Mist, fog and smog…

15th January 20121

A friend of mine came to work one day and announced that she had seen ducks walking along Southern State Parkway.

We all laughed, but she looked at us and said “well it’s foggy, they couldn’t see to fly”.

Cambridge ducks would have had the same problem this morning.

Though I wouldn’t call it fog, rather a heavy morning mist.

It began rolling in as the sun rose. Warmer temperatures perhaps causing snow to evaporate.

At 0918, I could see the bottom of the field.

By 0945, the end of the garden had practically disappeared.

…and seven minutes later, I couldn’t see it at all.


Fog and mist are two very different things, of course. Fog is what I remember from my early childhood in London. One day that I recall, it was so thick and dark, all the birds went to roost. And they probably had to walk to get there.

To be technical, the term “fog” is used when visibility is less than 1,000 metres.

“Mist” is when visibility is more than 1,000 metres.

And what we had in London, in the 50’s was”smog”. Good old air pollution. My lungs wheeze at the thought. No wonder I had asthma!

The air above London is better these days, but when I worked for BA we used to get awful weather delays because of London fog. Inevitably over the Christmas holiday.

We had people stranded everywhere. How many times were we told we’d “ruined Christmas”, like we did it on purpose!

On one occasion, when I was going over to visit my aunt and uncle (a real uncle, not that one), the fog was so bad, my flight finished up in Prestwick, Scotland. There we sat until the crew went “out of hours”.

It was a wee saga…to use a Scottish word.

The truth is, I had been granted a seat in First Class, arranged by the dispatcher and Chief Purser. Our dispatchers were a good lot!

So there I was, skulking in my seat, trying to be invisible, but with nothing to do, the passengers started milling about and I was approached by a gentleman who told me that he and his travelling companion were going to try hiring a private jet to get them to London. Was I interested ?

Ummmm…I wanted to say “sure, but I can only contribute twopence halfpenny.” (ie: nothing) Fortunately, the jet option didn’t materialize.

When our Captain announced that our flight was now not going to convey us to London, we were told that we would be transferred to a hotel for a meal and then a special train would be laid on. We could look forward to arriving in London at about 3am.


Moans and groans all round. “Private jet” man came back to me and said “Bugger all that. We’re going to get a taxi to the hotel so we arrive there first and we’ll take rooms so we can shower. Then we’ll have a proper meal, in a restaurant and we’ll catch the midnight sleeper service and arrive at a civilised hour.”

That much, I could just about manage, so off we went, two businessmen and another woman and I.

The hotel had only one room but we took it and we were at least able to rotate through the shower. I think we raised a few eyebrows, as we went in and out, but it was all very proper.

We ended up having Chinese food and drinking scotch. (Well, what else?) I had confessed my lowly existence at that point, but my companions were amused more than annoyed to know I worked for the airline that had left them stranded.

Even BA can’t control London fog and there were passengers from all sorts of airlines in the same abandoned situation. I heard one poor soul inquiring if he could get a taxi to London. In theory, he could, but it would have been a bit pricey.

My problem was how to contact my aunt in Wiltshire who had not a clue of my whereabouts. I have a ‘phone phobia and the old British pay phones are no doubt what caused it. I could never get straight when to insert my money and when to push button “A” or button “B”. A call from somewhere in Scotland to way down in Wiltshire required going through the operator:

“Hallooo how ken a halp yooo……..ooo that’l be looong distance then….” or something like that. With effort, I made myself understood and managed to shove enough money into the rotten contraption and eventually my aunt came on the line: “Oh…we wondered where you’d got to….you’re in Scotland?!

I told my aunt that I would arrive some time the next day and I would let her know what train to meet…another confounded phone call!

After the mediocre Chinese meal and quite a lot of scotch, we eventually found our way to the train station and embarked into our sleeper cabins.

Somehow, I found myself in a cabin with one of the businessmen. He said his colleague was taking a different train to Carlisle. Where the other woman went, I’ve no idea. Maybe to Carlisle as well.

Oh, if that uncle had known! Not that anything untoward happened. However, my companion had been recently in Trinidad and was carrying a bottle of 100-year-old rum. We really ought to try it. On top of the scotch.

In those days I could consume my share of alcohol, but neither scotch nor rum was my tipple.

That may have been the last time I had a hangover! And it was a beaut. Business man’s chauffeur was waiting for him at Waterloo, where we arrived, next morning and he was charged with delivering me to Paddington where I finally caught a train to Swindon after managing to advise my aunt. She gave me a peculiar look when she met me. I’m sure she knew I was hungover!

My aunt must have thought me very inept. Each time I went to visit, something seemed to go wrong.

When I first returned to school in England, aged 14, I found train travel a bit overwhelming and I always had a 30kg suitcase to drag with me.

On my first attempt, I asked a station porter what track the train to such-and-such would be on and followed his directions. The problem was, he directed me to a train that was a “stopper” instead of the express I should have taken.

As a result I missed a connecting train and to complicate matters, my aunt had no phone. (!) In a panic I thought to call the station manager where my aunt would be picking me up and asked him whether perhaps he knew “Sister” Willis. My aunt was a nurse.

“Oh ‘ar, I know ‘er…’ar oi’l tell ‘er..”

When at last, late in the afternoon, I dragged my suitcase across the trestle (trains were always on the furthest track!) and lumped it down the other side, my aunt was standing there trying not to look vexed, but my grandmother made up for it by scowling at me and telling me that I had disturbed “our Win’s sleep”. My aunt was a night nurse who spent her daylight hours caring for my aging grandmother and her invalid brother. Yup. I really did feel inept.

Trains, telephones, scotch and rum. I still don’t like them.

Aeroplanes I could forgive. But I think I’ll not ride in one again. They only have two engines now. I can remember being nervous when they only had three!

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