BETTER ON A CAMEL
BOAC and BEA reminiscences, memorabilia and history
 
 
Introduction
Review of background to airline experiences and recollections
 
 
Dedication
About the charity 'Practical Action'
 
 
Foreword
Foreword by Sir Ross Stainton, former Chairman of BOAC
 
 
CHAPTER ONE - THE FAR EAST AND INDIAN OCEAN
airport and airline memoirs about the far east - from India and the Seychelles to Japan
 
 
Burma - Lighting Up Time, by Gerry Catling (1954)
an airport story - cigars as insect repellent
 
 
Burma - The Day of the Dear Departed (1954), by Gerry Catling
memories of a delicate diplomatic exercise with BOAC in Burma
 
 
Burma, etc. - Britannias, by Alan Douglas
recollections of the Bristol Britannia in service with BOAC
 
 
Burma -The Sound Barrier, by Tony Russell (1972)
Dealings with the civil aviation authorities in Rangoon
 
 
Burma - The Fertiliser Factory, by David McCormack (1972)
memoirs of an airline manager - going the extra mile in customer service...
 
 
Burma - Cigars, Religion and Superstition, by Peter Jones (1975)
Meeting the Burmese People
 
 
Burma - Special Adviser to the Manager, by Peter Jones (1975)
attending a funeral in Rangoon
 
 
Burma - Burmese Days, by Peter Jones (1975)
a visit to Mandalay and the temples of Pagan
 
 
China - Learning Chinese by Ralph Glazer (1983)
Meeting CAAC
 
 
India - The Morning Commuter, by Peter Fieldhouse (1970)
Getting to the office in Calcutta
 
 
Japan - The Mount Fuji Disaster, by James Wilson (1966)
a retrospective view of the management of the aftermath of a major air crash
 
 
Pakistan - Yaqoob and Musaleem, by Peter Liver (1987)
fond memories of two aged retainers
 
 
Philippines - Cutting it Fine, by David Hogg (1970)
memoir of the chaos to civil aviation caused by a typhoon in Manila
 
 
Philippines - Being British, by David Hogg (1969)
reactions to an earthquake
 
 
Sri Lanka (Ceylon) - The Day my Number (almost) Came up, by Gerry Catling (1960)
memories of a BOAC Comet 4 landing on a wet runway..
 
 
Seychelles Days, by Mike McDonald (1974-1977)
An island idyll..civil aviation (and British Airways) arrive in the Seychelles
 
 
CHAPTER TWO - THE MIDDLE EAST
airport and airline reminiscences and memorabilia in the Middle East
 
 
Abu Dhabi - Ice Cold in Abu Dhabi, by Graham Moss (1970)
keeping VC-10 passengers cool on the ground
 
 
Abu Dhabi - Sand Trap, by David Hogg (1972)
hazards of driving in the desert
 
 
Bahrain - The Traffic Manual Expert, by David Meyrick (1962)
an air cargo problem - loading a BOAC DC7F
 
 
Bahrain - The Thunderstorm, by Ron Colnbrook (1968)
a scary flying story
 
 
Iran - The Nosewheel Incident, by Alan Hillman (1965)
a problem on the runway in Tehran
 
 
Iran - Hold Five, by Brian Cannadine (1972)
Teheran Airport - animal alert!
 
 
Israel - Cultural Differences, Mike McDonald (1972)
airline tales from Tel Aviv
 
 
Kuwait - a 'Fifth Pod' Operation, by Jack Wesson (1965)
a BOAC flight planner's nightmare
 
 
Kuwait - the Oil Drillers, by John Cogger (1970)
a BOAC Sales Manager at work - life in the fast lane
 
 
Kuwait - Out of the Fog, by Peter Richards (1991)
Return to Kuwait after the Gulf War
 
 
Saudi Arabia - Abdul and the Bacon, by David Hogg (1973)
a treat goes missing
 
 
Yemen - Sana'a Memories, by David Hogg (1973)
a testimony of everyday life in the Yemen
 
 
CHAPTER THREE - AFRICA
recollections and tales of life with BOAC and British Airways in Africa
 
 
Ghana - the Watchman, by Anthony Farnfield (1966)
a letter in the files
 
 
Kano, Nigeria - Willie on the Rampage, by Pat Noujaim (1959)
The randiest dachshund in Northern Nigeria nearly causes a delay
 
 
Nigeria - Bush Telegraph, by David Hogg (1965)
bad news travels fast in West Africa
 
 
Nigeria - Things Other than the World Cup, by Don Ford (1966)
BOAC involved in events in Lagos before the Biafran War
 
 
Nigeria - Boom Times, by Peter Jones (1975-1979)
the oil boom in Nigeria in the seventies
 
 
Nigeria - an Attempted Coup, by Peter Jones (1976)
violent regime change in Nigeria
 
 
Nigeria - Living and Working in Lagos, by Peter Jones (1975-1979)
stories of expatriate life in Nigeria
 
 
Nigeria - Never Knowingly Undersold, by Peter Jones (1981)
Travails with the Lagos Telephone Company
 
 
Nigeria - Student Travel, by Peter Jones (1981)
a student goes to the wrong destination
 
 
Nigeria - Lagos Airport Again! by Nick Robertson (1989-90)
Wild West (Africa)
 
 
Ethiopia - Petrol Rationing, by Doug Tester (1975)
Michael to the rescue
 
 
Uganda - The Road to Kampala, by Peter Liver (1972)
a moment in history - BOAC in Uganda in the days of Idi Amin
 
 
Uganda - Exodus of the Ugandan Asians, by Mike Wickings (1972)
Organising the departure of Asians from Uganda
 
 
Kenya - Nairobi 1956 etc., By Maurice Flanagan
early memories of BOAC in Nairobi
 
 
Kenya - The Frustrations of the Comet 4, by Don Ford (circa 1962)
recollections of ingenious improvisation to make best use of space in the BOAC Comet 4
 
 
Kenya - Nanyuki Wedding, by Steve Sturton-Davies (1992)
a wedding in the bush
 
 
Egypt - The Six Day War, By Ron Colnbrook (1967)
memories of a war zone
 
 
Libya, Sudan and Iraq - The Personal and Confidential File, by Roddy Wilson (1955-1960)
more camel stories...
 
 
Libya - The spirit of Christmas Past, by Gerry Catling (1958)
hijinks in the Tripoli transit lounge
 
 
Libya (and Ceylon) Unaccompanied Minors by Gerry Catling (1959)
The difficulties that younger passengers sometime cause...
 
 
CHAPTER FOUR - THE CARIBBEAN, AMERICAS AND ATLANTIC OCEAN
WESTERN HEMISPHERE
 
 
Jamaica - Dr No by Mike McDonald (1964/1974)
a James Bond memory
 
 
St. Lucia - Hurricane Allen, by Peter Jones (1980)
surviving a major hurricane
 
 
St.Lucia - The Wrong Taxiway, by Peter Jones (1983)
consequences of miscommunication
 
 
St. Lucia - The Red Lady, by Peter Jones (1983)
voodoo and the Boeing 747 - an unsolved mystery
 
 
St. Lucia - The Collector, by Peter Jones (1983)
An Illegal 'Collector' of Rare Species is seen off
 
 
Trinidad - Management Skills, by Bill Smith (1965)
learning the ropes, the hard way
 
 
Bahamas - Cabin bags and Elephants, by Tony Russell (1966)
squashed baggage
 
 
Canada - Gander, Crossroads of the World, by Gerry Catling (1956)
Transatlantic travel as it used to be
 
 
Panama - Don't Stop! by David Hogg (1975-1980)
what about the snakes?
 
 
Panama - Flying Positive, by David Hogg (1975-1980)
BAC-111 pilots in Central America
 
 
Chile - Chile-Chile-Bang-Bang, by Howell Green (1994)
Frustrations in the queue for take-off
 
 
Uruguay - Jet Flight Arrives in South America, by Alan Douglas (1959)
introducing the Comet 4 in South America
 
 
USA - I Was There That Day, by Jonathan Martin (1963)
Dallas 1963, the day of President Kennedy's assassination
 
 
USA - The New World, by Don Ford (1967-1969)
An expatriate airport manager comes to Chicago
 
 
USA - The Cricket Team, by Peter Jones (1964)
cricket in New York with BOAC?
 
 
Ascension and Falkland Islands - Encounters of the Third Kind, by Bruce Fry (1985-1987)
a BOAC station engineer goes on secondment to the RAF in the Falklands
 
 
CHAPTER FIVE - EUROPE
EUROPE
 
 
Bulgaria - Fog in London, by Mike Lewin (19xx)
BEA schedules affected by fog in London
 
 
Cyprus - Suez and the Rocky path of True Love, by Gerry Catling (1956-57)
effect of Suez on BA schedules and social life..
 
 
Cyprus - the Hijack, by Bruce Fry (1970)
when a hijacked BOAC VC-10 diverted all flights to Nicosia
 
 
Cyprus - The Turkish Invasion, by Taff Lark (1974)
Evacuation of tourists when Cyprus invaded by Turkish forces
 
 
Germany - from BSAA to the Berlin Airlift, by Charlie Item Smith (1948-49)
Following the BSAA disasters, the Avro Tudor fleet is assigned to the Berlin Airlift as fuel tankers
 
 
Germany - Learning German, by Larry Gorton (1966)
recollections of a BEA manager having problems learning German
 
 
Italy - The Secret of Fiumicino, by Bill Smith (1967)
airport customer service staff get a morale boost and valuable lessons for motivation are learned
 
 
Poland - The Stand-off, by Roy Burnham (1978)
an encounter with American presidential security guards
 
 
Romania - Heidi's Haggis, by Mike Lewin (1971)
a bit of BEA memorabilia - ingenuity in the kitchen saves Burns Night in Bucharest
 
 
Russia (USSR) Trans Siberian Start-up, by Brian Burgess (1969-1972)
planning for an historic moment - BOAC's trans Siberian route to Japan
 
 
Russia (USSR) - Red Faces in Red Square, By Bernard Garvie (1970)
Diplomatic Incident with Chandelier
 
 
Russia(USSR) - The Omelette Factory, by Peter Richards (1970s)
Navigating over Siberia
 
 
Russia(USSR) the Golf Lesson, by Peter Richards (1976)
In a Moscow Hotel Room..
 
 
Russia (USSR) The Security Guard, by Peter Richards (1976)
How to scare a Russian Security Officer
 
 
Russia (USSR) -The Stewardess, by Taff Lark (1980)
shades of 007
 
 
Russia (USSR) - Domodedovo Airport, 'the House of my Grandfather' by Mike McDonald (1989)
a memoir of early days at Moscow's Domodedovo Airport
 
 
Spain - Dictatorship and Honour, by Gerry Catling (1960)
a recollection of Franco's Spain - negotiating the 'personal honour' code at Madrid Airport
 
 
Spain - A Soft Touch, by Ralph Glazer
A Meeting with Franco
 
 
Switzerland - The Precision of the Swiss, by Gerry Catling (1968)
recollections of how we proved to the airport authority that the Super VC-10 was not a noisy aircraft
 
 
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Further reading and watching for addicts....
 
 

Nigeria - Living and Working in Lagos, by Peter Jones (1975-1979)

Lagos was one of the more difficult places to live and work, but looking back on it through the prism of the years, we did have some good times. We made our own entertainment, and the social life was excellent. The incidents that one remembers were not necessarily the most spectacular, but caused great amusement at the time.

On one occasion we had a dinner party on our L-shaped patio, which was on two levels. I was seated on the lower level, which meant that I was directly facing (but naturally trying to avert my eyes from) the very shapely legs of the young lady who was our new neighbour.

At certain times of the year land crabs tend to migrate inland from the foreshore and would often use our garden as part of their route. I was suddenly aware of a crab the size of a small dinner plate, which was making its way slowly over the patio, under the tables and had paused for breath at a point very close to the lady’s foot.

Then, apparently in slow motion, she became aware of my gaze and her feminine intuition told her that the expression on my face was of something a little more than male admiration, realized that there was some creature under her table…and was immediately on her feet and standing on her chair, followed by half the other ladies in the party.

In Lagos we had the benefit of a small army of servants, who usually lived on the premises. Much could be written about the misunderstandings that have taken place due to difficulties in mutual cultural understanding. There was a tendency of Nigerians in domestic service to take literally everything that they are told.

Our steward, Martin, had been schooled by generations of BOAC ‘madams’ and spoke English very well. He was invariably immaculately turned out, scrupulously polite and totally trustworthy. Most of our friends and colleagues had the same experience. There were, however those whose understanding was less than perfect.

Among the expatriate population, many ‘servant’ stories were told, some of which must be apocryphal, and are certainly not politically correct, but have entered the folklore nonetheless. A favourite is that of the lady who wished to serve a suckling pig as part of her dinner party, and informed her steward that it was to be served ‘with an apple in the mouth’. (The personal pronoun was not normally used in the English spoken by West African house servants) He, of course, inferred that the apple had to be in his own mouth, and presented the suckling pig accordingly…

Another told her steward that dinner should be served ‘through the hatch’ and was alarmed to see him appear with the dinner tray in hand, climbing with his leading leg like a hurdler through the hatch between kitchen and dining room. A third, more alarming story, is of the lady telling her steward that if the baby did not take the bottle, it should be put back in the fridge. Yes, you guessed it.

Our own particular memorable experience is of the shorting of some wiring along the ceiling in our back kitchen. We called the electrician, who sent out a man to deal with the problem. Wearing fashionable clothing, slicked down hair, dark glasses and heavy metal-studded boots, he was every inch a real dude.

When my wife showed him where the problem was, he got his metal ladder and climbed to the ceiling where the wiring was. “Hadn’t you better turn the power off first?” she asked mildly. He gave her a withering stare. “What you know of electric? You are only woman!” Seconds later, he was thrown from the ladder and across the room by the short circuit he had just created and was lucky to escape serious injury.

I am am indebted to an 'old coaster' friend, Ian Beckett for the story of another mutual friend, a brewery manager who used to travel the country a lot. He was staying in one of the upcountry offices and found that he would have to stay the weekend to finish some business. It occurred to him to ask his wife to join him, so he phoned down to Lagos and suggested she make the trip as a change from the boring routine of the big city.

On arrival at the brewery rest house, she was met by the steward. “Welcome madam, I will run your bath,” he said. “Oh, no, that’s fine, I’ll just relax for a while and then take a bath later,” she replied. “No madam,” said the steward: “master say that when ladies come to rest house they always take bath before they meet the master!”

The ‘new’ Murtala Mohammed airport in Lagos, open since 1979, has been the subject of considerable television coverage through the TV ‘Airport’ programme. Most of our experience was at the old airport building, a ramshackle affair remarkable only for the obstacle course one had to endure to get on an aircraft.

Checking in for a flight was a nightmare. Queuing was non-existent. If you did not bring with you your own burly Nigerian retainer to ‘negotiate’ with the check-in clerk on your behalf, you were more or less obliged to employ a ‘tout’ who would push and shove other touts out of the way both in front of and behind the check-in desk to get the attention of the check-in staff first and eventually get you a boarding pass.

Passengers entering this unseemly melee themselves would very quickly have lost their dignity and probably more. Having negotiated check-in, your troubles were not over, as there were no fewer than eight checkpoints – immigration, police, customs, outbound port health (!) baggage identification, baggage labelling and a couple of other improbable checks before reaching the final departure lounge. At each one of these you would be asked for a ‘dash’ – a small amount of money – to ensure that you and your baggage got on the aircraft.

Even then you were not home and dry. We knew one manager of a large British conglomerate who was recalled to his head office for consultations over some dispute with the Nigerian authorities and was on the London bound aircraft taxiing out to take off. The aircraft was stopped at the edge of the taxiway, steps were put up and he was removed and taken away for questioning by the authorities. I don’t know the full outcome, but he left Nigeria for good shortly afterwards.

Domestic air services within Nigeria were fairly rudimentary but worked after a fashion. I heard of one man who used to take the same early morning Nigeria Airways flight to Kano every week, with the same cabin crew. Breakfast in first class consisted of a (very) hard boiled egg and a piece of bread.

He would say to the stewardess: “..and what do you have for my breakfast this morning” and she would say “boiled egg, sah!” After a while he would say to her “You know what I would really like – champagne, smoked salmon, scrambled egg and some nice fresh coffee”, and she would reply, “Sorry sah, boiled egg again.”

After a while this exchange became a regular little routine between them, with which she played along nicely. One morning however, he was astonished when she came up the aisle smiling broadly and placed before him a larger tray than usual containing - champagne, smoked salmon, scrambled egg and coffee, all beautifully presented. When he looked up interrogatively she said: “One first class passenger on Pan Am going to go hungry this morning sah!”

We were introduced on arrival in Nigeria to the Nigeria Police Dog Unit, a splendid group of people who trained dogs for police work. As we had a large and secure compound, we were good candidates to foster a puppy that would later be trained for police work. The police brought a regular supply of dog food and tended to all his inoculations and other veterinary needs.

The down-side was that after 2-3 years they would want him back for training, which was difficult for the family who naturally became very attached to ‘their’ dog, but for expatriates who were going to be leaving eventually anyway, the arrangement was ideal.

‘Our’ first puppy was a sweet natured Alsatian called Sammy, whom we acquired at the age of 3 months. He became a firm family favourite and my daughters spoiled him more than they should. When he was taken away for training we always enquired of the senior police officer after his progress, and were proud to learn after a while that he had become ‘top of his class in harassment!’ I suspect we would not have recognized our puppy.

One of the joys of West Africa was the occasionally, to our ears, quaint use of the English language. If a business associate were not available to visitors, the secretary would tell you ‘he is not on seat.’ A traffic jam was called a ‘go-slow’, and if a car broke down it ‘cease fire’, a thief was a ‘tief-man’ and if somebody were to behave in a silly or irrational manner, he ‘go for bush’. I have seen and can personally vouch for the headline that appeared in the national newspaper when the former leader General Gowon visited Kano and was well received by the populace – ‘Gowon Gets Clap in Kano’. I still have the newspaper cutting somewhere.

Anthony Farnfield relates another West African domestic exchange:
Wife to ‘small boy’ (domestic servant i/c dhobi),
”I can't find my bra which was in the wash”
”Madam?” I don't know! What is this thing - bra?”
”Bra, bra” says Madam pointing to her upper body area.
”Ah, Madam mean knickers for up! I have it here!”


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