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‘Okay, listen up, this is important’ he said in a serious manner. ‘They are sending a Fire truck over to pick us up in 5 minutes’, we all nodded and looked at each other. He continued in a stern manner, ‘They are going to to land the Warbird, taxi and stop at the end of the runway with the engines turning and burning, the Fire truck will drive to the aircraft, stop and we get on board before taxiing along the spectator line of oh say about 20,000 people and take off again. I cannot stress enough that we have an 8 minute window to complete this, 8 minutes, that is all’!!!!!! 14 minutes later both Karen and I boarded a World War 2 Catalina Flying Board for a 2 hour ‘positioning’ flight all the way down to Christchurch in the South island to land at an Air Force Base for its last ever time.
To explain this in a bit more depth I need to take you back about 24 hours and to the 10th Annual Wings Over Wairarapa WW1 & WW2 Airshow. We saw the advertising for the Airshow and the timing was perfect so after a false start, namely pitching our tent in the VIP area along with a fellow camper and his son (Hi Robert and Jeremy) we got booted off but managed to still pitch at the back of the site neatly snuggled in amongst hords of motorhomes. Okay, so the Saturday loomed and for those who are aircraft aficionados this will give you an idea of why we were there. This was not a static display, rather an actual air display and here is what flew, oh and yes, in mock battles too, Sopwith Camels, De Havilland’s Tiger Moths and Dragons and a Vampire!, Harvards, Corsairs, P 51 D Mustang, P 40 E Kittyhawk, WW1 Sopwith F1 Camel and even a Fokker DR1 Triplane, Pfalz 111a, Fokker DV11, Nieuport 11 Yaks, a Czech Albatross, a few Hughies and a Seasprite and of course the incredible and awesomely beautiful PBY-5A Catalina Seaplane. There was even a Spitfire but it crashed with its 91 year old ex pilot DSO on board. As in crashed for real but they were all okay, the Spitfire is sadly damaged quite badly.
The pilots doing the commentary then let this announcement out of the bag, (for those of you not interested in flying do bare with me as this is a hugely important and incredibly wonderful thing that happened to me/us, so much so that I’m going to have to re-write my top All Time 5 Best Experiences list)…..the announcement stated, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen I would just like to remind you that today we are incredibly privileged to offer members of the public the chance to actually fly in the airshow on the Dakota DC3 and, (and I still cannot believe I actually heard these words), the Catalina WW2 Flying boat!!!!! Gobsmacked, Dumbstruck, Jawdroppingly, Speechless.
Let me explain, to the best of my flying knowledge, which I must say is actually quite good (Yes I used to be an avid aircraft spotter as a child, oh god I know I’m leaving myself wide open here but yes, that’s like being a bus spotter or train spotter but with aircraft) well as far as I knew there were only a handful left in the entire World, about 9 or 10, so when they said it was possible to fly in the Catalina as a passenger I all but fainted. After a fast walk, then a jog and then a practical run across the airfield as free as a child with a plastic Visa card in my hand I purchased myself a ticket and one for Blondie as a surprise. (the photo of her crying is when Gladys gave her the ticket) 16.00hrs could not come soon enough and sure enough, we trundled down the runway along with 16 fellow passengers, including one old boy who used to fly on them ‘during the war’. Okay so look, I’m going to have to cut this story short but suffice as to say that when I got off I was buzzing, just buzzing.
The ground crew were all lovely and the conversation steered around to this line. ‘Well tomorrow we are flying down to Christchurch in the South island to RN Airforce Base Wigram at 13.00hrs after the show’. To which I replied, ‘Wow shame you haven’t got any spare seats.’ The wonderful and ever smiling ground crew said, ‘You can go if you want, seriously, you will have to make your own way back up, but opportunities like this don’t come along very often so do it’. Lawrence summed it up by saying, ‘You are a bloody fool if you don’t go’, so we did……..more about this story later on as I don’t want to bore those who aren’t into flying.
Oh and I know I said this would be a short story but just simply so much has happened that I can’t fit it all in. And seeing as though we have just finished with our travels in New Zealand, it’s going to have to be a long one.
‘Bulldogging’ that’s what I want to be now, I want to be a ‘Bulldogger’. Never heard of them before? Well let me explain. Essentially you take a Helicopter, some very fluffy mountain sheeps and a lot of balls. You fly the Helo up a mountain to find the aforesaid mentioned wooly critters who haven’t has a haircut for some 3 years (they look like large Grey clouds apparently). Then, whilst Mr Pilot manoeuvres the flying thing in close above their unsuspecting, grass munching sheeps heads the Bulldogger then, get this, he then leaps from the sled of the hovering helicopter and grabs said sheepy by the back legs and hog ties it. He then clips it to a rope under the Helo and Senior Fluffy is then treated to the most exhilarating, if not upside-downy flying trip of it’s entire short life to a sheep shearing pen when it is then unceremoniously stripped of it’s large wooly jumper in favour of a neat crew cut. Never mind counting jumping sheep at night, I wanna be a God Darn Bulldogger. That’s it I’m re-training. Imagine the implications of getting it a bit wrong and leaping on a bunch of wooly jumpered hikers, oh my god the possibilities are endless!!! Anyone know a helicopter pilot or have £768,550 spare and we are in business. Someone? Anyone? Ex-Orange staff are you up for it? Hoe Hum, moving on.
Here’s a couple of strange ones that we fail to understand the reasoning behind. Driving from the top West to the top East of the south island we left early to cover the 300 odd kms to our next destination. Almost immediately we pulled onto the road we slotted neatly in behind a small hire car who was driving like the clappers but driving really well. As anyone who drives high mileage will attest to, when you drive fast, twisting road you want someone who never uses the breaks in front, someone who uses forward vision and basically, ‘honks it on down’. Well this dude was doing just that. We flowed along, we overtook bunches of cars, blended around tight corners and after about 170 kms pulled into the same car park to see the same tourist attraction.
When we got out of our cars and looked each looked over to give the, ‘Guy Nod’ of good driving recognition. Beyond belief, we suddenly realised that it was none other than a couple of fellow travellers who we had first met in Ecuador some 5 months ago Frank and Claudia. Even more incredible was the fact that we randomly met them again in Peru several weeks later. They have since been to Samoa, Australia and even North America. What are the chances of that happening, a kin to meeting Jo and Inga in Wellington.
It makes me wonder what forces lay at work beneath or above our world’s that control such bizarre destiny’s? Now we all know there is no such thing as coincidence and things are just, well, meant to be, but how and why should such timing ever be understood. Imagine your life like ‘Sliding Doors’ with Gwyneth Paltrow. A simple left turn instead of right? A minute wasted reading a newspaper and an entirely different world would pay out in front of you. Right, never mind all of this hippy b()llocks, lets get on with the real news.
Which brings me on to a quite stunning thing that happened the other day. We were cruising along at 80kmh through a mountain pass with the sun shining and the km’s whizzing passed under our wheels when all of a sudden ‘TING’ a tiny little bright green bird clips the top side of the windscreen and then unbelievably gets sucked into the inside of our truck through Blondie’s window. It does quick three laps of the inside and lands, dead smack in front of me above the steering wheel and against the inside of the windscreen. With absolutely no where to pull over we continued to wiggle through the bends until we found a place to stop. As we pulled off the road, it looked at me, flapped its tiny little green wings, deposited a sizable green and blue poo on the dashboard before promptly f()cking off through the very same window from whence it came. Strange eh?
The small creatures in the images are none other than Cicadas, and they were taken whilst I was bored. To get the super close up shots of the Dragon Fly, I used a pair on binoculars and turned them around the wrong way to act like a telescope. Quite impressive eh!
Blondie’s been doing a spot of driving too down here as we just passed through the unbelievable 14,000km mark! The roads can be pretty demanding but she’s doing well and it gives me a break as well. (thanks to the many arms of Bishnu for Titanium underpants) But here’s something that I learnt the other day that you can all try at home. Apparently, and according to a bloke who said he got it straight from a Scientist there is a simple thing you can do at anything above 100 kmh (60 mph) to alleviate the boredom of driving. Do try this as it works. Have you ever wondered what a perfect 21 year olds breast should feel like? Bare with me. Well, apparently, at 100 kmh, if you shove your hand out of the window and make a sort of a cup shape with you hand and let the wind fill it with air, hey presto you are immediately lead to feel what the ‘Perfect Honker’ should feel like, and that’s from a Scientist so it must be true. Of course for those of you in the UK at the moment, trying this in -5c will also give you the benefit of knowing what a 21 year old’s Icelandic bird’s knockers will feel like. Good luck with the road test, I’d be interested to hear the feedback from both men and women.
An interesting feature which I did not expect to face on this trip is this, shall I go and kitesurf here or not? Not shocking? Not shocking at all in fact. But here’s the rub, what stops me from going in I hear you ask (damn those voices in my head)….what stops me, well it’s this, THE GREAT WHITES, they have so many of the bloody things that hang around off the coast here they actually name them! Seriously. This is an actual conversation with a local man. ‘Arh yeah man, you can kite up there but better be careful mind as ‘Old Brutus’ hangs around up there at low tide’. Hang the fluff on a minute, OLD BRUTUS I enquired? Yup, surely enough, ‘Ol Brutus is a sizable Great White that has been known to give Kayakers a ‘playful nudge’ and has even had a quick surf with a passing longboarder. So I sat out that session.
A few days ago I thought I was going to laugh so hard that I was going to have a heart attack. I had stopped to a take a photograph at a view point and nipped over an electric fence at a real low point. These things are everywhere and are designed simply to keep the cattle in. They run a bolt of electricity down the fence for a split second every few seconds or so. So if you catch it right, no shock, but if you catch it wrong, you get a bolt that would effectively make a sizable cow jump back six foot yelling ‘Mooooo F()ck Mooooooo’. Well, photographers are a funny breed and always seem to like to stand next to each other to check out the other camera.
Well, and I’m still laughing now, this short guy was in the process of climbing over the fence when WHAMMO!!! it hit him straight between the legs, or rather, straight in the arse. Yup, a sizzling crack of voltage flashed in a millisecond right up into his old marmite tea towel holder, the old rusty sherrif’s badge, the old Gary Glitter, the old marmite motorway, and down her went like a howling scalded cat. Rolling around the grass grabbing his bottom like a Boy Band member on their first night in Prison (er, I think that possibly went too far there) Anyhoo, I only wish that I had videoed it as it would have been worth a good 500 bucks from the fat bird on that TV video show “You’ve Been A ****”
Now this was funny. We were walking through a farmers field to a deserted beach up on the Farewell Spit which is on the very top of the south island and we happened upon a sort of set of steps over a fence. The design was to keep sheep out. I stood looking at the structure as a women and some 6 kids tramped up and over the thing. I said to her, ‘How come sheep haven’t figured out how to climb this then?’ She said simply, ‘My pet lamb could climb it all right’. To which her son turned round and said, ‘Oh cool mummy, are we having lamb tonight?’ The shockwave passed along the line of children to the youngest of the group, a small little blonde thing in pink Wellingtons who promptly burst into tears yelling, ‘Mummy you promised me we would ever eat my lamb Mr Wooly’, she said between sobs. The women glared at me, at which point the second youngest started crying too, so I sidled off up the path in the opposite direction, whoops.
Okay so I know that this is dragging on a bit but it’s the end of our NZ leg of the journey, so there’s lots to catch up on. We managed to get a an incredibly lucky break at the Franz Joseph Glacier when by rocking up early on a bright sunny day, the girl said,’We’ll upgrade you free of charge to the full flight’. So that was us, up up and away in a helicopter to fly around Mount Cook, and we even landed on the Fox Glacier (the one that killed those kids a few days before). To try and explain what it is like to fly around a snowy capped mountain and then land on a glacier, well, quite simply, like waking up to find out that Santa Claus is real, 40 is the new 20, you don’t actually dance like your dad and that Jennifer Aniston has just MMS’ed you a picture of her beaver by accident, in other words, just fantastically wonderful.
I saw this the other day which although slightly late, is nonetheless, just as important……..
“Snowy capped mountains and vast twisting roads, help untwine the burden of sometimes complex load.
Distant clouds form below us as memories haze away, whilst passing miles ease the sadness that beckon a bright new day”. - Happy Birthday to my Mum February 1st. We miss you.
Right, a quick story about Moko the Dolphin then I’ll finish with the rest of the Catalina story. At a bay called Mahia there is a wild Dolphin who for some incredible reason hangs around every day in the shallow water of the bay trying to steal bodyboards and general floaty things before it pushes them around a bit and then takes them out to sea, never to be seen again. Moko is a female Bottlenose who is about 4 years old. It is a bit sad to see a wild animal being chased up and down the beach day and night but hey, it’s not in captivity so if it wants to swim off then it can. I got quite cross with a group that were pulling its dorsal fin (akin to grabbing a women’s norks or a blokes bobby dangler). But after they left we chilled out and ended up swimming with it for 2 hours until the sun went down. Quite incredible to be so up close to a wild Dolphin that it kept putting its nose under Karen’s arm and pushing her along in the water. I spent 20 minutes or so just swimming around with it following me. (Once again thanks to one of our sponsors AQUAPAC.net)
The next day I even kited with Moko and she kept diving under my North Fish kite board and racing along and jumping out of the water. Now I wasn’t hanging around but she shot off in all directions. 2 hours of kiting alone, with a lone wild Dolphin on a empty sandy bay, again that’s enough to re-jig the All Time Top 10 experiences. There are a lot of Dolphin images but I cannot choose which ones I liked the most.
Okay, so the final part about the PYB-5A Catalina. We taxi’ied passed all the waving crowds with our huge wings passing over their heads and turned onto the runway. Within seconds we were airborne and heading south. We flew to the East of Wellington at about 1000-1500 feet and crossed over the Cook Straits to the South island. There was quite a strong side wind of about 35-40 knots so as you can imagine it was a little bumpy. It gave us a real feeling of what it must have been like sitting in one of these machines ‘during the war’. This is so incredible but as you look at the photo below, we spent 90% of the journey sitting in the bubble at the back. It was like sitting in a conservatory with the best view in the world flying by.
Then it happened, as we neared Kaikoura (where we did the Whale spotting and shot the Seals), Dee the pilot said, ‘Okay it’s time for Whale Watching’ and within seconds there one was. 1500 foot below us was a enormous Sperm Whale just cruising along about 5km of the coast. We circled to the left and flew low over the majestic creature only a few hundred feet below us, then it slowly lifted it’s tale and we watched it vanish beneath the gemstone coloured water and it was gone. We flew on down the coast as both Karen and I sat in the bubble at the back on our own whilst we hopped between sides to look down at seals and the sea on one side and the incredibly rugged land on the other.
Eventually, Christchurch loomed on the horizon and over the headset I heard that we were about to land at the Airforce Base. We touched down and said a huge farewell to all those that had been so wonderful to us and headed to Christchurch Airport in a taxi driven by a bloke from Samoa who looked just like Jabba The Hutt in a vain hope to get a flight back to Wellington in the North island. Meanwhile, and I still can’t quite get over this, our truck was driven down to Wellington from Wairarapa by Glenys and Roger who dropped it off at the airport for us.
As I write this I am struggling to find the words to express just how wonderful and welcoming the whole Catalina Project Crew were. Everyone we met was so simply wonderful. As we left the airport some 8 hours after our expedition began we were greeted by this wonderful double rainbow. As I sit and write this entry with the sun gradually fading to my left, sitting staring out to sea over the top of this laptop I am truly lost for words. To be almost 39 years old and to have achieved so much, I never, never, ever believed for a million years that I would ever get the chance to fly in a Catalina. Like most of the 30 something year olds reading this, Catalina’s were something that were made in a bedroom from airfix kits and were mounted on a piece of cotton that suspended it from our bedroom ceilings whilst we dreamed away our nights of visions of Fighter Pilots, Royal Marine Commando’s and what is must have been like ‘during the war’.
One small and final anecdote before I go. When I was in Junior School and Star Wars was out for the very first time circa 1978ish I was a fat kid. I don’t mean chubby, I mean FAT with a capital F and boy did I get bullied at school, yup Rolland Browning of Grange Hill was a Paris Hilton to my 38 waist! I will never ever forget this to this day. All the other kids took in their new Star Wars Tye Fighters and their Millennium Falcons and even their Battle Cruisers and blasters and so on and so forth. Well, I took in a model airplane that I had made as my parents (well useless Father actually) refused to buy me anything of use (other than a sodding Brown Hawk ‘Folding’ Shopper Bike)….man I got the sh*t kicked out of me for that one. Anyhoo, I took in two AIRCRAFT, not these new fangled toys, I took in AIRCRAFT, namely 1) A Vulcan Bomber and 2) A Catalina Sea Plane. Once again I was on the receiving end of a tirade of abuse as only 9 year olds can do and in the particularly nasty curfuffle/ wedgie fest that ensued my Vulcan lost a wing, Stephen Hughes got a bloody nose as in my blind panic to run away, I ran straight into him but, in the words of Mr Williams, ‘but through it all’ my Catalina stood firm.
To this day,I have never understood why I still felt such pride to have taken that oh so special AIRCRAFT into school no matter what the consequences, but now, after all of these years, I now understand a little of what those brave, courageous, dignified, fearless, Men and Women who flew and served on those aircraft must endured. We should never forget what they all endured and flying in that incredible machine gave us a very brief insight into the reasons why we should not forget them.
Well that’s all folks, do enjoy the latest images and we hope all isn’t too gloomy back in Europe. We must say that it’s funny to be all the way down here in the high 20’s listening to people talking about not going into work because of snow! Well that’s it for New Zealand now, we leave for Fiji on the 17th Feb for a few weeks before we head off on the major adventure that is going to be Australia. After 6 months ‘on the road’ we are still going strong and enjoying every day and more. To spend so much time together is just great and to experience so much stuff is, well just beyond words really. At present we are in a campground right on the edge of Auckland Harbour, for those of you that have it, Google earth Takapuna Beach Campsite to see where we are. We have eased up the pace for the last 3 weeks and are basically just sitting by the water each day and having BBQ’s at night. We were successful in our Non Drinking January, so we’ve both dropped quite a few pounds and are looking quite trim. NZ has been an incredible 3 and a bit months adventure where we have met some lovely people and seen some wonderful sights (all of which we will bore you to death with over dinner sometime no doubt)
I read a few days ago a couple of bits of advice, so here it is, the wisdom of Skono. FROGGER! Remember FROGGER? Well, if you do then you will remember that there were times to race forward and then there were times to stay still and just be careful, well I guess, life in the UK is now like a game of Frogger. With house prices crashing and the Credit Crunch no longer being a brand of breakfast cereal, it all seems to be getting a bit too real. A scary fact is that the average amount of beer consumed in pubs is down by 2.2 million pints per day!! So my advice is, stuff work. If they are going to make you redundant they are going to do it regardless. So take time out and enjoy life a bit more, print this off and go read it during a ‘comfort break’. But if life is getting tough and people/friends are thinking about radical moves ‘outside the box of normality’ like emigrating or selling the house and doing what we’ve done then maybe these very old words from John Dryden 1631-1700 might help, ta ta for now. Lots of photos so do enjoy.
Happy the Man, and happy he alone
He who can call today his own:
He who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow do they worst, for I have lived today.
Chris and Blondie xx (I’m the one on the right)