It was one of these weeks when I saw it. The experience they wanted seemed exactly what I had to offer. The money offered was enough, and the location was certainly unusual. Vanuatu, a developing country in the south Pacific, about one thousand miles north of New Zealand, formerly called the New Hebrides. This was a description I was destined to give many times in the future.
The job interview took place in early December, and my initial acceptance was just before Christmas. The wheels grind exceeding slow, and it was May before I said goodbye to my old colleagues, and set off on the great adventure of a journey to the other side of the world.
As we checked in at the last minute, it was obvious that we were not the average package tour or holiday-making family. As the check-in staff picked up the baggage and groaned under its weight, they put heavy-warning tags onto them. As they worked through our alarmingly large amount of hold baggage, the claims on the tags got more and more extravagant. 30kg was reasonably accurate for one of them; the tags declaring 40kg and 60kg were certainly at least half fiction. Anyhow, we managed to board the flight. I don't remember much about the actual flight, I am sorry to say. We just managed to carry our luggage away at Gatwick. While waiting for the courtesy bus, I discovered that a small glass jar in my pocket had broken on the way. I found out because my hand was bleeding. Fortunately, it was not a serious wound, though it did remind me of the importance of insurance.
We had been urged to spend the last couple of nights away from home to relax for the journey. It didn't quite work out like that, as friends and relatives between them received invitations to a farewell party at the Gatwick Penta on the Saturday night. My parents caught a Dan-Air flight from Manchester and my wife's parents caught a different Dan-Air flight from Manchester. Both sets of parents caught the same flight back afterwards. Friends from around the London area arrived variously by car and train. Almost all needed to be met. After the farewell meal, and cabaret from a pianist at the hotel, featuring Bali Hai, Happy Talk, Far away places with strange sounding names among others, it was nearly time to bid farewell to the friends. Family members were staying at the hotel and would be seeing us off on the big aeroplane the next afternoon.
The flight left on time, the service was good, the meal was good, and nothing seemed too much trouble. The sheepskins on the seats in Pacific and First Class made the journey much more comfortable, too. One unusual feature of Air New Zealand's in- flight entertainment is a thing called Airshow. When the screen at the front of the cabin has nothing better to show, a series of maps and figures show the route taken, the time to the destination, present position and so forth. It is a simple idea, but the programming of the system must have taken some considerable time. It often indicates a long distance to the nearest landmark of any significance, especially when flying over the Pacific.
The flight to Los Angeles is long, and not particularly interesting. I spent some of the time eating, drinking, reading, sleeping, watching the film. All these are things one expects to do on a flight, but it is a struggle to do them for enough time. A nosebleed was the only thing to lighten the boredom, but on the whole I think I would rather be bored. It was quite a severe one, partly brought on, I think, by the dry air of a pressurised airliner. By the time we arrived in Los Angeles, it was still only mid-evening.
Immigration seemed a lot smoother in Los Angeles than it had done on the East Coast, probably because there are considerably less international flights arriving.
After a few minutes we collected our baggage and emerged onto the street, and the bright lights and smog of Los Angeles. After a while we found the courtesy bus to take us to the hotel, where we spent four nights. We recovered very quickly from the shock of an eight hour time difference and were able to enjoy the tourist attractions of Los Angeles at the same time.
The following morning I was not in a good state, possibly as a result of the nosebleed on the flight which had caused me to swallow quite a bit of blood. My wife took the opportunity to go on a sightseeing bus tour of Hollywood and the bright lights.
I have no figures to justify the next statement, but as I have been given to understand, more European visitors go to Walt Disney World in Orlando than to Disneyland in Los Angeles. This is probably because it is nearer, and therefore more convenient for them, to say nothing of cheaper. No doubt this will all change with the opening of the new Disney centre just outside Paris. Even so, more of my acquaintances have seen the Los Angeles version. Walt Disney World seems to be more a place to visit, whereas Disneyland is a place to spend time while you are in Los Angeles anyway.
Therefore, I do recommend you to visit Disneyland. It is not nearly so dominated by Mickey and Donald as you might be given to believe. Some of the exhibits are well worth a look, as are the rides, though they seem tame by comparison with European rides. Probably this is because of the traditional American fear, not of heights or gravity forces, but of litigation.
Nevertheless, the item I remember best was an apparently insignificant land-based ride depicting Mr. Toad's journey to Nowhere in Particular from Wind in the Willows. Psychologists tell us that we are more likely to remember something if it appeals to more than one of our senses at once: thinking back this is possibly how I remember this so well, as the last scene depicted hell, and as well as visual and musical images, there was also a distinct heat in the place, as well as a light sulphurous smell. Describing just one thing there in such great detail does, however, detract from the whole of the place.
While in the Los Angeles area, you should also visit Universal Studios, and go on the tram ride round the sets and the special effect attractions. One of the most famous of these is the film set where Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho was filmed, where you can see both the house where Mother lived and what might be the most famous motel in the world, the Bates Motel. Another famous place is the set of a subway station in San Francisco, where an earthquake looks as if it might take place.
Venice Beach is also worth a look if you are in these parts, being a fairly straightforward beach town area, and giving us our first feel of the Pacific.