Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Last night, whilst being softly serenaded by my owl, I reflected upon the sheer range and number of different forms of transportation that I have been lucky enough to experience in the course of a busy life of almost constant travel. I have flown in everything from a rusty old Douglas DC-3 at uncomfortably low altitudes through shocking turbulence and dense tropical cloud all the way across the Owen Stanley Ranges in Papua New Guinea to a luxurious private jet from Adelaide to Birdsville, Moomba, Innamincka, and back; from a tiny four-seat Helicopter at Cooper Creek to an Airbus A380 (alas downstairs); from a six-seat Cessna fragilely circling over what remains of the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand to sundry clapped-out Fokker Friendships, and innumerable trusty Boeing 747s, beginning in 1975—when our first stop was the old Kai Tak in Hong Kong. The sensory residues of that childhood experience will remain with me until the day I die. Air bridges were then still an exciting novelty, and far more often one descended the stairs in the re-invigorating open air: on that occasion a unique combination of tropical heat, wetness, and the fragrance of jet fuel, dung, coca-cola, sea air, and frying food. I have sailed in everything from a home-made Sabot to the Empress of Tasmania (when, in a ridiculous instance of Australian prudery, the menu for the first sitting featured “chicken chest”; this was at Eastertide in 1971—how vividly I recall my grandmother’s unrestrained laughter on that occasion); from Bangkok riverboats to gondolas and traghettos in Venice, the shotover jet near Queenstown in New Zealand, the family Jubilee, Uncle David’s Top Hat, a channel hovercraft, the Sydney to Manly hydrofoil, a banana boat, an outrigger canoe in Fiji, and innumerable ferries, large and very small. I have taken rickshaws, tuks-tuks, funicular and narrow-gauge railways, cable-cars (several of them revolving), chair-lifts, and, of course, conventional trains on four continents, including several steam trains, the Shinkansen from Tokyo to Kyoto, and the fabled Blue Train from Cape Town to Pretoria. For years I have driven so often on the left and right hand sides of the road (as required), in other words on all five, that I am now completely ambidextrous. For several years I had the privilege of learning by example the various tricks deployed by two lovable professional chauffeurs in vice-regal service, both of whom had taken advanced military instruction in crisis and anti-terrorist driving. I have been aboard a submarine, and several tall ships, though admittedly I never sailed in any. I have ridden several horses and ponies, innumerable bicycles, and on the back of a zippy little Suzuki motorbike in Rome. Many different sorts of bus, tram, underground railway, Ferris wheel, golf buggy, punt, pod, and horse- and ox-drawn vehicle further diversify the picture. I have never been in a hot-air balloon, but I have driven a Victorian Railways diesel locomotive (between Ararat and Stawell), and a clapped-out Vespa in Naples. I have been on an elephant, a dromedary, and in the front cabin of many different trucks with air-bag suspension, usually accompanying shipments of works of art—with one of which I passed through the Mont Blanc tunnel; and more often than I care to remember all the way across the Hay Plain, in both directions. And I have flown in numerous freight aircraft, more often than not with horses and other livestock, tended by a qualified vet with a loaded rifle (should any beast take fright and need to be destroyed; I am told that a horse is easily capable of kicking a hole in the side of a Boeing 747). Going on the big dipper as a child at Luna Park in St. Kilda proved to me that once was definitely enough: never again. Nor do hang-gliding, bungy-jumping, white-water rafting, sky-diving, nor any form of motor-racing, hold any appeal. However, I have lately been inspired to take lessons for my motorcycle license—the better to explore the pretty country roads of New England in late spring, summer, and the fall, ever mindful of the danger and, of course, carefully attending to the various risks—none greater than Connecticut motorists.