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December 17th, 2003

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10:04 pm - 100 Not Out
daweaver has been organising InMoSiQue, a sort of "Daily December One" analogue to the Friday Five. Today's question, celebrating the obvious centenary of Wilbur and Orville's achievement, is to my taste: can you recall your first flight?


I wouldn't use a lj-cut just for that (lie) so I'll tell you what I can clearly remember. I can recall sitting in an airport terminal, watching the clock, waiting for the numbers to turn over. It may well have been the first time I had stayed up extremely late; I distinctly recall looking forward to the first digit of the clock flipping over from the 2 of 2359 to the 0 of 0000. (I have a suspicion that at the time I felt it had to go through to 2459 before going to 0000, but this makes no sense.)

I also distinctly recall that the clock used what is technically known as a Solari board to display the numbers; these are the big flippy boards where all the possible values that can be shown on the board are on a sequence of panels, and to change the display from one panel to another, the board must rattle-flip through all the panels in between, offering you a tantalising glimpse of what else is on offer. This pic is worth a thousand words, featuring a nice mix of letter-per-panel, digit-per-panel and destination-per-panel options.

(Digressing further, people who are numbers geeks - specifically, number display geeks rather than mathematics geeks - may enjoy learning the term "nixie tube" as much as I recently did; the pictures immediately summoned memories of a parituclarly friendly sort of greengrocer's electronic weighing scale from my youth. Not nearly as reliable or practical as seven-segment display LEDs, let alone LCDs, but somehow glorious, elegant and nostalgic. The younger, more American half of my Friends list will likely not have a clue why granddad is babbling on here, but it takes me back to my childhood. Ahem.)

For further details, I have had to use a lifeline and ask the parents, but if InMoSiQue has inspired a friendly discussion that I otherwise might not have had then it has done a good thing. This flight would have been in Easter of 1979, when I was about 3½ years old. Some friends owned a holiday home in Menorca, one of the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean off the East Coast of Spain. While living in the North-East of England, we flew from "an airport near Coventry" (which I guess is probable to translate to what we now know as Birmingham International) to the island for a week or two. It was extremely windy. I can remember being bought an extremely large dummy, which I hated; I can remember a Spanish supermarket (playing Abba's "Money, Money, Money") where the milk bottle tops were unfamiliar colours; I can remember an extremely good cloth bag of glass marbles. Most strongly of all I can remember the Solari board in the Spanish airport lounge, though.

The next time I flew would have been in the summer of '86 or '87 on the family holiday to stay with relatives in the USA - specifically, near Winchester, VA. We flew with TWA, as was, to IAD Washington Dulles; the airline meal was atrocious, though I have acquired rather a taste for them since. The in-flight entertainment was similarly many times weaker than what we know now. I can recall that the passengers whooped and cheered as the aeroplane landed smoothly and that the air crew were generously tipped by most as we left. These happened in both directions and neither has ever happened again to me since then. I am not sorry to see TWA's demise.

Over the hundred years, the cost of intercontinental flight has come down from the order of a annual salaries to the cost of a good lawyer for an hour. Since then, it's come down further still; I haven't talked about this in the past because it may well not come to fruition, but by the family collecting sufficient coupons from a particularly obnoxious newspaper, I have the opportunity to fly to the USA and back for free.

Of course, there are lots of catches, for TANSTAAF intercontinental flight, let alone a lunch. I will still have to pay taxes, landing fees, airport charges and the like; £60. Furthermore, there's not much choice by way of destination (ATL, BOS, one of the NYCs or IAD) and you don't get to choose when to fly. Instead, you select three destinations and three sets of dates; hopefully you might get lucky, but they will probably offer alternatives instead on a take/leave basis. There's nothing to say that they haven't sent out 20,000 vouchers and will only actually be offering 200 free seats, so my hopes are not too high.

The conditions are that I must fly out between 3rd January and (effectively) 31st March, I must stay for a Saturday and I must return by 30th April. I'm also invited to add other passengers, fly further in the USA, fly from somewhere non-London in the UK and to buy their insurance, all of which are distinctly non-free.

Nevertheless, the chance to save some hundreds of pounds on a short intercontinental break is one that has got to be worth at least trying for. If LiveJournal has brought me anything it has brought lots of lovely friends in the US who it would be great to get to see again. Bearing in mind that I don't drive and I would be looking for "somebody's floor"-style accommodation, I brazenly ask the obvious question. Should I get lucky in the dates-and-places lottery, are any of you lovely folk in a position to kindly offer me crash space?

First geographic choice would be to travel to Boston where I know several gamers and a fair number of _witchinghour_ people. Super-optimistic first temporal choice would include the weekend of Friday January 16th to Monday January 19th (say, Tuesday 13th to Tuesday 20th?) in order to cross off ambition #35 by going to MIT for their Mystery Hunt. This is probably one of the coldest time-and-place combinations available and so likely to be relatively unpopular, but the offer is very clear about just how little promise it makes; even buying the spare capacity that nobody else will take must cost them close to a hundred pounds per seat, so I'll take whatever they can offer.

It's also convenient that the US dollar is right now as inexpensive to purchase with British pounds sterling as it has been since September '92; the last time you could get $1¾ for £1 was at about the time of Black Wednesday, with British interest rates at 10% (peaking at 15%) compared to today's 3¾%. (Source: FXHistory, an amazing, underappreciated historical currency exchange rate data site.) Hopefully the company will be buying the flights from the airlines in cheap US$. Good news for Europeans travelling to the USA; poor news for the other way around.

Other cheap flight news: Thomsonfly.com are a new low-cost UK airline based at Coventry Airport serving traditional sun'n'fun destinations from Spring 2004; the (Glasgow) Evening Times report Air Omega UK will serve flights from Prestwick and possibly some other London-Scotland routes. There's apparently the suggestion that my local Teesside might see some service along the way, but I find it tricky to imagine the Middlesbrough-to-Ayr route being a crowd-pleaser. I suppose there's always the possibility of using Prestwick as a no-frills hub, but relying on two no-frills airlines to work properly is rolling dice for the fun of it. There was also suggestion on August 21 that Air Omega UK was previously considered and rejected, but hopefully the Evening Times news is more accurate as well as more up-to-date.

I have a related question about which I'd like to poll only those living in Europe but not living in the UK. As well as those on the continent, if you live in the Republic of Ireland, the Isle of Man or Iceland - the latter picked as a non-EU example - then you're in; it's only those in the UK and those who aren't in Europe who are out of this one.

Poll #221859 For non-UK Europeans only, please

For non-UK Europeans only, please: for which of these places can you think of a reason to visit?

Tees Valley
A hundred years ago, a miracle. Today, international travel for less than the cost of a restaurant meal. Whatever would Wilbur and Orville have said?
Current Mood: celebratory
Current Music: G. Glitter - ding ding ding ding ding Another RockNRoll Xmas

(13 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:December 17th, 2003 02:11 pm (UTC)
I have an utterly crap futon that you can crash on if you end up in Boston. I'll be frantically preparing for the semester right about then, so if you don't mind twitchy graduate students, feel free. Just let me know. :)
[User Picture]
Date:December 17th, 2003 02:54 pm (UTC)
*squeal* Many thanks for your offer! Hugely appreciated. :-)

I'll see if I can work out some way so that you don't need to put up with me for a full week, or if I don't get the times I'm after and they end up offering me times when you're not available, or so on.
[User Picture]
Date:December 17th, 2003 04:11 pm (UTC)
Well, I'm not offering for her, but Irina lives about 3 blocks from me. She might be able to take you. :)
[User Picture]
Date:December 17th, 2003 05:54 pm (UTC)
First off - those nixie tubes things are GREAT. :) I want a nixie tube alarm clock! Also, the LIRR (Long Island RailRoad) platforms at Penn Station in NYC have the same type of flippy-boards - the first time I ever saw one, I was 16, and I *still* stood there and watched it for a good twenty minutes. Nearly missed my train, too. :)

Second - I do remember my first flight, as it occurred roughly three days before my first encounter with the Solari board. I was 16, and traveling from Atlanta to NYC to visit my aunt and uncle, who live out on Long Island. It was two weeks of pure Hollywood for me - FAO Schwartz, Tavern on the Green, Broadway, NYU, etc., etc. I've been to NYC many times since, and now I fly roughly every 1-2 months, but that first trip still holds a special place in my heart.

Third - Re: Josie's comments above - I live approximately halfway between Josie and Irina, and have both a futon and an air mattress which you're welcome to use. :) Alas - my best friend from home is coming to visit January 16-20 - but you'd be welcome to stay earlier in the week. I do have three roommates, but they're quite nice. However things work out, I'd love to have the chance to hang out with you - though I can't promise any ducks (other than bronze ones) in January. ;)

Fourth - I have decided that I absolutely need to visit England - more specifically, spend a long weekend in London - and have gotten so far as purchasing several guidebooks on the city, though I have yet to apply for a passport or purchase a plane ticket. :) I'm trying to get a feel for where I should stay/what I should do/if visiting in March or April is really a good idea at all...so any advice you might have, about anything, is greatly appreciated.

Enough from me - I still have holiday cards to write! :)
[User Picture]
Date:December 17th, 2003 09:13 pm (UTC)
First off - those nixie tubes things are GREAT. :)

You should see 'em go. I can remember seeing them make three or four changes a second as you placed your carrots in the scale or took them out and always wondered how the right parts of numbers lit up, rather than getting a bit of a 7, a bit of a 4 and so on.

Solari boards: part of the appeal is the comforting noise they make, too. Admittedly it's technology from the era of the electric typewriter and it's not as nice-looking or as flexible/capable as a good VDU screen, but it's still gorgeous in its openness, what with the possibilities that it opens, the situations you get when some panels have flipped to the right place and others are still flipping and so forth.

First flight: cool! Isn't there one of the smaller NYC airports out on Long Island itself, at the far NE end? (I was discussing small NYC airports with, I think, calliaume some months ago - there's Teterboro and Stewart and a couple more whose names I can't remember... *digs out map* coo, apart from JFK and LGA there's a few of 'em: Republic near Farmingdale, MacArthur near Ronkonkoma and Suffolk County at the far end. Ahem, yes.)

Air mattress: whee, thanks very much indeed for your tremendous offer! All down to whether I get lucky with the voucher, I guess, but I really appreciate you making the offer all the same. :-) Definitely very keen to see the bronze ducks and more!

London: the best place to find London HP fans is t00bage, the constituency of which is a London - Boston - Oxford - Dublin - Luxembourg - Germany - Brighton - Yorkshire mix, but there's certainly a lot of Londoners in there. The weather in Britain will likely be in the 40s to 60s °:F during the day during March and April, down to the 30s to 40s during the night; 5% chance of snow on most March days. Certainly not problematic. We're 10° further North than you are so days in January and February are a little short - other than that, I can't think of a reason why any time would be particularly good or bad to visit.

I would expect return flights to be about $50-$100 cheaper in January and February than they will be in March and another $100 more expensive still around Easter time. Expect the airlines to put out some short-term dirt-cheap deals fairly early in the new year.

Accommodation in London is, alas, expensive; you might get lucky by staying in some student halls if you can hit the vacations between terms. (Here is a list of places I made a couple of years ago, but the International Students House is well-known as well. If you leave it long enough perhaps the first easyDorm will have opened! :-)

Transport in London: underground system perfectly adequate for tourists and moderately expensive; bus system quite confusing but inexpensive. Trains around the south-east of England perfectly adequate for tourists and expensive; coaches rather more sparse but rather less expensive. Food is variable in expense; a London friend has some recommendations. irinaauthor went to London last February, so you could try asking her. This is one of her threads mentioning it - this is another one with some other restaurant and venue recs in as well.

I'm happy to give some more specialised recommendations if you like, but those general ones will do as a start.

I have many cards to write, too. How many have I written tonight? 2. Oh dear. 5am so far and it's going to be a very very late one.
[User Picture]
Date:December 18th, 2003 04:12 pm (UTC)
You are just TOO FABULOUS for words. :) Thank you for all the lovely information, and links! :) I've been thumbing through my guidebooks all day today (well, when I wasn't, you know, *working*), and I'm really very excited about the possibilities. Also, I have more vacation days left than I thought, so I may be able to take a longer trip! :)

Want to say more - but am getting shooed out of office by supervisor. Eeep!
Date:December 17th, 2003 06:34 pm (UTC)

That MIT Hunt is so miserful! I want to play that! That rocks! !!!
[User Picture]
Date:December 18th, 2003 10:16 am (UTC)
Which restaurants do you go to? :-)

You must have had posh greengrocers where you lived. I only remember ours ever having mechanical scales (specifically, the kind that is a bit like a sixth of a circle or thereabouts stood on end with a window through which you can see the numbers and a moving needle), and I don't recall ever having seen a Nixie tube before.
[User Picture]
Date:December 18th, 2003 11:41 am (UTC)
Only one-way international travel - and we're talking Ryanair here, Teesside to Dublin for £0 + taxes, which works out at just over a tenner. It's a rare occasion these days when you can beat that cost for a decent feed at a curry-house. :-)

I can only remember one or two greengrocers with scales using Nixie tubes; I imagine they were expensive and quite probably not terribly reliable. All the same, they looked damn nifty. Perhaps as well as railing at people being too young to remember, you might be too old to have grown up when they were at all affordable for greengrocers? :-)

I know just the sort of weighing scale to which you refer and I wanted one of those too when I was a kid. Specifically, there used to be some scales which had a chart printed in the sector (segment? I think I mean sector) whereby as well as being able to look up the overall mass you could look along the length of the arm of the scale to see how much that mass would cost for various different rates of pence-per-unit-mass. I just liked them because they had loads and loads of numbers. *happy sigh*
Date:December 18th, 2003 11:07 am (UTC)


Oh, the Solari boards. Birmingham New Street station had them until 1999 (I think. Could have been just into 2000.) Most days, at least one of the boards was not quite correct, so we had the prospect of Cross-City trains calling at

Five Ways
Manchester Piccadilly
King's Norton

And so on. Or the trains taking something of a scenic route part way through their journey, such as this one, headed down the Cherwell Valley to Bournemouth.

Birmingham International
Leamington Spa
Southampton Airport Parkway

You don't get that kind of cock-up with the new-fangled plasma screens. Neither can you read these new-fangled plasma screens from as far away. Progress? My backside.
[User Picture]
Date:December 18th, 2003 11:44 am (UTC)

Re: clackclackclackclackclack

You argue both sides of the case simultaneously extremely effectively. :-)

I can recall the airport lounge clock having a Solari board where the hinge was along the vertical axis (just like the scoreboards on Give Us A Clue - with Michael Par-kin-son!) rather than along the horizontal axis (like at train stations).
[User Picture]
Date:January 7th, 2004 07:06 am (UTC)
As I was excavating my inbox today I came across your question! *headdesk*

Unfortunately we are not planning a gathering of TWH people until next fall. And right now - I'm the only main person here (out of Lissa and Amy and I) - but other major volunteers in the area. heart_of_wine, irinaauthor, [Bad username: dezzikitty&apos;> and <lj user=] all live close by - and are all witching hour people.
[User Picture]
Date:January 12th, 2004 03:46 am (UTC)
Thanks! Doesn't look like I'll be there next week (absolute silence from the flight offer promoters) but if they do come up with anything in a coming month then I'll let you know. :-)

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