A few days ago I was watching a television programme about Concorde, that wonderful aircraft we built with the French. The programme covered the history of the plane from its launch until it was taken out of service. Of course Concorde cut travelling times dramatically but it would appear it was not sufficiently profitable and this led to its ultimate demise. But, having watched the programme and the history contained within it I began to realise just how much things have changed in such a comparatively short space of time.
A little over thirty years ago I was a fairly regular traveller across the Atlantic to Canada. My aunt and uncle then lived in a small village a few miles east of Kingston in Ontario and we visited every couple of years or so. We used Air Canada on a couple of occasions but, more often than not, we flew with Freddie Laker's Sky Train, as it was called. This was a low frills air company that brought cheaper travel to the masses. Now, long gone, the company was hit by a major crash and some pretty stiff competition from British Airways. It was rumoured, at the time, that dirty tricks had been involved, who knows.
However, quite apart from the departure of both Concorde and Laker Airways it occurred to me that we have lost a lot more in the years between. Freedoms which, in those days, we took for granted would now be unthinkable. I refer to the fact that on a number of occasions, during a trans-Atlantic flight I would request to take my two girls up to the flight deck. This was always permitted. The hostess would usually say she would ask the captain and would also whisper to keep quiet about it or everybody would want to go. On each occasion the request was granted. In truth it was more about dad wanting to have a look up front than the girls. Be that as it may, we got to the flight deck and had, probably, fifteen minutes up there during the mid-flight period. The Captain and his co-pilot were always charming and usually signed a postcard of the aircraft for the girls. They would also give us a rundown of what was going on and point out other aircraft on the radar and tell us which planes they were and where they were going. All good stuff but long gone. Can you imagine asking to go to the flight deck on a modern flight. Past terrorist attacks have ensured no chance of that and, I suspect, any such request would now be met with concern and suspicion.
In addition to our air travel we also crossed the channel to France on board various ferry companies, most of which are also but a memory. Gone are the days of six or eight ferry companies to choose from. Now there are just two operating out of Dover, P&O and D.F.S.S.
But again it was not unusual to request a visit to the bridge and,as with the requests on aircraft, was always granted. I well remember the various ship's radar showing just how crowded the English Channel actually is. Most will have heard it is the busiest shipping lane in the world but, to actually, see it on a radar screen is quite amazing. On another occasion we were on the bridge and I noticed a longish board, suspended by a brass chain over a big lever-like device. The board had, and I forget the exact words, but something like don't forget printed on it. When I asked I was told it was to remind the crew to recess the stabilisers. Most ferries have wing-like stabilisers to prevent the side to side rolling action which occurs in bad weather. I was told that the harbour entrance at Dover is very narrow and would cause the stabilisers to be ripped off if they were not withdrawn before going through the gap into the harbour. Hence the big sign. Once again any thought of getting on to the bridge today would be, no doubt, treated with alarm. The fact is passengers wouldn't get anywhere near it on today's ferries. It just goes to show just how many freedoms we lose when some lunatic goes mad and attacks us in the way of the modern terrorist. Perhaps only little things in the great big scheme of it all but, none the less, delightful in their way and in my view a sad loss.