It’s an amazing thing how time changes our perspective on things.
I was revisiting some of my early days in journalism (the late 60’s, when women were just beginning to make inroads into this field) and the tremendous opportunities I enjoyed as a staff reporter on a small daily newspaper.
In those days, the Kingston Whig Standard was owned by the Davies family. Arthur Davies was publisher of the Whig; Robertson (his brother) was publisher of the Peterborough Examiner. At least, until he became a popular novelist, Robertson was first and foremost a newspaper-person.
Anyway, I digress.
So, in the heart of British Canada, Kingston still enjoyed tremendous loyalty to the Monarchy and Great Britain, and it was big news when Prince Philip came to town. It also proved to be one of the most embarrassing moments in my life. Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, was most famous in the middle part of the Queen’s reign, for pilotting himself around the world. His own aircraft, pilotted by himself, was big news as he flew and landed at various “colonial outposts” for various “regal visits.”
In Kingston, a city built to be the capital of Canada, but re-negotiated in its status because of its vulnerability from a defence standpoint, news of Prince Philip’s scheduled landing and day-long visit drew great news coverage planning during our early morning editorial meetings.
“Cleveland, you’ll cover his address to the students at Queen’s University,” said the soft spoken Editor in Chief, Robert Owen. “Bainbridge, you’ll catch his appearance at the waterfront and at the theatre.” “And, Douglas, you cover his departure.”
What that meant was RCMP checks into every detail of our lives, and a second-by-second breakdown of the whereabouts of His Royal Highness. It was heady stuff for a journalism graduate in her first position at her first newspaper. HIS DEPARTURE! This would be great!
And of course we were all to file our stories immediately. At risk of thoroughly positioning myself as archaic, I must point out that this split second timing was essential because there were no fax machines, no cell phones, no computers, no scanners, no ability to do anything off-site, other than take notes and collect ideas. We were given a strict schedule so that all stories could be typed and edited before going to the composing room where they’d be transformed into lead slugs of type which would be placed according to a pre-drawn layout (called a “dummy” in those days) in a steel form.
So, there were were, the news team, poised to capture each moment of activity in Kingston.
Remember please that I was assigned to “take off.” This was likely because I was half way through my pilot’s licence training, and due to the fact that I was extremely “keen.”
So, I jumped into my rusty, trusty (literally) 1961 Valiant (remember Chrysler’s first ever, slant-six engine?) and headed out to the airport, well ahead of the Royal Party. It was raining. Hard. The entrance to Kingston Airport was one enormous pond, at least 12 inches deep. My car stopped running in the middle of the pond. I couldn’t get out without getting over my ankles in water. The rush of adrenalin flowing through my heart valves was much greater than the rrrrr, rrrrr of my car, turning over but not catching. Again and again I turned the key and pumped the clutch, saying private things to the car and to myself about this predicament.
In my rear view mirror was a huge motorcycle. And behind it was a second motorcycle. The motorcade was upon me and I was stuck in the middle of a frigging pond with an ancient car that wouldn’t start. Why not just leap from the car and drown in the pond? My career was very likely that washed up, anyway!
The entire motorcade (with Prince Philip somewhere in the middle of it) came to a stop. They waited. Nobody could really reach me and if they did there wasn’t much they could do. Seconds seemed like minutes seemed like hours when finally the car engine caught and I lurched forward into first gear and roared off to the hangar from which Prince Philip would depart.
If only I could just get out of this car and fall into an enormous crevice.
Bunting separated the Prince from about 10 bystanders and I looked around to try to figure out what the story was here. I certainly wasn’t going to tell the real drama! Let’s see: few Kingstonians bid farewell to Prince. Nope, not very nice at all. Let’s see: Prince tops off rainy day with aerial farewell. Nope. Okay, what kinds of questions could I ask that haven’t been asked anywhere else? How did you like Kingston? How did you like the idiot who blocked your way into the airport? How often do you travel to represent the Queen across Commonwealth countries? What’s the best part about flying your own aircraft around?
None of it seemed to matter. I needed to gather my cool and I wandered off into a nearby hangar, walking among the small planes, looking inside a four-seater Cessna, 182, one of my favourites.
And, there he was, standing beside me. Right there. Looking inside the Cessna. I looked at his face, and I wondered what all of it meant to him. “What your favourite plane?” I asked. “I love them all,” he said. The heart of a true flyer. We looked at each other and smiled; he walked toward his own plane and climbed the few stairs to the cockpit. He turned around to wave to the handful of us standing there. And then he dropped into his own seat, belted up and did his engine check before taxiing down the runway, and off.
I did write my story and it did make page one, along with the others. But, the other story is written today. For you. Enjoy.