THIS WEEK marks the recommencement of a sporadic, purpose-centric need for me to hop on a plane for a day per week, most weeks, for a couple of months; not frightfully onerous — albeit a little frightening late last year — the opportunity presents to revisit Retro Tuesday with an aviation flavour, and to elicit (I’m sure) some groans and cringes from the depths of readers’ memories: if, that is, they are old enough to remember at all.
Last year — as I continued a process of rounding out the Communications side of my CV — I recommenced a university degree I abandoned more than 20 years earlier; not wishing to be pushed into careers in either journalism or teaching, and annoyed at being stopped from transferring to a law degree (a story in itself, although in hindsight I’m glad I never became a lawyer) I dispensed with the further incursion of fees, and set out in a different direction altogether.
The problem was that with two-thirds of a degree complete, and on account of the passage of time since getting that far, the only place that would recognise what I had already finished was the same university I’d been an undergraduate at in the early 1990s: and so, in a highly unorthodox arrangement, I started flying in and out of Brisbane to go to the University of Queensland one day each week.
At least, that was the theory: three weeks into the 12-week semester, I had a stroke scare on my flight back to Melbourne very late one Tuesday night; and whilst it turned out I hadn’t had a stroke (or a so-called TIA) at all — I eventually became the 24th confirmed diagnosis worldwide of the perfectly harmless ear condition Baroparesis facialis, in which air in a defective Eustachian tube expands at altitude to crush the facial nerve, looking like a stroke but in fact having no connection whatsoever to such a frightening affliction — and after a diverted flight to Sydney, a night in the Prince of Wales Hospital, and a visit to a cardiologist the following week in Melbourne, I was cleared to fly again a fortnight after that terrifying mid-air event.
And it was a good thing I was, for had I not gone near another aircraft for a while, I might still be walking around thinking (wrongly) that I had had a stroke: at exactly the same point in the climb out of Melbourne Airport that the first incident had occurred at during the flight coming the other way two weeks earlier, the same thing happened: it was the big clue my doctors needed to go looking for a non-stroke cause, and after a couple of thousand dollars out of pocket and myriad tests later, we quickly identified the unusual culprit.
Even so, a certain airline predicated on white aeroplanes that may or may not feature red tails depicting airborne marsupials refused to let me fly again after the second incident until a further medical clearance had been obtained (which took six weeks) and after my day at the Uni on that occasion, I spent two days driving back to Melbourne down the Newell Highway, and was not a pleasant encounter by the time I got my car out of the car park at Melbourne Airport 1,150 miles later.
I have always loved flying, but traditionally, it has scared the hell out of me.
I don’t know why: when we were kids, there were several family trips to visit relatives who used to live in Sydney, and I was never frightened on those; I have always attributed the later fear of flying to a 13-year gap between the last of the family trips and the first one undertaken on my own, by which time it seemed in many respects I’d never been on an aircraft.
To say I routinely fronted up at various airports across Australia (and occasionally, across the world) in a rare old state is to undersell the matter; on one occasion, after attending a wedding in Brisbane, there was some suggestion check-in staff contemplated calling security on me — such was my state of agitation.
Even trips to the UK (including landing into Hong Kong in the middle of a typhoon) failed to cure me of this totally irrational phobia.
Yet ever since the events of last August — and I’ve taken another half-dozen return trips since then — I’ve suddenly found myself so preoccupied with monitoring the state of my facial muscles that I don’t even worry about flying any more; perhaps that sounds perverse, given my observations are basically aimed at ascertaining whether half my face collapses or not, and if it does to accost flight staff for an oxygen bottle (which arights the symptoms by imitating ground pressure).
But I got through one semester unscathed in the end — and two of the nine missing subjects for my degree to the good — and it starts again on Thursday, with eight days spread over 13 weeks until the end of May, and another two of the now-remaining seven (from 24 in total) lined up to be knocked over.
My six-year-old daughter loves aeroplanes (and has already had a couple of trips to Tasmania to see my parents) and when she was very little, we used to watch a YouTube clip together just before she went to bed each night; music — and colourful images — have always been a big hit with her, so the idea of watching something together was an obvious one that was instantly popular.
One of the first was this piece…
…which must surely rank as one of the most uber-commercial pop songs of the 1960s; I always used to give my daughter a choice of the “air balloon” version embedded above (which, helpfully, has the words dubbed across it so you can sing along) or the “aeroplane” version, which you can access here featuring a collage of all the planes Trans-Australia Airlines used to fly before it was absorbed as the domestic arm of Qantas.
And that brings up today’s Retro Tuesday double shot: not another aviation-themed pop song this time, or something else by The Fifth Dimension, but a thoroughly cringeworthy voyage down memory lane to what once used to pass for the the very best output from the Australian advertising industry: the same industry in which I’ve spent most of the 20+ years since departing from the Uni in the first place.
Get. A. Look. At. This.
Needless to say (dating as it does, I believe, from about 1972) it looks like the archaeological relic it is; quite aside from the poor image quality (to say nothing of the quaint black-and-white format) it contains things that wouldn’t be tolerated (or permitted) these days for an instant.
The dirty businessman perving on the stewardess’ derriere as she walks down the aisle, for instance.
And it goes without saying that today’s Boeing 737s, A320s and A330s offer far more comfort and a smoother flight than TAA’s manky old DC9s and Boeing 727s ever did.
“Up, Up and Away” was also used by the now-defunct US airline TWA in television commercials back in the early 70s — which makes sense — and the TWA version made very different use of the audio track; readers can check out one incarnation of the TWA advertising here. (I believe the aircraft featured is a Douglas DC8, although someone might be able to verify that call made with not-a-very-good-look at the thing).
For mine, I’m going to ensure my kids experience regular air travel as they grow up (which, thanks to tickets today costing a fraction of what they did decades ago, is very possible) in an attempt to ensure neither of them develops a silly phobia about flying.
And for my part, another semester — which will be over before anyone can blink — has given us a perfect opportunity for a trip down memory lane today, and I hope people have enjoyed it.
For a little extra bonus, check this out: one of the best airline advertisements I can ever recall, this predates the marvellous “I Still Call Australia Home” campaign by Qantas that endured for more than a decade, and sits in the period between TAA closing and Qantas Domestic taking off (no pun intended) as an entity in its own right. I was 14 when that campaign was launched, and I still think it deserves its place in anyone’s retro call of old Australian television advertising.
It just goes to show what’s possible when the creative for an airline commercial is really, really well executed. After all, here we are 30 years later, watching it all over again…