A long flight for the pa­per plane pi­lot

Bangkok Post - - EDITORIAL & LETTERS - Roger Crutch­ley Con­tact PostScript via email at old­crutch@gmail.com.

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.

School days

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.

Rag-and-bone men

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 pa­triot

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.

Stone me!

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.

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