Monday, March 14, 2011

The Day I got my First Zeppelin
By Daire Darcy

Every child remembers the day they got their first Zeppelin; it’s a golden moment in one’s childhood. Mine was no exception.

I remember that day as clear as if it were yesterday, togged out in my first flight suit and goggles, bouncing with excitement, sick with nerves and anticipation. My mum had determined it was time in the traditional way: checking wind patterns and consulting a tin of Alphabetti Spaghetti.

We took the public pedalo to the local Zeppelin Breeding Area, moored in the swanky uptown marshes. My mum had to hold me back, so I wouldn’t go tearing into the Zeppelinarium, unaccompanied. I’d been there earlier to pick out my Zeppelin and bond with it, before bringing it home. Little Ferdie leapt into the air upon seeing me, shedding little puffs of hydrogen in his excitement, his little, undeveloped propellers whirring in delight.

That first day was magical, as I skipped along home, Ferdie’s leash taut as he tried to chase birds, butterflies and the occasional jetliner. Every so often, my mum had to drag me back down, as a stray gust of wind and Ferdie’s enthusiasm threatened to lift me off into the stratosphere.

Of course, as everyone knows, a Zeppelin is for life, not just for Grindlemas. There was the inevitable settling-in period and house-training. My mum was not amused by the scorch-marks on the ceiling, when Ferdie dumped hydrogen willy-nilly in those first few days. I bawled in distress, when my dad threatened to rub his nosecone in it.

But, I mostly remember the delight of getting up in the morning to let Ferdie out of his hangar, feeding him his favourite Hydro-Genie treats and cleaning his outer hull with linseed oil and sealant. The other kids were so jealous, because Ferdie was a pure-breed and they usually had to make do with a mongrel Dirigible, or a Hot-Air Balloon in a cage.

Long, windless days, throwing gondolas for him to catch, weekends taking him out for flights in the Sky-Park, where he spent most of the time trying to sniff the other Zeppelin’s engines, these were the stuff that a wonderful childhood is made of. Of course, there were hiccups. One time, my little sister fed him helium and I had to stay up all night long, rubbing his aching gasbag. My mum gave my sister a patient lecture about how to feed a Zeppelin properly, ending with the old children’s rhyme:

“If Goodyear ye see, a Blimp it be,
If it’s got lots of pe’ple in, then it’s a Zeppelin.”

Then there was the sickening time when he slipped his moorings in the night and flew off. We had to go looking for him in my dad’s Ford Cortina bi-plane. I spent the whole flight with my nose pressed against the canopy, trying to peer through the clouds and catch a glimpse of my little lighter-than-air companion. Of course, he had already found his way home and was waiting for us at the back airlock, covered in storm clouds and lightning strikes, deflated and starving.

As the years went by, little Ferdie aged quicker than I. His portholes went milky with age and he leaked engine oil in a constant, weak stream. His propellers whirred fitfully and his gasbag wrinkled. He was a smelly, leaky mess, but I loved him.

One tragic day, we lost Ferdie. Passing a parade, he took flight after a huge balloon from Florida. It was a giant, azure version of their state animal. “Oh, the blue manatee!!!” I cried as Ferdie nipped at its flipper and was shot skyward in the resulting explosion.

Ferdie never recovered and combusted shortly afterwards. We buried his airframe in the garden, next to my sister’s Dirigerbil, who had died of Bag Rot the previous year. I cried all that night and the next day, but it was too late: Ferdie had debarked his last passenger and was gone to the great Mooring in the Sky.

I never forgot Little Ferdie and to this day, when I see little kids pulled, giggling into the air, their frantic parents pursuing them with their emergency jet-packs, I get a little misty-eyed and think of him. He’s chasing Cherubs in Heaven now.

Go get ‘em, Ferdie, make the chubby little gits break a sweat…

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