Tuesday 29 November 2011


For those of you who don't have access to UK television, I need to explain that, currently, there is a programme airing called "Pan Am". It is a serial telling the tales of Stewardesses who worked for the Airline in the sixties. I don't watch it, myself, because I wouldn't want to deal with the nostalgia it would engender. "Nostalgia"? you inquire. Well, yes, Dear Reader: nostalgia because I worked for Pan Am, not in the sixties, in the fifties. Nor as a Stewardess because, in those days, American nationals, only, were employed to fly. However,I did fly. I accompanied children under twelve who were travelling alone, but I was not a fully fledged trolley dolly. An introductory documentary went out a week or so before the fictional programme and that I did watch. I can't think why the sixties, not the fifties, were treated as the starting point, but there you are, people of my age are used to invisibility. In that era, I remember we all had our hearing tested so the degree could be registered before the arrival of the new Jet engines and comparisons made if we complained, subsequently, of problems. As ground staff we worked in huts alongside the A4. I did shifts of two twelve hour days, two twelve hour nights and four days off. Accompanying minors was ad hoc so there was always a passport, a tooth brush and some clean underwear in my handbag. I learned a lot from the experience. Much that has kept its operational value more than fifty years hence. The area boss was American. I can hear his voice, still, even if I can't reproduce the accent. "You may have answered the phone a hundred times. The passenger has only rung once", to curb impatience. The current series and the reports of real-life experiences which are running alongside it in the papers, makes much of the requirement for Stewardesses to wear corsets. That didn't pertain to us on the ground but the dress requirements were just as stringent. "The passenger doesn't know, he doesn't care if you are wearing your pants (knickers, to us on this side of the Pond), but WHERE IS YOUR HAT?". And, of course, a corset in the air. In the end, I accepted that such an item would have to sqeeze in to my bag as well as me in to it if I were to go on doing the babysitting trips. By the time the skies were opened to non-Americans, I was engaged to be married and that was verboten for Stewardesses. But I do confess, in the interests of interest, these days occasionally to leaving out the Ground Staff bit and letting it be assumed that I was a total trolley dolley. Mea Culpa!

What a different world it was! Day shifts started at 7.30am. To get to London Airport from where I lived in North london was not possible on Public Transport that early.I used to take a train to a station called Gunnersbury Park on an over-head railway line and walk from there to a roundabout which no longer exists. I would stand at a 'bus stop which no 'bus served until after 8am and wait for a lift. It never failed: in five years it never failed. Standing in my blue uniform, hat on, all correct, I would be rescued by any number of high-flying gentlemen, or, anyway, their chauffeurs under instruction, and wafted to work in the back of Bentleys, Rolls Royces and even open-topped MGs on a summer's day, hat off and hair flying and no acknowledgement of how these gentlemen may have liked their kindness to be compensated. Would you let your daughter risk that these days? Of course you wouldn't. How innocent I, myself, managed to be. Even over-nighting with the crew on baby-accompanying trips I went singularly to bed after a glorious time in whatever hotel bar. Honest: I did. Thinking back to the last blog post and the lady in the advert who wished she'd had more sex, I absolutely cannot believe I passed up on the high-jinks the TV programme insists we had. Even some low-jinks wouldn't go amiss in to-days'situation. My immediate boss had worked for Imperial Airways. She is still with us, not I fear, computer literate so I shall print this off and send it to her, assuring her, although I am not wearing a hat, I am sporting the other unseen item of clothing. Bora da.


Anonymous said...

It is always a pleasure--a serious pleasure--to read something that brings the past to life for those who, for good reason, know only the present. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

How encouraging to know you are still "grounded" and not yet "airborne"!!