21/03/89 – 22/3/89

21/3, Tuesday – 22/3 Wednesday


It is 7:55 Sydney time and darkness has fallen over the island continent. The darkened coast of Australia has slipped by far below us and we are gone. Outside, huge bolts of lightning are vaulting through the giant clouds; muzzle-flashes from guns wielded by angry gods above the Timor Sea.

We are high, but from much, much higher, the moon bathes the wing with its cold, silver light. The storm is past, but the turbulence is still buffeting the airplane. What monstrous stresses are at work on the metal and bolts and rivets that make up the body of the plane. Rattle and Hum.

We said goodbye to Russ outside the main entrance of Tullamarine airport late this morning and spent ½ an hour on the plane before we took of for Sydney at 1:30. After and hour in the Transit Lounge at Sydney Airport and a further hour on the plane while a missing passenger [was found]. We finally left Australian soil at 5:30.

OUTSIDE AIR TEMP – minus 34°
ALTITUDE – 9451 metres

We are over the South China Sea.

“One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster…”

We landed in Bangkok at 11:00 PM local time. My head felt like it was going to explode out thru my temples with the change in pressure! We spent ¾ of an hour in the transit lounge, stretching our aching muscles as best we could then re-boarded. The air was hot and humid and a layer of smog hung over the airport. It is now 12:30 AM (3:30 AM in Sydney) & we are about to take off.

We are cruising through the turbulent air 9,451 metres above the Bay of Bengal. The shores of India lie below us in the darkness, the people unaware of us as we pass, a small pocket of light in the blackness of the sky. We are under “Total Control”.

10:15 AM Sydney time and we are over Russia. The Aral Sea is somewhere below us, 10<670 metres of empty air separating us from the cold, wind-swept country of Southern Russia. About 15 minutes ago an unidentified aircraft flew by us going the opposite way at high speed. We decided it must have been a Russian fighter plane checking us out. Earlier, as we dozed, the plane had flown over the Eastern end of the Himalayas not for from Kabul in Afghanistan.

3:15 AM London Time (1:20 PM Sydney Time). We are now somewhere over Northern Russia, flying in the eerie half-light of morning. There is still some turbulence and I have been watching the wing-tip dip & sway as the forces of the air wrestle with it. The trip flap rises & falls rhythmically as it keeps the aircraft on course. There is low cloud over the entire expanse of the Earth visible from our window so the clusters of lights that have marked our progress across India, Pakistan, Afghanistan & Russia can no longer be seen.

Wide awake
And the world’s aware,
There’s radiation over Red Square.
Creeping on to cross Roman Roads
Fear of freezing in the Soviet Snow.
One eye on the winter,
Oh, there’s just a hint of
Soviet snow.¹

We touched down at London Heathrow at 6:00 AM London Time on a cold, overcast day. The walk from the aircraft to the customs and immigration area seemed to take forever. We queued for about 45 minutes and went through immigration without a hiccup – no questions asked! We got our packs off the round-about & went straight thru customs, again without a hitch. Outside, Sue & Bern² were waiting for us and we were on English soil at last.

We drove to Sue & Bern’s flat in Slough, past Windsor Castle with England all around us. They live with a girl called Trudi, from Gore (!)³ in a little flat above a laundrette. We relaxed for a while then we both had a bath which helped revive our jet-lagged bodies. At about 10:00 we caught a bus down to the train station then caught a Britrail train into Paddington Station. We got into a grotty-looking compartment & when the guard came thru to check our tickets he said in a most disdainful voice “you are in the First Class accommodation, Sir, and you only have a Second Class ticket.”⁴ We had to move into into a second class carriage which was even grottier. The trip to Paddington took about ½ an hour, through the dirty wastelands of the outskirts of London. From Paddington we caught a tube on the Circle Line to South Kensington then another tube to Piccadilly Circus.

We emerged from the tube station into the turmoil that is London. We wandered round in a daze (literally) for a couple of hours, found where NZ House* is and the office of N.Z.N.U.K.* then caught a tube to Hyde Park where we sat in the biting wind for ½ and hour. We both seem to be finding it difficult to accept that we are actually in London!!

We caught the trains back home & managed to stay awake until 10:00 when we crashed, totally exhausted, in our sleeping bags in the lounge of the flat.      

¹ From the song Soviet Snow (about the Chernobyl reactor fire) by New Zealand singer Shona Lang. I had a cassette copy of her 1988 album South with me on our travels and I listened to it while we were flying over Russia.

²Bernie and Sue Farquhar from Bairnsdale were our family friends (see earlier entries) who had been living in England for about a year.

³ Gore is a small town at the very bottom of New Zealand’s South Island. We New Zealanders are, and have always been, great travellers, and throughout our travels we encountered people from our home shores in the most exotic, outlandish and isolated places.

⁴The “first class” accommodation was littered with rubbish, scratched with graffiti and stank of diesel fumes from the engine clanking beneath the floor. We were the only people in the entire carriage. Nevertheless, we moved to a equally squalid compartment in a second class carriage, giggling about the guard’s pompous attitude and saying “you are in the First Class accommodation, Sir” over and over.

*New Zealand House, on Haymarket, just off Trafalgar Square, is the home of the New Zealand Embassy. In those days, it was also the headquarters of NZ News UK, a weekly newspaper published for New Zealanders living in the UK.

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