I have been racking my brains trying to remember which was the first flight I ever took, and it’s been a really difficult journey down memory lane. I have up til now thought I could remember everything, and now it transpires that I can’t. So I was going through all the holidays I had with my father – I wasn’t allowed to go with my mother – and I think we went everywhere by car or train.
1965 Poland – car
1966 Italy – train
1967 ? Bournemouth – car
1968 Italy – car
1969 Yugoslavia – car
1971 Mallorca – aeroplane
So I have come to the conclusion that my very first flight was in December 1970, on my own, to Madrid. I was in the Upper Sixth at school and doing French, Spanish and English A levels. The French teacher , Mlle Vartoukian, had no worries about me, but the Spanish teacher (Mrs Murray?) was very concerned that I couldn’t actually speak any Spanish. She suggested I go to Spain. Easier said than done. Mother Mary Margarita, the diminutive Spanish nun, who had originally inspired my interest in Spanish, was prevailed upon to help. She found a family who said they would have me for the Christmas holidays in return for finding their niece somewhere she could stay in England for nine months! My parents were completely unable to help so it was back to square one. Rather cheekily I decided to write to this family saying my parents were sorry they couldn’t help but please could I still come. To everyone’s great surprise they said yes, and so on December 27th or thereabouts in 1970 I was taken to Heathrow by a very nervous mother to board my very first flight to go and stay with a family of total strangers for a fortnight. Crazy!
I think I was less nervous about the flight than just finding my way to it. And then recognising the people the other end. I had sent them a rather beautiful photo of me, which didn’t actually bear much resemblance to me at all, as they pointed out when they finally found me, but it was the beginning of many years of friendship.
Meanwhile my mother was having kittens in London. The Spanish, or rather Basque family, los senores Eizaguirre, took their responsibilities seriously and did not let me speak a word of English, anddidn’t let on for many years that they could understand the language. Consequently I spent the first weekend in agonies, hardly able to emit a si or a no. On the Monday morning a telegram arrived asking if I had arrived. We were all mortified; I hadn’t let my mother know. So now I had to really exert myself and ask if I could sent a telegram back. How I managed that I do not know, but somehow I did, and this was the breakthrough. I began to speak and in the following few days I began to be fluent. What’s more, I began to understand.
Then I had to fly back.
I don’t remember being afraid of flying or anything like that and for many years I went on many commercial airlines. But then, ten years ago we went to South Africa and one of our many transfers was in a tiny 11 seater plane. That was not nice at all. Jacek had guessed I wouldn’t be too happy, so he only arranged the one flight out, to the safari area of Madikwe. I was very taken aback when the pilot appeared to be a little girl, but felt decidedly better when I noticed a young man on the plane who was decidedly more terrified than me and made no attempt to hide or curtail his fear. I at least suffered in silence, whilst clutching on to my husband for dear life. Luckily he had hired a car with a driver for the way back, so I didn’t have to spend the next three days worrying.
But the next time we went to Africa he made no such concessions. We arrived in Uganda in a normal sized plane.Business class. Very swish and very pleasant. But we weren’t going to stay in the airport and Uganda and Tanzania are big. Vast, in fact. Enormous distances to cover and we didn’t have the time that Stanley and Livingstone had at their disposal. So the answer was small planes.
Reluctantly I braced myself for one the size of the previous 11 seater. We were waiting at one little airstrip in the middle of nowhere and I noticed a young man with a Tupperware box waiting by the side of a tin toy plane. What fun I thought, but where is ours? I nearly died when he approached us and said he was our pilot and our steward – the Tupperware contained our in-flight meal, the windows were our in-flight entertainment and the ladder had to be climbed. If it hadn’t been for our friend Marta who was with us on this second trip I would have sat down on the ground and refused to go anywhere. As it was she held me firmly all the way and talked me through it. that was the smallest one – a four seater and very cramped it was too. I am pleased to be able to relate that by the time I got into the 11th plane in 9 days I was just about able to look out of the window and see the marvellous views. Most of them I am afraid I only saw second hand, as it were, as Jacek thankfully took many pictures!
Talk about being out of one’s comfort zone!