Nostalgia for the open road

W. MacQueen Pope, in ‘Give Me Yesterday’ (Hutchinson, 1957), remembers the transport of his youth before World War One.

cycleCycling ran through several crazes but it never died out. It had come to stay. And it was a very pleasant exercise indeed, in those now seemingly distant, quiet and peaceful days. One skimmed along, almost without effort; one coasted downhill and even on the flat when speed had been attained, and later one free-wheeled. One was carefree, death did not lurk at every corner, at every crossing. There was space, there was room, there was freedom.

You rang your bell, a musical enough little chime, when you went round a corner and only the very careless pedestrian who had not yet got bicycle conscious or a yapping dog who had aversions for bicycles, or who had been taught to attack them, could do you any damage. And very, very seldom could they do it. You got very expert in dodging aged ladies and gentlemen who stepped off the kerb right in front of you and, if only a moderately good rider, you could land that dog a fine kick if he came too near, without dismounting, and send him off howling.

In the country the main danger came from chickens, who never will get traffic conscious…… And in the very unlikely chance of running someone down, well nobody got hurt much and little harm was done. True, you did not cover anything like the distance a car will take you to-day or a motor-bicycle. But you did not want to do it. The country was very near to London then. Places which are now vast teeming suburban towns were little old sleepy villages clustering round the church and a forge and with old inns where beer which was nectar could be obtained. Those who did not know beer before 1914 have not the slightest idea what it was really like.

Cartbridge, Send

The “little old sleepy village” of Send in Surrey, England, with the New Inn at right.

The roads were clear. There were wagons which lumbered along, vast haywains, with a fragrant load aboard which you could smell because petrol fumes did not pollute the air. You got the scent of the fields, the woods, the hedgerows. There was a good deal of dust but nobody minded that.

You got a welcome in an inn; and if you could not get a cocktail or a coca-cola, you could get an honest ale, gin and ginger beer, the ginger beer out of stone bottles and delicious, and any of the old-fashioned drinks you wanted. I don’t remember tonic water being in demand, but maybe it was and I missed it.

You could have a little country run and cycle home in the twilight and the gathering dusk of the pre-Daylight Saving period and really get fresh unpolluted air. You might stop and sit on a gate. There would be peace all around; no noise of grinding machinery, no roar and explosions from motor-bikes, no sound of violent gear changes and rumble of great lorries. Only perhaps in the distance, a train whistle. You would hear the owls, and high overhead the faint screaming of the swifts – who seldom seem to sleep – and you might glimpse a bat weave by. But you would smell the Land; you would get a breath of Nature.

(Retrieved from ‘They Saw It Happen’, Editor, Asa Briggs. Basil Blackwell, 1960).

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Big Bird

Friday Flashback gets airborne.

Air New Zealand took delivery of its first Boeing 747 in May 1981. Two more arrived in June. I flew up to Hawaii in one of them in August. It still had that ‘new car smell.’

Air NZ 747 4

 In showroom condition at Honolulu airport.

As luck would have it, a distant cousin was a flight attendant on board. She might have been called a stewardess or hostess back then, before the word police neutered the language. When the safety drills had been drilled and we were all safely in the air, she dropped by for a chat.

Air NZ 747 3Would I like to visit the flight deck?
You could do that in ’81 if you knew the right people. They hadn’t yet seen a need to fortify the cockpit to protect pilots from crazy passengers. And they certainly hadn’t foreseen a day when passengers might sometimes need protection from crazy pilots. Simpler times. She didn’t have to ask twice so Distant Cousin went off to have a word with the Captain, promising she would give me the nod later in the flight.

She came back an hour later looking disappointed. The Captain sent his apologies but he would have to cancel my visit. One of the engines was surging periodically and he needed to concentrate on that with no distractions. I suspect this isn’t the kind of information cabin crew normally share with passengers. I said nothing but tried to fake an expression that showed I was totally cool with a malfunctioning engine at 35,000 feet over the Pacific on a dark night. D.C. could see through that.

“Oh, don’t worry,” she said reassuringly, “we’ve got three more.”

That was the closest I ever got to a ‘Jumbo Jet’ flight deck. And now they’re gone. Air New Zealand retired its last 747 in 2014.

Air NZ 747 2

This was my ride home, ZK-NZW, the second Boeing 747 to join Air New Zealand’s fleet – on 9th June 1981 to be exact. It was sold to Virgin Atlantic after eighteen years service.

 

 

An aerial drag race

India 1944. New Zealand fighter pilot Vic ‘Ketchil’ Bargh is rested from the fight in Burma and sent on an air gunnery course for Allied pilots.

We went down to Amarda Road (south-west of Calcutta) where we were supposed to be taught air firing and that type of thing. When we were down at this place the Americans came along with a B-25. We were all sitting at a table and the two jokers from the B-25, they said “We’ve got the fastest aeroplane here”, in a loud voice. Nobody said anything. There was a Mosquito there; there was quite a few different varieties of aeroplanes. So the jokers with the Mosquito said they would tail the Americans.

A de Havilland Mosquito takes off at Wings Over Wairarapa 2013, New Zealand.

They went up and got alongside the American, eased him along until he was going flat tack, which was not very fast really. When they reckoned he was flat-out the Mosquito feathered one propeller altogether and poured the coal on the other one and went away on one engine. I don’t know what that Yank thought but they left him behind on one engine.

mosquito-pass

Text transcribed from an interview and printed in Ketchil. A New Zealand pilot’s war in Asia and the Pacific. Neil Francis. Wairarapa Archive, 2005.

Photographs taken at Wings Over Wairarapa airshow 2013.