Saturday, May 28, 2011

Three minutes to die...

I'm one of those morose flyers. Or maybe I'm the only one who asks, and ponders the answers to, obvious questions posed when one is 20,000 feet in the air, in a steel tube that, like the humble bumble bee, shouldn't be able to fly at all and has no business being in such a damn stupid place.

I went to Auckland to take photos for a school's new website. We had rainy Auckland weather on Thursday, but Friday played ball and the sun shone brightly for most of the day. I might muse (in a good way) about teachers and children in another entry, but I have to say I had a great time with great adults and completely adorable year one to eight children.

Dean had already warned me about the distinctive, and unsettling thump thump thump sound of the regular hydraulic test that takes place generally during the flight attendant's safety demonstration. I listened for it, but didn't hear it.

And what's that safety demonstration about? Most people listen but take none of it in. If the plane starts to plummet, am I going to be thinking about the life-vest under my bum or the lights along the floor guiding me to the emergency exit? I don't think so. The demonstration would be a lot more effective if they just said "in case of an emergency, just look for Jen, the cute chubby flight manager, and do what she says"!

But as I shuddered beyond the point of certain death if anything went wrong (which is what? two, three, five hundred feet?) in the belly of one of Jetstar's A320s, I wiled away the time asking the obvious questions.

Anyway, we were about 500 feet up when the first question jumped into my mind: What are the chances of survival if the wing fell off right now? I figured about 30%, but with 100% chance of serious disfigurement and/or life in a coma.

I took a few snaps but the City was cloud-bound and the Sky Tower was just a pin sticking up into the sky.

A few minutes later, as we pulled into the cloud cover, there's really only one relevant question. What happens if some other A320 is floundering blind in this same cloud formation? And is mistakenly on OUR flightpath? Would the pilot have time to react if suddenly another plane came sailing through the cumulus?

Of course he wouldn't. So the next obvious question is: How instant would death be if another plane slammed into this one? Would my whole body just explode in a fireball and I would feel nothing? Or would time slow down just enough for me to feel the full effects of the burning and exploding? Knowing my luck, that's more likely

Of course, I assumed, there are at least a dozen or so people all around the country - in the cockpit, in Auckland Air Traffic Control, Christchurch Air Traffic Control, and probably a few smaller Air Traffic Control centres along the way - all dedicated to keeping me and this plane completely safe in the air, and by and large out of the direct path of other planes.

But what if they're all idiots? What are the chances the whole ATC system is staffed by idiots? Morons? Pretty slim. I know some of the controllers, and they're not idiots at all. Phew.

But... they don't all need to be idiots. Realistically there only needs to be one idiot on duty to secure disaster at my expense. One idiot, like those ATCs we heard about recently in the US who fell asleep while they were supposed to be directing planes? What if one of THEM is in control of this plane???

There's something reassuring and calming about breaking out of the cloud. I had asked myself what if the whole way to Christchurch will be in thick cloud. Does that increase the chances of a mid-air collision?

So when we break through the cloud, I think now, at least, the pilot can see if there are any other planes in the vicinity, specifically ones that will imminently smash into us.

But being above the clouds means we're pretty high now. What? 3000 feet? Who knows such things? Hopefully the pilots do. How high are the clouds, normally? Does it differ according to conditions? Maybe we were at 10000 feet. No idea.

The idea I did have, however, was: Surely now there's zero chance of survival of the wing fell off.

Which leads to the next logical question. Failing an instant death by explosion and fireball, what happens in those two, five or ten minutes (however long) it takes for the intact but wingless plane to plummet to the ground? Is it a mayhem of screaming and confessions, like in the movies? Or subconscious scrambling for the life-vest because somewhere you remember hearing there's a life-vest under your seat. But what the hell good is a life-vest going to be if you slam into the ocean at terminal velocity? Perhaps there's a lot of stoic arm-rest grabbing silence waiting for the inevitable.

So, once we're cruising above the clouds, though, time for a little relaxation. Wings intact; clear visibility with no planes in sight. What can go wrong? Time for a few photos.

So then I get preoccupied with catching the sun as it slips below the clouds on the horizon. Moderate success.

But that raises the flying in cloud questions, except now we're flying in complete darkness. Well, almost. What's the visibility like up front? Just how far can you see those little flashing lights from? Hmm?

And then there's the landing. Isn't take-off and landing the most dangerous time of the flight? I can't imagine that's true, but I've heard it somewhere.

So then we're in the clouds and it's dark. Does that double the collision chances? Is that one idiot ATC on duty right now in Christchurch?

Apparently not. Or at least he/she managed to do her job without dozing off, it seems. We landed safely and on time.

Thankfully, I don't fly very often. I can't handle the stress.

Monday, May 16, 2011

It's funny what makes you smile...

With all the despair and destruction around, sometimes you forget the little things that are right with the world. So it's funny what makes me smile these days.

On the way home from dropping Josh at school, I caught tiny wee scurrying movement out of the corner of my eye (I'm good like that). So I stopped and watched again. More scurrying. Tiny and brown. Nestled under a tree, hiding ... well, not hiding really, just sitting there, daring me to come closer. So I did. Ever so slowly. I had my phone with me. Of course, I did, it's attached to me.

If evolution is true (which it's pretty much not), humans will one day be BORN with phones as part of their inner-ear structure.

Anyway, I took a few snaps of the little brown scurrier.

And for some reason I just had to smile.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Down Town

I don't think people who are not from Christchurch understand. Actually, I'm not sure people who are from Christchurch understand, but at least they have the beginnings of understanding just what has happened to us and our city. The photo above is of Colombo Street, the main street that runs through the CBD.

Michael Laws basically said on RadioLive yesterday that adults in Christchurch should get over themselves and harden up. I wouldn't expect much else from that priggish boor. The reality is most of us are hardening up. We're generally less spooked by the aftershocks. We've been to most of the funerals. We only get one or two 5+ earthquakes a month, now.

But it's not the aftershocks that are bothering many people. What bothers me is the saturation of despair and destruction. Even though my suburb and home is relatively unscathed, I cannot drive anywhere without being reminded that so much of our city is in ruins. And the closer you get to the Red Zone, the more stark the reminder.

This is how much of the inner city looks, and this after it's been tidied up. There are nice piles of brick and rubble everywhere, cleanly cut open spaces where shops and cafes used to be. The glass has been swept up and buildings on the verge of falling down have been propped up.

Petula Clark sung Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city... The dominant tunes in the Red Zone are jackhammers and rumbling diesel engines. There are few cars, except those driven by neon-vested officials or those still crushed in the rubble (although I did read somewhere that all of the cars had been removed from the inner city?).

There is lots of talk in Heritage circles of mourning cherished buildings. Probably it's not so much the buildings they are mourning but rather what the buildings mean to them.

We all have - had - special places down town that may no longer exist.

The Savoy Brown (directly under the tree above) had taken on a special status for me. It was a funky little place at the top (bottom?) end of High Street. At least the building is still standing, and in true Christchurch style there are moves afoot to keep at least the facades of these buildings.

Keep it or not, it will be a year before anybody can go near the place. I wonder if we'll ever get to sip latte there again. I've taken a few photos inside The Savoy Brown. I wish I'd taken more. In fact, I had planned to. It had a particular little room that I loved to be in. There was something romantic about it. It screamed PHOTOSHOOT! to me every time I lounged in the leather chairs and sucked in the tacky 70s decor. I'm glad I got the photos I did.

But alas, it's probably gone. Unless the Heritage people win a small victory. But it won't be the same. The owners may have moved on, gone bankrupt, sold up, or died. Who knows.

So, too, for much of the inner city. I have friends who own a cafe on Hereford Street. It will be October before they can even go back into the place. The chances of actually re-opening are pretty slim.

The Grand Chancellor leans over Cashel Street, mocking us all. Will it fall or won't it.

It probably won't. It'll be knocked down. Like Manchester Courts The Grand Chancellor will be a sticking point for months, maybe years, because even after it comes down it will generate controversy. Already the property developers, the lawyers, and the construction company executives are rubbing their hands together. It will be boom time for them in the coming years.

Meanwhile, I still have to find a new haunt to sip latte.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Subway Takes Cake

I know this particular theme goes round and round, so much so that whenever we see evidence we just roll our eyes. But it is perhaps indicative of how entrenched our cynicism is, or how successfully we've been duped by marketing and advertising gurus. Or both.

Hugh and I went to Subway for lunch. He had vouchers. The new "Smokin' BBQ Chicken" looked gooooood. Well, in the poster, anyway.

What's wrong with this picture?

Sorry about the size of the photo...the Subway website only had a small picture of their new Smokin' Hot BBQ Chicken sandwich. Probably because they're ashamed. Or afraid someone might compare the real thing with the picture.

This is advertising 101 isn't it. We know that the real thing will never in a million years look anything like the sandwich in the poster. Yet, we order it anyway. And we're still disappointed when, instead of the plump, colourful healthy looking food we're "promised", we get the limp, sad looking squidge of soggy bread, watery chicken and... well, the cucumber wasn't bad.

Why do we put up with this again? Or is it simply a function of modern life that we accept it and roll our eyes when someone points it out?

What does the Advertising Standards Authority say about such things. Obviously I'll have to Google it now and check. Thing is, it's all around us, but it seems to only apply to food. If I put up a photo of a brand new Mustang, but was in fact selling an old clunker car with rust, dents and half the engine missing, I'm thinking surely there'd be room for a complaint. Definite case of misleading and deceptive advertising.

So why are the fast food chains allowed to get away with it? Because I've seen similar things done with hamburgers, tacos, and chicken.

Anyway, I'm off to Google the ASA.