had decided that if I found it scary (and I was pretty sure I would) I could just go to sleep and wake up once we had landed safely or plunged to our doom in the Alps.
I was reckoning on a 50/50 probability for either outcome.
My parents had gone without, without what, they never explained but a degree of sacrifice had been implemented to send me off on the trip of a lifetime, a school cruise on the SS Nevasa,
Starting at Venice and trolling around the Med for a coupla weeks, calling at Greece, Egypt (if the war ended in time) Sicily, Naples and back again.
We were flying out to Venice (a float plane already?) and back from Naples, LGW was the UK end of the experience.
So, the interminable bus journey eventually came to an end after leaving at god-knows-when-o’clock and arriving at LGW in the dark (this was in the days before traffic was invented so we didn’t sit in interminable traffic jams but the M25 was merely an activist’s nightmare so the roads were small and dark).
I recall handing a wodge of paperwork over to “Nilocs” our headmaster and being introduced to his rather attractive wife, her knowing smile and gravity-defying breasts started my life long obsession with older women on that day.
I also learnt on this day that flying involves lots of sitting around in terminal buildings, they are called this because the waiting seems terminal when you are 14.
The sun pushed gently over the horizon revealing a few a/c on the apron, compared to the rush and tumble of LGW today the scene would seem almost deserted but to us young school kids it was a most exciting spectacle.
Once it was fully light and our boredom and anticipation thresholds had been well and truly breached we were led in a gaggle to the rear of British Caledonian BAC 111 G-AWWX and boarded through the tail stairs.
Wow!!! It all got very exciting, the interior seemed huuuuge and very jet-set/space age/Rothmans advert.
I seem to recall the seats being the same rusty red colour as the seats in the departure lounge, the sort of colour usually encountered on granny’s sofa and smelling of dust and dog hairs (Granny’s sofa, not the a/c).
I had a momentary panic but remembering I could always sleep through the ordeal I strapped in and nervously awaited our fate(s) but already fear was being overtaken by curiosity and excitement.
The Captain said stuff and we taxied out to the runway, the noise level grew to a crescendo and someone let the handbrake off…I felt a massive push from behind, the noise grew and grew and suddenly we were airborne!
I stared at the ground utterly agog and fascinated, the cars were tiny, the roads, slim rivers of grey and then the clouds blotted out toy-town.
There was a tap on my shoulder and Lorraine, a girl I normally had problems being nice to, flashed me the sort of smile that could melt permafrost in a 40 mile radius, “Hi Andrew” she giggled and turned around in her seat to face me.
One glance at her thrusting blouse and impish smile had me turning my opinion of her completely on its head, the mix of sunlight as we penetrated the cloud layer (this was England in Feb after all) and the excitement of the flight mashed my hormones into gravy and I became pleasant towards the opposite sex for the first time ever.
The whole a/c was full of excited chatter as we fought for space to gawp out of the windows.
One thing that really blew me away was how the cabin flooded with bright sunlight and the pressurisation made everything seem a little bit unreal, like a dream or some really mellow drugs.
The Captain pointed out Mont Blanc and various other euro-sights.
“Between heaven and heaven” I thought as I stared from Lorraine to the sky outside.
All too soon we were howling in to land at Venice, banking over the sea, the sunlight reflecting off the wings made us screw up our poor English eyes, more accustomed to seeing in the dark and fog than this glorious Mediterranean day. The Captain treated us to a smooth landing and we responded with an unseemly scrum to the exit stairs.
I was completely blown away, to be in another country and in Venice of all places! Gondolas lined the promenade as we made our way to the ship.
For 2 weeks we toured the ancient civilisations of the Mediterranean, running the original Olympic stadium at the ancient Greek city of Olympia:
I recall entering a port by night, past a statue and a plaque bearing the words “Vos et ipsam civitatum bendicimus” , a free beer in AKL to anyone who can tell me which port has this written at the entrance.
Seeing the pyramids was a total trip! Our mana was such that they stopped the war for us, although Nilocs got a bollocking for filming a train-load of tanks.
We played with pornographic pottery monks in Taormina and climbed up a volcano in Naples but the high point of the European part of the voyage was Pompeii:
After all this I was a changed boy, hooked on travel and especially flying, forever.
Jafa39, aged 14, (facing camera in the light brown trousers) …changing….forever!
The return journey is all a bit of a blur, I remember standing in the lobby of NAP at which one end was a rank of x-ray machines, hands overflowing with 110 type (remember them?) film cartridges panicking like hell in case the machine fogged my precious (and precocious) memories.
The a/c was a DH Comet, I can’t recall the rego number but it was a NAP –LGW charter flight on the 9th March 1974, if anyone can provide a rego number for this a/c I will be totally impressed!
I spent almost the entire journey staring transfixed at the patch of ice that forms around the pin-hole in the outer (rounded, I hasten to add!) window of the Comet….fascinating….marvellous.
Eventually the dream, like all dreams had to end, the Comet wriggled through the cloud cover.
As we burst through, the first thing I saw was an old stately building, one of those red-brick Georgian manors, it’s roof black with rain, leafless trees standing forlorn in the March drizzle and the lawns emerald against the drabness that is England at the end of winter.
I tried whenever I was in the south to find this building but not having a clue which direction we were approaching from I never did.
Touchdown! Once again my feet were on the earth but my head has remained forever in the skies and my heart always yearns for foreign lands and the exciting aromas and sounds of “elsewhere”…..
[Edited 2005-07-31 11:16:56]