Monday, 20 February 2017

got the paddle..wheres the bloody canoe..

Did I ever tell you…Of the time I was working down at the very tip of India, in the state of Kerala.
We were staying at the Kovalum Beach Resort,
In those days, mid seventies, it was a very rare and attractive hotel that sprawled down a gently sloping cliff face and every room and large terrace had a view over the fantastic Kovalum beach which curved away into the distance to finally be obscured by the foam from the breakers.
There were a number of very active, and for India, seemingly prosperous fishing villages dotted along the beach and one was just outside of the hotel compound, a short walk from the hotel bar down the well guarded path..
One evening the crew were as usual propping up the bar knocking back a few beers and getting quite merry when pandemonium broke out. The hotel staff were running around doing a bit of weeping and wailing and calling for divine help.
Apparently one of the fishermen from the village had gone missing during a fishing trip and everyone presumed he was a gonner..including us. We returned to the bar and continued with our hobby, getting drunk.
Some thirty minutes or so later the noise of weeping had diminished a little and we were a little more drunk..The Manager appeared and apologised for the scene we had witnessed as it must have been a little embarrassing for us. The problem was that the missing fisherman was from our local village and nearly everyone employed in the hotel was a relative of his.
We asked what sort of rescue operation had been set up to search for the man..”None” he said…”we don’t have such a thing, his fate is in the hands of The Almighty” And with that he left us.
The producer on this particular trip had a slight fetish, he saw himself as the archetypal Englishman. He never travelled anywhere in the world, no matter how hot or dusty or tropical, without wearing a black pinstripe three piece suit, plus collar and old school tie and Oxford wing tipped shoes..
And that’s what he was wearing now as he said to me in the words I will never forget “We cannot let this happen, just sitting here getting drunk when a poor chap might be dying for want of some effort” or very near to those words anyway..
And so it was a few minutes later that both of us were down on the beach pushing a canoe out into the Indian Ocean.
What we had failed to spot in our very drunken state was the fact that the canoe was the only one left down near the waters edge…very much on its own., but it seemed to float very nicely so we hopped aboard. and grabbing a paddle each we headed off into the pitch black night……..Fools….
At this very tip of India the two oceans from either side meet and to put it mildly, collide.
This causes the water to churn on the surface and heaven knows what type of strong currents are running deep underwater.
We were to find out.
After vigorously paddling for some time we hit this maelstrom of water .It was rough. and it suddenly got very tough..
The canoe we were riding in departed..without warning it serenely sank beneath the Ocean waves and left us floating, with just two small wooden paddles. It happened so quickly that we didn’t speak for a few moments and during that time we both got very sober.
Here we were bobbing about. The hotel lights were fading in the distance very fast and in a short while we lost sight of them completely. The current was strong and we could actually feel it towing us further out. We locked the two paddles together and contemplated our fate, or rather our imminent demise
This was how it stacked up. A long way South of us, several thousand miles was Antarctica, immediately to our left was Malaysia and just beyond that Australia, again, several thousand miles and many days of floating along clutching our paddles. It would never happen, this was the Indian Ocean which is apparently stuffed with man eating things called sharks.
The thought that in a few hours time we would be shark shit did not make us very happy and we both went very silent, each with our own thoughts.
We floated for a very long and sombre time, waiting for that first strike. I did keep my legs up as much as I could and never let on
Do you believe in miracles. I never did .The parting of the Red Sea, the Five loafs and Fishes, Turning water into wine. That was just great storytelling and total myth to me.
And then a miracle turned up.
Way out there in the Ocean, having almost given up hope, a small canoe came out of the darkness, at great speed. It almost went straight over the top of us.
We both desperately grabbed the outrigger that those canoe’s had and it came to a sudden stop.
Had it been twenty or even ten feet away we would never have stopped it and I feel sure the fisherman onboard would not have stopped..would you..
The man on board must have been near a heart attack as he looked down and saw two white faces peering up at him,grinning wildly.
White sea monsters..
I have often wondered what his thoughts were as we struggled aboard. Two Englishmen and one wearing a complete Saville Row outfit. I bet his grandkids think he is nuts.
He did manage to keep his cool as we requested he drop us off at our hotel
Two happy endings to this story. The fisherman took us to our beach and kindly dropped us off and on returning to the Hotel bar we were told by a bemused but delighted manager that the “Lost” fisherman had been found .
Moral of the story..If you ever steal a canoe, stay sober and make sure the bugger floats..

Originally published on     by RJ Dodd

Sunday, 19 February 2017


Some time in the eighties I was working in California and shooting a documentary on suicides from The Golden Gate Bridge which crosses the bay at the entrance to San Francisco Harbour
The bridge is a massive structure, A beautiful elegant design .The broad, sixlane, roadway across is supported by thick metal wires which are held at either end by steel towers. The bridge is one of the most photographed man made constructions in the world. It is also very high off the surface of the water.
If you jump off this bridge then the chances of survival are extremely slim. If the fall into the water doesn’t kill you then the damage sustained by the body will render you incapable of swimming in the strong currents and then there are the sharks.
Alcatraz, the infamous high security prison is built on an island in the bay and was selected because of the high risk escape procedure..basically..after you evade the heavy duty guard system and then make it out of your cell block, climb the prison wall and then get down the other side ..all you had to do was swim to freedom. I am unaware of anyone escaping from Alcatraz and sending a post card back from anywhere in the world to announce their new found liberty.
That is why the bridge is a magnet to would be suicides; there are so many attempts that the bridge authorities have a “Jumper” watch situated at either end of the span. These people scan the pedestrians on the bridge constantly and are quick off the mark to foil an attempt when they see a likely customer. Apparently there are tell tale signs that someone is about to take the short flight to oblivion..
And that is why I was there.
Except on this particular day I wasn’t walking across the bridge, I was about a hundred or so metres off it dangling outside a new Bell Jet Ranger helicopter.
The presenter of the programme was supposed to walk along the bridge, in a casual manner, the way presenters do, and talk to the camera, giving as many relevant facts as possible in a conversational way, as they do.
The cue for the presenter to start talking was when a distinctive coloured car, driven by a production team member, drove past him, he would look up to the chopper and begin the spiel as he continued to stroll along .
These plans always work brilliantly on paper.
For the logistics enthusiasts out there this is how it was planned
My camera team would drive from the centre of San Francisco to the International airport about twenty miles or so east of he bridge where we would rig the camera onto a Tyler Mount fitted to the helicopter.
The Tyler mount is a rig that is fitted inside the aircraft and it works on a balance system. A series of weights are moved along a large metal arm that curves over the cameraman and the camera is used as a counterweight .This system allows for any size camera to be fItted. I am sure they are infinitely more sophisticated these days but the gyro or steadying system was not too clever and the cameraman had to put a lot of physical effort into keeping the camera steady during a take.
The mount takes up a lot of space and the rear seats have to come out plus the passenger door comes off. In effect the cameraman has to sit almost outside of the aircraft
The security harness for the cameraman is standard five pin fitting into a centre locking device. The restraining straps are one over each shoulder, two around the waist and one from the floor up between the legs The lock pins can all be released by one quick twist of the centre lock. More on this later.
Radio comms are fitted , one for me to the pilot and an extra one for communication to the bridge team.
Are you still with me…good.  keep going.
The presenter is fitted with a radio mike. The director/producer is fitted with a radio mike..the sound recordist is dressed to look like a tourist with a back pack and a funny hat to hide his headphones .These three will be posing as sightseers near the presenter and within range of his transmitter.
The car driver is fitted with a radio. The “Jumper” teams are brought in a and briefed.. We have the permission of the bridge authorities, the radio frequencies have been cleared with the various authorities. We all know what we are doing and when.
Ok, climb aboard the chopper, a brand new Bell Jet Ranger, very nice. And off we zoom, a low swoop over Alcatraz and then to position on the west/seaward side of the bridge.
The brief is for me to follow our marked car, a white one, along the bridge and as it gets to the presenter he will start talking and we slowly hover and crab across until he is finished, then we pull back on the lens and the chopper moves higher and further away to reveal the truly stunning sight of the Golden Gate Bridge with SF in the background.
What could go wrong?..
Everybody is in position, all the sound checks are done, its “Go Go” time
Nobody briefed Mother Nature, or the ten or twelve owners of  white cars who all decide to cross the bridge at the same time.Or the twenty or so Japanese tourists who seemed attracted to a strange man, our presenter, who seemed to be having a chat with a man in a helicopter and then they seemed to be obliged to wave at.
Take two.
This meant that the white car had to go across the bridge, off at the next turnoff and then back across the bridge through the one way approach system and take up  position again.This took about twenty minutes.
Stay with it
The bridge is so large that it creates its own micro weather situation. No matter how calm it appears there is always a strong wind roaring around the towers. This makes a hovering helicopter a very unsteady filming platform.
Take two: The presenter fluffs his lines.
Take three: A strong gust of wind blows the chopper badly.
Take four: I follow the wrong white car.
And so it goes on and every take is twenty minutes to set up again.
We began to run out of fuel and the pilot decided to go and refill, at the airport. In  the light of what was to happen it was a  divine and inspired  decision. The trips and refuelling would take an hour or so. Off we went.
After the refuel we were ready to get airborne again. The pilot checked with the control tower and we were given permission to overfly the very end of the runway between passenger jets landing
This is at The San Francisco International Airport, there are a lot of jets landing there all the time, they seemed to be precisely stacked up in the sky, exactly the same distance apart and all lined up on the approach beacons. The end of the runway juts out into the bay. Very busy place and very impressive.
A jet lands and off we go from our hover position, we have just a short space of time to clear the approach.
And then it happens.
At about two hundred feet above the threshold lines the Gyro Assist went AWOL.It broke.
In the space of a couple of seconds and from my perch on the side of the chopper I saw the sky, runway, bay water, spinning horizon and then went through it all again.
In my ear the pilot was yelling instructions to the tower or his God, and we were plummeting towards the concrete.
Which we hit..very hard.
Bits were flying in all directions and I was aware of pushing the Tyler mount off my chest where it had rammed on impact and flicking the release button on the harness. One last push at the Tyler and I leapt onto the tarmac.
 The chopper was on its side, the rotor had screamed to a halt and I legged it to the side to jump down into the jumble of massive concrete blocks that form the base for the runway.
The pilot was there before me..You cant beat military training..
The conversation was a little stilted for a few moments as we took stock of our new situation
We were both unharmed but in a slight state of shock.
The chopper seemed to be seriously damaged and on its side.
All of the neatly lined up aircraft with hundreds of passenger on board were now on their way somewhere else, they were peeling off for destinations unplanned.
My radio went off, it was the Producer..”Where the fuck are you?”
I quickly briefed him on our new situation.
He never asked if we were ok, all he said was “Get another chopper and get back out here”…Honestly..
What is it about producers?
I relayed his request to the pilot who simply said “When God tells you to sit on the ground you sit on the fucking ground”
It occurred to me that if we had not done so many takes then the chopper might have been over open water and I don’t think we would have survived the drop from the much greater height that we were filming from. An inspired decision by the pilot to refuel when he did, just a minute or so either side and ..hey ..who knows..
Ok we had survived the crash, screwed up the filming and also screwed up the travel plans of hundreds of airline passengers and now we were waiting for the rescue wagons to appear.  We talked, just to calm our nerves
I asked the pilot who was approximately my age how he got into the flying business, it had always appeared attractive to me as an alternative career.
His story had me mesmerised.
During the Vietnam War he had been conscripted into the Military, being a bright lad he had been sent onto a flying course and finished up training to fly helicopters.
 (For a book on this subject read “Chickenhawks” by Robert Mason)..
Completed training and off he went to war.
They gave him a gunship. Probably an AH1 Cobra, fitted with twin Cannons. A flying killing machine.
“I was God” he said.
“At twenty one I had the power of life and death. This was Apocalypse Now for real”
He went on to describe how he and his Squadron of Cobras would set off on raids that completely destroyed hundreds of villages, shot up fishing boats, blasted anything that moved on the ground that could conceivably be considered to be the enemy.
It was a fantastic feeling. The Vietcong were virtually defenceless against these airborne attacks and so the young pilots felt all powerful and not in a great deal of danger.
“It was a great life, full of excitement, I had this huge powerful beast that could rip up a village in seconds, two passes with the cannons on full blast and it was no more, wonderful”
Until one day.
He was on patrol as usual and he came across a very small village, he decided to take a closer look and as he approached a group of villagers dashed out of one of the flimsy grass huts and began to run along a jungle path.. He followed them, assessed the situation as much as he could through the jungle canopy as he whizzed past, and decided they were not good people. Why would they be running etc.. He gave them a burst of cannon, Damn, missed, He went round again, another burst of cannon, he destroyed a number of trees and a couple of bamboo thickets but missed the runners, he went round again.
There they were, still on the path through the jungle but they had stopped and were looking at him as he approached for the kill. They could not run any further, dense bamboo and forest on all sides, all five of them were exhausted.. Mum, Dad, and their three little kids.
“It was like a bolt of lightning, I suddenly realised what I was doing. I was a killer of innocents and enjoying it”
He disengaged his attack, flew straight back to his base and refused to fly gunships any more.
They put him on Medivac duties…and that’s another story..


This is a short tale, but it sticks in my memory so maybe you will also enjoy it….
A day out on the ‘USS NIMITZ’ you will see from the picture this is one Mother of a ship…one of the biggest tonnage vessels in the USA Navy.

I was sent down to Naples in Italy with a crew to do a short documentary on this naval titan as it set off on a patrol around the Gulf of Libya…in those days the Libyan state, controlled by Col Ghaddafi, who was not considered to be a friend of the Western world and it was constantly monitored by Allied navies.

After an eventful night in Naples..(Another story) we were picked up at the dockside and transferred to the Nimitz which was moored out in the bay.

Once on board we were shown to our quarters and invited to the Officers mess to meet our press liaison Officer. We all enjoyed our welcoming drink of a cola.

Yep.. all USA Navy vessels are dry. .no alcohol whatsoever, ever, nada, zilch.. this was a three day trip but it already stretched out ahead of my near alcoholic crew like a lifetimes sentence.

OK, So, parched, alcohol free and already showing anxiety levels akin to those who go cold turkey on any addiction we set off on a filmic tour of this leviathan of the waves.


A one point I was able to stand at what can only be described as a crossroad of gangways, one in each direction. they all dwindled off into the distance for what seemed like hundreds of bulkhead doors.

Then there was the storage and engineering deck.

 This is immediately below the flight deck, its like several football fields joined together and it is stuffed full of aircraft, of all shapes and sizes but mainly fighter attack planes as one would expect, but the thing that really amazed me was the number of engineers who live down there, it seemed like thousands of them, all beavering away on engines and broken bits.

When we talked to some of these men they all said they had never been on the flight deck, they were on board for the two year mission and their aim was to work, pump iron in the vast gymnasium, eat, pass exams, eat some more, pump more iron and SAVE MONEY…these were serious people..and they had a lot to be serious about.

On our mission there had been a dog fight with a couple of Ghaddafi’s Migs out over the Gulf and both of them had been brought down.

Time for a modest celebration in the Officers mess, modest it certainly was as we downed copious amounts of Coca Cola, but for these steely eyed Top Gun boys it could have been the best champagne or beer in the world.

The operation of Jets taking off and landing seemed to be a 24/7 task as jet after jet catapulted off the flight deck and the incoming hit the deck with a thump and were then taken down to the maintenance deck for a mechanics rub down.

We met and interviewed the Captain of the vessel, this man was a USA Hero going back to the Vietnam war, it was reputed that he had been shot down on two occasions behind enemy lines and fought his way back with just a small hand gun, a tough cookie indeed, if it were me then one time being shot down would have sufficed.

The interview was arranged to be filmed on the flight control deck, the Captains Bridge, that’s the tall spiky tower in the pic.

  All was set up, the skipper arrived and we began, except we couldn’t..

Every time we started the interview the sound man would shout “Cut”…he had a problem with his recording machine, in those days it was a Nagra, A state of the art recorder and a reel to reel ,very reliable, but this one would only turn round in short bursts of a couple of seconds. It didn’t take long to work out that the signal from the large rotating radar dish, just above our heads was sending out such a strong magnetic field that it actually stopped the recorder from working.

We quickly found another venue for our chat but it did give me food for thought that if the signal was that strong it could stop the recorder …what was it doing to the personnel who spent hours working on that deck every day…just a thought.. They all seemed quite normal..

OK..we did the usual documentary stuff for a few days , nice pics of the aircraft taking off and landing, some little escapades and near accidents but it all went relatively smoothly.

And then came the day of our departure.

The ship can stay at sea for over two years without re-fuelling and personnel rarely got to go on shore leave but for those in an emergency they can be flown off.

Not many volunteered.

At the appointed hour my crew assembled at the detailed departure point on the flight deck.

All equipment boxes securely fastened and stacked neatly, Navy style.. Then I looked around the deck. It was completely stuffed with fighter planes, row upon row of them, dozens of them, it was all you could see..

What I couldn’t see was a flight deck for my plane to trundle along to take off.

And where was our transport plane. .nowhere in sight.

Then a huge hole in the flight deck opened up and like the Phoenix from the ashes our twin prop driven aircraft arose. Its wings were folded up like a broken bird. They were soon flattened out and now it looked as though it was capable of flight…except.. there was no runway.

Then it dawned on me.

These lunatics were actually going to catapult us off the deck.

And we were lunatics for agreeing to it…not that we were ever asked.

They were really going to sling us off the very short flight deck on a catapult..

Most people today have flown, the plane taxis to the end of a VERY LONG RUNWAY..

They then run up the engines to high revs and start rolling down several hundred yards of concrete runway. .at a certain speed lift is achieved and the aircraft powers serenely into the blue yonder..

As aircraft went, ours was quite small, but it was much larger than any of the fighter planes that we had filmed taking off, these massively powerful war planes had been hooked up to the sling. Run their engines up to max power permitted, held back on their brakes and when ready the deck man would give a signal to both pilot and the catapult man and the combined forces of engine and catapult would throw the plane into the sky, an awesome operation.

Best seen from afar as a spectator.

Like sheep unto the slaughter my crew were herded across the deck and quickly kitted out in flight survival jackets, flight helmets, goggles.

Then we were boarded on the rear of the plane, the seats were all facing the tailgate ..we were told to take a brace position on take off and we did. The gear was stowed. The door was locked and now there was no escape.

The plane was trundled over to the end of the catapult section and attached.

 Looking out of the very small window I noticed we had attracted quite a crowd of onlookers.

Dozens of Navy folk were standing around peering at us, thumbs up signs etc were in abundance. I had the feeling that I had suddenly been invited to go into a big stone circular ring with some hungry lions licking heir lips at the other end.

I watched through the small window at the deck control man who I had filmed many times over the last few days giving his usual signals to the pilot, it normally consisted of spinning his index finger at ever growing speeds.

 This digital movement was copied on board the plane by the engines being revved to ear splitting level, the plane was threatening to tear itself apart as the engines reached maximum revs and then came the executioners moment.

The deckman stopped his murderous spinning and pointed forward with what I thought was a flamboyant gesture .At that moment I hated that man.

But I had no time to dwell on how I wanted to kill him as I was being propelled into the air at a limb wrenching speed ..and suddenly we were airborne, we soared away from the deck which I could see rapidly dwindling in the small window..

Brilliant…no doubt this was an exhilarating moment.

And then we stopped flying…

Apparently this is normal. .But I didn’t know it.

As we went rapidly down towards the ocean the aircraft made a valiant attempt to reach airspeed, it transpired that the catapult actually throws the plane off the deck at a much higher speed than the plane can fly at and it really just starts to fall into the sea.

The screeching from the engines was now overwhelming and the plane appeared to resemble a million rivets flying in loose formation.

The glistening ocean was fast approaching and I made all of my prayers, in Urdu, Hebrew, Christian , Rastafarian and all of the rest…this was it, the end. The Big End…it was just a few hundred feet away and arriving quickly.

 Bye Bye life, Sex, Boozing, Watching Footie, and then as we were about to impact we started to lift.. we were actually flying… we seemed to just skim over the top before we began a stately ascent to a safer altitude.

Now it became clear to me why all those big body building, gluttonous, money saving mechanics never left the ship on its two year cruise.

 This was the only way off.

They should all retire as rich men..

Two short footnotes to this story.

The Cargo master who had flown with us told me they had lost two of these aircraft recently and it always drew a good audience of ghouls on the Nimitz to see if we could make it. He happily confessed that he had a death wish… Thanks fellas.

We were landed at an airbase on an Italian island, Sicily I think, and we were transported to our hotel by a Navy driver who had a big blue bus.

 On the way into the town, in the local rush hour we were struck a number of times by other vehicles.

 Our driver seemed completely unfazed, I asked him why. He said “Its always like this, none of these guys have ever learned how to drive, they have been driving like this FOR SEVERAL HUNDRED YEARS and aint got the hang of the motor car yet”

I guess he didn’t graduate with a major in history from his high school..

Still, as usual was a pleasure to have completed another little adventure with the American Forces.

RJ Dodd

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Books at Barnes and Noble

hi everyone who visits this site..I have just submitted two books to Barnes and Noble for their approval and hopefully for them to put some copies on their bookshelves...the books are...

The Fiddler..written by RJ Dodd
There are a number of chapters and posts on this blogsite about this book...good old fashioned yarn set in18th century Italy...SEX DRUGS AND A STRING QUARTET

Magintys written by RJ Dodd and Mary Lou Brown  under the nom de plume  CHELSY SWANN..
A fantastical romp for the younger reader..involves magicians, pirates, a thieving octopus named Maginty and his two side kicks  Deacon, Ace Navigator..and Sissy, an electric eel.This trio are given a quest by a seriously wounded Pirate named Red Rufus Maginty to protect his ancestors wherever they might be..over two hundred years later this dauntless gang heed the call..via TV and set off in their trusty vessel old doctors leather bag, to Chelsea in London England to help Reds family who are facing being evicted from their only home, an old riverboat, by a ruthless local villain and property developer Rodney Bigelow...who is abetted by a descendant of Red Rufius,s long time enemy..   Captain Cutlass...Who will win this battle ...dadum
Anyway  if you happen to be passing the B and N bookstore in your area ..pop in and order of make enqiry about the books..  you wont regret it.