England to Australia
With one small shoulder bag and dressed in T-shirt and trousers, I set off to catch an Andy James bus from the Cross Hayes in Malmesbury to Cirencester. My two children plus several of their friends were there to see me off. The bus driver told me I was off on his dream holiday and wished me well as we arrived in Cirencester.
I now walked across the town to get to the coach pick up point. Twenty five minutes later, after showing my electronic ticket booked via the Internet, I was on my way towards the M4 Motorway and Heathrow. At Heathrow Airport I made my way deep down to the Heathrow Express then 4 minutes to the last stop on the line, Terminal Four. I finally emerged in the airport and felt completely lost. I eventually joined the queue for booking in at Departures then made my way through security having my passport and boarding pass checked then my bag scanned. In the departure lounge I had to wait from 6.30 p.m. till our departure time of 10.10 p.m. At about 10.00 p.m. they announced that they had problems getting our aircraft onto the stand and the flight would be delayed by about two and a half hours. I panicked realising I would miss my connecting flight and the girl awaiting my arrival in Australia would think I had chickened out when I didn’t show. Luckily I managed to catch her on my mobile phone to inform her of the situation.
The Excitement Begins
At last we were showing our boarding passes at the gate then finding our seat numbers, mine being 50K. As you enter the aircraft from the tunnel you are greeted by the cabin crew who check your pass and tell you which side of the aircraft your seat is on. I was sat about six rows from the back in a window seat, three seats to a row each side and five in the centre row. The Captain welcomed us aboard and told us how they had refuelled with 150 tonnes of fuel for our long journey and were just finishing their preflight checks. After a long taxi to the runway we were cleared for line up and almost immediately the engines powered up. We rolled forward slightly then from nowhere came a vast amount of engine power and I was forced into the back of my seat. The whole plane vibrated very noisily and with the tremendous acceleration we had gone about a quarter of the distance I had expected along the runway when suddenly we were up at a steep angle leaving our stomachs behind as we climbed at what seemed a very slow pace. Then with a steep bank to the right I could see all the airport and surrounding area below. We continued the same angle of climb and banked steeply once more with London laid out below with all its street lights. The climb continued, slowly gaining speed as we approached 31,000 feet for cruising.
In the head rest of each seat on this British Airways Boeing 747 – 400 are LCD screens displaying all the flight information and the in-flight entertainment films. The altitude, ground speed and outside air temperature along with much more data also displayed. I thought a Jumbo Jet flew at about 30,000 feet and at about 450 miles per hour, so when the speed kept increasing and the altitude too, I was most amazed. This screen would switch from information to other screens automatically and manually from the arm rest controls. Each seat has a control panel on it with a socket for head phones and you can choose to listen to radio channels or select different films to watch. The display can be interrupted by the pilot and crew with different announcements. I kept selecting the flight details and each time was more amazed at the height, speed and outside air temperature as they continually exceeded my expectations. Now from memory I think the highest we flew was 39,000 feet and the fastest was 667 miles per hour and the lowest outside air temperature was minus fifty degrees Celsius.
The Long Stretch
As soon as we had reached cruise altitude the cabin crew began to serve food and drinks. The stewardess on my side would place down the trays of food and the drinks and say with a big smile, “Enjoy”. I had just a bread roll and a glass of orange juice along with the big smile and “Enjoy”. After about half an hour the cabin crew came down the isles asking each person at the window to pull the blind down so as when we entered the daylight again all those people trying to sleep would have a dark cabin. Now for some strange reason I thought I was in for a six hour or so flight but when the seat screen showed our position I realised not. Then at some point the seat belt warning lights went on and the captain warned us of possible turbulence which luckily we did not experience. My curiosity made me raise the blind every now and then lighting up the surrounding seats as I looked out hoping to see the ground below. I saw mostly cloud but did see Afghanistan clearly and some of a very green India through broken cloud. So after what seemed like 12 – 14 hours we were preparing to descend towards Singapore. The noise in flight is a lot more than I expected. It consists of the engine noise and vibration mixed with the air flowing over the aircraft and many internal cabin noises, a bit like holding a hair dryer a foot from your head for twelve hours with a television on in the background. The head phones without volume made good ear defenders.
Preparing for Decent
So time to descend, the engine noise and vibration along with the wind noise suddenly disappeared also the cabin noises too, as everyone stopped talking. All seats had to be put in the upright position with their little tables on their rear side clipped up. Seat belts secure and all baggage either stowed in the overhead lockers or placed under the seat in front of you. As we descend you can sense the sudden drops in speed every now and then as your stomach rises and the aircraft momentarily drops vertically. There is the occasional buffeting of the aircraft which can be felt by the shaking side to side in your seat otherwise the whole journey is very smooth indeed and you would not know you are moving at all if it wasn’t for the land below very slowly moving along, when you can see it.
My First Landing
We flew straight into Singapore without any banking or turns and the landing was very smooth, you knew you were down as you can hear the wheels hit the runway and feel some vibration. I don’t know if the engines we had were fitted with reverse thrust but it sounded very much like it and this was applied instantly we were on the runway and the braking on the wheels could be felt too as it was very powerful.
As we had arrived on a delayed flight we were met by a lady who guided us to the transfer desk where I receiving my next boarding pass and was informed of the time to be at the next boarding gate and its number. I had nearly two hours to spend looking around the duty free shops in the airport but with no money to spend. Whilst wandering around, I was passed by what looked like five sixteen year old army cadets, but they were actually men of the army’s anti terrorist squad, each carrying a big black machine gun.
My Second Big Jet
So it was now time to board the Qantas 767 at gate 46. As we walked down the tunnel you could see through its windows outside and into the cockpit of the aircraft where inside the crew were making their checks. I found my seat number which was towards the front on the left hand side just slightly forward of the wing. There are two seats each side and four in the middle. Mine was an isle seat and I put my bag in the overhead locker, then sat down waiting to see who had the window seat next to me. A Mr George Stanley arrived and stopped, looked and said, ‘oh window!’, so I jumped at the chance and offered to swap, this he gladly did. I think he wasn’t to pleased to be going home and was surprise when I informed him it had been raining in Brisbane for two days. I only knew from my friend on the Internet.
First Site of Brisbane
The decent into Brisbane involved dropping through thick cloud cover with turbulence and quite a few banking manoeuvres along with this strange harmonic vibration felt through my feet and a few sudden drops to loose a bit of height. You wouldn’t know you were banking in a large jet unless you had a window seat and something to see outside. I guess we were making many adjustments on an instrument landing or ‘Talk Down’ as nearly the whole approach was through thick cloud and you could see water droplets streaming over the windows. We flew across a quarter of Australia and saw only cloud below until Brisbane but we did see the dawn rise above the cloud at speed in all shades of red across the horizon as we flew towards it with an incredible ‘snow-scape’ of cloud below. We broke through the 100% cloud cover at a few hundred feet above the ground to see lots of warehouses and other buildings below and many very large puddles from the four inches of rain the previous day. On touch down I could see the engine covers slide back as instant reverse thrust came on, pushing all the water off the runway in a huge cloud before us, with much vibration and excessive braking we seemed to take the first taxi way available having barely been on the runway for what seemed seconds.
At the immigration gate I had to show my passport and was asked what I was doing here and how long I intended to stay, I said visiting a friend for three months. The lady looked at me a bit strange and said is that all of your baggage, as I only had a small shoulder bag. I was asked to wait then a policeman arrived and asked me where I was going. I said to Conondale and he asked me to explain where it was as he ‘didn’t know’, luckily the last thing I looked at on the Internet a few days before was a map of the area so I was able to describe roughly where it was, which seemed to satisfy him. A few more questions then he too said wait and went to get an immigration official. This gentleman asked me if I had any money at all to which I replied no, then he asked if I had a job and did I have any money in the bank, I explained I didn’t but was being met out side in arrivals by a lady from Conondale who did. He asked me to explain what she looked like so I took a guess from what she had said in our Internet chats and some old photographs she had sent me. He went out into arrivals to see if he could spot her from my ‘confident’ description and picked her out from about 100 people almost immediately. She told him of her 400 acre cattle ranch in the upper Mary Valley, gave him some strong words, then he reappeared and said, Okay off you go then.
Seeing is Believing
I had now been travelling for about 42 hours without any sleep, my hair all over the place and my face of stubble was black with cabin grime. I walked into the waiting area and saw the girl I was meeting, she should have run a mile at the sight of me. Instead she grabbed hold of me and hugged her long awaited web site dating bloke. We walked across to the lifts and I think I was pulled back out and given mouth to mouth resuscitation then flung back into the lift for another dose as we descended. Then we got in the Nissan Patrol and headed north for the Mary Valley about 100 miles away. Just out of Brisbane as we left the new Bruce Highway for the old one, which is a roller coaster bendy road through the hills, we passed a thing rather like the mountain in the film ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’. After several miles we reached the top of a big hill and stopped in the lay-by to see the view out to the Sunshine Coast and at this point I was administered oxygen mouth to mouth. Again we set off and the next place I remember passing was Australia Zoo followed by many pineapples fields, then came to Maleny turning left towards Conondale. With the blink of an eye we were through Conondale which is about 500 yards long with a few houses, one shop and a school. About five miles later after crossing many little wooden bridges without any rails or walls we arrived in the Mary Valley. It looked to me like a cross between The Brecon Beacons in Wales and The Borders in Scotland.
So This is Home
Turning off the road and up a track we approached a typical wooden building with veranda and set on posts to give it a level on the hillside. After ‘a shower’ and a few hours ‘talking’ we set off back into Conondale to collect the children from school. Here it was starting to rain and I took the photographs of the Tin Man and the Scarecrow. The school was yet another building placed on sloping ground and levelled with stilts. Underneath the children left their bags and coats. We now visited friends of the family, two of the nicest people you could meet, Elizabeth and Francis Mcphee, whose wonderful house was like a very large wooden barn and actually on flattish land without stilts. Now with all the children aboard the Nissan we headed back towards home on the hill, once again over all those dangerously slippery looking little wooden bridges in the rain.
Forward into the Past
Next day we took the children to school and then headed north to Kenilworth a very small town of about 300 people. We left the Nissan Patrol in the Garage with its own shop, work shop, tire bay, body shop and paint shop. While 4 new tyres were being fitted we walked around the town and did some shopping. There was some sort of Halloween festival and everywhere were scarecrow like effigies, including one of Ned Kelly. At the town’s Cheese Factory was a large cage full of scarecrows in Wellington boots, jeans and old shirts, looking like last nights exuberants sobering up. The park opposite had its own, on tap, gas fired stainless steel Bar-B-Q stands for free public use. The tree lined streets had little brass plaques at the bottom of each tree commemorating bygone residents of the town, from way back to present day.
Confusion and Fear
On our drive back towards Conondale we drove through a place very much like the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire UK with its winding hilly tree lined roads. I think it was this day that I was so kindly driven up what was called the Mountain. This was the first time I have ever been off road in a four wheel drive. We started off on what seemed like a 1 in 10 slope, then side ways across what seemed like a 30 degree slope towards a drop of 45 degrees and up the other side we came to an earthen dam with steep sides, just wide enough to take our wheels then we carried on at an angle across the steep slope and turned down again to where I took the two photographs of the Mary Valley to steady my nerves. I’m having great difficulty in remembering what I actually did while I was there as I was so tired from the long flight and had not slept for three nights. I remember that this day was like a hot summers day back home in UK but with quite a strong breeze.
So this is The Land of Oz
We went back into the school at Conondale and watched the rehearsals for the coming production of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and also watched netball practice but my memory says these were on different days so I’m a bit confused. I helped a small boy called Jessie build things with wood and nails. He appeared to be very intelligent and had the mind of an adult, not stopping from what he was doing for one moment, along with his spoken commentary. He also rode a quad motorcycle around the yard and up and down the hill side, bending down to change the foot gears with his hands as his 5 year old legs just didn’t reach. He also talked non-stop and came out with amazing statements, only expected from older wiser people. His lovely sister Amy, put in much practise at all her dance steps for the very modern Wizard of OZ production, with its large cast of children of all age groups, singing their own songs of satire and rewritten originals too.
The Spell is Broken
Next day the situation back home in UK was deteriorating, where children had entered my locked house and were squatting with about a dozen friends and being attacked from out side by a rival gang, until the police arrived at 2.30 a.m. in numbers surrounding the building before entering and then smashed two internal doors off their hinges in an attempt to round up certain kids, leaving the place insecure. The children who the gang were after had been hiding in the loft behind the chimney and at some point prior to the arrival of the police had made their escape and had been sheltering in an out building else where. They were feeling the cold of the night and decided to return to the house for warm clothing. On climbing over the back fence they walked straight into the arms of the police staking out the house hidden in a number of surrounding gardens. Later on some of the kids whilst driving a stolen car had rolled it seriously injuring the hand of one of them. This meant it was time to return home before any more disasters or the accidental burning down of my house as the squatters had returned to re-occupy the house, only fleeing when word got around I was about to reappear, lucky for them my flight back had been delayed a day.
End of a Dream
I rang the airport and the automatic answer machine confirmed a flight at 3.50 p.m. During our drive to the airport we descended a very long hill on the old Bruce Highway with its many ‘Brake Test & Rest’ Lay-bys. We arrived at about 2.00 p.m. and after a large dose of pre flight mouth to mouth oxygen, I entered Brisbane International Airport only to find the flight over booked and volunteers being sought to get off. The man at the ticket counter spent about an hour tying up flights and routes to get me home again. First he had me a flight at 10.00 p.m. but it had no connections, then he had me going to Sydney, then he decided perhaps Melbourne, then I thought he said Darwin, but it could have been Cairns. In the end he said how about Brisbane, Singapore, Bangkok and Heathrow. I said that will be fine and he said, it takes off tomorrow at 12.35 p.m. So I just hung around in the lounge and waited, then I lay down and I think I actually got about an hours sleep but was awoken by a policeman looking for the owner of some abandoned luggage. A large family sat near me with lots of food and drinks purchased from one of the shops and cafés looking really tasty making me feel hungry and I tried to blot it out. Then their flight was called and they left hurriedly, I was quick to gobble up a nice large slice of cake so kindly left behind. At 9.30 p.m. Sunday I made my way to the counter to get my boarding pass and bag weighed, then had just another two and a half hours to wait in the departure lounge before checking in at gate 79.
I Love The Flying
All aboard a Qantas 767 flight number 151, seat number 49B an isle seat left hand side, just behind the wing. After about an hour the man with the window seat needed to get up and offered me his seat for the rest of the journey, as he was reading a book and often made the trip. It was cloud cover all the way across Queensland but when we arrived at the coast, and flew all the way up the Northern Territories, I could see all the beaches below. There were some bright blue waters and you could see the wake of boats. In land was the outback with its mountainous look with dirt roads starting in what seemed nowhere and following dead straight lines with the occasional change in direction then stopping in the middle of nowhere. Some of these dirt roads were red and some white and there were even red and white ones not that far apart going and coming from the same places. Very occasionally you could see a settlement of sorts below and as we were about to leave Australia, I think I may have seen Darwin.
Perhaps an hour on I saw an island with two volcanoes next to each other and one was emitting a plume of smoke. Then we arrived over Singapore in day light you could see all the ships in the harbour area and very many brand new, pale cream buildings below which looked like living apartments, all with brightly coloured tiled roofs many in green. With boarding passes issued right through to Heathrow I didn’t need to go through Transfers again, but just had to find the gate number and await its opening time, to have my boarding pass checked. Then have my bag scanned before being allowed into the departure lounge, to await the boarding call. So with about two hours to spare before the boarding gate opening, I had the whole of the duty free shopping area to explore. This area contains toilets, money exchange, many types of telephone and Internet access, many dining facilities and all sorts of shops. As I had no money at all on this journey to and from Australia I could not use or buy anything but just look. Although I only ate on the planes whilst travelling I never actually felt hungry after many hours without food and drink and virtually no sleep and unable to shave, so I looked quite a mess. One thing I have to mention here is that the tannoy system in Singapore airport is the clearest of all and perfect to understand. I again saw the teenage midget army, fully armed with machine guns patrolling the airport.
In the ‘C’ area of the airport shops was an area with large disco speakers and lights surrounding a stage area, without a stage. I was here this time when the perfectly clear tannoy system announced that ‘Elvis’ and his dancing troupe, would be entertaining shortly for about half an hour. So I made my way to this area for the performance. First ‘Elvis’ danced wonderfully and mimed to the real Elvis booming out of the big speaker system, whilst all the coloured lights twirled and flashed. About a hundred passengers took to sitting on the floor in a big semi circle to watch the spectacle. Then a very beautiful girl with perfect figure appeared, dressed in not very much, with large red feathers and began to dance and mime to other famous lady singers, whilst tourist cameras lit the place with their flashes. ‘Elvis’ returned and after a few lines was joined by two young very fit male dancers dressed all in black, who went through their synchronized dance routines. This was followed by four more scantily clad yellow feathered, perfectly formed girls, who did their synchro dance routine much to the pleasure of the male component of the seated audience, brand new, duty free, digital video cameras in hand. Whilst this was going on I took a peep around the back of the stage area and found ‘Elvis’ practising his dance routine with the two boys in black, I pointed my camera at him and he came across and offered to pose with me while his dancing partner took the picture.
My Third Big Jet
My link between ‘Qantas flights’ from Singapore to Bangkok was by a Finnair Boeing MD 11, a big wide bodied jet with a very large engine set in the tail and one on each wing and what looked like an extra undercarriage in the middle between the wings under the body. My seat was 49H a right hand side, mid isle, just behind the wing seat, but as the plane was nearly empty I was able to move across to a right side window.
So Much To Take In
The plane taxied out along way and as it turned onto the runway, it just accelerated straight to the take off. This was an up hill flight, we took off and climbed in a straight line northwards to about 31,000 feet but this time as the flight was only 2 hours long the cabin crew started their food and drinks routine as soon as we were up. They walked up and down the isle at a steep angle as if walking into a hurricane force wind. All the announcements seemed to be in Finnish or some such language and all the crew were tall with blonde hair. Their uniforms were very much more practical and casual looking. It seemed as thought the whole flight was at a steep climb and then we descended into Bangkok in the dark. Through my window I could see all the complex wing system changing into its landing set up, with one enormous flap almost vertical behind the engine. We came in over what I assume to be Bangkok city and it looked just like London had looked, with all its streets lit by orange lights, and you could see the occasional car below. We travelled several miles at what seemed like stalling speed at perhaps 500 feet or more almost in silence. Then we did a very steep sharp 90 degree turn to the right in just a couple of seconds and continued on across the city below with its hundreds of lamp lit streets, until again we made a huge steep turn to the right and dropped very slowly for a few miles, until we gently touched down to the huge roar of the reverse thrust and phenomenal braking power.
An Unexpected Wait
Bangkok terminal seemed about a mile long and I had no idea which boarding gate I needed next or where it was so I began walking fast and following my nose looking at the screens for the London Flights. Having travelled from one end of the airport to the other I found a screen with the flight I was looking for, only to find it was back at gate 51 the other end of the building. So I set off on a brisk walk arriving at the boarding gate with its scanners, now sweating buckets. On entering the departure lounge I found that my flight had been delayed by three hours so I went back to explore the mile of duty free complex to kill the time.
The Same but all Different
At last 3.35 a.m. time to board a Qantas 747 – 400 in seat number 40C this time I was just forward of the wing on the left side in the isle seat with one row of seats behind me then the emergency door onto the wing. This plane had no rear of seat LCD screens so we had to look across the tops of heads, to the large in-flight entertainment’s screen about 10 rows beyond. I took a walk to the back of the aircraft to look out of the emergency door window at some time and saw nothing but mountains. When I arrived back at my seat the screen was showing flight information and we were passing over Afghanistan. The next view from the window was to my left whilst belted in for our landing decent. We were passing over England with complete cloud cover but somewhere over Oxfordshire we dropped lower enough to see land. Dull with dark green fields followed by a long gentle steeply banked turn to the south and a few minutes later the same again. Then we could see the traffic on the M40 followed by the M4 and before we knew it, the largest number of 747s parked I’ve ever seen. Another smooth touch down followed by a long trek across the taxi ways to our stand and that was it. Very quickly through UK passports onto the Heathrow express to terminal one where I only had to wait about two minutes before boarding a National Express coach back to Cirencester.
It Was Wonderful
At Cirencester I walked into town and thought to myself it seems a bit quiet here. I went into the tourist information to enquire about the next bus to Malmesbury. The woman said there are no buses today and I gave her a strange surprised look and asked why. She said, there are no buses on a Bank Holiday, so I said, what day is it today then. Now she gave me a strange surprised look and said don’t you know what day it is, it’s Monday. I said Oh, no I hadn’t realised what day it was as I had just arrived from Brisbane and had been through so many time zones and dark and light periods I had lost track being so tired. I was given the number of a taxi and arrived home unexpectedly £28 out of pocket, but what’s that compared to £815 for a ride across half the world and all those countries in seven days. Can’t wait to go again.