Good comedians never laugh at their own jokes, but I confess looking back on this post from 2013 brought a smile to my dial. Emboldened with a new-found enthusiasm for blogging I went nowhere without being armed with notepad and pen, ready to jot down anything I observed. And we had such a long time waiting for our flight to London to depart Sydney, I observed plenty.
There may be need for translation. You know those skimpy lady’s underwear called G-strings? And you know how they only have the little stringy bit above the buttocks? You know the shape it makes? Well, I don’t know about where you come from, but in Australia, we call that the whale’s tail. And … Ummm … Do I need to translate “builder’s crack”?
Somewhere sleepless in flight, I thought it was a good time to pull out my brand-new iPad and transcribe my notes. Here it is folks …
I have been letting my mind wander off again, but since we are at 9100 metres (30,000 feet) in an enclosed metal tube, there is no danger of it getting lost. We arrived at Sydney airport before check-in commenced, and we took off an hour and half late, so I have had plenty of time to make observations in my spiral bound pocket notebook. I share them with you now, in no particular order.
WARNING: This is a very long blog. After all, I have nothing else important to do for the next fourteen hours………..
This one was caused by fog, which is a little unusual for Sydney. If I couldn’t explain to you economic theory, which I have studied and been examined in, then I certainly can not explain weather patterns. I don’t want to ask Always (Bill) (as in right – Always Right), because being an ex surfer and life saver, he will launch into a detailed explanation about wind direction, cloud cover, and air pressure between sea and shore. All I will say is, it rained last night, and there was an odd warmth in the air this morning, and there was fog, apparently, over Sydney airport. Planes were delayed landing – domino effect – means that by mid afternoon they were still catching up.
In the past, when I flew on business for an Australian agricultural company, we knew all about fog related flight delays. The thirty-seater Saabs or Dash8s were hangered in Griffith or Wagga overnight. Regional country towns with hot days and cold nights as summer gives way to winter. Flat, open farmland subject to low-lying fog. Sometimes we would check in at Sydney to find the plane still hadn’t even left the hanger two hours flying time away.
On one occasion I had a new recruit with me. One of those bright young things who was recently graduated and anxious to be managing director as soon as possible. I wandered off to the newsagent and came back with a paperback “Diary of a Woman in Changi.” She (the new recruit) glanced at my purchase. “Oh,” she said, flashing me a look at her reading choice – some tome on female empowerment, “I never read romances.” I had the sensation that if I had to explain to her that Changi was a wartime internment camp, and that being locked up there was no romance, it was going to be a long trip.
Well, I imagine she has grown into a fine mature woman, and maybe she really is heading up a company of her own. I would hate to think that people judge me today by the things I said and did when I was twenty-two years old, and it would be a sad old world if we could not rely on the educated young (whether by uni or life is immaterial) to imagine that our future well-being lies in their hands. There is a moment when we all should think we are here to change the world.
On Arriving Late for a Flight
I noticed a young woman and her boyfriend racing through the terminal towards the customs gates. She was a well-rounded woman, and as she ran, her jeans slid further and further off her hips until I was sure we would see a whale-tail appear. No such thing. But she did show a builder’s crack that got bigger and bigger until I decided she wasn’t wearing underpants at all. She either imagined her t-shirt was covering it, or she was so desperate to catch her flight that she could not stop a moment to hitch her jeans up. It reminded me that I was also wearing jeans – a last minute wardrobe change inspired by the reports of bad weather in Italy. I contemplated that my jeans are so tight, that if I was forced to run for a plane, I wouldn’t be able to get one leg in front of the other. And that is before I gorge myself on airline food.
NOTE TO SELF: Never wear jeans on a long haul flight, and be very glad you have a spare set of loose clothes in the carry-on backpack.
On airport farewells (and arrivals)
There was a group of Italians farewelling an elderly gentlemen. Fifteen or twenty excitable relatives ranging in age from four to forty. They were clustered near the area where we were trying to fill in our embarkation forms. An entire airport to converse in, and they had chosen to block the area in front of customs. The last thing you want when you are completing official government forms is to have little children playing hide and seek amongst your legs. The adults were oblivious, because they were all talking over the top of each other as to whether their plane was really late or not.
I am part Italian. I didn’t grow up in the culture, but became exposed to it later. Aussies think their Italian neighbours are about to kill each other when they hear loud voices over the back fence, when all they are discussing is what marinade was used on the barbecued meat. It was the same deal with this discussion at the airport. It sounded much worse than it actually was.
- I went with with the rest of my extended family once to meet a relative returning from Italy. We stood in the arrival hall as one flight landed after another. Flights came from all around the world. People emerged through the automatic doors from the immigration and quarantine area, and friends and relatives went up and fetched them in orderly ones and twos. Then the arrival of the Alitalia flight was announced, and security people arrived from no-where. They lined up with linked arms across the arrival hall, just in time to block the surge forward by the mob of Italian relatives waiting to greet their long-lost loved one. That’s the relative that had been gone an entire three weeks. My sister and I rolled our eyes at each other in embarrassment. But we surged forward with the rest. Sharing is caring. By the way, thank you Zia and all my other Italian relatives, who remembered precisely which day we were leaving and rang last night to wish us well.
On being serious at check-in and security
There were signs at all the check-in counters. “Do not make jokes.” What a moral outrage. Aussies are flippant by nature. Apparently this is no longer welcome at airports. Particularly jokes about bombs and other objects. Reminds me of the days back in Adelaide, went we gave an Irish colleague a cigarette lighter in the shape of a hand grenade…….. NO CAN DO NOW …….
Of course, we were farewelling him off to Ireland, and the IRA were still campaigning, so perhaps even then it was not the most thoughtful gift.
It reminded me that when I first arrived in London in 1978, and would ride the tube, I used to read a sign that said “if you see an unattended package…, as a naive Aussie girl, my mind would run on …“Oh – I’ll pick it up and give it to the conductor, someone has forgotten their package.” But the sign went on – “DO NOT TOUCH IT! Leave the carriage at the next station. Alert the station attendant.” Talk about loss of innocence! I had to get smart to my new world very quickly. By luck, I never experienced an incident first hand.
This time, I came adrift at the security point. Before leaving home, I threw in a hand cream at the last moment. I didn’t notice that the tube was 125ml instead of the allowable 100ml. As Maxwell Smart would say – “missed it by that much”. Sorry Penny – it was that beautiful rose cream you gave me. I couldn’t even convince the inspector to give it to one of the ladies working there. In the bin I am afraid.
On travelling with small children
I heard a flight attendant call for boarding. “If you are struggling with small children under five years of age.” I fell about laughing. I wanted to rush up and tell the parents – “The struggle doesn’t finish once they turn five!”
A wise old man once told Bill, “The bigger they get – the bigger the problems get…”
(Is this too obscure? The flight attendant was offering the parents to come forward to assist fidgety children board. My thoughts flew forward to the broader life-long challenge of raising children).
A flight to Los Angeles was missing about ten passengers. They were called over and over, with the warnings that their baggage was about to be off-loaded getting grimmer by the minute. Eventually it was whittled down to one passenger – and I think they really did off-load him.
It almost happened to me once. The circumstances are too embarrassing to tell in detail. But I do have an attractive piece of Lladro that I bought dirt cheap in a duty free store. It has a small chip caused when the flight attendant who found me in the shop made me push it back into its box in a hurry.
At the boarding gate
We were hanging around with time to kill. There weren’t enough chairs for everyone waiting to board the aircraft. Some people were grumpy about that. I didn’t mind. I wonder if they will be still as grumpy after sitting on an aircraft for fourteen hours.
I amused myself watching the aircraft logistics. Bill and I once had a layover at Tokyo Narita for five hours and I distracted myself by watching how planes are turned around. It is something like an orchestra – cargo, baggage, cleaners, caterers and refuellers. In Japan, they have a little ritual where white gloved cargo and service handlers line up and wave off the aircraft as it pulls out of the departure bay, then they turn to each other and bow, before marching off smartly in different directions.
It is not quite so smart in Sydney.
I watched while the cargo freight was unloaded. Pity the transport driver who was waiting for his wagons to be loaded. I timed it – ten seconds to drive the dolly forward, then ninety-two seconds while he waited for the freight to be loaded (fifth waggon out of a total of six). He must have been singing in his head, as his hands were tapping beat on the steering wheel. Then just when all his waggons were loaded, he got a mobile phone call. He still drove back to base, with one hand on the steering and the other holding the phone, but it would have broken his boredom if he got the call while he was hanging around with nothing to do.
By this time the guy working the rear cargo door had all that freight out, so he moved up to get the rest of the freight that was left forward. He worked alone, so he was always on the move, either driving the dolly, or managing the freight out of the hold and on to the waggon. So he looked more efficient, but lost time going backwards and forwards.
SO I’LL THROW THAT OPEN to any time and motion experts out there – which is the superior method?
About the aircraft
I took it as a good sign when I noticed movement in the cockpit. Surely they wouldn’t start the crew too soon before take-off or they would run out of flying hours before we landed in Abu Dhabi. I counted three people in all, another good sign. Always nice to know your life is not resting in the hands of one person alone.
NOTE TO SELF: Stop watching Air Crash Investigations before taking an international flight!
All the service vehicles have moved away. It’s the first time I notice we only have two engines. I point it out to a little boy who also has his nose pressed against the glass. I point out a Qantas flight taking off.
“See how it has two engines on each wing? And ours has only one on each wing? – It must be why our aircraft is late. They must have been looking for the engines that fell off.”
There is a Frenchwoman standing behind me. She gets a fright. She thinks I am serious.
I would like to tell you exactly which aircraft we are on, but I haven’t heard any announcement. As far as I can make out from the safety instruction card, it is a Boeing 777-300.
It is named the Palm Beach. It has a flying woman on the nose – a slim figure in a flowing dress, somewhat reminiscent of the women in Art Deco lamp bases. She reminds me of the experimental dancer Isadora Duncan. There is an Australian flag flowing out behind her. It has the correct number of stars but they are in the wrong place. That is because the flag is ripped, ragged shreds flowing behind her, probably meant to represent speed. It reminds me that Isadora Duncan was choked when her long trailing scarf caught in the spokes of a roadster when she was out for a jaunt with a dashing young man. At least that’s the way I remember it from the film.
Marketing people might want to re-think this message.
At least for those of us who watch too much Air Crash Investigations.
We flew for four hours before leaving the Australian coastline behind us. According to the onboard map that is. The cabin is now in darkness. We flew into the sunset, with a dense cloud bank below us. At one point I looked up, and with the reflected cascade of colours, just for a moment, I thought I was looking at the blue of the ruffled ocean waves directly under us.
Nine hours to ETA in Abu Dhabi. Must be time for bed.
Garrulous Gwendoline, somewhere over Indonesia May 28th, 2013.