Funny how things come back to haunt. I was trying to remember this morning the worse flights I had experienced .
I have two sharing top place:
Journey to Planet Orange
Terrifying journeys from Exeter (Devon) airport to Southern Spain and back in 1986. It was a ‘review holiday’ for radio. In reality my friend and I were being sent to lobster hell.
The nightmare began before we left Devon. We were on board a Spantax propeller air plane that looked as though it was literally going to fall apart (see the image). It seemed to have been created using the nuts, bolts and spanners of my childhood Meccano set. There should have been a warning sign: In the interests of safety sneezing is strictly forbidden.
The entire journey was a white-knuckle job. I was in a cold sweat and convinced we weren’t going to make it to the South Devon coast yet alone continental Europe. The plane rattled – a lot. The internal fabric seemed to move. It was noisy. I went deaf throughout because of air-pressure ‘issues’. The food was the sort of fayre you’d give in jail to a mass murderer. The inflight service was … well there wasn’t a ‘service’ as we know it. Although we were given a ‘local wine’ that tasted as though it was topped up with Spanish rat killer but at least it did take the top off the flight fear factor enabling me to release my grip from the seat arm. The landing was akin to an experience on a kids bouncy castle and when we all realised nobody had expired from heart failure everybody nervously clapped although nobody heard because by then we were all stone deaf.
When we arrived at our Spanish ‘resort’ we had 10 days that was full to bursting of ‘Bar British’, ‘Fish ‘n’ Chips’ joints, more Union Jacks than in the entire UK itself and the worse ever drunken Johnny Lobsters. As for culture, local Spanish cuisine and fine wine – all that was a dream. The accommodation was contained in a concrete workhouse type building called ‘an hotel’. Images, faded and behind a delightful nicotine yellowy sheen in the foyer portrayed 1950’s macho Latin men prancing about looking ‘Spanish’. Everything in the ‘resort’ was orange – the walls, the furniture, the staff were all glowing orange. It made my eyes hurt. Bars full to bursting of the sun burnt British and German lobsters. I was in Technicolor hell. The restaurants constructed entirely of orange Formica with salads as old as Methuselah spread for as far as the eye dare see. I remember a waiter, once handsome and proud, with breathe like a smell you’d get in a garlic pickling factory and finger nails of a man digging peat with his hands. He was in his twenties and when I asked him how long he’d been working there, the tired, yet proud figure, said “three months but my friend has been here as long as five”. Perhaps his friend was that exhausted grey old shadowy figure, also in his twenties, behind the bar. This was indeed a place on earth as far from the civilised world as one could imagine and home from home for 10 whole days. Lucky us!
The weirdest aspect of the entire nightmare was a commitment to produce a five-minute review and editorial for radio. Yes, we had to praise this living horror of what was termed a ‘holiday’. Thankfully my friend had great imagination.
The radio feature was completed on the first day complete with atmospheric audio, vox-pops from the half-cut, grossly over-weight British and Northern European Lobsters (‘sun’s out, I’m out’ brigade) and a stirring uplifting interview with an overzealous, glowing (literally ‘glowing’) representative from the holiday firm who had booked the nightmare in the first place and came from the planet ‘Orange’.
When we returned after a terrifying flight to Devon on another equally scary Spantax flight we produced two versions of our review; one telling the genuine story and the other so unbelievable we should have been given an Oscar – guess which version went on air.
Flying with the ‘Comrades’
The other top scary in-flight moment was an internal one in Zimbabwe where I was working as a broadcast adviser for a few months back in 1987. The country in those days was relatively peaceful and in the rebuilding process after UDI and the horrors of an internal Rhodesian conflict. The mood in the nation was really optimistic and my job was to re-train and redevelop what became their popular national service, Radio Three. The assignment was an outstanding success, the experience a high point of my career.
I went on a weekend break to Victoria Falls that was probably the most incredible time ever. The weekend, the walks, the views, the experiences absolutely amazing. On the Sunday evening I had to fly back to Harare because of work commitments. Sadly the flight, although relatively short, was really scary. On board with us was ‘Comrade’ Mugabe and a raft of parliamentary ‘Comrade’ ministers. If ever there was an opportunity for government opposition, this was it. You know how it goes when your imagination runs into over time. I was convinced we were all doomed. I really believed that we were going to be blown out of the sky. All sorts of crazy thoughts going through my mad head. We landed fine at Harare, the ‘Comrade’ dignitaries disembarked first while we ordinary folk were all left dazed and silent – I would defy anyone on that flight to deny they weren’t thinking what I was.
The Smoking Dutchman
Of course there were other scary moments – most notably of the cigar smoking passenger on a long haul to Windhoek who refused to extinguish. I politely asked him to stop smoking because I wanted to survive the journey and in the long-term not suffer the affects of passive smoking. He refused. I asked him again. He stood-up. I stood-up. He asked me in his broken English if I wanted to make an issue of his dangerous habit. I told him he had already achieved that single-handedly. I pressed the alarm. Two crew took over and after 30 long minutes the cigar was handed over and he spent the rest of the journey asleep, seemingly drunk and grunting in his native Dutch I think.