MARK: I used to collect sick bags as a hobby. Not something many people know about me and I must admit I haven’t told anybody, including Sarah until this moment. Wonder why!
But for a while in the early 1980’s I had a reasonable collection, including one taken from a Dan-Air Comet 4C (my first flight to Tangiers) and a British Caledonian blue and yellow bag which was quite fetching.
But pride of place went to my Concorde sick bag which I grabbed whilst looking round the iconic aircraft in 1984 at Newcastle Airport, just before it went on a sub-sonic flight over the North Sea. I still have it somewhere at home in the loft. You never know when it could come in useful.
I have to thank John K Smithson (JKS) for getting me access to Concorde during the Newcastle Airshow and for the many flights John took me on around the north-east in his red Piper Cherokee four seater, call sign G-AYMK.
JKS was and is a legend. A superb broadcaster and BBC producer at Radio Newcastle. He gave me the wings to fly over the air waves, something I will always be grateful for. I was 19, had no experience, but he took a punt on me, allowed me to borrow his trusty Uher (tape recorder) and then paid me for my free-lance “packages” which appeared on his mid-morning radio show.
It was John in my early career who gave me the courage, to do things NOW before it was too late and to have a go. He taught me the importance of timing and following gut instinct, things which have helped me in later life and again here today in New Zealand!
In fact John has been in my thoughts a lot as planes, sick bags and the decision to “do it now” all came together perfectly in what has been an unbelievable day to remember.
Sarah and I had talked when we planned this trip about taking some sort of scenic flight over the glaciers near Mount Cook in South Island. The topic of conversation, had come up again as Phil Whitby had sent me an email earlier this week which said…. “There is an airfield near Lake Tekapo that takes charters around Mt Cook which goes over this incredible, aquamarine coloured lake. Takes in views of the Lord of the Rings scenery then round the mountain, which is amazing – I commend it to the house.”
We were still uuumming and ahhhing about what we should do as we approached the beautiful Lake Tekapo, in all its reflective glory.
A fixed wing flight was going to cost a couple of hundred quid each for 50 minutes and would blow our “entertainment budget” for the next few days. And the sensible head on said “you’ve flown over Everest and the Barrier Reef, so why here?” Sorry about name dropping, just wanted to share thought process.
Looking at each other and the beautiful lake with Mount Cook in the distance, we agreed to go to the little airport to see what the crack was. It was after all a superb day, temperatures touching 30C and clear blue skies as far as the eye could see. What better opportunity to see Mt Cook close up?
We walked in to a near empty departure lounge/check in area that seated ten people. One of the smartly dressed pilots said there was a flight going in 20 minutes which would go head up the valley, turn left and return via Mount Cook. The offering was as billed. I tried to get a reduction, but no go. Thoughts flooded back to a negotiation training course at De Vere Venues. I was hopeless on the course and it looked like a case of history repeating itself.
But out of the corner of my eye I saw a Chinese family of four waiting to go on the flight and realised that the plane they were going to board for the pleasure flight was a six sweater….ummmm. No one else there = two empty seats. Not good business.
I politely thanked Paul the pilot/check in man and said I would have to consult with the Minister of Finance in the car and would “let him know…”
A quick chat with Sarah and we both thought at the same time “what the hell, we’re not coming back here, let’s do it”. But before we had the chance to say yes we’re on, Paul came rushing across the car park with “good news”. He wasn’t wrong. For some reason, the plane leaving at 1200 now needed to fly over the mountains to the west coast Air Strip known as Franz Josef. It would take 45 minutes. Then, if were interested, we would change planes and fly back to Late Tekapo, via Fox Glacier and Mount Cook. I quickly realised we would in effect be getting two trips for the price of one, would land at another airport and we’d be able to see both sides of the mountain range, including the rainforest. RESULT.
We took two nano-seconds to say yes, dumped out bags, paid our money and within seven minutes I was checking the safety card of our Gippsland GA8 Airvan (JKS the call sign was ZK-SAF) and discovering a nice clean sick bag.
The rest of this blog is a photo-caption story, for which I do wish to make an upfront apology as there are over 40 photos. It was the only way I felt I could do this story justice and hope that you will forgive my enthusiasm for wanting to share in such detail.
AND JUST AS WE CAME IN TO LAND, THERE WAS AN AWFUL SMELL OF SICK. THE CHINESE MAN BEHIND ME HAD DECIDED TO LEAVE BEHIND IN HIS SICK BAG, A “HAPPY MEAL” AS OUR PILOT LEON DESCRIBED IT. YUK!!!
A great trip, a great country.