Dreaming of vintage flight in the magical age of aviation

In this era of carbon-fibre jets and everyday commuter air travel I often lament the passing of the Golden Age of aviation – those heroic days of the 1920s and 1930s when passengers boarded canvas-and-wood biplanes and then picnicked, aloft, on potted ham and champagne stored aboard in wicker hampers. It was an age when barnstorming airmen ruled the skies and ‘air races’ were all the rage, and when Amelia Erhart and Kingsford Smith were household names.

"I say, Carstairs, jolly nice day for a bit of an aerial jaunt, eh, what!' De Havilland Fox Moth at Napier airport, 2015.

De Havilland Fox Moth at Napier airport, 2015.

Luckily my home country, New Zealand, has one of the most interesting collections of operational vintage aircraft in the Southern Hemisphere. Including, thanks to Sir Peter Jackson, several Fokker Dr.1’s, neatly finished to 3/4 scale. And there’s an aerobatic team, the ‘Roaring Forties’, equipped with North American T-6 Texans (Harvards).

Former RNZAF Harvard at Napier airport, part of the 'Roaring Forties;' aerobatic team, February 2015.

Former RNZAF Harvard at Napier airport, part of the ‘Roaring Forties;’ aerobatic team, February 2015.

I photographed this one at Napier airport. The type was the Allied advanced trainer of the Second World War, and remained in that role with the Royal New Zealand Air Force until the 1970s. Today the ‘Roaring Forties’ put on tremendous displays – taking off together in formation, then swooping and circling with absolute precision.

And if you want to learn more about the RNZAF and their Harvards, among other aircraft – well, the story’s in my book Kiwi Air Power, available from Amazon.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015

Writing inspirations – jumping back to 1938

There is little in this photo to say it isn’t the 1930s. The car – a Packard Six – dates to 1935. The building behind is an early example of deco-age streamline design from 1932.

Wright_1935Packard I took it during the annual ‘art deco’ weekend in Napier, New Zealand. But it makes me think; it’s too easy to look at old black-and-white photos and forget that, way back when, the world was in colour for those living through it. Henry Ford insisted that customers could have any colour, as long as it was black; but by the 1930s cars were emerging in pastel shades – typified by the cream of this immaculate 1935 Packard Six. That highlights one of the essentials of writing; infusing colour – in all its meanings – into writing. A thought to inspire. Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015

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What ever became of all the good in the world?

I am always astonished at the limitless capacity humanity has for intellectualising itself away from care and kindness.

Quick - burn the intruding historian! Avenge ourselves!

School. If you’re accused, you’re guilty!

Many years ago, when I was at school, there was a coat cupboard at the back of the classroom. Next to the cupboard was a trestle table on which had been set a class construction project. The bell went. The class joyously leaped from their chairs and surged to the cupboard, shoving and ramming each other as they fought to get their coats and escape.

I’d hung back to wait for the scrum to clear and saw the cupboard door being forced back by the desperate mob, into the trestle table. I rushed to try and rescue it – too late. The whole lot collapsed to the floor as I got there. Needless to say I was blamed. Everybody had seen me standing over the ruin and it (again) proved what a stupid and worthless child I was, and how dare I claim I was trying to save it, I totally deserved what was coming to me.

So much for trying to be a Good Samaritan.

But – but you say – surely I had rights? No. I had absolutely none. Back then, teachers given power by the system used it to smash those the system had defined as powerless, the kids, and so validate their own sense of worth. If I was seen near a broken table and the teacher decided I had done it – well, then obviously I’d done it, and how dare I protest my innocence.

The main ethical problem with this sort of behaviour is that guilt-on-accusation and summary justice stand not just against the principles of our justice system, but also of the values of care on which western society prides itself. But that is how society seems to work, certainly these days. We have trial-and-conviction by media even before someone alleged of a crime has been charged, just as one instance.

All of it is a symptom of one side of human nature. A symptom of the way humans intellectualise themselves into unkindness. It stands against what we SHOULD be doing – stands against the values of care, compassion, kindness and tolerance that, surely, must form a cornerstone any society.

There is only one answer. We have to bring kindness back into the world – together. Who’s with me?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015

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Writing inspirations – a small dose of golden age Hollywood magic

I spent the weekend just gone in Napier, New Zealand – where I went to the annual Art Deco weekend, a light-hearted celebration of Hollywood 1930s fantasy lifestyles. Apt in a city that was rebuilt to those styles during the 1930s.

Wright_Deco Party Central

Every other person is dressed in period costume. The celebration captures not just the way we’d like to imagine the period might have been – but the aspirations of those who lived through it. And I think that’s inspiring on so many levels.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015

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Writing inspirations – they that go down to the sea in ships

There are an awful lot of small boats in New Zealand. I suppose it’s predictable, when you think about the size of the coastline.

Boat harbour, Oriental Bay, Wellington.

Boat harbour, Oriental Bay, Wellington.

I photographed these in the harbour at Oriental Bay, Wellington. And as always there is inspiration there. Who owns these boats? Where have they travelled? What plans, what dreams, do those who sail in them have? Fertile ground for speculation – and for writers.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015

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My flirtation with the ultimate golden age sci-fi gadget

I re-discovered my slide rule a while back, the one I used in school maths lessons, way back when. I didn’t know just how utterly classic such things were, even then.

Aha - now I can stop the Plorg Monsters from taking Earth's water!

Aha – now I can stop the Plorg Monsters from taking Earth’s water! Maybe with an app on my Surface Pro 3, but surely via my old slide rule!

These things mostly worked because of a quirk of mathematics – the logarithm, which means you can add logs, as a linear measure, to multiply. And there’s more. In the photo, I’ve set my slip-stick to do the pi times table – and believe me, it’ll calculate that to about two decimal places (which is OK for a quick estimate) faster than you can punch the same thing into a calculator. All you have to do is slide the centre piece to the right point and look along the ruler. Cool.

Time was when no self-respecting space adventurer set off without one of these. They were a staple in Robert Heinlein’s sci-fi, among others. With them you could not only defeat the squidgy aliens who were trying to make off with all Earth’s water – you could go on to conquer the entire universe.

And, just to nail how fast the world changes, NASA actually did conquer the Moon with slide rules. Apollo-era engineers carried them the same way we carry phones.

My slide rule’s linear, but they were also available as circular calculators – disks – often optimised for other functions such as electrical calculation. My father had one.

I have to admit that I’m using computers to do the maths for a hard sci-fi story I’m writing just now for an upcoming anthology. But still, the slide rule’s there as a standby. And the idea of it – well, I find that pretty inspiring. Do you?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015

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Writing inspirations – tantalising glimpses of a summer sea

I often find inspiration comes with quick glances of some scene or view; it unfolds before me and – as suddenly – is gone, leaving an impression of itself that spurs the imagination, because it is so incomplete.

Azure seas silhouetted against pohutukawa. A snapshot I took a few weeks back.

Azure seas silhouetted against pohutukawa. A snapshot I took a few weeks back.

I spotted just such a moment a few weeks back; the azure Pacific ocean, glimpsed between the dark overhanging branches of a low Pohutukawa (Metrosideros excelsa). The view seemed ripe with conceptual potential – an inspiring thought for any writer. Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015

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