It is always fascinating to get an insight into how others see us. TOWT and I flew to Greece and back, courtesy of Germania airlines – I know, but when you are a pre-tiree and soon to be a retiree you’ve got to cut your cloth accordingly. As an admirer of Tacitus I approved of the airline’s name but, alas, as is the way it seems with anything German these days, the service was not all that it claimed to be.
As I was driving when we landed at Gatwick I was unable to partake liberally of the hooch available at illiberal prices. I was unable to doze and so I watched with growing fascination the flight information screen. In the days before the proliferation of sat navs these screens were often our first exposure to geo mapping software. There is always something deeply comforting to see the enormously out of scale aircraft cutting a trajectory to your anticipated destination. You are reassured that you have got on the right plane and that the captain has a vague notion of the directions.
And then of course the map helpfully points out some of the major conurbations you could see if you were near a window, it wasn’t dark or land was not obscured from your vision by a bank of clouds and/or the wing. You can marvel at the additional information provided – speed, height – in both metric and imperial measures – outside temperature, estimated time of arrival in both the time zone of your departure point and arrival. This is all useless information as it cannot influence any course of action you may be contemplating nor can you influence it but it is oddly comforting.
It was as we were approaching Albion, this sceptr’d isle, this green and pleasant land that I noticed something truly eccentric about the Germania flight information system. As the vaguely triangular shape of Kent hove into view three places were shown on the map. The first was London Gatwick which was fair enough as this was out destination. The next place was Dover. We all know Dover, whose formidable white cliffs form a barrier to all invaders etc etc. But the third and only other name was truly astonishing – Chartwell. Chartwell?
I haven’t been there for some time but the only thing there was at Chartwell was Chartwell House, the erstwhile residence of Winston Churchill and now a National Trust property. The nearest point of civilization and that was the point of Winnie living there was Westerham, a couple of miles away. Very noble, I’m sure, of the Germans to doff their caps to the home of Churchill but nonetheless truly bizarre. It is like British Airways pointing out Berchtesgaden on their map of Bavaria.
And it got stranger. We were circling now and Heathrow was in sight but the map helpfully chose to avoid confusing the passengers but rather than indicating the metropolis, pointed out Runnymede, another National Trust property – a water meadow, actually, where the Magna Carta was sealed 800 years ago.
Next came a slide show of famous sights of England. One that particularly caught my eye was one entitled “St George’s Chapel and Windsor Castle on a clear day”, showing said buildings with a blue sky and, to my mind, quite a heavy bank of wispy white clouds, the clear implication of the caption being that you would be bloody lucky to see these piles in anything other than a pea-souper. Haven’t they heard of the Clean Air acts which banned emissions of black smoke and made smog a thing of the past?
I couldn’t help thinking that the Germania flight information system was stuck in a 1950s time warp, where the programmer thought we were still in thrall to our wartime leader, grateful for our monarch bestowing some powers to our lords and betters and groping around in a perpetual gloom. Clearly this EU experiment has not brought our mutual understanding of each other any closer!