The barber sends Alf Rendell aloft

Alf Rendell all ship shape and stowed. Photo by Peter Layne.

The barber made it happen. It was Francis Hutchings from Bay Barbers in Picadilly Arcade – she got 100-year-old Alf Rendell out of her chair and back into the passenger seat of an open cockpit biplane.

It was payback for being “gorgeous” and a “legend” and 30 years of loyal custom.

Alf just had to drive to Tauranga Airport, check in with a birthday treat voucher, board the aircraft and soar off into his second century - a half-hour romp at 1000 feet with pilot Peter Ham. And Alf was chuffed.

“It was the best thing in the world,” he says. “Incredible.”

The Tauranga identity and photographer was right at home in the open cockpit of the Classic Flyers Museum Boeing Stearman ZK-XAF. Because he shot all of the photographs for his celebrated Historic Tauranga from Above book from the open cockpit of another biplane – a Tiger Moth, between 1946 and 1956.

He pauses to remember. “I haven’t been in a biplane since.” That was 61 years ago when Tauranga was evolving from a fishing village to a city. And there has been some “amazing” transformations to the cityscape.

“The most amazing is the rooftops,” says Alf. “They are all dull grey now, as uninteresting as you could possibly make them. You couldn’t get less pretty suburbs.” He’s entitled to make comparisons. “We made dozens of flights,” says the veteran lensman. Weekend after weekend for ten years.

“Have you been to the barber shop? Run by ladies now,” observes Alf, who seems to have moved very comfortably with the times. “Francis, the owner, collects bits and pieces. Very interesting, worth a look. You should do a story.”

It was Alf’s client loyalty, his contribution to the bits and pieces and his outright “gorgeousness” that prompted Bay Barber’s owner Francis to tickle her staff and clients for the $355 for Alf’s flight.

“He’s just one of the most incredible people I have ever met,” says Frances. And the incredible person was “blown way away” by his experience.

“It was a most enjoyable time, thank you,” says Alf.

Then, after the flight, Alf, who’s just had a couple of years tacked onto his drivers’ licence, climbed into his car and drove home. There’s mileage in this distinguished old bloke yet.

“Good to hear from you – good man!”