Part one – Dutch Courage
“So, what do you want to do for your 65th?” asked my wife.
Flying a Pitts Special came to mind; or, maybe, learning to dive; how about having Granny’s Attic perform a concert at the local hall. But in the end I dug deep into my Cymraeg past and decided that I wanted to go find a Dragon.
Sadly, there don’t seem to be many live dragons left in Wales. They’ve all been shot for worrying the sheep too much. So, to see a dragon, we would need to travel to the other end of the world – to Indonesia, in fact. Luckily we know a man who can take you just where you need to go. The redoubtable Dr Charles Anderson.
Chas is a marine biologist but that simple title really belies his incredible scientific knowledge. He may not agree with this, but what Chas doesn’t know about the marine world probably isn’t worth knowing. He can identify every Whale and Dolphin there is to know. Often by name. (No, sorry, only joking there). He even identified a species of whale unknown to science from a skelton hidden within the depths of a shop in the Maldives. He has discovered and named several species of nudibranch (a kind of sea slug – one of them after his wife Sue!), has written books on coral fish and, most impressive of all, discovered the transoceanic migration of the World Skimmer, a dragonfly which takes two generations to migrate from India, down to the farthest reaches of the Indian Ocean and back again.
It’s no wonder that we are in awe of Dr Chas and when I discovered that he was leading a trip from Bali to Komodo to see the famous Komodo Dragon, well, the die was cast. That’s what I wanted to do for my 65th.
There are many flights we could have chosen to get to Bali, our embarkation point for the trip, but KLM came up trumps with an unbeatable deal. OK, we had to fly to Amsterdam first but that proved to be one of the highlights of the day because on the journey from Heathrow to Amsterdam we got to meet the delightful Connie sitting in the seat behind us. She was dressed up in full army pensioner regalia – brocaded jacket, smart skirt, beret with a combined ops badge and lapels full of medals; both her own and her late husband’s as it turned out.
Connie was headed for the commemorations of the Battle for Arnhem, where her husband fought. She, herself, served in the Wrens in the war. She was a young 92 years old. And I do mean young for although she didn’t walk well and was a little hard of hearing her mind was as bright as a button. She delighted the air hostess by asking for a bottle of wine – red or white, she didn’t care – and she made a toast to friendship and peace. I think we all felt immensely privileged and proud to have met such a lovely lady, who, with her husband, clearly did her bit to defend Britain and Europe all those years ago.
We had 4 hours to kill in Amsterdam but were able to use the lounge to relax in. And, of course, we had to try the local gin, or genever as it is known. The Dutch were the first people to distil gin, which became a cheap, if ruinous, drink in the 19th century. Genever is the source of the saying Dutch Courage for it was given to soldiers and sailors before battle to give them courage. We didn’t have any battles to fight, other than with tiredness, but we did take some dutch courage to get us through the next 12 hours to Singapore and then on to Bali.