I did say it wouldn’t be all cats, although there was a cat that travelled to Paris on the Air France Concorde. His name was Norton and he wrote a good book, assisted by Peter Gethers.
I thought I might go out to the garage today and sit in the car for the duration of cleaning activities as well as happenings in the basement. And considering the grief I have been getting from my computer lately, it would have been better for my nerves if I had! But here I am, vibrating slightly but soldering on, as they say.
I am probably more than averagely sensitive to noise, as was my father. Human noise, that is, although obviously not all. The vacuum cleaner sets my teeth on edge as do all that sort of device, blenders, sewing machines, electric drills… . It’s partly why I dislike summer, open windows inviting in the sounds of lawn mowers and that most anti-social device, the leaf-blower. I rejoice that here I am spared traffic noise!
There are nice noises:
Music of course , sometimes I actually like really loud music and I love all sounds of Nature; birdsong, waves on the beach, wind in the trees, waterfalls, all animal sounds. I even love a good thunderstorm and the sound of pouring rain. It’s just those awful human machines that get on my nerves, though there was one incredible exception which is now forever silent, sadly, and that was the sound of Concorde, most beautiful and wonderful of aeroplanes. Most astonishing accomplishment.
In my days at British Airways, I had the tremendous privilege of working with this amazing aeroplane. I had thought, before she started flying, that the crews who flew such an elite aircraft would be awful snobs that would look down their noses as us little folk who worked on the ground. (In the old days we had not a few pilots who thought we were basically pretty low!)
I could not have been more wrong. Without exception, the people who were connected with Concorde were the nicest, most modest, most enthusiastic, dedicated and hard-working people I have ever known. They were also a really fun group.
British Airways did not only use Concorde on scheduled routes. For many years she flew an extensive charter operation. She did many round-the-world flights for wealthy passengers but she also did a great many short “round-the-bay, flights to nowhere”, that carried thousands of ordinary people who would never have been able to afford a scheduled flight on the aeroplane. Concorde had so many devotees. To this day people attend lectures about an aircraft that has been retired for 16 years!
When I left JFK in the Spring of 2000, Concorde was my one regret. As it turned out, I left New York at a fairly critical moment. On July 25th of that year, Air France lost one of their Concorde aircraft in the devastating Gonesse crash. British Airways and Air France grounded the aircraft and modifications were made to the fuel-tank liners. Though from what I understand it was not an aircraft defect that cause the crash.
A year later, Concorde was back in the air, but only flew for two more years before the enormously controversial decision that she must be retired for commercial reasons.
Considering the crash, and in the following year, the horror of 9/11, and ultimately the premature retirement of Concorde, which had meant a lot to me, not being in New York was probably a blessing for me, even though I felt, at the time, that that was where my heart was.
Ironically, or perhaps inevitably, Boeing Field in Seattle was chosen as the retirement location for one of the British Airways Concorde aircraft, G-BOAG. As a BA staff member I was allowed to be at Boeing Field when the aircraft arrived on November 5th, 2003. Whether from the chill wind or from pure emotion, I shivered as I watched her approach, circle and then come back to make her final landing on the runway where I had once greeted her before, in happier times. I drank in the sound of Alpha-Golf’s powerful engines as she touched down and then taxied to the stand and I thought “I shall never hear this again”.
I think I managed not to cry, though tears are flowing down my face as I write this. Perhaps that tells you something about this unique aeroplane that inspired such devotion and that accomplished so much in her 27 years.