Killing time

1944/12th August 2023

“We must start searching for sunsets!” I announced last night.

Now that they are coming into range, it would just involve jumping in the car and getting to a designated view point.

After a certain time of day wild horses couldn’t drag us out, but days are shorter now!


We made one such attempt a couple of years ago, but due to bad planning, we ended up mostly facing the wrong way.

It wasn’t a wasted trip though, as I seem to recall we drove home just as a full moon was rising in front of us.


In my younger days, I had a pretty good sense of direction once I got the lay of the land, except in cities where streets and avenues are mostly numbered.

Sometimes too you get thrown curve-balls, for example here in New York, North Salem is actually south of regular Salem.

Now, of course GPS mostly rescues us from such problems but there was something quite satisfying about reading a map and navigating a journey. I was quite good at it.


It is shameful to admit, but these days, chauffeured around as I mostly am, I sit back and don’t make note of the route.

Consequently, I tend to have only vague ideas of what is where.

“Up there”, “over there”, “by the Hudson”.

That sort of thing.


People who don’t know how I think are sometimes confused:

Some friends and I were on the bridge of a ship once, trying to spot the first iceberg.

“Dead ahead!” I announced.

Everyone stared, straight ahead.

“Not there! Over there!”

In a direct line to the way I was facing.


No, I’m really not that self-involved. The world certainly does not revolve around me!

Sometimes I throw curve-balls.

Once, a very long time ago, my mother gave me a gorgeous citrine from Madagascar, which I had made into a ring.

We weren’t supposed to wear jewelry at work but well, rules were made to be broken. It was very tasteful!


Some girls were admiring my ring and wanted to know what the stone was.

A moment of wickedness overtook me. I decided to do a wind up.

“It’s called citrine because it smells of lemon!” I said, straight-faced.

Extending my hand: “Sniff!”


“Oh my! It does smell like lemon!”

Then I had to confess. At home I had a bottle of lemon-scented spray that I had used to clean the ring.

In those days I had a sense of fun though I’m not sure where I acquired it.


It was probably my friend Tim. He is English and we had a lot in common, found humour in the same things.

He was a great person to travel with, always insisting we were travellers, not tourists. We found ourselves in some interesting and greatly varying situations.


Long plane journeys and waiting around in airports, you had to kill a lot of time. Remember, we did not have smart phones to gaze at then.

People-watching is far more interesting when they are interacting with each other!

We liked to figure out where people were from, where they were going, what their stories were.


Unfamiliar languages are always interesting. On a flight once I noticed a group of young girls, probably a team. Finnish ice skaters I thought. It was confirmed when their baggage came up on the carousel, displaying their labels.

Not that it had been a great challenge, blond hair, Nordic – skating.


Airports that see international traffic provide endless entertainment if you enjoy observing the various sorts of behaviour in different cultural groups.

For example, if you were to witness a group of newly disembarked passengers arriving in Immigration, if they immediately formed organised queues, – they’re British.


It always amused me perversely, to observe these neatly lined up British people when a flight arrived from a part of the world where the idea of a queue more closely resembles a football scrum.

“I say. I was here before you!”


Few people are as happy to form a queue as the British. At least it used to be so, a carry-over from two world wars when everything was in short supply.

Mum told me that if you saw a queue you got on it not knowing what for.

Were successive generations hard-wired this way? It’s been 17 years since I worked in an airport, so I don’t know.


Tim and I came back from our travels with fun stories, so often other friends came along and I gained the reputation of sobering influence.

Someone has to be responsible, right?


Early experience taught me not to mix travel and alcohol.

London was heavily fogged in one morning and my flight diverted to Prestwick, Scotland.

There I was on an almost-free ticket, occupying a First Class seat to which I was not entitled thinking: “Bother!”


For some hours I sat meekly trying to disappear from view, hoping we would soon get clearance to depart and thinking it was much more likely that our crew would run out of hours and that we would terminate in Prestwick.

When the announcement was made my thinking became more colourful: “SHIT!”

By now jet-lag had kicked in.

It makes me irritable.


Being dumped in Scotland involved several inconveniences. My tired brain acknowledged them without offering solutions.

Bleary eyes perceived a passenger making his way toward me. One of those proper, entitled-to First Class passengers.


“My colleague and I are going to try to hire an aeroplane to fly us to London and wondered if you would be interested in getting in on it”

(Me? I couldn’t afford a bus ticket.)

I smiled, no doubt looking like the idiot I felt and too tired to care.


Unsurprisingly, there were no planes to hire for any price. We were stuck with the airline’s offer:

Transfer by bus to a local hotel where supper would be served, then continuing transport by a specially laid on train that would get us to London at 3 am.

Swell. I couldn’t wait to sit around Waterloo Station at that hour.


As I took my suitcase from the carousel, Posh Man took it from me:

“We’ve got a taxi so we can beat the bus to hotel and book rooms.”

By now we were four. The hotel could only come up with one room which they were hesitant to offer to two men and two women.

It was Scotland in 1970.


Posh Man and friend were able to persuade the hotel receptionist that we merely wished to shower and change clothes, which we did.

We were invited to join our fellow travellers from *economy class for supper, which we did not.


We were off to a Chinese Restaurant.

It could be where my dislike of Chinese food originated but I can’t really say because we washed it down with a good deal of fine Scotch whisky.

We had time to kill, because we would not be boarding the special train.


We would wait until midnight and get the sleeper service, arriving in London in daylight. I seem to remember that the fare for a sleeper was £40 which in those days was a lot of money.

But not what part of a private plane would have cost!


Some of what happened after this is a little hazy, but I remember the important bits.

When we boarded the train, Posh Man’s friend went off to his carriage saying he would be getting off at Crewe and no, he didn’t want any more to drink.

The woman who had joined us, I have no clue where she went.


Posh Man had been very nice to me even when I came clean and told him who I worked for. So how could I refuse to drink with him?

It turned out he had been in Trinidad and he whipped out a bottle of 100-year-old rum which we drank neat.


Now, I’d like to point out that nothing happened. He made it clear he wouldn’t have minded, but he was a gentleman.

In the morning, he went off to get the underground after entrusting me to his chauffeur who met the train and tried not to show an opinion when he was asked to drive me to Paddington Station.


After two nights without sleep and a great deal more liquor than was a good idea, you may picture the state I was in when finally my aunt met me of the train in Swindon.

Her face was all the comment I needed.


Although I haven’t used it, I remember Posh Man’s real name. He was the director of a company in Holland. I had asked him for a business card so I could pass his details on customer relations. They did in fact compensate him for his expenses and apologised for the inconvenience he had been subjected to.

His secretary sent me a nice thank you letter.

It was a fairly strange experience and a memorable hangover and it was partly how I became the sobering influence.


*In 1970, the third class of service had not been introduced.

Smoking not been banned and there was no such thing as a no-smoking zone.

The aircraft I flew that night was one of our original 747’s registration G-AWNA. It was configured 36/311 First and Economy class.

The Captain’s name was Bingham. What useless information one tends to remember.

How did I come to be sitting in First Class? It was a nice little treat some of the guys used to arrange for us when they could.

Don’t tell anyone.

5 thoughts on “Killing time

  1. Thank you, Carolyn, for your excellent musing! I like your game of guessing all about people just by looking on them mastered to perfection by Sherlock Holmes. Lovely pictures!


  2. I had a good laugh at your ring ‘smelling’ like lemon – I can only imagine how surprised/confused people must have been! It makes me think … I have a very gullible friend 😉. What a great story to read Carolyn – I enjoyed it so much! Wow, a 100 year old rum to share with a gentleman … what a memory! Now, let me go to the top of your post to look at your photos – I was having so much fun reading that I completely forgot about the pictures!

  3. Good story about the posh man and the heavy drinking. 🙂
    We still queue respectfully, but I cannot comment on airports now, as the last time I flew was (BA) to Prague, in 2011.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. This brought up a memory! In 1998, after my mother was gone, Dad wanted to visit an old colleague in Rome. He was then 86. I flew over, got him organised and we set off. I was using a confirmed long service concession ticket and praying that the flight wouldn’t be oversold which would see us turfed off. In my anxiety over things in general, I took my dad to the gate and presented our boarding cards only to be told “This is the Prague flight! Mortifying in front of BA colleagues (“these people from the colonies!”) and in front of Dad who gave me such a look!

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