My 'day trip' to New York on Concorde

From 1982 to 1985 I was Editor of an EMAP trade magazine called CadCam International, based in Clerkenwell. As an important editor I received many invitations to jollies, the best one being a trip to New York on Concorde. (The worst was a day trip to Geneva which involved getting up very early and we never left Geneva airport!) My diary for the time was quite detailed and I've kept many souvenirs, however I was convinced until rereading it that it was actually a day trip: there and back in a day.

Before take off - that's little me in the middle
In fact we stayed overnight, in a hotel called the Vista, next to the World Trade Centre. It was destroyed when the Twin Towers came down in 2001. I was in room 1301 on the 13th floor. The trip was organised by a computer company called Data General, to launch a PC. 100 journalists flew out on G-BOAA (currently in Edinburgh) on 21 July 1983 and it took 3.5 hours to get there, setting off at 1pm our time. I was in seat 2D up front right-hand side next to a Swedish journalist. It was very luxurious and we had plenty to eat and drink. There followed a coach ride through Manhattan to a press do on the 106th floor of the World Trade Centre (which tower, I don't know). Afterwards I went for a walk to look at the gothic Woolworth building, and Battery Park. We had a cocktail party and dinner, I watched a film on the cable tv and went to bed, while others went to Greenwich Village all night. We had to be up 5.30am their time for the flight back, which was on G-BOAF (now at Filton).

We'd just passed Nova Scotia, building up to mach 2 when there was a terrible lurch and champagne glasses and caviar flew everywhere. The mach meter stared spinning and the flight engineer said there'd been a surge on engine 2 and computer failure. They shut down the engine and returned to New York subsonically and it took us twice as long to get back. It was also at a more turbulent height too which added to the panic. In my diary I put: "I lost my appetite, missed the quail, but had a Cointreau though." We were just getting settled when we landed at Kennedy to see fire engines and ambulances running alongside. 100 ashen-faced journos made their way to the Concorde lounge for more free drinks. Some joked about going back on the QE2. It was 5.30pm, we should have been home by now. Reporters from the Times and Guardian filed stories by telex, but it only got the briefest mention next day.

Boarding passes and swizzle sticks
They found G-BOAA, the one we came on, for us, fired it up and we flew back without incident. I had missed the last coach to Woking from Heathrow, but my girlfriend at the time kindly came to pick me up.

What happened to Data General, by the way? Gone the way of all the minicomputer manufacturers. According to Wikipedia, "The old Data General domain (dg.com) ... was sold to the Dollar General discount department store chain in October 2009." We all know what happened to the Twin Towers, and Concorde was grounded after a disastrous crash in Paris in 2000. CadCam International? That's gone too, no trace of it on the internet!

My second scariest plane ride was a few years before this, during my first trip to the USA. I was flying from LaGuardia airport to Minneapolis - St Paul when the pilot announced that they had lost radio contact and had to fly low and slow, presumably so he could follow the roads. On the way back to New Jersey I got a ride in a single-prop, four-seater light aircraft, owned by a contributor to the IPC magazine I was working for at the time, CAD. He worked at Bell Labs and showed me round. His wife was an aerobics teacher, a word I hadn't heard before. Don even took me for a flight around Manhattan, along the rivers and lower than the tops of the skyscrapers. A few years later he, his wife and two kids were all killed when they flew into a storm on their way to their condo in Florida.


Memory and memories

Not a sound from the pavement
Has the moon lost her memory?
She is smiling alone…"

The song from Cats is a favourite of my Monday singing group at Patching Lodge. I can't help launching into it whenever I think of memories and how strange they are. Why do we remember some things and not others, and how do false memories get in there? Two cases recently demonstrated that (logical?) assumptions can trump real memories, but 'evidence' in the shape of ephemera and maybe diary entries can surprise one.

I was convinced I joined the NUJ when I started at IPC Science and Technology Press, Guildford in 1977, but a delve into my ephemera dredged up my 1974 membership card! This is important as I can now apply to be a life member! I was freelance at the time and my diary couldn't shed any light on it apart from the fact that my membership card had arrived one day. I only assume that the events going on at the IMechE or the fact that I got told off by the print unions at the Surrey Advertiser for designing the ads for Robin Bradbeer's shop Guildford Tapes and Calculators prompted me to join. So, I was already a paid-up member at Hutton + Rostron in Gomshall (where I was eventually made redundant) and on that first day at IPC when I received a visit from the FoC.

The other memory lapse was my 'day trip' to New York on Concorde. This will be the subject of another blog posting, but suffice to say I've been dining out on my 'day trip' on three Concordes (yes, the one on the way back broke down), except I'd forgotten we'd stayed over for a night in a hotel! My diary confirmed it was a two-day trip!

If we all kept detailed diaries, then there would be no problem recalling events. Or would there? My diaries are far from that - they seem to be full of irrelevant detail and huge gaps! I'm intrigued by holidays. I have vague memories of what I did there but little recollection of how we actually got there. In May 1961, when I was 14, I went to Innsbruck, Austria (Völs actually) with the school, except it was probably my friend Big John Smith's school. How do I know that? I have what is probably my oldest piece of personal ephemera - a ticket for a football match between FC Wacker and Manchester City. I have no idea how we got there. It must have been by train and ferry and taken a very long time. I have a vague memory of being told off by the guard for climbing into the string luggage rack - no, we weren't in sleepers! On that trip, I was introduced to the duvet, walked on a glacier, bought a flick knife and maybe learnt to ride a bike, or was that the previous year's trip?

The previous year we'd been to Kessingland, an old army camp near Lowestoft (also by train? did we have to change?) where we made bombs in bottles with Jetex fuses and set them off in the sand dunes, learnt to smoke (10 Consulate please) and generally got up to mischief.

UPDATE: Michael Portillo mentioned on his TV series Great British Railway Journeys that there was a train called The European which ran direct from the North of England (Scotland even) to Harwich. So that could have been the route we took, both times.

Nostalgia groups on Facebook are also a good way to stimulate memories. In Bury Olden Days, I came across a photo of the street on which I spent my first few years: Wyndham Street, in the central Bury area known as the Mosses, which was demolished soon after we moved to Sunny Bank. Facebook groups are problematic, in that posters regularly 'orphan' images, stripping them of credits and information, but a quick Google found the source as Bury Image Bank. It's Image Number: b04005 and dated 1955.

Looks like the photo has been taken down!

My memories of that house are few: I remember playing cowboys in my street wearing Dad's trilby and using the gas meter cabinet as a den. When we moved, my Grandma Nation took me in a pushchair 'over the Baltic' to our semi in the suburbs.

Here's another bit of evidence - dated ephemera is the best. I was a cone winder in a cotton mill, Wellington Mill, Bury, in the summer of 1966. This is my pay packet, which was about £8 a week, plus a few coins! The following year I worked at Vantona bleach and dye works in Breightmet with Bob Stoney (Uncle Sid ran the canteen), and in my final year at university I worked in the basement of the Royal Institution, Albemarle Street, London slicing up cadmium crystals, in Michael Faraday's lab, and in a shed on the roof of Battersea College of Advanced Technology.