Circling around happily
In hot sunny air
A romance, short liv’d
Circling around happily
In hot sunny air
A romance, short liv’d
Caught high in a tree
Victim of very fickle wind,
A simple kite is strand’d
Flying high can be fun
But remember, Icarus:
Keep away from the sun
Picture taken at Mandvi Beach in Kutch, Gujarat (western India)
My late mother was awfully concerned about avoiding germs. For example, every can of food had to be washed before opening it just in case rats or mice had scampered across it in a warehouse. Also, when we visited toilets in public places in the 1960s, we were told to put toilet paper on the seats so that we would not pick up germs that other users had left behind. Interestingly, in many public toilets nowadays, notably on aeroplanes, disposable toilet seat covers are provided. Mum would have approved of this development.
Recently while rummaging through some old photographs, I came across one of me, aged about 10, in Siena, Italy. I was kneeling on the floor feeding pigeons that had flown on to my hand. As a child, I loved doing this. My parents would buy me a paper cone filled with corn seeds. I would fill my palm with some of these, and then pigeons used to perch on my finger tips and pick up bits of corn with their beaks. I remember that the pigeon’s ‘feet’ felt quite soft. Feeding these creatures was a real treat.
Well, I was not unusual. Many people enjoy feeding birds from their hands. Today, in London’s Kensington Gardens there are flocks of green parakeets that happily feed from visitors’ hands.
The surprising thing was that my germ conscious mother permitted my sister and me to feed pigeons as described already. In New York, pigeons are known as ‘flying rats’. Pigeons are are actually less hygienic than rats and they carry mites, which irritate human skin. I cannot believe that pigeons in Italian cities in the 1960s were any cleaner than those flying about today. Had my mother been aware of the pigeons’ unsavoury lack of hygiene, feeding these creatures would have been totally forbidden to my sister and I. I am pleased that she did not realise that the dear flying rats are so filthy!
High above the clouds
A climate protester flies,
Changing the climate
This was inspired by an article in the Daily Mail newspaper (see: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6938095/Dame-Emma-jets-5-400-miles-green-is.html), which reported:
“Emma Thompson arrived at Marble Arch yesterday afternoon to support climate change protesters and urged others to join their numbers.
What she might not have mentioned to them is that she had just flown back to Heathrow Airport from Los Angeles the day before.”
As a youngster, I had problems at high altitudes. These first became manifest during the early 1960s when my parents took me on a driving holiday through France to Switzerland. We were driving up a mountain pass – I cannot remember which – and I felt extremely unwell. My parents attributed my (temporary) malady to the high altitude we had reached.
Some time later, in the late 1960s, we flew from Athens to Iraklion in Crete. We boarded a propeller driven aircraft at Athens Airport. I had forebodings from the moment the ‘plane began to move. Before taking off, the ‘plane made an excessively long trip around the airport. On our way, we passed several disastrous looking aeroplanes. Some of them were burnt out, and others looked as if they had been involved in collisions. Seeing these did nothing to assuage the fear of flying that I used to have.
Eventually, we became airborne. I was seated next to a chain smoker, who produced a persistent cloud of smoke, and my mother. From the moment we rose above Athens to a few minutes before we landed in Iraklion, the aircraft was shaken horribly by turbulence. After a few minutes in the air I felt tingling in my fingertips. Naively, I thought that this was something to do with my neighbour’s cigarettes.
Suddenly, I felt a plastic mask being placed over my face. My mother had noticed that my skin was becoming blue. She had called the stewardess, who immediately supplied me with oxygen from a portable cylinder. I wore this for the rest of the uncomfortable flight. All of us felt dreadful when we landed in Crete. It took us a day to get over the flight. My parents made sure that our return flight was booked on a jet rather than a prop ‘plane. The newer jet-propelled aircraft had better cabin pressurisation, and the problem, which I had on the outward-bound journey, was not repeated.
Since those long off days, I have never suffered from high altitude problems. I have crossed alpine passes without illness, and Bangalore in India, which I visit often, is almost a thousand metres above sea-level. Although I have studied physiology, I have no real idea why as I grew older high altitudes affected me less. As I write this, I wonder whether when I was a young boy, I had a mild anaemia, which only manifested itself when suddenly reaching a higher altitude. Who knows?
Waiting, waiting, waiting,
Why did we fly Ryanair?
High up in the sky,
a compartmented tray,
consuming airline food
Since I was a little boy (many decades ago), I have been travelling on aeroplanes, usually to and from holiday destinations. The food served during flights has always intrigued me. As a child, I used to collect the miniature containers of salt and pepper that appeared on the compartmented food trays. I can remember these better than the far from memorable food served with them.
In 1963, we took an overnight flight from New York to London. When the breakfast tray arrived, I remember that there was a hot, foil-wrapped item on the tray. Cautiously, I unwrapped it to reveal a long spindle of something yellow and rubbery. I hit it with a knife. The knife bounced off it. My mother told me that what I had revealed was an omelette. To this day, omelettes on ‘planes have repelled me. I love freshly made omelettes, but one made several hours earlier and reheated has no appeal for me.
The best food I have eaten in the air was on Air Lanka ‘planes in the mid-1990s when we were travelling between London and Colombo. The food was served in large foil containers, rather than in in tiny neat plastic dishes. Delicious Sri Lankan curries were served. They tasted as if they had been lovingly prepared in someone’s home rather than in an industrial kitchen. My wife recalls eating whole steaks and caviar on an Aeroflot flight between Moscow and New Delhi in the late 1980’s. The burly stewardesses served the food on real porcelain plates.
More recently, I have been travelling regularly to India. There is a direct flight between London and Bangalore operated by British Airways (‘BA’), on which we used to travel. The staff on these flights were coolly efficient. The meals were not so good. For some years I had a dental patient, a friendly fellow, who worked for BA as a cabin crew member. When I told him that I was not keen on what was served on BA, he suggested that I pre-order the seafood meals. These turned out to be better than the regular meals, and we ordered these on several successive flights. Then, on one BA flight I was seated next to a very devout Muslim couple, who did a lot of praying during the ten-hour flight. When their meals arrived, a delicious aroma spread from their trays. When they removed the foil from their hot dishes, I saw that they had been served with what looked like really nice curries and biryanis.
After seeing these halal meals, that is what I pre-ordered on all our subsequent bookings with BA. We were not disappointed. BA used a good quality halal caterer. Many people who order halal food are teetotal. The BA crew did not raise an eyebrow when we ordered gin and tonic or bloody Mary cocktails with our so-called ‘Muslim meals’.
Before BA operated the direct flights between London and Bangalore, we had to make the journey with one change of ‘plane. The German airline, Lufthansa, ran a convenient flight from Frankfurt (Main) to Bangalore. On one occasion, we were served two meals on the flight. The first meal included some meat. Several hours later, the second meal arrived. It was a selection of vegetarian food items. Now, I have nothing against vegetarians and vegetarian food, but I like a bit of meat or fish with my veg. I called the stewardess and asked if there was a non-vegetarian option as there had been during the earlier meal.
“No,” she said abruptly.
“Why?” I asked.
“In Germany,” she explained, “we only eat meat once a day.”
What nonsense, I thought. Whenever I have visited Germany, I have seen people eating meat at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and in between these repasts. I was not going to put up with her inaccurate reasoning.
“Well,” I replied, feeling a little bit hypoglycaemic, “I shall be ill if I eat this vegetarian offering. You must find me some meat.”
“One moment, please.”
She disappeared out of our cabin. Maybe, she was worried that I might eat her. After some minutes, she returned with a tray containing some very tasty pieces of fish.
Apparently, Germans who travel business class eat non-vegetarian food more than once a day.
I cannot understand why airlines feel that they have to serve hot dishes mid-air. Most of these dishes are shoddy versions of the descriptions given to them on the tiny menus handed out to fool you into thinking that the airline will treat you to ‘fine dining’. I believe that many people would be happy with a selection of tubs of what the Greeks call ‘meze’. These could include things like hummus, taramosalata, tzatziki, olives, cole-slaw, nuts, mutabel, guacamole, salsa, etc. No cooking required, and fun to eat.