A long flight for the paper plane pilot
It was pleasing to see that Mong Thongdee’s dream of becoming a Thai citizen appears to have finally come true. Nine years ago Mr Mong made the headlines as a 12-year-old when he won the Thailand paper plane championships. However, he was devastated after being told he could not represent the kingdom at the international tournament in Japan because he was stateless, his parents being immigrants from Myanmar.
The inspiring story of this poor kid and his paper planes ran into heavy turbulence thanks to a mountain of bureaucracy. The Interior Ministry initially refused to let him leave the country on the grounds that it would “affect national security”. To most people, flying paper planes hardly sounded like a subversive activity. For Thailand it was threatening to be a potential public relations disaster featuring lots of headlines like “unhappy landing” and “grounded” appearing around the world.
Thankfully common sense prevailed and they let him go to Japan where he won a bronze medal. However, since his return there had been little progress in his case to become a Thai citizen until the recent dramatic Tham Luang cave rescue of the young “Wild Boars” soccer team. Three of the footballers and their coach were stateless, but have since been awarded citizenship. This inspired Mr Mong, now 21, to have another go and he has reportedly finally been granted citizenship. But it took a long time — and there are plenty more in the queue.
Just about everybody must have made and played with paper planes in their childhood. It is possibly the simplest instant toy. I remember at school there was a period when every time the teacher turned to write something on the blackboard, the classroom was awash with planes whizzing around, resembling Heathrow in the peak hours. On one occasion the whole class was rewarded for its efforts at redefining aerodynamics when a teacher ordered us to write an essay on “The Principles of Aircraft Design”. There weren’t so many paper flights in the classroom after that.
It wasn’t until Mr Mong’s case surfaced that I was even aware there were such things as international paper plane competitions. Apparently the current record for length of flight is 27.9 seconds.
Down to earth
I was never any good at making paper planes. Upon reading of Mr Mong’s efforts, I went into the garden with a few sheets of A4 to try my luck. The first plane nosedived into the ground after two seconds. The second briefly looked promising, but suddenly expired in an ugly belly flop. Obviously a redesign was in order and I came up with something vaguely resembling the Concorde — well, it had a big nose. I eventually got one to wobble along for about four seconds. That’s when the wife appeared and came up with the Thai equivalent of “Won’t you ever grow up?” The answer to that of course is, no.
I was sorry to hear of the passing of Ray Galton, a brilliant script writer who was one half of the terrific Galton/Simpson team who wrote the Steptoe & Son series for the BBC in the 1960s and earlier the radio and TV scripts for Tony Hancock.
Steptoe & Son was something of a breakthrough as it was the first time actors, rather than comedians, were used for a situation comedy. It featured two working class rag-and-bone men (junk dealers), Harold, the middle-aged son played by Harry H Corbett and his father Albert (Wilfred Brambell) and their aging horse, Hercules.
It was a wonderful cocktail of humour, drama and pathos and the acting was top notch. The son, always unsuccessfully trying to better his social standing, would become very frustrated with his father’s ignorance and bad habits. He often referred to him as “you dirty old man” which became a popular catchphrase throughout Britain.
In one episode, after a lengthy diatribe listing his father’s faults, Harold concludes: “You are a morally, spiritually and physically a festering, fly-blown heap of accumulated filth.”
His father replies deadpan: “What do you want for your tea?”
The current Brexit farce reminds me of an episode from Steptoe in 1963 when Britain was attempting to join what was then called the Common Market. Harold unsuccessfully tries to explain what it’s all about to his father who thinks he’s talking about the local market just down the street. The son explains he’s not keen on joining, fearing England would be invaded by hundreds of foreign rag-and-bone men. He proudly adopts the patriotic slogan: “English junk for the English”. Perhaps Mrs May ought to give that slogan a try.
I was brought up on Hancock’s Half-Hour, arguably the best radio sitcom ever, which morphed into a successful TV series. The Galton/Simpson script was superb and Tony Hancock sensitively portrayed a struggling, bad tempered actor, residing at the memorable address of 23 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam.
As in real life, Mr Hancock complained a lot, but his wonderful delivery of such expressions as “Have you gone raving mad?” and “Stone me!” became an indelible part of British culture. He also would proudly announce “A man of my caliber” pronouncing it “cal-aye-ber”. It was also in the Hancock series that I first came across the unusual talent of Kenneth Williams who couldn’t resist funny voices.
Wonderful times and no smutty stuff.