The last day of power for the series. It’s done! Finished! What a privilege to have been able to do these programmes, collect so many stamps in my passport and meet so many fantastic and inspiring people. Just had the final flight (42nd in the last ten months) and am now back home and able to shake my head and get back to normal life!
So since I’ve finished the trips for this series, and this is my last blog entry, I am going to talk about flying. Flying is something we’ve had to do a lot and has been (theoretically) a taboo subject during the actual making of the series. Statistically, according to planecrashinfo.com which runs an accident database 1989-2008, the odds of being killed in a single flight on a commercial jetliner in the top 25 world airlines is 1 in 13.57million.
To helpfully put this into perspective, there were coincidentally 13.57million mobile phone users registered in the entire Czech Republic as of Dec 2008 (78,876 sqaure kilometres in size, 115th biggest country in the world with 10million people living there) so I guess that means if you buy a phone in the Czech Republic – the odds on your phone being the only one to blow up in the entire country on any given day – are the same as you having a serious mishap on a plane. Whether that helps you grasp the odds or not; it is fair to say that you can safely assume you are taking a fairly low risk in boarding a plane (probably more helpful statistic is that you have the same chance as winning the UK jackpot lottery – all six numbers matching – as you do dying in a plane crash). Whilst I’m on it – the odds of a random person dying as a result of a shark attack in their lifetime are apparently 300million to 1 whereas the odds of someone in the UK dying as a result of a car accident are only 8000 to 1 – which, if definitley true, is frankly implying getting in a car or going near a road and surviving is almost like a failed suicide attempt.
Having said that, the nail biting terror of being trapped in an aluminum tube flying through the air at night – at about 600mph and 39,000 feet, somehow can’t be ignored – no matter how irrational. If you pick one of the commercial airlines in the bottom 25 of the league of accidents, you are slicing your odds of being killed to 1 in 1.13million. That somehow doesn’t seem so big. There are a million millimeters in a kilometer and although a millimeter is very small – a kilometer doesn’t seem that far. Sadly 45% of plane accidents occur at landing which means, if you are a nervous flyer, you have to deal with your terror right up until the final moment of the journey – and if you see a twitch in the pilot’s eye as you board the plane, try not to remember that 50% of accidents are down to pilot error.
Luckily, Iberia have a couple of moves to numb all feeling – these are chiefly by using a really old plane that has tiny seats so you can’t feel your legs after the first 40minutes or so, to the extent that you become so uncomfortable that you are desperate to get off the plane and almost begin not to care if it is during mid flight. Secondly, they also have considerately one tiny TV screen per 200 passengers which is fixed on a distant ceiling in one of the economy cabins. Whilst in flight entertainment might not be your chief concern, on Iberia, it is. On our return flight, they showed a kids movie they had shown on the flight out, and then followed this with a classic Michael Caine movie – not just once, but three times. This was the same movie over and over again, just in case any passenger may have missed a subtle nuance in the complex plot line of a singing Jamaican/Scottish rebel (Billy Connolly) on a mission to save a fictional island from developers who want to pump pure mineral water from it, build a bottling plant, and exploit the commercial rights of the island away from the locals. Michael Caine is a Brit on the island who does his thing to say the day – and help the guitar playing rebel.
Brilliant – I watched all three showings. Everyone was transfixed – will they actually show this movie again and how many times can they fit it in during one flight. Maybe the Captain was having a bet with his friends – all Iberia flights that night were embroiled in some bizarre competition to see who could show the same 1980s film the most times. Who knows. What it does do is numb the mind of each passenger and they don’t care about anything. To the extent that even huge amounts of alcohol wouldn’t have the same mind numbing effect – just as well because whereas BA have cut down on cabin crew, Iberia don’t seem to have any after takeoff so getting any form of beverage or service is impossible. Marc tested this theory and after a sweep of the plane to get some help for an electrical fault with his light (?!) and not finding anyone, he pushed his flight attendant button pushed for five hours – no cigar.
The best bit about the journey home though was the last leg. BA for the final flight of all. Madrid to London. Yes, they did once again lose all our bags – but that is standard fare through Madrid, nor did this journey stand out because one of the ground crew helpfully drove a vehicle into the side of our plane delaying us for three hours – no problem, we were going home, had delays everywhere, not a bother after an all night flight across the stormy Atlantic. We were strong – lions of the documentary film making nature – despite only being able to see spots through our eyes with fatigue and exhaustion. The absolute best stand out bit of this flight was the BA pilot. A hero who single handedly restored the faith of flying with the flagship British (almost) airline.
Just before takeoff he considerately explained that it was going to be very rough to get above the clouds due to high winds – but after that – it would be fine. It takes 1 hour 40min to fly from Madrid to London. So he was telling us that the first half of the journey would be a bit bumpy – but after that we’d have no problems on the home straight. So we started to takeoff with complete faith in our considerate pilot. As we approached the end of the runway, the plane skewed sideways – twice. It was okay, he could handle it. We lifted off at a tilt and proceeded to surge through the clouds being shaken to pieces. All good – our pilot was the man that can – he was prepared for the challenge . We were ready as he had told us it would be rough. But, as we reached altitude and the seat belt sign came off and everyone breathed a sigh of relief we hit –turbulence.
Not the sort of little bumps you normally get every now again, we are talking the real deal. The plane shaking, dropping, dipping, and battling to keep itself going onwards and upwards. As the air stewardess at the back of the plane shrieked – always reassuring – the team and I clamped down hard on our armrests and wondered if the show was meant to be. Then, just as a sense of despairing acceptance settled over the passengers – the captain came back on the comm.:
‘Ladies and Gentlemen, don’t be alarmed. This is what we call clear air turbulence and is perfectly normal. Imagine yourself in a boat going over choppy water – it is just like that. We will try to rise above it and get out of it shortly. Apologies for the discomfort but everything should be alright.’
Aside from assuming the Captain was into power boating – one of the most dangerous sports on earth – and was therefore used to going over choppy water at speeds in excess of 200mph in a tiny plastic speedboat– we deduced he had pretty good reflexes and aside from the use of the word ‘should’ he sounded relaxed. I loved him as much as I could love a strange man I have never met at that point. John Smith was his name – can’t get more English than that – and with typical British stiff upper lip – which only we can do -we were shaken from our reverie of despair.
Undoubtedly had one of the engines been on fire, Captain Smith would have told us it was perfectly normal and not to worry, as he would have done so he had been leading us into battle and told us to charge a machine gun turret during the second world war – the bullets may sting a bit lads but you’ll be fine – but for some reason I think we’d actually have charged if he told us to and and we also believed at that moment, without a shadow of a doubt, he would get us home safe and sound. True to his word – he managed it. What would the final journey be without a bit of drama. We even got a packet of peanuts for lunch which for BA is cause for hardcore celebration.
And so, having been seated cozily next to Adam for nearly 15 hours, I arrived in Heathrow without bags and in good spirits for the last time in this series. What an amazing experience it has been and thank you to Sky for the opportunity, to Redearth for taking the chance on me and to all the inspirational people I’ve met along the way. I’ve loved working with all the wonderful animals I’ve met these last ten months – not mention the tight knit team of Marc, Adam, Simon, Scottie and Nathan/Lupe/Chai/Narender Carr – who really isn’t an Armenian orphan and really does have a family – on the VetAdevnture team.
Some of the times have been very sad when things haven’t quite worked out for an animal, despite the best efforts of all involved, and I won’t ever forget those moments, but unfortunately those times depict the struggles that the amazing people who run animal shelters and sanctuaries around the world have to go through. This series will hopefully depict the nature of their work, pay tribute to them and show what they have to endure to champion animal welfare in tough environments. The world would be a much poorer place without them or their organizations for sure and it has been a privilege to visit them and meet them.
These people battle against the odds and make a difference for animals that have no one else to turn to – and not just that, they often help the people and communities that depend on animals for their livelihoods as well. I sincerely hope that the programmes capture that and the series does them justice – who knows, the next bit is out of my hands, but I know the film crew have all been touched by many of the cases they have been involved with on the shoots and they all care deeply about what the charities we have worked with do. It has been a winner and thanks to everyone who has put up with a whirlwind TV crew invading their lives over the last ten months. As for WVS – the introductions and opportunities for the charity to help so many new worthy causes has soared and it will be a staunch supporter of all those I’ve worked with for the long term.
Life now is back to business. Can’t pretend I am not incredibly happy to be home for more than two weeks at a time again, can be there for Cordelia and Noah – especially with the next baby due in Feb – very exciting. Noah’s birthday party this weekend so a good chance to get high on helium balloons which is never not funny no matter what anyone pretends – and to cap it all, it’s my five year wedding anniversary tomorrow so according to the traditional anniversary gifts that means giving wood – things are definitely looking up (I know but last gag of the blog so let it go). Roll on 2010 and let’s see what happens!
Very best wishes to you and yours,
The first five programmes of ‘The World Wild Vet’ series are due to be screened weekly on Sky One at 7pm starting Sunday 28th Feb. Hope you like them.