Wednesday, November 10, 1971. There were issues with going ashore today, after yesterday's events. I think we visited a museum, something like that. Shame on me for this gross memory lapse. As we were flying back from Venice to London the next morning, Thursday 11 November, I guess we packed for disembarkation and the flight.
I'd never been on a aeroplane before. Flight GK 164 was with Laker Airways, a wholly British enterprise, privately owned by Freddie Laker, one of the pioneers in low-cost air-travel. In high spirits, glad to be going home, I jabbered away cheerfully prior to take-off. We were all laughing at the brown paper sick bags at our seats, "spew bags" we called them. We went up and down the aisles getting them autographed. There was nary a blank space on mine; a few boys I'd come to like signed it which was tantamount to saying they loved me!
It was a short flight (3 hours) but I didn't know that when we took off. It'd taken 16 days to reach Venice; for all I knew, it might take that long to fly back! Laker Airways' flights were famous for getting you high fast...that sounds terrible...I mean, for reaching altitude quickly, so as to save fuel costs. Actual take-off was petrifying. I was a little uneasy about the speed reached on the runway but totally shocked by the sense of being thrust back in my seat as we lifted off the ground. The swift upward motion of the aircraft made me feel like we were in a rocket so far back in my seat was I thrust. I was upside-down, facing the stars! I immediately lost hearing in both ears.
Do you recall that I'd discovered my fear of heights when I was on the back of the Santorini mule? Can you imagine my panic now? I couldn't see out of the window because it was stormy but that may've been a good thing, looking back on it. No one warned me that plane engines were noisy and that those noises altered regularly as the captain changed gears. From the moment of take-off I thought something was wrong. "Shouldn't someone be checking the engines?" I thought, looking about anxiously. "They're obviously about to explode." Then the turbulence began. Naturally, I'd never heard of turbulence. All I knew was that the plane was shaking violently and things were falling out of overhead bins. This seemed to go on forever, so long in fact that I started to feel sick. Then the plane shuddered and the engine noises abruptly shifted their timbre. They got even louder: my ears were so painful, I thought they might pop. I tried not to cry. Suddenly, out of the blue, the plane swerved and started going down. "We're going to die!" I wanted to shout but of course I couldn't because I'm English. Now I felt really sick. Oh no, please God, please don't let me be sick. I'd rather die than be sick in front of all these people. I'd been car sick since a baby and was NOTORIOUS as a child for throwing up on people's party dresses. PLEASE don't let me be sick. I reached for my now fabulously signed spew bag -- no, no, not my lovely spew bag -- and had just shaken it open to vomit when there was an almighty thud which shook me to my core. I was suddenly knocked back into my seat. We've crashed, I thought, too scared to throw up. Absolute terror overtook me and I looked around to see if I could follow what everyone else was doing. Which was...NOTHING. No one was doing anything. A voice said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, we've landed safely at London Gatwick airport."
And that was that. We got a coach back to Winchester. It took three days for me to get my ears back. I still believe that group willpower gets a plane off the ground and fervent prayer lands it.