When my luggage showed up .
Once on the mainline train I managed to get my luggage onto the rack above our heads.
A nice Cockney helped me heave it up there and we found out he was going to Edinburgh on business. The other two occupants of the compartment were an older Scottish couple heading home after visiting their family in Newcastle. The interesting thing about the conversations that followed was that, although we understood everything that was being said and they all understood us, they were having the devil of a time understanding each other. We were actually acting as translators in our own country.
My dad announced that we were going to the dining car for breakfast. I had been travelling on trains all my life but had never eaten on one before. I only remember two things about that meal. I had always known toast to be hot but this was cold, stone cold and the egg looked just like a fried egg, sunnyside up, but I am sure if I had thrown it against a wall it would have bounced right back unharmed. Being brought up during the war I cleaned my plate
but I do remember wondering how something as delicate as an egg could turn out to be so tough.
Back in the compartment we continued to chat to the other occupants while we watched the wonderful Northumbrian scenery rush by. In my impatience of youth I was anxious to get on with my journey but looking back now I realise just how much beauty I was allowing to slip by unnoticed. My dad told the other passengers that I was off to a new life in Vancouver Canada but seemed to forget to mention the wonderful girl who was waiting for me there so I had to fill them in on the rest of the story. By the time I had finished they probably thought I was nuts to be leaving everything for a girl I had only known for six months a couple of years ago but then they didn't know the girl.
In Edinburgh we had a couple of hours to kill and managed to see some of the sights. Once more the impatience of youth had me wanting to get going but I do remember being impressed with the majesty of Edinburgh castle. How we waste those moments which will never come again.
The rest of the day and into the evening was spent on a long, long train ride to Prestwick where my flight was supposed to leave at midnight. I remember nothing about that part of the trip except that it was very long and very boring but finally we pulled into Prestwick and we headed to the check in for the airport. I was surprised to find that it was just a regular building on a regular street
no runways or aircraft in sight at all. I checked in my luggage and they told me to be back at eleven when the bus would take me to the plane. This would be as far as my parents would be able to go.
We found a nice tea house of sorts and had a meal together for the last time and then returned to the airport office.
When the bus arrived we said goodbye and my mother hugged me for the first time I could recall since I was small and then she kissed me which took me completely by surprise because I had no recollection of that ever
My dad shook my hand warmly as it turned out for the last time as he passed away six years later.
As the bus wound its way through the night I sat looking out of the window and thought about what was happening. I had just said goodbye to the last of my family. I was leaving behind over a dozen close family members, probably fifty or so close friends and at least ten times that many friends and acquaintances to be with a girl in a country where I knew no one at all. Suddenly something like grief welled up inside me, a lump came into my throat and a tear squeezed from my eye and rolled down my cheek. I sat looking out into the darkness with unknown lights passing by for maybe thirty seconds before I wiped the tear away, took a deep breath, and got on with my new life.
At the terminal we were all put in a holding area to wait and I had been there no more than a few minutes when a vicar came in and started to look around. He came over to me and greeted me by name. The vicar at my old church had asked him to come and see me off. I guess I stood out being the only twenty one year old male sitting by himself although how he had managed to get a pass into that restricted area I have no idea. We just talked until they came and told him he had to go and I was thinking 'this is it'
The flight left at midnight which meant there was only five minutes to go. Fifteen minutes later came the announcement that the weather was too bad to land in Goose Bay Labrador so we would be going directly to Montreal which meant the aircraft would need to take on more fuel. We would be leaving an hour late.
I knew that the aircraft was a BOAC Britannia turboprop which was supposed to be better than the older propeller type planes. My brother had been in the air force during his national service and assured me it was the latest, and best, aircraft to be flying in over the ocean. This was before the introduction of commercial jet airliners. I had no reason to doubt him but wondered, if it was possible to fly directly to Montreal, why were we scheduled to stop in Goose Bay in the first place.
With nowhere to go the passengers in the room began to mingle and I started up a conversation with a young couple Bob and Jill, who, it turned out, were starting out married life in Hamilton Ontario. Jill was very insecure about flying and was fretting on about what the delay and bad weather might mean so Bob and I were explaining to her that the airline knew what they were doing and never put passengers in danger. I had no idea if that was really true but it helped to tell someone else what I had to keep telling myself.
They were so excited and told me all about the small wedding they had somewhere in Yorkshire and the honeymoon in the Lake District. We hit a little common ground on that because I had been on a bus trip to the lakes last weekend with my church youth group.
In the conversation it came up that Bob had tried to get seats close to the window in the plane so that he could give Jill the experience of looking down on the clouds and landscape because it was her first flight. Unfortunately he had not managed and someone else would have the window seat. When I booked in I had been early and had my choice so I had chosen a window seat at the front of the wing because my brother had told me that was the most comfortable place in case of turbulence. I asked what row they were in and we turned out to be seat mates so I told them I would sit on the aisle and they could have the window.
By the time we got to go out onto the tarmac and climb up the stairs into the plane we were an hour and a half late. We all got settled in our seats and I was looking forward to getting some sleep. The noise from the engines was pretty loud but I figured I'd be able to block it out enough to sleep. When we began to move the ear shattering noise was a surprise to me because this had been described as a quiet plane. Maybe after take off it would quiet down
it did but there was still far too much noise to even consider sleep. The stewardesses were pretty, very attentive, and brought us food and drink but I could hardly hear a word they said over the engine noise.
That was a long night. About eleven hours of nonstop thundering noise. I was ready for sleep but in those conditions it was never going to happen.
In a very difficult conversation with a stewardess I found out that I would probably not make my connecting flight to Vancouver but it left at 8 am and it was only 7 am when we had the conversation. The word 'probably' and the fact that Jill could already see some kind of buildings out of the window gave me hope that I would make it.
We landed and I was surprised to see snow all around and it was deep. The air was colder than I was used to in the middle of winter and this was already April. I began to wonder if the myths I had heard about Canada being the Frozen White North might actually be true.
If the cold outside was a shock to my system the heat inside the terminal was even more so. We were herded into a large room to stand in line to go through the immigration process and that was when I realised that there was no way I would make my connecting flight. I had been sitting in the same chair for the past eleven hours
it had seemed like a comfortable chair for the first three
and had been sitting on trains most of the previous day. I was dog tired from lack of sleep and here I was standing in a line which was hardly moving, carrying my coat and jacket over my arm and still sweating from the heat of the room.
After an eternity in line I got my papers stamped and then had to pick up my luggage and go through another line to check that I wasn't smuggling anything into the country. This time I was lucky because, after glancing into my guitar case and asking what else was in my huge suitcase, he just passed me through.
Next I had to find out how to get to Vancouver since all the plans I had relied on for the past few weeks had suddenly gone awry.
Carrying my suitcase and guitar with my coat and jacket over my arm I dragged myself up to the ticket counter and when my turn came asked nicely what I should do next. The answer was simple
.wait another eternity for the next plane. I think I was annoyed and, although I normally do not show my feelings, it must have showed.
A nice agent at the next counter said If he can catch the shuttle bus before it leaves he could catch the flight from the other airport.
Now why hadn't my agent thought of that. I ran through the door to the bus which was just about to leave, got my stuff loaded, and rode to the other airport where I got checked through quickly. Now at least I wouldn't have to drag my luggage around any more until I arrived in Vancouver.
I had some time to wait before the plane left so I took a walk outside and marveled at the size of the cars on the road. Huge things with fins on the back driving around on the wrong side of snow covered streets. This was definitely a foreign country to me.
I got the flight number and all the details I could and sent a telegram to Vancouver so that she could be at the airport at the correct time and then walked out onto the tarmac and boarded a two engine prop plane. Apparently this flight was called the milk run stopping at every major and many minor city across the country. At every stop we had to leave the plane and wander around the airport. There were no assigned seats so I kept ending up in different places but the plane was never full. I met many different people as I travelled because most were only going one or two stops. I appeared to be the only one travelling across the country on this flight.
On two legs I sat with a well dressed business man who talked of nothing but real estate. He insisted on buying me a coffee at a small coffee bar in one of the airports. We were fed regularly on the plane but he said he liked the coffee here and I had to admit it beat wandering around with nothing to look at for fifteen minutes.
Most of the airports are just a blur of sameness in my memory at this point except Winnipeg where the temperature was colder than I had experienced in my life. So this WAS the Frozen White North. Possibly one of the other reasons that I remember Winnipeg was that the airport was one of the nicer, larger ones and the company I had while there was a rather attractive young lady on her way to visit relatives. She showed me around what there was to see saying she had been here often. It made me realise that air travel was, not the once in a lifetime thing I knew it to be but, a necessity to the infrastructure of a country so large and sparsely populated.
Before she got off the plane at her destination she gave me a hug, wrote down her name and address and gave it to me. I dropped it in the next waste basket I saw. I was pretty naïve in those days but arriving with another girl's name and address in my pocket didn't seem like a good idea even to me.
On one leg of the journey I saw a young girl of about ten arrive on the plane alone. The stewardess was obviously waiting for her and walked her over to where I was sitting by a window.
This is Susie she said, and she is travelling to meet her parents when we touch down again. She is a little apprehensive about flying so I wonder if you would mind if she sits with you. I got up and gave her the window seat.
She was a bright young girl but she was not apprehensive, she was scared to death. I explained to her that I had travelled around six thousand miles today and I was still ok but I could see it hadn't helped much. I thought it was being alone as much as a fear of flying that was bothering her so I tried to get her to talk about her parents. She opened up a little but soon the stewardess came and gave us both a lozenge to suck while the plane was climbing. Of course it was to stop our ears popping with the difference of pressure but I told Susie it would also help with her apprehension. That didn't look like it had worked much either so I had to find a way to get her mind into a different zone. I asked her if she would try something with me. We were becoming friends so she asked what it was.
It was something I had learned to stop hiccoughs and was really just a way of taking the mind off the problem at hand but I thought it was worth a try.
I took hold of her hands and asked her to look into my eyes and not look away no matter what was going on. Then I asked her to think of something nice
No nicer than that I said. That got her thinking and she was with me so I just kept adding layer after layer of things to fill her mind until the plane was airborne.
Then I let go of her hands and said OK, you are cured of your fear of flying.
I mentally crossed my fingers. It always worked with hiccoughs and the theory was about the same.
She looked at me puzzled for a minute and then asked How does the plane stay up in the air?
It's all to do with the way the air moves over the wing I answered.
She wanted to know more so I took out a note pad from my pocket and drew the shape of a wing with a curved upper surface and a flat bottom and showed her how the air moving over the wing created less pressure making the wing rise. She was so interested that I just had to keep feeding her more and more information.
By the time we got to her destination she had learned everything I knew about the aerodynamics of flight and even knew what our pilot was doing when the flaps moved up and down. I wouldn't be surprised if she went on to be an aeronautical engineer or something.
When we landed the stewardess came to accompany Susie off the plane and I followed into the terminal building. I easily picked out her mother and father waiting for her and realised how easy it had been for the vicar to find me at Prestwick.
Susie started to run to her parents but then stopped and ran back to me. She threw her arms around me and gave me a big hug and then ran off to her family. My these Canadians were big on hugs. I could get used to that.
When we arrived in Calgary I had to change planes. This was a larger four engine plane and seats were assigned so I was put in an aisle seat.
By that time I must have looked a mess although I had been doing my best and I guess nobody had run away screaming at the sight of me yet. I hadn't shaved, however, for about 18 hours because the small plane didn't have an outlet for my electric shaver and I was putting off having to put a sharp blade anywhere near my skin while being buffeted around at any second. I had been on smoky steam trains most of the day before and since then had dragged my luggage around a hot airport and eaten numerous meals on the little tray in front of my seat spilling things on my shirt every once in a while. I just felt that I smelled of smoke, sweat and food but wasn't sure what I was going to be able to accomplish in the tiny washroom on board the plane.
I had a clean shirt and underwear which I was now glad my mother had made me pack. She had also put in a spray bottle of something 'freshening' I had hardly glanced at since I never expected to use it, a bar of soap in a little container, a face cloth and small hand towel.
Off I went and locked myself into the miniscule room. At least this one had an outlet for my shaver. One look in the mirror and I knew a major makeover was needed. I won't go into detail but suffice it to say stripping naked in a room smaller than a closet and then trying to wash away two days of grime was a feat worthy of a contortionist and I had the bruised elbows and knees to prove it. I was so glad of the tiny hand towel because the laid on amenities were not meant for this kind of thing, although I would have preferred a bath towel.
I came out of there feeling refreshed with my clothes smelling of whatever was in the little bottle and my skin smelling of soap. I dropped into my seat and fell asleep immediately.
The next thing I knew the lady next to me was shaking me to tell me to put my seat belt on because we were about to land.
I don't know how long I slept, probably an hour, but I felt like a new person. The excitement of the moment made me forget that it had been 48 hours almost to the minute since I left my house on this journey.
As I climbed down the steps from the plane onto the tarmac I could see people milling about on the other side of a chain link fence and there standing to one side was the vision I had seen only in my dreams for over two years now. We waved and I saw that shy smile I had been missing for far too long. Then I had to go with the rest into the terminal to pick up my luggage. I was glad to notice that the air outside was not cold and there was no snow in sight. Soon we met and hugged but it was more than a hug to me. It was a meeting of two bodies, two minds and, indeed two souls reunited after time and distance had been unable to break them apart. In that long moment everything else disappeared, the world became quiet and without a word being spoken a resolve was made never to be apart again.
I don't remember anything we said. It wasn't important. Just holding her hand had transported me into a different universe and all the doubts, fears and insecurities of the past two days simply melted away hardly ever to be mentioned until today.
She had come with another couple, friends, who were going to drive us into Vancouver and we all waited for the luggage.