GORDON SANITAIRE by Gordon Urquhart (XXXIII)

Skylarking

The wines available at Sydney Airport are rather disappointing. There was nothing on offer from the Bordeaux region and I couldn’t find anything with a rating over 93 in James Halliday’s Australian Wine Companion. This was a shame. It was more than a shame, in fact. Nancy and I would definitely have got up and walked away if it was a restaurant, but it wasn’t a restaurant, it was an airport, and we were there recently because we were going to fly somewhere, and there was no alternative, and I needed a glass of something. Really needed a glass of something – even more than usual.

It dates back to a Vietnam incident: an incident which happened while the Vietnam War was on, but did not happen in Vietnam, and I certainly never became a participant in that conflict, thank God. I was a newly minted lawyer in the mid-1960s, maintaining a connection with the University Regiment in order to stay out of the birthday ballot, and also because it was bloody good fun to still see the chaps regularly. We were on some sort of a glorified camp at an airbase in North Queensland, where we were helping the air force maintenance crew with refuelling and loading and sundry related duties. It’s a lot of fun to work as an aircraft director, indicating which planes can take off, with those coloured sticks or bat-shaped things, I can tell you.

Of course there was plenty of larking about. There was a small group of American servicemen working with us and we used to attempt to outsmart them in increasingly absurd ways. At one point I ordered one of these very friendly young men – they were all ridiculously polite, all the time – to pump up the tyres on a transport plane with a hand pump. We claimed the other pumps were all broken. I was junior officer. You could make people do things like that. The poor bloke did his best for two hours, in the hot sun, before giving up and rightly deciding that the tyres of a Chinook cannot be pumped up by hand.

Soon after the American fella and his mates got me back. A few of the lads and I used to go for a little joy flight at dusk on a Friday to watch the sunset from altitude. We opened a bar up there, called All Barred Up, and served only quality drinks to a select group of invitees. (We weren’t supposed to be running an aerial social club, as I’m sure you can guess. The Australian Government looked upon that sort of behaviour as a misuse of its equipment, as the prosecutor was to state at a subsequent court martial I was compelled to give evidence at.)

Usually the pilot we used would fly us gently in circles for a while and then come down. Not this night. The Americans had paid him off. Now we kept going, in a straight line, for as long as we could. We ended up in Hong Kong several hours later, with a lot of explaining to do, and the only thing to drink, the whole time, was Canadian whisky, which is just an abomination. The whole experience was traumatic, and that’s why I’m a nervous flyer who needs a proper drink before take off.

(Oh, and Nancy and I enjoyed our little holiday in Melbourne very much, thank you for asking.)

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Published in: on September 24, 2012 at 8:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

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