Flying visit

There was a big traffic jam on one of Perth’s main highways this morning and the reason was that a plane was landing.

I should declare my hand here and admit I am not fan of flying and by extension, of airplanes and airports, but how dull does a city have to be before its citizens cause gridlock on a main road, because they are flocking to the airport to see a plane land?

Apparently it is quite a special plane – and by that I mean big. It has six engines. I am not sure if that is unique or not but they mentioned it on the news – because a plane with six engines does not land here that often and so it was on the news – PLANE LANDS AT AIRPORT. The result is that the residents of Perth abandoned their plans to drink over-priced coffee at a cafe, or drive miles up the coast to find a leek the price of which did not require the purchaser to take out a second mortgage and flocked to the airport to see a big plane descend from the sky and hit the runway.

I have only exposed myself to the horrorshow of watching live potential air crashes a few times, and even though I live near the airport and watch planes successfully taking off and landing all day, they still make me nervous. The only plane I can ever remember watching with joy was Concorde. Its flight path to America took it across our kitchen window about three o’clock every afternoon, and that was like watching science fly. Then a Concorde blew up while I was on holiday and still had to get home in a plane and they scrapped it, but not before my trip home had become a lot more nerve-racking.

A few years ago, shortly after my dad had been diagnosed with bladder cancer and just before he was due to go in for surgery, the RAAF had an open day at an air base. My dad was in the RAF for a short time for national service, although not as a pilot. Nevertheless, his love of airplanes remained. On a mad whim, I offered to take him there for the day, to get his mind off the impending operation and to watch a few planes, including a B52, which was going to travel over the show having flown from Singapore as the day’s big climax. My mother had no interest in going so I picked him up early in the morning and drove up with him.

I don’t know how many years I have lived in Australia, but enough to know about sun, heat and the need for protection and hydration, so it was stupid of me not to plan for this. In my defence, the weather had not been bonkers, but what I had failed to take into account was that we were essentially at an airfield, which needed for operational reasons, to be flat and clear – leaving no shelter from the sun.

The air show was essentially a recruitment drive for RAAF, so although there was the odd booth and tent, there was nowhere selling sunscreen or hats or water, all of which we needed pretty soon after the sun gained strength. I had thought  that we might spend a couple of hours there, but actually we were there for hours, despite the hot sun and lack of cover. The carpark was a huge field with hundreds of cars so there was no popping in or out. We were locked in for the duration and the day became as much an operation in avoiding being fried alive as watching the show.

Despite my hatred of vehicles travelling while not attached to earth, I had a really good time, mainly because I can’t remember the last time I spent that long in my dad’s company with no one else around. On the drive up, he had admitted to me that the he felt the best option for everyone would be if he died on the operating table, because he did not want to become a burden. We left the diagnosis at the entrance gates and watched a variety of planes in action and visited other ones that were static. My favourite plane was a plump one used for transport and famed for its ability to land on a tiny runway. It reminded me of the dancing hippos in Fantasia, at once large and delicate.

While he later survived the operation and the cancer has yet to reappear, my dad’s ability to make short term memories is now very compromised. Whether this is the beginning of dementia or a result of the six weeks he spent on narcotics to manage the pain as a result of the post op radiation, we do not know, but I am so glad that we spent this day together and waited for the lumbering form of the B52 to appear from the sky, fly over the runway and then disappear, presumably on its way back in a sixteen hour round trip. This was a day he will have tucked away, before his ability to remember left him and I hope he remembers it as fondly as I do.

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