Archive for October, 2011

The Magic Airbus

I would like to take a moment to dedicate this story to my dear grand-father who recently told me he actually likes my stories. To that, I have to say “Thanks, but it’s your fault.” It turns out that Talent (and stunningly potent good-looking Irish genes) are genetic. But this dedication is your’s, mainly because thanks to you I became interested enough in something that millions of people use a month. Interested enough to convince my family to take me to the Airbus Assembly Factory Tour in Toulouse,which is we have today’s story. I would also like to note the extreme absence of photos – apparently, someone tipped them off about a potential espionage attempt. Unfortunately, no-one knew about my autistic-like ability to remember imagery of Assembly factories to their precise details and recreate them in 3-Dimensionally. I was joking, of course. Actually I’ve never bothered to find out…(ramblings continue in this fashion until the next paragraph)

Ok, so it was a rainy day, but good as any for a tour. The drive took us past Blagnac Airport to the very edges of lesser Toulouse. We ditched the car and sprinted for the doors of the conveniently named Airbus Tours entry, shaped like the fuselage of an Airbus A380.

IMG_0979After confusing the desk-girl for a flight attendant — and asking for a 4th miniature bottle of wine that will hopefully finally lull me in to a state of apathy that will drown out the hollow screams of the teething infant with an ear-infection three rows back. [Only joking – As if anything designed for use on an aeroplane is actually designed to lull anyone into a state of anything (i.e. sleep)] — we moved through the gift shop and bunched together with an overly excited group of university students also waiting for the tour to begin.


The first room, wasn’t too interesting. It was a (functioning) replica of the control room used for the first moon landing A380 test flight. By functioning, I mean recorded to sync with the video of the test pilots, by which I mean that when the recording of the test pilots showed the plane bank left the Tom-tom style GPS replica showed a left bank. VeryHighTech

Afterwards there was another mad dash through the rain to the tour bus, built specifically to insure that the adorable little old lady in our care had to take plenty of time getting up the stairs. We being gentlemen, waited until everyone else was on the bus. Waited in the gift shop.
The bus took us through a few security points and then immediately to the closest wharehouse. In front of a row of elevators we received a lecture about where all the parts of the Airbus come from. All of which I have burnt into my memory:

  • Spain   Fore fuselage, rear-fuselage,
  • UK      – Wings
  • France  – Centre fuselage, 
  • Germany – Paintwork, 
  • Mystery Engines (purchased from a third-party – usually RR or IKEA – but installed by Airbus

After an eternity of Pidgin-English the guide finished and the elevator banks opened, flooding us the glorious sound of silence (and just the right amount of elevator jazz). We ascended 4 floors to a much better vantage point (this one actually had a window) and gazed our eyes upon what you might imagine Santa’s workshop to look like. Tiny people in colourful outfits happily going about their work building toys in preparation for Christmas. That is if you’re like me and wrote to Santa every year begging and pleading for the largest available commercial aircraft. No? Well it takes all kinds to make the world, doesn’t it.

The guide invited us to take a step back and look up which revealedd to us previously invisible TV screens (invisible? only possibility: Santa Magic). Which showed a short documentary on how the different parts of the Airbus are  brought together from over Europe. Sounds simple? Think about it, and things start to fall apart:

  • Why not fly them, it’s only a short distance?
    • Well that’s a terrific Idea. In fact, Airbus designed an aeroplane (a hideous thing called the Beluga … eww) specifically for transport parts of their commercial Fleet. It is probably the largest Aeroplane in the world, and the majority of the older Airbus models, as well as a few A380 parts are transported by it.
  • So why aren’t all the A380 parts sent via plane?
  • Well the problem is that the A380 fuselage is roughly the same diameter as the Beluga. So then, why doesn’t Airbus simply build a bigger Cargo transport? Two reasons: Firstly, because for the moment, it’s just too difficult to design an aeroplane any bigger, still capable of flight. Secondly, because of the size of the fuselage needed to accommodate an A380, it would be near impossible to navigate through cities via land (I’ll explain later). The only reasonable way to transport these fuselage parts would be via the air…which would need an even larger fuselage diameter. See where I’m going?
  • Doesn’t Europe have a lot of canals and rivers. Why aren’t the A380 parts just shipped to Toulouse?
  • Well actually, most of it is shipped via the ocean. Unfortunately Toulouse is situated right between the Atlantic ocean and Mediterranean Sea, so everything (except what is delivered by beluga has had to be unloaded at a port, then loaded on a road convoy at some point. As for the Canals, they were constructed mostly too small, with bridges that are too low to accommodate the A380’s massive bust.
  • Ok, so why does Airbus have such a difficult time transporting via Land?
  • Well really, it’s the same problem as with the canals. The cities were built in the middle ages, and somehow Airbus has to navigate through streets barely wide enough for 2-lane traffic. It’s quite an amazing feat; sometimes the convoy can come within centimetres of accommodation. It is usually done at night, but no-one complains – The convoys are said to be almost silent.
  • Surely Airbus could think of a more simple, cost-effective way of transportation.
    • Probably, but at the moment transport makes up only 0.5% of the total production cost
  • Wow Ned, I can’t believe you could remember all that. How do I get to grow up to be smart (and ridiculously good-looking) like you?
  • Trying to find an answer to that question has led to many theories being created, and caused humanity countless religious conflicts trying to prove that their theory is the only correct one. I can’t give an answer to the question, but the truth is that No-one, can know, regardless of rumoured or self-declared divine knowledge.

After that brief saga, we went out to a viewing platform which enabled us to see the other parts of the assembly ground. There was a weather testing station with 6 unpainted (naturally green) A380s waiting to fly to Germany for their paint jobs, some other unimportant Airbus offices, and a large metal building with no roof. When we asked about it, she told us that was where the jet engines were tested. The building was actually just a sound proof wall for protecting the area from excess noise pollution. However, at the time and place, it was particularly cool.

Sadly that was all from Airbus. Hopefully when I post about my holidays, it will be more interesting.


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Two Months In. No Way Out

Well I have been living with my host family now for exactly 2 months, and boy has it been enlightening. I am so used to trying new things now, that even before I do it for the first time, it doesn’t seem entirely new.

Just yesterday I went ice skating for the first time. I remember when I was young I used to get really nervous whenever we did swimming for P.E. It wasn’t because I couldn’t swim – I was just as good as everyone else. What made me nervous was the thought that we might be doing something new, and that I wouldn’t be able to cope with it. Specifically for me it was diving, because somewhere inside my brain there was a self defence mechanism that told my body my body not to through my body headfirst into a pool of water. I knew that if I didn’t judge it perfectly, I could slam my feet into the side of the pool, do a back- or belly-flop (insult to injury), dive too deep and head-butt the bottom of the pool, or worse, I could get water up my nose – And we all know just exactly how painful and humiliating that is. So I still can’t dive. But the difference with me now, is that I can safely say I have matured. I believe that one of the symptoms of maturity is getting to a point in your life when you stop fearing new things. You know you are going to be hurt or humiliated, but you go through with it anyway, for better or worse. My whole experience here has been like that in a way.

Blury, but smiling and somehow upright!

This is where the ice skating comes in. I don’t know if any of you have ever been ice-skating, and if you have I hope for your sake that it was in your glory days, where everything was Hip and society was still the man. Anyway, I new – even before I was on the ice – that this was completely unnatural*, and I was destined to failure. I didn’t know how long it would take me, but the only thing I could be sure of was failure. But I gave it a shot. How does the saying go? ‘when in doubt, follow your nose’? Well I had a hard enough time staying upright, and following anything was way down my list of priorities. But I did it: I stood on ice. I waddled a bit like a duck on ice. Which eventually turned into a kind of walk on ice. Then I kept on doing that until it kind of passed for a glide. Soon I got into a sort of running-glide. Which didn’t last long. I got over-confident and my feet flew out from under me while my arms were flapping and waving around so much I thought I might take off. Sadly, no. And I limped (there’s no word for that particular way of bipedal motion I exhibited) with my tail between my legs and my heart in my hand out of the rink.

I wasn’t nervous before I started because I knew I was destined to failure. But as I sat there by the side of the rink, watching the people glide past me as graceful as birds, I started thinking. One day, centuries ago, someone gave physics the finger, put blades on the bottom of his hiking boots and walked out onto a lake. He didn’t know what he was doing. He didn’t know that he could skate, that it was even possible. So with no instruction, and no motivation to get up again, he tried to skate. And he fell, and he kept trying without knowing how long he would have to try until something meaningful happened. Eventually he could skate. He taught his friends and eventually they could skate too. But it was never quite as amazing as the first man to skate. He had no objective. Just a slight idea that might be possible, and a goal to keep trying until something happened.

So that’s what this experience feels like to me. Setting out into a scenario which I know nothing about, and accidentally stumbling onto something incredible. All the while knowing full well that it’s only a matter of time before I slip up. So that’s what I’m doing. And I won’t stop.

I just realised that the whole diving story could be made a lot more dramatic, but you know I’m not an author. Maybe involving ice-skating? It’s just a thought

*I checked the Wikipedia article, and apparently, no-one can explain exactly why skating works. Yet another thing American politics has in common with ice…

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Say cheese!

Well, not saying much but I had a really fun night last night.

We went into toulouse for a soiree at a friend of the family. It was a double birthday, and there was lost of delicious food, cheese, wine and etc.

IMG_0968 Stitch


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School’s out

So I haven’t written in a while, mostly because not much has happened but also a little bit because I am notoriously lazy. But I might take this opportunity to fill in you all a little on my life here.

The Transport:
Have to say this is definitely one of the ‘NO’s here.

I say that because, although it is well managed and reasonably priced, it still baffles me. I get lost, wait for buses that never come, (accidentally) steal travel, catch the wrong buses and always end up being late for class. That goes without saying that is always partly my fault, and the fact that a city with only a quarter of the population of Brisbane has 4 fully functioning metro lines gets me pretty pissed.

The City:
The beautiful city of Toulouse is given a name by the people who live here: La ville rose. Literally it means, The Pink (rosy) City. It may not have been clear from my previous photos, but when they say pink city, they mean it.
When the romans originally arrived here hundreds of years ago, the only building supplies they had were wood, Riverstone and this marvellous pink clay.

The School:
Honestly, my school has everything you could want in a well funded education system:

  • 10 hours of class a day (except Wednesday when i can sleep)
  • Hot lunch
  • Capable teachers
  • copious amounts of homework
  • enough frog dissections to satisfy even the most sadistic of small boys
  • Freedom of expression in your choice of clothing
  • an actual sports education programme
  • Internal heating…oh god that’s good
  • Public transport (seriously I cant get enough of it)
  • about a million other things but i think 10 dot points is enough

The family:
If you’re related to me directly, I suggest you scroll down to the next entry, or at least get a box of Kleenex.
I really love my family. And it’s hard to say that about people you only met (not even) 2 months ago. To agree to care for someone like me, pay for my food (which is French and therefore delicious) and generally put up with me, I think is quite an achievement and I praise them for it.

The Country:
France still continues to amaze me. It’s beautiful, the people are friendly, and the cheese is not as bad as you might think (I’m legally required to tell you that by law). But in all seriousness, I really am enjoying it. I mean the blend of city and country life that is everywhere is a new experience for me, and the cultural diversity still surprises me.

The language:
And finally, we come to la langue de les francais:


It’s pretty funny.

I’m on vacation for the next week, hopefully I’ll be able to post again.

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Ye old whatever…

This is my first blog on the new website, so it’s a little exciting.

France is an amazing place. Don’t get me wrong I Australia to bits, but there is something here that I think Australia does not have:


Yes, Of course Australia has history,

but I sit here and struggle to think of anything other than oppression, and stories of men who spent years trekking through barren landscape with the hoping to find water, forests, something.  Instead, there was nothing.  There’s spirit in Australia, but there isn’t history.

I discovered this myself this weekend when my family took me out.  We left our house and headed away from Toulouse. it was a road I had never seen before,  and I half expected it to turn into one of those bad action movies where they put a black bag over the guys head and take him out to the middle of nowhere. Of course I was mistaken.  Unlike the Australian you don’t instantly disappear into the wilderness as soon as you drive over the first hill. Things were pretty desolate but I wasn’t worried because we were still on the GPS.  We kept on them burst through a village into the welcome sight of the AutoRoute.

We kept driving.

I pressed my face against the window and drifted off into my head.  The gentle vibrations calmed me.  The music playing, on my iPod kept me ignorance to the outside world.  Suddenly I felt my headphone wrenched out of my ear.  It was painful like an umbilical cord being ripped out of a small child. I was a new-born suddenly realizing that I didn’t like the outside world so much anymore.

“Ned, regarde (look)”

I sat up slowly, turned my head, and was instantly confused. Firstly, because everyone was so calm. Secondly, because pleasure in the middle of the town was a preteen girl’s fantasy house. A real fucking fairy-tale castle. My stomach dropped, like someone I had met a few times but hadn’t seen for too long had just died.  It wasn’t right.  It couldn’t be true.  We headed around a bend in the AutoRoute and it was gone.

Within half an hour I had walked across the drawbridge and through the gatehouse of carcassonne  There I stood sandwiched between two rows of buildings and probably 30 tourists.  From my vantage point they seemed almost as tall as the walls (the buildings that is not the tourists). The slope of the ground looked unstable and they slanted worryingly. I had to remind myself that they had stood for centuries and probably a dozen wars.  We ate lunch and were walking through the village when I started to get pissed off.  Past every place we walked was filled with something sickeningly commercial. Storefronts assaulting us with the phrase “made in China”.  I imagined a knight walking out through one of the houses and becoming enraged.  Even in this sanctuary, commercialism had prevailed.  The walls had finally given way and the results were devastating.  I tried not to show my upset, as we kept walking.  Before too long we were gazing up at the strangely castle like eglise (kind of church), with its own towers and walls just as thick as the battlements.

When I pushed open the door I swear I could feel the spirits rush past me. The air was cold and dark, and there was silence. Apart from the few tourists in felt genuine.  This was warts and all history.  Martyrs, witches, crusades. . .  All that death in the name of god right where I stood. I noticed the floor was uneven and dangerous and probably not wheelchair accessible.  The walls seemed unnecessarily high.  Then there’s the windows.  To me it’s a mystery, and I hope it stays that way.  Beauty like this should not have explanation. Unnoticed by me and group of men had gathered in front of the altar.  They sang, and my body shuddered.  A wave of noise flooded the pews, splashing off the too-high walls. I was saturated from head to toe with sound. There were only five men but I could have been hearing hundreds more, the accumulation of generations of choirs. Never have I really been religious, but this was something special. I should have prayed, done something. Something symbolic. Something to outwardly express my utter surrender to the power of this place. I wanted to fall to my knees and cry.

It was time to leave and we met with our tour guide. Over another moat, through another wall, right into the heart of the castle keep. Even though the tour guide only spoke French, I have probably studied the middle ages at least three times so I had general idea about what he was saying. Occasionally, Patricia
(my host mum) would fill me in on what he was saying. I like to use the word ‘Histoire’ because it’s a bit more correct.  Literally it can mean history or also just stories.  No one alive really knows the truth anymore.  For example here’s a quick story about emperor Charlemagne:

Charlemagne decided he didn’t have enough castles.  So for five years he besieged this one. Almost everyone in the castle died. There was famine, pestilence and cabin fever so after the King died, his wife took drastic action. She took the the last pig and had its stomach  stuffed with the last of the village’s grain. And then she loaded it into a catapult and had it hurled over the war. It hit the ground and exploded everywhere. When Charlemagne saw that the village still had food to waste, he realized the siege was futile and ordered a retreat. As he was leaving, the Dame sounded the bells as a sign of piece. Charlemagne returned and gratefully accepted the cease fire.

There’s a particular part of the tour I found particularly unnerving. We were walking along the tower walls and came to another gate. For those wishing to enter it spelled disaster.  Not by the way of a “guard dog on duty” sign. This was the real deal. More appropriate would be a “attempt to enter and you will have you face melted off with boiling oil and be covered faeces while we fire at you.” I couldn’t decide which was more horrific, that someone could wish this on their worst enemy, or that knights would be willing to sacrifice their lives like this for the good of their kingdom.  Greed is a dangerous thing in the hands of anyone, but out it in the hands of a militant, and you get war.

Towards the end of the tour was this theatre:

The amplitheatre

Some parts of the castle (like this) were from Roman times.  But – like with the stores – the chairs were new and didn’t fit.

Despite my negativity, I really enjoyed my time and found it quite insightful. When I started writing this I had no intention of writing so much or from this perspective, but I guess that’s just freedom of expression.

I’ll leave you with  this thought to ponder on:
The whole point of building castles was to protect the citizens from barbarians.  But if this exchange has taught me anything, it’s that we are all the same race, on both sides of the wall.


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Chez Elle

Well, Dinner with my friend was nice. We had crepes.

The walk to her house let me get some nice photos of the village I live near. (more…)

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Normally on a Friday, I get 4 hours of the morning off and go home. Today, I did something a little more exciting.

Patricia, (My host Mum) had told me about a free bus that runs between school and the shopping centre, so I decided to have a look around. As soon as we hit the first roundabout I realised it was not heading to the shopping centre… (more…)

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