Thursday 15 July 2010

Chopper? Not likely

15st 6lb, 6.0 units. I was invited to a meeting at a bank in London today. I haven’t been to one of those in years. The bloke doing the inviting suggested that we could all fly down together and I accepted. After all, I knew his company to be in possession of a private jet and, if you have absolutely got to fly (and I’d rather not, on the whole) that is much the least painful way to do it. Only later did it emerge that he meant that we could all fly down together on the company helicopter.

Now, to say that I have an aversion to helicopter travel would be to put it mildly. Like so many of my attitudes, it started out as a blind prejudice, supported by anecdotes such as that of the lady friend who was elbowed off a helicopter flight from JFK by a pushy American woman, in the days when airlines offered free transfers from the airport to Manhattan for their business class customers, only to discover that this rudeness had saved her life as the chopper then plunged into the Hudson River with the loss of all aboard.

Then came the fateful day a few years ago when I broke a rail journey to London to call upon a client in Yorkshire, and he told me that I might as well hitch a lift with him as he was also heading for town after lunch. On the one hand I had already paid for a first class rail ticket for the journey. On the other, the company helicopter was sitting right outside, the Battersea heliport was a damn sight nearer than King’s Cross station to my then London flat, and it seemed awfully churlish to refuse. After all, we could usefully continue our conversation while we were travelling together.

Wrong. I was completely incapable of opening my mouth at any point in the flight in case something other than words came out.

It was foggy, and it was windy. Right on the limits, I later discovered, of being able to fly a helicopter at all. Consequently we flew at a disturbingly low altitude throughout. When we came across things like radio masts, we went around rather than over them. At one memorable point we passed low over a cemetery where a funeral was taking place, and could clearly see the clergyman and mourners clustered around the open grave, and the coffin with its silver plate at the bottom of the hole. I’ll admit that I couldn’t read what it said on the plate, but if I’d had a pair of half decent binoculars I am pretty sure I could have done.

Later we were sent on a long diversion from the usual route, that involved clattering at low altitude right across the middle of Heathrow airport. It did not strike me as the safest of places to be.

When we finally got out of the thing at Battersea, it was only the fact that I was in an advanced state of shock that prevented me from initiating a Pope-like snogging session with the tarmac. I appreciated for the first time that my blue shirt was completely drenched, and finally realized what people mean when they write of being “in a cold sweat”. My cheery host averred that the healthiest colour he had observed on my face during the flight was “parchment”, deteriorating from time to time into various shades of green. He also assured me that it was just about the worst flight he had ever experienced in a couple of decades of regular commuting by helicopter between Yorkshire and London.

His chauffeur dropped me off at my flat and I went for a nice lie-down, vowing “never again”. So today I made my own way to London on the train, and was pleased to note that I made it to the meeting on time, whereas those who came by helicopter were more than half an hour late. They also muttered something about it being a bit of a rough trip.

A good call, I think.

1 comment:

CC said...

Never even tried a helicopter. Have had several way to close encounters with my mortality via small commuter planes. Once, landed in Boston frozen in my seat hands clenching armrests. Not very fond of big planes either, but will fly to a close airport on a big jet then a rental car the rest of the way. Train service
here other than the northeast corridor (Washington, Phila, NY, Boston) is either terrible or non-existent).