A Meditation at 11,700 metres, 719km/h

I’m currently sitting in seat 30A of Virgin Blue’s 737-800 airliner, registrated as VH-VOK but nicknamed “Smoochy Maroochy”, sipping a moderately acceptable cabernet merlot which arrived in a little plastic bottle.

I’d chosen this seat for two reasons. Statistically this is the safest seat in the aircraft. But more importantly, it’s the first time I’ve crossed the Nullarbor, and I wanted a clear view of the desert uninterrupted by wings.

My plans have been thwarted. But I have been given an unexpected treat.

We lifted off from Sydney three hours behind schedule. Smoochy was late for some reason or other, and when she finally did arrive the airport was closed by a lightning storm. Apparently tanker trucks full of Jet A-1 and sudden bolts of electrified plasma don’t mix. Bored businessmen relieved the tedium with an impromptu indoor cricket match using crumpled office paper as a ball and a bat made from a rolled-up copy of the Australian Financial Review. Virgin Blue made good with $6 food vouchers.

Once airborne, though, the sight of a freshly rain-washed Sydney Airport was magnificent. The late afternoon sunlight glistened off the tarmac. Singapore Airline’s new Airbus A380 sat at the international terminal like a shiny fat guppy. Sydney’s southern suburbs, a pattern of red-tiled roofs, looked almost acceptable, homely even. A Millennium Train snaked its way, with its bluntly rounded yellow ends looking vaguely like some grub in search of a fresh leaf to chew.

Not long after that the pilot broke the bad news. Our track would take us further south, across the Great Australian Bight. No view of the Nullarbor for me.

But an hour or so later, I caught a familiar sight. The Coorong, with the long, gentle curve of Ninety Mile Beach. Nearer lay Lake Alexandrina and the mouth of the Murray River.

Here was my unexpected treat! A view of my homeland, south of Adelaide, not during a low-altitude approach for a City of Churches landing, but from a grand perspective 11km up.

The whole Fleurieu Peninsula is stretched out before me, the ancient, eroded fault lines clearly visible. There is the freeway through the Adelaide Hills. There’s McLaren Vale, home of the most excellent Coriole Winery. There in the distance is The Bluff, the lumpy hill near Victor Harbor where I used to sit for hours watching the Southern Ocean merge into storm clouds, endlessly varied shades of grey — a fine cure for depression if there ever was one.

There’s Rapid Bay, with its peaceful beach lined with Norfolk Island pines, and the limestone-loading jetty where as a child I use to catch crabs.

There’s the beach just down from Yankalilla where lie the sand dunes in which I shared the most beautifully sensual lovemaking one summer’s sunset.

Ah, memories… Another sip of cab merlot.

Sadly there are no photos because the only camera I have is the phone and, well, I can’t turn it on because as we all know one little telephone will cause the airliner to plunge to a fiery doom.

Kangaroo Island is stretched out across the southern horizon. A scrubby coastline which once took me three days to hike as a moderately fit teenager is compressed into little more than a finger’s width.

As we cross Gulf St Vincent and approach the little country town of Edithburg, what is that little island of which I was previously unaware? And why don’t I know about that wind farm? From this altitude its massive white towers are just a regular grid of little tick-marks against the khaki farmland.

And then it’s into terra incognita, past the Italianate boot of Yorke Peninsula and into Spencer Gulf. Towards Port Lincoln and vague memories of tuna fisherman Dean Lukin winning gold for weightlifting — and were there drug allegations? But now everything is enveloped in cloud, figuratively and literally.

I return to watching Sky News. The National Farmers Federation tell me that workplace reform is essential. The election campaign continues unabated on Foxtel, even at 11 thousand metres. Cabernet merlot is good, for many reasons.

7 Replies to “A Meditation at 11,700 metres, 719km/h”

  1. I’m sorry, I flat out don’t believe you.

    Your only camera is a phone, and a phone that doesn’t have a flight mode at that? Tosh and nonsense. How could Pong let you get away with not having at least a modest real camera? How could a sophisticated urbane media-whore^H^H^H^H^Hsavvy gentleman such as yourself not have a phone with a flight mode?

    I call shennanigans.

  2. @Zhasper: Before you “call shennanigans” (interesting that that archaic phrase has lurched into currency) you probably need to ask whether I was aware that “offline mode” on a phone means “transmitters turned off”, and indeed whether I’ve bothered spending time exploring all those ill-named options.

    If Nokia still called it “flight mode” (and I’d noticed it), I might have guessed that it was somehow useful on an aircraft. However the only time I’d seen “offline mode” was turning the phone on after having dropped it and the SIM card was loose. So I’d associated “offline mode” with “something’s broken”.

    I’m not quite sure what ’Pong has to do with me having a camera or not.

    I guess this is further support for the argument that I need a tame 15-year-old. To keep me informed. Yes, I can read manuals and experiment myself — but it still is a lot quicker (for me) if someone else wastes all that time finding the answer and just tells me.

  3. Singapore Airline’s new Airbus A380 sat at the international terminal like a shiny fat guppy.

    Guppy is pretty much what I thought of when I saw it too, although it also reminds me a bit of a Beluga (the mammalian Beluga, not the piscatorean one) for some reason.

    My point is though, that it was looking very guppy-like again when I was at the airport a few weeks ago… and on Sunday night, I’ll be inside it on the way back to Sydney, whee!

  4. Sumptuous 🙂 More when pics are uploaded and blogged. The extra few inches in both seat pitch and width made a huge difference, the USB port for charging of accessories (and storage of the documents you laboriously edited in StarOffice via the IFE) is tres chic, the magic power socket that takes any plug and keeps your laptop running is magical. The bigger screen makes the IFE really, really nice — the language courses are actually useful instead of being blurry and illegible!

    Then there’s the little touches, like having, as well as the standard spotlight from the roof of the plane, a more personal reading light set on the bottom of the IFE screen, so it illuminates just your lap without blinding half the other passengers…

    Next time I fly to the US, I think I’ll be trying for an A380 flight – the extra hassle of having to go through the Armpit of the US (as my airline industry friends refer to LAX), have your luggage stolen, and then transfer to SFO — totally worth it for having a flight over that isn’t cramped and uncomfortable.

    Also, Changi airport rocks. Spent a nice 45 minutes relaxing in the pool there after checking in yesterday.

    Bloggery forthcoming.

  5. @zhasper: It certainly sounds like the Airbus A380, at least in Singapore Airlines’ configuration, is a return to the idea of air travel being a luxurious experience rather than a bus with wings. I await you further reports eagerly — and start pondering my own next travel experience.

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