I have been reminded by a Facebook post by astronomical artist Don Davis of the Hale-Bopp comet of 1997, a year that was a red-letter one for me. As a pensioner of BOAC (now British Airways) I was able to fly on a stand-by basis on their flights (and some other airlines). Flights from Australia to England were operating with one stop using the latest Boeing 747-400s.
I visited my father in England in January for his birthday, and on the way home to Tasmania attended two regional science fiction conventions in the U.S.A. and one in Perth – Arisia in Boston, Chattacon in Chattanooga, and Swancon in Perth.
In late March I set off to England again, attending a Con in Wellington, New Zealand en route, visited friends in the Los Angeles area, and took advantage of the fact that BOAC had recently taken over British Caledonian Airways to fly to London from Dallas-Ft Worth by DC-10.
Comet Hale-Bopp had not yet been easily visible in the Southern hemisphere when I left home, but was spectacular in the Northern Hemisphere. Sitting aboard the flight next to a flight crew member, we talked about the comet – and soon I was invited onto the flight deck. The DC-10 has spectacularly large windows, and standing behind the Captain as we overflew Greenland, on a moonless night: the view was unique. The comet had just passed its closest point to Earth, and the tail was prominently on view to the naked eye, and there could not have been a better viewpoint. In Europe I caught up with my wife, who had booked us on a Dnieper river cruise with other Tasmanians, (and a lot of Canadian-Ukrainians), boarding in Kiev.
What is happening now in the Ukraine is appalling – Kiev, where we had a few days sightseeing, is a spectacular place with many extraordinary Orthodox cathedrals and monasteries. Our boat cruised downstream to the Black Sea, passing through enormous 11-storey-high locks at Dnieperpetrovsk, and the marshes of the Delta near Kherson. Aboard a narrow-beamed river boat the motion once we reached the Black Sea en route to Sebastopol and Odessa was a little uncomfortable for this flat-water enthusiast, but we transferred to land transport for the final leg through Romania and Bulgaria to Turkey. I only hope that the current crisis does the minimum of further damage to the people and the country of Ukraine.
Another highlight of that trip was a visit to my sister’s house on the Greek island of Skopelos. From there we went to England, then flew to Boston and hired a car for a trip into Canada, narrowly avoiding a GPS-directed diversion into Boston’s Big Hole (a long-lasting construction project). We wound up staying with fellow-Dnieper-passengers at the small town of Almonte, Ontario – one of the few Canadian cities named after a Mexican general. We flew home via California.
My next 1997 trip was (via London) to San Antonio for the World SF Convention, then regionals in Phoenix and in Moscow Idaho, and home again via England and a two-day visit to my brother in Singapore.