Seven Days in May - my first trip to Papua New Guinea

concord

It's May 4th 1989. It's 18:35 and I am sat in Terminal 4, London Heathrow. Below me is Concord, G-BOAE. The early evening sun is still very strong. Aeroplanes are taking-off left to right. The wind is from the East.

After a false start we left the house at 13:35. I was more than a little anxious finding a parking space at Stafford Railway Station so Theresa went ahead to purchase the tickets. The one hour train journey was pleasant but the compartment a little stuffy. On arrival at Birmingham International Airport I immediately approached the British Airways desk to obtain my flight tickets. Dry-mouthed I watched as she keyed in my details - after all this could still be some monumental hoax - but the reassuring sound of her printer soon put my mind at rest. At the same time British Midland on the adjacent desk interrupted to produce another set of tickets. British Midland were the first carrier in my journey. Here, not two minutes earlier anxious that I had no ticket suddenly find I have two sets!

After having my case checked in and ensuring it's given label was 'SIN', I was given my boarding card. A quick fruit juice and a partially emotional goodbye from Theresa and the girls I went through to the departure lounge. Within 15 minutes the flight was called to board flight BD779 to Heathrow. Take-off was at 16:55 and in no time we were in the cruise at 11,000 feet with a ground speed of 300 mph. Seat 7A put me directly over the port wing adjacent to the emergency exit. At 17:18 we started our descent into LHR and the thought occurred to me that Theresa and the girls would just be boarding their train back to Stafford. As we continued the approach Windsor Castle slid under the port wing followed shortly by the soft thud of the undercarriage extending. After landing and buying a few Singapore dollars I moved through and out of Terminal 1 to catch a service bus to Terminal 4. After check in and having my flight bag checked by security I then went air-side. Time is 19:08.

It's now 23:32 and I have been in the air for 50 minutes. I have watched the ITN news, flicked through all the in-flight sound channels and as I write these notes my mouth waters from the aroma drifting out from the nearest galley. Dinner is smoked mackerel followed by stuffed turkey breasts, sweet, cheese, biscuits and coffee.

Boeing 747-200 G-AWNG

Before boarding G-AWNG, British Airways flight BA11 Boeing 747-200 I sat and wondered the environs of Terminal 4 totally detached and remote to what was about to begin - the longest and certainly the most exciting journey of my life. I spoke to Mum, Theresa, O'dell and Birdie, then boarded the aircraft. JoeThe flight attendant, Joe, was friendly and chatted quite freely. At 22:30 it was push-back from gate B9 followed by a rather fast taxi through the darkness to join the queue for the active runway. Whilst at the holding-point a Concord landed which was followed by a TAP 737, inbound from Portugal. We tucked up to an Aer Lingus. Behind us Air Cyprus followed by an array of lights moving in the darkness that revealed itself as a 747 Flying Tiger. As the Aer Lingus departed our cabin lights were extinguished and we moved forward to take up the centre-line. The journey was about to commence and to herald it's beginning - power. The sound of power as the four Rolls Royce RB211 engines were run up to their take-off setting. The power that was needed to allow this microcosm of humanity, this hotel in the sky, this colossus that manifested itself in the form of six galleys, 16 toilets, 6,190 cubic foot of cargo and baggage space, a combined passenger capacity of over 380 giving a total all up weight in excess of 350 tons to rise almost effortlessly into the London night sky. The four main undercarriage bogies, each carrying four huge wheels with another two at the nose were relieved of this burden and tucked up for the night, not to be required again until 6 1/2 hours later when we would land in Bahrain.

Friday, May 5th 08:00 (06:00 UK time). Bahrain

The flight from LHR was fine. The dinner was not turkey as requested but the lamb was fine. The brandies that followed finished things off nicely thank you very much. I managed to nod-off for about 30 minutes during the flight but seat 39K was a little noisy, trapped as it was between the galley and trailing edge of the starboard wing. The aircraft, after clearing London turned on to a south-easterly heading to cross the English Channel and France. Then down the southern coast of Italy, across the Mediterranean, passing Greece and Cyprus on our right before making land fall over Egypt. At about 2 o'clock in the morning I was absolutely mortified to find a huge whitish-grey whale of a thing flying in formation with us - why hadn't I noticed the starboard wing before. At 03:00 the Burt Reynolds film was still playing as the Iranian dawn crept its imperceptible way over the leading edge of the wing - just a hint of blue. Within 20 minutes it had all happened and we were in glorious sunshine. From here we passed over the northern edge of the Red Sea before turning on to an almost easterly heading to take us across Saudi Arabia to land at Bahrain.

I have just returned to my seat having spent 45 minute's window shopping in the transit terminal. I did not buy anything. I will remember Bahrain for the two young, green clad security guys with black leather holsters and pistols who strolled the concourse, not just hand in hand but with fingers entwined.

3300ft above the Nicobar Islands in the Indian Ocean

Red Sea

It's now 08:30 and with a change of crew and flight attendants our take-off roll begins. As speed increases the wings are starting to feel for the air. It starts at their tips as they begin to flex upwards, working its way towards the fuselage as it's weight is transferred from the undercarriage. Below us the Persian Gulf and oil tankers. Next stop was Singapore.

The flight is 6 hours old. It's 12:20 in the UK and my E11842 'In-service Data Control' course are making preparations for going home for the week-end. From Bahrain we tracked south-easterly across the Gulf, The United Arab Emirates and Oman before crossing The Arabian Sea. The coast of India was crossed at Bombay and Madras. It was here that we saw our first clouds and experienced some clear air turbulence. The captain has just spoken to inform us of our present position. Shortly we will be passing the northern point of Sumatra, flying on down the Straits of Malacca and starting our let-down above Kuala Lumpur for our approach into Singapore. The light outside is starting to fail quickly. Local arrival time is 20:50. 13:50 in the UK.

Friday, May 5th 23:54. Carlton Hotel, Singapore.

Carlton Hotel Singapore

After a good sleep I woke up at 07:00. I showered quickly, and passing the pool on the 5th floor, made straight for the lobby and the Cafe Victoria for my American Breakfast. The flight out was not until 22:45 and I intended to see as much of Singapore as possible - just in case it did not happen on the way back. I checked out, left my case with the concierge, purchased some stamps for the obligatory postcards home, then left the hotel. It was only 08:15 but the heat hit me like an open oven. It was already in the upper 80's. Well, I had the Stamps all I needed now were the postcards. Surprisingly they took some time to find. These were dutiable completed whilst drinking two large glasses of lemon juice sat in the shade at a small street cafe.

Trishaw man

It was not long before I was approached by a trishaw man. He offered his services at $S30/hour, but I had read the Berlitz Travel Guide so we both knew a game had begun. I suggested $S15, he asked $S25 and we both agreed at $S20. In the event I hired him for five hours for which I paid him $S45 plus $US20. I'm not sure who won the game. However, in those five hours, and in recognition of his supreme pedal power and total disregard for pedestrians and vehicles alike, we covered a great deal of Singapore. We visited Chinatown where the sights and smells of the street stalls were as many as they were varied. I will never forget the market where all sorts of strange and brightly coloured fish could be bought. Some already prepared, whilst others, huge monsters swam in water filled plastic containers, their life dependent on the whim of the customer. There were cages of live frogs, large fat green things with sleepy eyes.

Buddha

We visited Indian Temples one of which, Sakya Muni Gaya (The Temple of a 1000 Lights) contains Singapore's largest statue of Buddha a 15 metre giant robbed in yellow. The oldest Hindu Temple, Sri Mariamman with it's sculptured tower, where worshippers made their transcendental prayers and gave flower petal offerings. In the Chinese temple Thian Hock Keng (Temple of Heavenly Happiness) where sandalwood and joss sticks burnt with an overpowering incense. I left the trishaw-man at Clifford Pier. I intended to take a tour of the harbour but unfortunately the light was failing (in terms of photography) so I abandoned the idea.

merlion

Instead I walked along Collyer Quay towards Merlion Park and the river mouth. Here stands the large white statue of the Merlion, a lion with a fish's tail, symbolising how Sea Town became Lion City.

Saturday, May 6th 16:55. Satay Club, Singapore.

Light rain had been falling for sometime and as it's momentum grew into the seasonal afternoon down-pour I sought shelter in Satay Club. Satay Club is an open-air hawker food stall on Queen Elizabeth Walk. Hawker is really a misnomer as every stall bears witness to a notice stating that it is illegal to do just that. The idea is that the customer picks a table that is central to all stalls and notes its number. He then browses the stalls ordering the dishes of his choice before giving the table number. Behind me as I write there are thirty or so such stalls. They obviously know the rain will stop because they are all busy lighting their charcoal fires, chopping vegetables, mixing flour and spices and generally making preparations for this evening's trade.

Saturday, May 6th 21:20. Changi International Airport, Singapore.

I am waiting to go through to the departure lounge and I am very disappointed!. The reason why will emerge as the story unfolds. The rain at Satay Club stopped as I knew it would and although I was not actually hungry the aroma of the Chinese cuisine that came drifting over my shoulder was too unbearable to endure. Anyway, who would travel 6,760 miles and leave without having sampled the genuine article. I perused every stall and although my choice was not very adventurous, and as a measure of Theresa's Chinese cooking, I decided upon sweet and sour chicken, fried vegetables and egg fried rice, washed down with guava juice. Of course, it was absolutely delicious and to paraphrase a certain beer advert, although Theresa's Chinese is very very good it's not that good. During the casual walk back to the hotel I called in at Raffles City, a huge multistory shopping centre, named after the Englishman, who in 1819, laid the foundations for what Singapore has become today.

Back at the hotel the concierge brought my case and a message that had arrived earlier. Evidently my airport taxi would pick me up at 19:00. As the present time was 19:10 I decided to make my own arrangements. The drive along East Coast Parkway did not take long, the sound of chimes emanating from the dashboard indicating that we were exceeding the 80 kph speed limit. Something else that became obvious was the high-rise apartments festooned with banners, flags and different coloured lights. The driver told me the area was mainly Malaysian, and that tomorrow was 'Hari Hol Pahang' a public holiday. Before long the golf ball structure of the control tower came into view and, at ground level, a string of blue lights snaking off into the distance. It was an indication of the hassle, congestion and frustration that was about to commence. They were taxis. Most were empty and there must have been sixty to seventy of them, all waiting to pick up passengers. If you think shopping in Gateways in Stone on a Friday night is fun, forget it. Changi is rated as being able to handle ten million passengers, but why did they choose tonight. This is where the disappointment happened. I made my way through the heaving masses to the British Airways desk to reserve a seat back to the UK on flight BA12 for Saturday 13th. Although it was not a Friday my luck was still bad. There were no seats available. I was depending on this flight to give me three days in Singapore, at my own expense, during my return journey. What a fool, why hadn't I set it up at Heathrow. So instead of having to cancel Singapore Airlines SQ22 for Wednesday 10th I found myself at their desk confirming it. I had my case checked-in and received the boarding card for Air Niugini PX93. I paid the departure tax then passed through security and went air-side. Then, shear bliss..., I took a shower. Just as well I did because feeling parched I found myself in a small lounge bar sat next to Judith Hann, co-presenter of BBC's 'Tomorrow's World.' I exhibited a corresponding air of smugness -- after all I likewise was all expenses paid, well almost.

Sunday, May 7th 17:50. Islander Hotel, Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

After a short wait in the departure lounge we were called by row number to board the aircraft, and what an aircraft it turned out to be. Air Niugini flight PX93 was an Airbus A310-300, just five weeks old and carried the name 'City of Port Moresby.' Compared to my previous mount the quality and presentation was outstanding. Admittedly the aeroplanes were at the opposite ends of their flying hours, but BA's claim to be 'the world's favourite airline' must draw very heavy on the fact that only a limited number of people have flown the smaller operators such as Air Niugini. Some of the little differences that for me made all the difference were:- Pillows and headrest covers made from real cotton and not 'rag's synthetic.' No gapping side panel between the seat and the fuselage that had become a refuge for at least one discarded wrapper and one AA size battery -- I noted with relief the absence of any wires. Real Hi-fidelity headsets with soft ear cushions compared to pneumatic ones with hard plastic surrounds. In-flight entertainment with easy access push-button control for both channel and volume selection with digital display on the armrest. Reading lights that worked. Cabin attendants who courteously reminded passengers with cigarettes that they were in a non-smoking section of the aircraft. I could continue but I am sure you get the picture.

Seat24a

Push-back from gate B27 was at 22:30 and whilst taxiing to the runway both aisles were sprayed with insecticide. PNG has very strong pest prevention laws that guard against bugs and the like being brought into the country. At 22:45 PX93 was airborne and seat 24A allowed me a clear view of the port wing-tip fence, it's red and white navigation lights keeping perfect formation.

Arrival time in Port Moresby was to be on Sunday, May 7 at 07:15 and taking time zones into account would give a flight time of 6 1/2 hours. Most of this time would be spent talking to my fellow passenger in the adjacent seat. He was a Welshman who had lived and raised a family in PNG over the last fourteen years. He was able to provide me with some meaningful information about life in Papua New Guinea, some good, some not good.

Dawn started to break about 05:00. Shortly after breakfast the Captain warned us of turbulent weather that was showing on his radar. Minutes later he requested that the cabin staff should take up landing positions so we knew it was going to be bumpy. The bright blue skies disappeared as we were enclosed in a grey murky darkness. This was followed by a sudden loss of height that checked itself so abruptly that one of the overhead video monitors, swung down from the stowed position. After a few more, slightly less dramatic departures from our flight path we suddenly punched our way through to clear blue skies.

Cairns

Trouble over -- or was it? At 07:00 the captain's voice was again heard as he informed us that our destination was fogged-in and would therefore be diverting to Cairns. We would arrive at 08:00, take on more fuel and continue to Port Moresby when local weather permitted. Well, what fun! Australia. Not exactly Ramsey Street but my three girls would have just turned green if they had known. We landed at 08:15 and the disappointment of having to remain on the aircraft had the sole advantage that I immediately fell to sleep -- first time since the Carlton Hotel.

We departed Cairns at 09:30. As we rolled through 180 degrees to head due north, we received a superb view of the town nestling between the blue waters of the Coral Sea and the northern reaches of The great Divide. Flight time to Port Moresby was given as one hour and shortly after leaving the Australian coast we picked up The Great Barrier Reef that we followed almost all the way to Papua New Guinea. We landed at 10:30, just 3 1/4 hours late -- it was 01:30 in the UK.

Fokker F28

Jackson International Airport was quite an experience and not something I was altogether prepared for. It had all the qualities of the lowly cattle shed and some. In addition, some joker in a Fokker F28 Friendship, with his jet pipes pointed into the stalls gave us the benefit of 5% thrust before he taxied off. As the smell of burnt avgas and the blast of hot exhaust gases washed over me the thought of being given a warm welcome took on a whole new meaning. To the other passengers who had yet to reach the relative safety of the arrival hall the situation must have seemed somewhat less than humorous. Having collected my case and passed through customs I found myself outside on the pavement feeling more than a little unsure as to what I should do next.

Eddy

My attention was taken by a rather strange white male with a longish unkempt beard who suddenly turned and walked in my general direction. Imagine the surprise I received, not to mention the crushing blow to my sensitivities, when this 'person' walked straight up to me and said, "You most be the Fucking Pom called Chris. Where the fuck have you been." Regaining my composure I replied in the finest English. "I say old fellow, who the fucking hell are you." Give what you get is my motto. His name was Eddy, he was Australian, which said a great deal. He was there to meet me.

Little did I realise that in time he would introduce me to the sport of scuba diving. We would become good friends, and share many times together in PNG and Australia, both above and below water.

After a short time we were joined by Mr Shillam, the Principal of the PTC Training Centre who drove us to the Islander Hotel. Eddy and Mr Shillam left shortly after ensuring I was safely in my room. They were flying on to Lae that afternoon and I am to follow tomorrow. I had a shower, something to eat and then made a deliberate decision not to go to bed. Instead I went for a short walk, the hotel seemed miles from anywhere of interest so I did not go far. Finally I just sat around the hotel pool playing with an electronic diary that I had bought in Raffles City. Tomorrow it's back to the airport for my 07:15 Air Niugini PX100 flight to Lae, PNG's second largest city. I expect the pilot will be that Fokker in the Friendship.

Monday, May 8th. Melanesian Hotel, Lae.

Melannesioan Hotel

It's now 23:00. I got up at 05:15 and was collected by Urania Samali from PTC's Department of Overseas Recruitment. We arrived at the airport by 07:05 and after completing the necessary formalities I was presented with my boarding card for seat 1A. There was a slight ground fog as I walked out to the aircraft but by the time we had taxied to the runway intersection it had burnt off. The take-off run was short and as we climbed out of Port Moresby the countrys' isolated beauty became instantly apparent. Between Port Moresby and Lae are the Owen Stanley range of mountains. Running from the northwest to the southeast they rise to over 12,000 feet. There are no roads across the Owen Stanleys. Our cruise height was to be 24,000 feet and as we levelled off the morning sun threw the forest clad valleys and ridges into deep perspective. Fog and low cloud still persisted in some of the valleys. Perched on a high ridge were a few small wooden buildings huddled close to a flat grassy area charmingly disguised as a landing strip - not quite the asphalt runways I,m use to flying from back in the UK. Within 30 minutes we were letting down, and 10,0000 feet below was the estuary of the Markham River, it,s muddy waters scarring the turquoise of the Huon Gulf. Continuing the let-down we turned northwesterly to fly up the Markham Valley. Lae lies on the coast but the airport is 45 km inland at a place called Nadzab. With gear and flaps selected we turned finals reduced speed and landed at 08:05.

After collecting my case from the tractor I was again met by Mr Shillam and Eddie who then drove me to Lae. Before checking into the Melanesian Hotel I was given a quick tour of the City - quite clearly the Papuan idea of a city did not coincide with mine. After lunch at the Hotel we drove out to the Training Centre where I was introduced to the Deputy Principal, Mr Luke Tikirie. Luke took me to the various departments, introduced me to various members of staff, then guided me toward the 'mess' for the afternoon tea-break. I was introduced to a group of instructors, mainly Australian Expats on three year contracts from Telecom Australia. I received quite a lot of typical Australian abuse. "So this is the bloody pom, all the way from the UK, hope he's worth it", and from another, "...give him the sick forms now, he'll need them". All meant and excepted with the nicest of humour - I think. The tour continued after tea then Luke drove me back to the Melanesian Hotel. The last few days were starting to have their effect both mentally and physically. I was feeling over tired and experiencing dizzy spells that were becoming more apparent as the day continued. Back in the room I fell on the bed and was asleep almost at once.

1 1/2 hours later I received a call from reception to say there were some friends in the Terrace Bar. Friends in PNG? Intrigued, I took a quick shower and was in the bar within 30 minutes. It was Jim and Dave, two of the more outspoken expats from this afternoon. Over beer we sat and chatted about the 'true' realities of expat life in PNG in general and at the training centre in particular. Some aspects good, some not so good. It was honest, extremely informative and as with all things unlooked for, all the better for it. Surprisingly for Aussies, we drank very little which was fine by me because tomorrow I have a formal interview. I returned to my room by 22:45, completed more of my notes, left my breakfast order on the door handle and went to bed.

Post and Telecom Training Center PNG

After a good nights sleep I was awoken at 07:15 by the arrival of my breakfast. Luke picked me up at 08:05 and we drove out to the training centre. Before the formal interview with Vic, Luke and Jim Iveson - Head of Switching, I rang the UK. I had forgotten it was 23:50 the previous day but Theresa didn,t seem to mind. The interview over, I was shown the accomodation before going back to Lae for lunch.

Group

At the Melanesian we were joined by Mr Peter Farmilo and Mr Sunil Andradi, District and National Telecom Managers respectively. After lunch and having said my goodbyes to the others I was left in the care of Peter.

Market

We walked the short distance to his office to collect his car then took another tour of Lae. We drove along the coast road for a short distance where there were still signs of the fighting that took place during the Second World War. From there we drove back into Lae and at my request walked through a local market. Peter was only to willing to point out the variuos local fruit and vegetables that could be purchased including the notorious betel nut. The nationals chew betel nut. Traditionally it's taken with lime and mustard. The combination creates a mild narcotic which in addition to the 'buzz' causes cancerous mouth ulcers. It's particularly unsightly because the resulting chemical re-action produces an emormous amount of bright red saliva which is then spat out. It was now time to visit Lae Telecom Building which housed the Gateway, the local exchange and a packet switch.

Melanesion Hotel Pool

I was dropped back to the hotel by 16:00 which gave me about two hours to walk around Lae.Although the light was fading as I got back /it was still very warm so I had a quick swim in the pool before returning to my room to pack my case. A driver had been instructed to pick me up and take me the 45Km to Nadzab for the 08:05 flight back to Port Moresby. I was to attend another interview, this time at Telecom House before starting my long journey back to Staffordshire. Tomorrow was going to be another long day. I went to bed at 21:00.

After a restless night, I remember seeing 03:30 on my watch, I suddenly awoke with a start. Hell, it was 07:50. Clearly I had a problem. Collecting my thoughts along the way I quickly rang Air Niugini at Nadzab. The thought rose in my mind that I had missed the only flight of the day. Fortunately the next flight was at 09:05. I reserved a seat, aware that with a twenty minute check-in, still 45Km away it was still going to be tight. As I put the receiver down the phone imediately started to ring. It was Vic Shellom ringing from the lobby. He had been made aware of my problem by the driver who had not been able to locate me at 07:00. However after a very anxious and frustrating drive we arrived at the airport at exactly 08:45 and having completed the necessary procedures was sat in seat 3a (yes you guessed it) by 08:50.

The flight to Port Moresby lasted 45 minutes but this time we didn't fly down the Markham valley, instead we climbed over the top and went down the other side. Whilst recovering my case I was met by Urania who took me straight to PTC Communications House where I was interviewed by Roger Occomore, assistant Divisional Manager Personnel and Administration. Lunch was taken back at the Islander Hotel with Urania and her Boss Doreen Brew, Excutive Manager Human Resources Department. After taking Doreen back to Telecom House I was given the opportunity to purchase gifts and artifacts before being taken to Jackson Airport in readiness for my 16:00 Air Niugini PX93 flight back to Singapore.

City of Port Moresby

At check-in I felt my luck in obtaining a window seat was wearing pretty thin so decided to make certain of it by asking. I was granted seat 11a, which in addition was directly over the port wing and gave immediate access to to the 'panic door'. I said my goodbyes to Urania - Dorren and Roger were in the domestic departure area (it couldn't in the wildest imaginings be called a lounge) on their way to Rabaul. I went through to the international departure lounge and after a short wait climbed the air-stair to once again board 'City of Port Moresby'.

Taxying out began at 16:05 and after 'back tracking' the active runway, we had wheels in the air at 16:18. It was pay-back time. We were chasing the sun and those lost nine hours were being given back. I reset my watch to Singapore time and immediately reclaimed two of them. Flight time was 6 Hrs 20 minutes to arrive at Changi Airport at Approximately 20:20 local time.

River Fly

I had been in Papua New Guinea a grand total of 78 hours but it was with a heavy heart that I watched the Fly River Delta and finally the coast line of Irian Jaya slide away beneath the port wing. The question was obvious. After the evening meal, the movie was Micheal Caine and Steve Martin's 'Dirty rotten scoundrels'. Although very funny my attention was drawn to a spectacular electrical storm that was taking place 30 miles or so to the south of our track. I guess over Jaya. As we flew past the northern edge of Borneo at a height of 35000ft and an airspeed of 500kts the sunset which 3 hours earlier was an orangy-red still persisted as a thinish blue line. It was only as we started our descent for a southwest approach into Changi Airport that we gave up the chase.

Singapore Airlines, SQ22

Our hard-standing was B25 and I was some-what taken aback to find a small group of enthusiastic spectators move toward me brandishing pen and notepad and some even with camera at the ready. I was about to respond to this new found acclaim and stardom in the customary fashion when to my surprise they all swept passed me to target in on the newly crowned Miss PNG who had also been on flight PX92.My target however was the Singapore Airlines desk to check-in for the next leg of my journey back to the Uk. The departure time was 21:50 just the right amount of time to visit the duty-free shops.

Singapore Airlines, SQ22 Boeing 747-300 "BigTop" opened its doors at 21:30 and 384 souls walked on board. Seat 38D was on the left-hand-side of the centre aisle. After hot towels and wine, all doors were made 'automatic' as we were pushed back from gate D65. The sun had long since passed over the horizon and although we renewed the chase the odds were heavily against us, in fact it would creep up from behind just a few hours out from London. This unfair state of affairs had another less obvious but soon to be apparent drawback, tonight was going to a very, very long night, 17 hours to be precise.

Next stop was going to be Dubia, just 7 hours away to arrive at 00:50 local time. I reset my watch from 21:50 to 17:50 and reclaimed another four hours. The three seats to my right were taken by a young mother and her two children, a boy of 11 and a girl of about 13. Margret and family had left Bouganville, an island to the south of PNG in the Solomon Sea, ealier that same day and been on flight PX92. She had left England 15 or so years ago to find a husband in Australia, where they now owned land and a house in Perth. Fourteen months ago they decided to try something new and had settled for a family status contract at the Bouganville Copper Mine. Having been away for so long had not caused the loss of her Bristolian accent. Born and breed in Pucklechurch, she was now journeying to stay with her mum and dad for a few months. We soon settled into easy conversation, the routine of in-flight meals, movies, more drinks, and walks around the cabin to stretch the legs.

We arrived at Dubia on time and were allowed to dis-embark for the 70 minute stop. Unlike Singapore or London where aircraft boarding is via an airbridge, a tunnel that disgorges it's passengers almost at their seat, we had the use of an airstair. As I stepped out into the hot Arabian night it was the tiny GulfAir 737 below me and under the glow of the airport lights that caused me to stop and look back in stupified awe at the machine I was leaving, it's vastness swamping my vision. Even as I boarded the bus and travelled the short distance to the transit lounge I could not take my eyes from this almost magical sight, a mother whale and her young, washed ashore on an orange beach.

Whilst in Dubia I bought just one more item, one that I had been looking for throughout the whole journey, a Prince 'Extender'. A squash racket that that would cost me 89:50GBP back in Stoke-on Trent. I paid the equivalent of 49GBP.

We left Dubia at 02:00, May 11th (23:00 the previous day in the UK). I adjusted my watch accordingly and recovered the last outstanding three hours. Arrival at London Heathrow was to be almost 7 hours later at 06:25. This last leg of the flight was to the most quiet. Another film. Another meal, the opportunity to add to my notes and another snooze. At 05:00 the dawn came throwing light on that sign post in the sky, the grey cloud mass that marks Europe. Forget all that high-tech satalite nagigation kit, just set a heading for the biggest gray clouds, descend through them and there will be England - on an average day. Needless to say we landed on a wet and windy runway at LHR at 06:50 and as previously arranged with the cabin attenant I remained aboard so that I might go 'up top' to take some photographs.

The international arrivals hall at terminal 4 was busy with passengers but it wasn't long before I recovered my case and cleared customs and was on my way to the British Midland desk over in terminal 1. DB772 had a departure time of 08:10 to arrive at Birmingham at 09:00. I rang Theresa to let her know I was back in the UK and that I would ring again as soon as I knew my time at Stafford station.

ATP

As I boarded the flight I recognised the stewardess from the out bound journey made just a week ago today. Within 45 minutes we were back on the ground at Birmingham. It was still raining and rather cold. My jacket, which had been of no use until now was locked in my case and the key, I realised with annoyance was sat on Urania's desk back in Port Moresby. Although the customs guys had two huge bunch of keys not one could be found to open it (opportunity missed) so the catch was broken with a screw-driver. It was worth it.

Reality

The train left Birmingham International at 10:02 and after a change at Wolverhampton got me into Stafford at 11:03 where I was met by Theresa as pre-arranged. I arrived home on Thursday May 11th 1989 at 11:35 and after unpacking found myself in my study eyes fixed on my Daily Telegraph Map of the World. I had stood there many times before to identify this place called Lae in Papua New Guinea. This time it was different. In just seven days I had made eleven flights. I had travelled 22,000 miles. I had been to the other side of the world and back.

Dedicated to the memory of Uncle Charlie and the crew of submarine HMS Swordfish
Contact