Not just a rotor change

There once was a time when keeping up with the Joneses meant a brand new Vauxhall Cavalier in the drive, but in the 21st century that simply doesn’t cut it.

How do you impress the neighbours then? Stephen Raindle from the London Air Charter Centre, has the answer: park a helicopter in the garden.

Stephen told me of a recent charter from a regular client who wanted to fly from his back garden to Gleneagles on a Monday for a couple of days’ golfing. I’m assured the eight acres he owns is more than adequate as a landing space.

The plan was to return home to drop off the children on the Wednesday and then fly up to Scotland again to resume the high life.

The first part of the schedule went off without a hitch; the flight to Scotland was scenic, the golf was satisfying and the return flight was smooth. Turning around to go back to Gleneagles looked a mere formality.

However, as the pilot was starting up the rotors, a warning light came on. Unlike the service spanner which lights up on your car dashboard, you simply cannot ignore an aviation warning light.

Having made initial checks, which failed to switch it off, the pilot shut down the engine and grounded the helicopter.

With no alternative chopper available for hours, the couple dashed to their nearest airport and just managed to catch the last flight of the day to Edinburgh.

Meanwhile, back at their house, anyone looking at the helicopter in the garden would have thought the A-Team was house sitting.

Engineers inspected the stricken machine the following day and agreed an engine change was called for. Clearly the helicopter would not be flying up to Gleneagles to pick up its clients on the Sunday.

Phone calls were made to find one that could. Naturally, it was one of the busiest weekends with most helicopters operating to and from Cardiff for the FA Cup final.

Now would have been a really good time for Mr T and co to turn up: “If no-one else can help and if you can find them, maybe you could hire the A-Team.” And actually, that’s what they did. Only in this case, the ‘A’ team in question turned out to be Atlas Helicopters, with Alana Burns at the helm.

She managed to find a replacement helicopter at a reasonable price and the passengers were flown home in the style they’d hoped for.

As for the broken-down helicopter, well, that stayed in the garden for a week, leaving the neighbours wondering how to match it. I hear there’s a decommissioned Concorde at Filton.

Who’s the daddy?

He used to be ‘daddy cool’, but now he’s just plain daddy.

I speak of Peltours’ Darren Panto, who is delighted to be getting up at all hours of the night to help out with baby Emily, who weighed in at 9lb 2oz when she was born five weeks ago.

I congratulated Darren when he told me his good news, and gently explained the baby bit is the easy part. “Just wait ’til she’s a teenager,” I told him.

“Then you will know how much of a father you’ve become. You’ll be turning up earlier than expected at parties to collect her, just so you can check there’s nothing happening on the dance floor that isn’t dancing!” I said.

Darren says he’s been losing his hair with anxiety even before Emily arrived. I laughed when he said he’d done a ‘practice run’ to Watford Hospital, just two-and-a-half miles from his home, to prepare for the day of the birth.

Unfortunately, despite its proximity, it foxed Darren completely and, having got lost fairly dramatically, the dummy run took two hours.

Following this incident, wife Gabbi suggested when the time came, he should drive her to Barnet General Hospital instead, as he’s more familiar with that area. He did exactly that and Gabbi presented him with the best prize ever. Congratulations!

He nose what happened

On the subject of hospital visits, last week I reported the unfortunate accident that had befallen Alan Armstrong of Brunlea Travel at the Triton conference.

What I, and indeed Alan himself didn’t realise, was just how serious his trip turned out to be.

Upon his return, Alan noticed that, far from subsiding, the swelling on his nose had worsened. “I didn’t tell any lies, yet my nose got bigger by the day,” he said.

Eventually, this modern-day Pinocchio was persuaded to visit the hospital where he was told he needed to be admitted as a matter of urgency.

It transpired the wound had become infected and needed to be operated on immediately before the infection spread to his brain.

Alan had his operation and, I’m pleased to report, is back behind his desk at Brunlea Travel. He says he won’t forget the Triton conference in a hurry, but is already eager for next year’s!

Chocolate éclair directive

Does anybody know whether or not there’s an EU directive on the size of chocolate éclairs? I’ve told a client I’d find out.

She accosted me in the supermarket with the phrase: “We had a nice time on the Isle of Wight but…” and it turned out she wanted to complain about the consistency of the mashed potato and the size of the éclairs. Her Gerald is ‘a big man and it simply wasn’t enough for him.’

Being moaned at during my lunch break was more than enough for me, however.

Maureen Hill works at Wessex World Travel, Gillingham, Dorset