Monthly Archives: July 2018

I’d always wanted to go on a Boeing 707 …

I didn’t make my first independent overseas trip until I was 32, though since then I’ve made up for it by flying more than a million miles. For years it was a matter of regret that I’d left it too late to be a passenger on the icon of the jet age, the Boeing 707. And then ….

In November 1997 I made a short trip to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. The flight from London to Harare used a 767, and I was expecting a 737 for the short hop from Harare to Bulawayo. But no, to my surprise and delight this flight would be on a Boeing 707.

Air Zimbabwe’s Boeing 707

Even better, in contrast to the usual African prohibition of taking photos at airports, the security officer was more than happy for me to take pictures of the plane (this is a scan of a slide, and so not the best quality).

The question I didn’t ask myself was “Why is Air Zimbabwe using a four-engine transcontinental jet for a flight with a duration of about 40 minutes?” – I was too excited at my wish coming true.

I found out later (assuming my informant was correct). The plane had failed its airworthiness checks so Air Zim couldn’t take it out the country! Apparently a couple of weeks later the pilots refused to fly it. But at the time it seemed fine to me, one air trips I will always remember.

Random memories of living in Mexico City

Not many people know that I spent two years living in Mexico City, 1957-59. I was three when I went and five when I returned so my memories of this period are very vague. Looking back I now wish I’d pumped my parents for information but it’s now too late. Here’s a summary of the little that that I do know and remember:

  • We went to Mexico because my dad was posted to the British Embassy as Labour Attache, one of six diplomats working under Sir Andrew Noble, Ambassador.
  • We went as a family (dad, mum, my younger sister and me) on the Cunard RMS Media, sailing from Liverpool to New York, then getting the train from NYC to Mexico. The Media (not that I remember it) was an interesting ship, the first built for Cunard after WWII. She entered service in 1947 and was a combination 250-passenger/cargo ship.
  • My dad was not a total stranger to diplomatic life as he’d worked in the British Embassy in Venezula in the late 1940s (he and my mum met through a penpal club – the immediate postwar version of internet dating!), but for my mum, coming from a working class background, it was an enormous challenge, but one she rose to. Not only was she expected to accompany my dad to diplomatic functions, but was expected to host them too.
  • Our home in Mexico City

    Our home in Mexico City

    We lived in two embassy-provided houses. I don’t remember the first, but would instantly recognise the second if taken there – looking from the road, at the right hand size there was a steeply dropping drive down to a double garage. To the left of this was the house, entered from the street by walking across a ‘bridge’ – the principal entertaining rooms were at first floor level. At the bottom of the garden, over the fence, was some sort of stream or small river.

  • We also had an embassy car (a Ford Consul or Zephyr Mk.1) and driver, Augustus. It was in Mexico thatĀ  my mum learned to drive.
  • My sister and me with our maids

    My sister and me with our maids

    We were assigned two Mexican maids, Dolores and Mercedes. Apparently I quickly became a fluent Spanish speaker but lost this just as quickly on returning to UK.

  • I went to an English-speaking nursery school run by one Mrs Bone. I remember nothing of it unfortunately.
  • Our best friends were the Wade family: David Wade was a Shell executive so presumably met my dad via the embassy. We and their two (at the time) children were good friends and maintained contact for years after we returned to Twickenham and Sidcup respectively.
  • Dad was awarded an MBE in the 1957 birthday honours list. He was presented with it when Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent visited Mexico in 1959.
  • We returned to UK in 1959. To get my dad back to work in London asap, they put him on a plane (then the more expensive option), leaving my mum to cope with two small children on the long train journey back to NYC, then the transatlantic crossing on the Queen Mary – not half as enjoyable as it might have been for her with two small children to look after and no spouse to share the load.

Postcript

  • Queen Mary at Long Beach 2010

    Queen Mary at Long Beach 2010

    In July 2010 after visiting Dallas for a software conference I took a stopover in LA so I could finally achieve one of my great ambitions, revisiting the Queen Mary. I booked a three night stay and in special requests put ‘returning passenger’. When I checked in, I was given a room upgrade! SeeĀ Two Queens and me

In hospital – some random thoughts

The theme of my 60th birthday speech a few years back was ‘Life’s not fair’. I noted that I had enjoyed far more of life’s good things than most people, including good health and the extraordinary ‘achievement’ of having reached 60 without a single night in hospital (before you ask, I wasn’t born in one). But I’ve made up for this since, starting with a stay in the public Royal Melbourne Hospital in 2014.

Last month I spent two weeks in hospital, a week in Melbourne Private Hospital, then a week in rehab at Epworth Camberwell. How did this compare to my limited experience (as a visitor only) of English hospitals?

Firstly the UK and Australia have different attitudes to private health insurance. In UK private health insurance is generally offered as a perk by employers; few individuals buy it. Around 10% of the population are covered according to the Telegraph web site. Premiums are subject to 12% insurance premium tax and if your employer pays the premium, this is taxable as a fringe benefit .

Here in Australia it’s the opposite – roughly half the population have private health insurance^ even though they’re covered by our NHS-like Medicare. The private system is seen as taking load off the public system so if you don’t have private health insurance you may have to pay additional income tax (Medicare Levy Surcharge 1-1.5%). In addition the government pays part (33% in my case) of your premium as a rebate. Interestingly insurance companies are not allowed to cherry pick – e.g. All 63 year olds taking out the same policy with a particular insurer must be charged the same premium regardless of their medical history.

Bed space at Epworth Camberwell

Bed space at Epworth Camberwell

So staying in a private hospital is nothing exceptional in Australia. My rooms in each hospital, twin occupancy, weren’t that special, though TV and wifi were free. I could not fault the treatment I received. Without exception, the staff were excellent. As in UK hospitals, a good few of them were from overseas, working on contract.

But, unlike UK hospitals which in my limited experience are overheated during the winter, my rooms were cold and I had to ask for an extra blanket!

Melbourne Private Hospital chicken salad

Melbourne Private Hospital chicken salad

The food was good too (not a comment often heard from UK hospital patients), excellent at MPH, though surprisingly I struggled to find low-fat options on the menu. Useful hint for anyone under orders to lie flat on their back (for 48 hours in my case): pick toast for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch and dinner – you can eat them lying down without help!

But of course the best thing that happens in hospital is being told that you’re now ready to be discharged. In my case this was on my birthday, a great birthday present!