Off we go into the wild green yonder …

International Aeroport

The last leg of any journey into Our Little Patch of Jungle, Nigeria was by way of Pro-Puddle-Jumper (name changed to protect the innocent throw off any strayCarcharodon legalii who happen to drift by my blog), which meant it was also the first leg out of Home.

So, there we were. Flying into Africa for the first time.

I probably should have been a bit concerned as we were loading on board, and my father (a licensed pilot) stopped in the cabin and looked about with a raised eyebrow — but I was young and this was a fantastic little plane!

The pilots sat up front behind a thin partition (Select Grade banana crate, as it turned out) with a little curtain (appropriated from a shower in a Port Harcourt hotel, complete with mildew) that could be slid back-and-forth to allow the pilots to do Pilot Stuff.

On the right side of the plane there was a row of two seats, then an aisle and a series of single seats against the left wall of the cabin. I, of course, got to sit in one of the single-seats with my knees right up against the bulkhead (… ineapples, Prod. Of Nige …), until about halfway through the take-off trundle.

When the pilots stopped right dead square in the middle of the Lagos runway, came back into the cabin and moved everyone around, redistributing weight.

Dad wound up in my seat, and I had to sit in the back next to Mom. This was, as it turned out, a fortuitous move, but it irritated the hell out of me at the time.

The take-off was nothing special, and the flight — other than being bumpier than hell — was pretty routine. Until we were about twenty minutes out of our destination.

My father was chatting with the pilots, when he suddenly stopped and cocked his head. He listened for a second, then leaned forward and rapped gently on the instrument panel with a knuckle, causing a light bulb to fall out of its socket onto the floor.

Dad picked up the tiny bulb, contemplated it for a moment, regarded the pilots, then leaned forward and twisted it into its socket.

The light bulb immediately lit up, and I’m here to tell you it was one of the brightest, most-intense shades of Oh-[Deleted] Red that I’ve ever seen.

The co-pilot immediately looked at Dad and held a finger to his lips, while his other hand unscrewed the bulb from the socket, “It’s okay,” he murmured in a sotto voce tone that swept throughout the entire cabin, “Happens all the time. When the light comes on, we’ve usually got enough pressure for another 15 minutes or so.”

Meanwhile, the pilot is gingerly shaking the yoke. “Bob,” he whispers.

“Got some sodding fungus or other around here that noshes on the rubber seals something fierce.”

“Bob,” hisses the pilot, taking a firm grip on the yoke.

“We call the home office and tell them about it, they say there ain’t no such plant, and we’re just fibbing to cover poor maintenance.”

Dad is looking at the white knuckles of the pilot.

“I sez to the home office: ‘It ain’t a plant, it’s a fungus. They’s two different things’, but no-oooo…”

“Robert!” snarls the pilot. Dad reaches up, points two fingers at his eyes, then points — most firmly — in the direction of the pilot.

“What?” says the co-pilot, then he gets a look at the expression on the face of the pilot, “Oh, bugger!”

Things got — really fast.

The co-pilot practically exploded in his seat, arms and straps flying about, then starts digging in the shelf behind his head, flinging magazines (of an adult nature) and various other sundries, until he comes up with a gallon bottle of rot-gut gin.

He then sprints the five steps of the aisle, murmuring, “Nothing’s wrong lads. Everything’s perfectly okay. Just a bit of a bump in the road, that’s all.”

I assume he was talking to Chris and I, but I’ve never really been certain. Meanwhile, Dad has leaped into his empty seat, and has both hands on the yoke.

Anyhoo, the co-pilot yanks open a small hatch in the floor, reaches inside and fiddles with bits, then says to my mother, “Listen, love. Would you be a duck and reach under your seat? There should be a tool-bag, ah! Would you find me a spanner, then?”

Mom pulls a wrench out of the tool-bag and hands it to him. He reaches inside the hatch and makes unscrewing motions, then pours a good dollop of gin into the hatch. Pauses, then pours another dollop down his own throat, coughs explosively, and pours another measure into the hatch.

The pour, pause, pour, cough, pour pattern continues for a bit, then the pilot gives a whoop and a fist appears around the banana crate partition, thumb pointing up. The co-pilot dumps another bit of gin into the system, then holds his hand out to my mother.

“Rubber wally.”

Mom digs around in the tool-kit and comes up with a … mostly … tubular object in a particularly violent shade of purple. She looks at the co-pilot, eyebrow raised.

“Nah, nah,” says that worthy, unperturbed, “That’s oil system. We need hydraulics. Smaller, should be green.”

Mom digs around some more, finds a similar object in acid green and passes it along. It disappears into the hatch.

“Mallet.” A wooden mallet is located, passed to the co-pilot, who proceeds to bash away enthusiastically inside the hatch.

“Gaffer tape.” Half the roll disappears inside the hatch, then Bob shuts the hatch with a satisfied air, dusts off his hands and makes his way back up the aisle to the cock-pit, ruffling Chris’s hair on the way.

At the cockpit, he extracts two cigarettes from a pack, puts them in his mouth, lights them and passes one to the pilot, offering the other to Dad.

Dad murmurs that he’s a pipe smoker and offers the seat to the co-pilot.

“No, no,” says the pilot. “You stay there. Bob will be in the back, pumping the gear down. Now, when we get to the aerodrome, there is a highway that crosses the landing strip. Probably some bloody cows, too. We’ll come in low, so that the lazy bastard at the gates will wake up and close off the highway. The lower, the better. That way we don’t have any autos making problems, and the plane scares off the bloody cows. Then we come back, and we land. All okay?”

Dad blinks at the pilot, looks at Bob who nods happily, thinks for a moment, and sighs, “Give me that cigarette.”

Five minutes later, in front of a cattle herder who was shaking his fist at us and screaming imprecations as his herd stampeded into the jungle, we set down at the International Aeroport pictured above, and taxied to a picture-perfect stop next to the corrugated-tin control tower — also pictured above.

The co-pilot grinned at my mother, opened the door, lowered it to form the stairsteps for leaving the aeroplane, then jumped to the bottom of the steps. Tipping his hat, he gallantly held out a hand for Mom, “Welcome to Africa!”

The door/steps fell off the hinges, landing in the West African clay with a certain authoritative thud.

“Bugger!”, yelped Bob, “Didn’t we fix that?!”

Dad grinned at Mom, jumped to the turf, turned around and lifted her down.

And that was my introduction to Africa. God, I miss that place sometimes.


Boot. Butt. Some assembly required.
Whattowrite, whattowrite, whattowrite ...

21 thoughts on “Off we go into the wild green yonder …”

  1. Ah, the things we thought were fun as kids that would terrify us as adults…

  2. Dammit, Dog! When are you gonna write the book?

    (You really lived all these tales?)

  3. Those were the days, watching oil run down the wing, and rivits ratteling in the holes, as you cruise at ten thousand.

  4. kinda reminds me of the time I was sitting in the very back row of a Delta MD-80 and I looked out at the starboard engine intake nacelle to see an entire row of missing rivets along the inner edge of the intake. Then the thought occurred to me, “Where exactly did the heads of those rivets GO?” Then I thought of how a burst disk took out all three hydraulic systems in Kansas city just a few years earlier, and the disk was only 3 feet behind me….

  5. The funny thing is I fly Lears for a charter outfit and not 3 months ago when we were shooting an approach into Little Rock…..

  6. Man, everyone who has flown in Africa has stories:

    Airfields with both ends littered in decaying wrecks of overshoots and failed take offs.

    Passengers recieving instruction to move forward and back in the cargo area during take off to get the nose off the ground…and firmly intructed to not light fires onthe deck – at gun point.

    Locals prefering the “too drunk to walk” Russian pilot to the sober local boy – refusing to get onthe plane until Boris was found.

    Shareing your cabin with chickens, goats and something angry in a bag.

    And let’s not even talk about the Airports.

  7. Hmph. That, my friend, is both terrible and wonderful. It’s got to be a bit mindblowing in retrospect.

    Thanks fer the words. 🙂

  8. You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din! Especially in current circumstances.

  9. Yet again, laughing like a drain. Your delivery’s drier than silica gel, old stick.

  10. Gin, huh? Given my chosen career path, I’ll have to remember that one. Any particular brand?


  11. Bein’ the white knuckle flyer I am, on big, well maintained jets…well let’s just say I admire your Mother more than mere words can say. I’d only make that flight once, conscious. The next one I’d have to be heavily medicated.

  12. rorschach: I once looked out the window of a twin-prop commuter airliner and danged if the engine cowling wasn’t duct-taped to the nacelle. And this was on a fairly busy route, Lincoln, NE, to Omaha. A bus would have got me to the Omaha airport just as fast and a whole lot more comfortably, but the puddle-jumper flight was rolled right into the cost of the ticket to Chicago…

  13. Well, one thing we can say about when you have a breakthrough from the writer’s block, it’s a doozy. Good yarn, maybe even approaching a Skeeter Skelton “Me and Dobe”.

  14. Doesn’t it amaze you that so little is actually neccessary in order to maintain flight?

    My Mother related this story to me. When we were flying in to LAX from home, there was some kind of electrical situation aboard the airliner. The Captain stayed in the cockpit & all others crawled into the belly of the beast to fix the problem. One could see the white caps of the Pacific closing in.

    All of two years old, I was quoted as saying “Mami, ¿vamos a morir?” (Mom, are we gonig to die?)

    I was also shushed quickly.;^)

    The repairs were successful & the Captain ordered drinks on the house.


    Even in America on a MAJOR airline ….

  15. God must love you.

    Your guardian angels, on the other hand, positively HATE your friggin’ guts.

    And they all look like Crimean War vets.

  16. I have sent the Marine!Goth a link to this story. For a while there, I thought he’d get his private pilot’s lisc before his driver’s permit.

    My dad was an Army Air Corps pilot in WWII – pacific theater. He has stories of landing on strips when the seebees still had equiptment on part of them. Anybody who is able to keep aloft under circumstances like that just awes me.

    “Never go faster than your guardian angel can fly.”

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