Writing the last blog it occurred to me that perhaps some of you may want to know more of my background, which was, if I say so I, rather varied.
I was born in Europe, but spent my formative and young years first in a boarding school in the Himalayas of British India, then in Karachi, Pakistan, where I had to learn the language of Urdu, then in Bombay (now Mumbai) India, where I had to learn the language of Hindi, and finally in Australia, where I finished my schooling and began my working life.At that time – in the early 1950’s – Australia was living high on the hog – wool prices were still high, so far as I remember, Australia was well off, and there were only some 7 million inhabitants in a country the size of the United States, so, you might say, room for everyone and more. As a consequence, in the post war boom, there were lots of jobs to be had – in fact, more jobs than workers, and, I am ashamed to say, the norm was that if you didn’t like your job or your boss, you simply didn’t turn up in the morning, or, worse yet, didn’t come back from your lunch break! I remember that in one year I actually had 33 jobs! Being an employer myself now, I can see just how awful that was – but that was the way – and we lived, as I said, high on the hog.
Then sometime in the fifties, the government decided to build a very ambitious hydroelectric system in the Snowy Mountains of Australia, where they literally turned the course of a river around and made huge dams to feed the cities of Melbourne and Canberra. For this they needed workers, and so a lively immigration policy was introduced, many people came from all over the world, and they and their descendants are those making up the culturally diverse population of the country today, still only at 20 million. But what a country! Great to live in, beautiful to see, and full of interesting people.
It certainly was good to me. After my stint in the various jobs as mentioned above, I finally settled down to a sales position in real estate, and I became sales manager for a big real estate company. Some time into the job my opposite number, the development manager, told me, with evident pride, that he had done a wonderful thing – we had to go and look at some outlying land the company had bought, and, in order to save time, he had hired an airplane to take us there to see it! I hoped I managed to hide my look of panic at this horrible news – I was one of those airplane passengers who, en route from Australia to the United States, spent the entire 16 hours closely watching the rivets on the wing to make sure it didn’t come off – but I couldn’t very well say I was afraid, could I?So I braved it out and, with trepidation, arrived at the airport on the due day, ready to die. On the tarmac sat what looked like a car with wings screwed onto it – not a very reassuring sight, to me. It was a Cessna 172, as I came to find out later, but at this point it may as well have been a flying coffin. I got the back seat and sweated out the two hour flight with clenched teeth and hair standing on end – and, of course, we didn’t die, we saw what we came to see, returned, landed, and life went on. But next year, would you believe, the hateful man did it again! Hired another aircraft and I was in for it once more. This time I was a little less panicky – and one thing had changed. The pilot, a different guy from the first one, put me in the front seat, behind the dual controls of the aircraft. After take off, he turned to me and said “Why don’t you fly it?” “Oh no”, I said, “I couldn’t, no, I couldn’t!!” “Oh yes”, he said, “you can, it’s quite easy, you take this” – putting my hands on the wheel –“and if you want to go left, you turn it to the left, and if you want to go right”…. I tried it – and if I live to be a hundred years old, I will never forget that awesome thrill of that first feeling of flight. It was the most seductive, the most wonderful, the most unbelievably thrilling —- the most!
And, when he saw that I had my hands on it, he did an incredible thing. He said to me, “See that chimney? Keep flying for that..” And with this, he turned around, to the passengers in the back seat —- and I had the life of these three men in my hands!!! It was the most fantastic thrill of my life. Of course, later I came to realize that the Cessna 172 – and most light trainer aircraft – will write you a letter before they do anything dangerous with you, but I didn’t know that then, and I sat there, thrilled to the back teeth with the idea of actually flying, of having the lives of these people in my hands….. When we reached the airfield, he turned to take the controls, and I said “Do you think I can land it, too?” “No”, he said, taking over “I think I’d better do that”.
So when we landed I asked timidly “Do you think I can come back tomorrow and have another charter flight?” “Why”, said this excellent salesman for the flying school, “don’t you come back for a trial instructional flight?” And I did. And it wasn’t a month but I quit my high paying job, sold my expensive Alfa Romeo car, bought a clunker and paid for flying lessons – got my private license, went on to get my commercial and then my flight instructor rating and enjoyed a few great years as flight instructor, later chief flight instruction for a nearby flying school – but in all the days of flying that followed, never had I a greater thrill than that first moment when I put my hands on that wheel and felt the seductive response of the airplane! I can feel it still…..