Thursday, 20 December 2007

How's the Boy Coming Along?

Tom in typical Christmas pose - The wasted drunk to his left is elder brother Adam

Sorry for the long silence. I particularly wanted to avoid turning this blog into a stream of news about Tom. The kind thoughts and cards I've received from you all have been magnificent, but I need to be careful not to wallow in it all. We're not the only people with problems, and many are far, far worse than ours. So I'm putting in this update purely to respond to the scores of you who've asked for news of Tom, not as more "poor me" stuff.

The return to consciousness hasn't been the eye-flicker, hand twitch and "I'm really thirsty" episode we've all seen on TV. The transition has been all but undetectable. But I think we have to agree that Tom is now conscious. He has difficulty getting control of his eyes, but once he's stopped them rolling around independently he can focus on our faces within a limited field of view. He'll also respond about 50% of the time to a request to squeeze our hands, and some questions are answered with very slight nods or shakes of the head.

Physically he's progressing well and he's now out of Critical Care.

We don't know at this stage how complete his recovery will be, but 100% is still a possibility.

Thank you again for all the wishes, hopes and prayers. You're a splendid bunch.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

The Other Side of the NHS - And a Small Confession

Just looking at Rosie's comment below it struck me that I've been too one-sided in my criticism of the NHS. As she says, the parts of it that involve personal commitment are quite exceptional. We're seeing this part right now. The Neuro Critical Care Unit at the Birmingham Queen Elizabeth Hospital is full of dedicated, patient and caring people who also happen to be superbly trained. Professor Cruickshank's team of consultants - and particularly the Prof himself - are painstaking about giving us clear, understandable information, and the attention and respect Tom's receiving are faultless.

It occurs to me that I need to come clean about Tom's age. Eva and I have been touched and greatly comforted by the daily flow of good wishes, prayers and healing energy that comes in via this blog. I can't thank you enough for that. But then Eva pointed out that you may be under the impression that he's a little boy.

So now I feel a fraud.

Tom's 24. He's foul-mouthed and irreverent, and therefore incredibly funny. He's also one of the sweetest-natured guys you'll ever meet. He lives half a mile away with his partner Laura. One thing I'm looking forward to is the return of a series of sounds that always make us laugh: A car drives up outside. The kitchen door opens. The fridge door opens. We hear rummaging. The fridge door closes. The kitchen door closes. That would be Tom popping in to see us then.

(In fairness, once the comedic effect has settled, he comes and sits in the living room with us until he's digested whatever he's stolen).

Tom's still unconscious, but responding now to requests to squeeze our hands, nod or shake his head. The strongest response so far came when Laura mentioned Jessica Alba. Tom's eyes opened noticeably. Laura commented that she should be offended that JA was granted more reaction than she was, but under the circumstances she'd let him off - as long as she could be involved too. Tom's eyes came fully open, he turned his head and squeezed Laura's hand. We both got the distinct of Joey in Friends nodding and muttering "Coo-ool!"

That's my boy, and he's on his way back.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007


This blog was always intended to amuse rather than to attempt any sort of profundity, but the response from so many of you regarding Tom's operation has been so remarkable and moving that I feel I owe you an update.

Tom's improving slowly following an operation that turned out to be significantly less straightforward than expected. Put baldly, it looked as if we were going to lose him.

We didn't.

Following the repeated delays of the NHS, the decision was taken to follow the route of private treatment. My unbelievable brother made this possible and, as a result, almost certainly saved Tom's life. The operation was scheduled for Sunday morning under Professor Garth Cruickshank. He discovered an abnormal blood supply to the tumour and made immediate arrangements for transfer to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham.

Attempts to embolise the tumour were only partially successful, but Prof C's judgement was that it had to be removed, at the risk of a fatal bleed, as leaving it in place was a significantly greater risk. Tom left for surgery at 9.00am. At 9.30pm a visibly exhausted Professor explained that the operation was complete, the tumour excised, and that the next 24 hours would be critical.

We're past that now; Tom's stable and no longer critical. He's still unconscious at the moment, but we're assured that this is normal. In the next few days we should see him back.

I'm sorry about the length of this post, and the fact that it hasn't made you laugh. But the messages of goodwill, healing and prayer that have been coming in from you guys has been unbelievable.

We apologise for the temporary fault in our sense of humour. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Thank you all.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007


It's not often I'm left not knowing to say. Today's blog won't be particularly coherent and it may become uncomfortably sentimental, so be warned...

You know that horrible old cliché: "A stranger is just a friend I haven't met yet". It's trite, it's banal,

And it's true.

Caroline, Robyn, Maranta, and so many others of you who've sent your thoughts to Tom, you've finally succeeded in taking my words away. If ever we needed confirmation that the Internet is more than just an information resource for paedophiles, an insult forum for brain-donors on YouTube and a route to market for V1agr@ and C1al1s, it's staring us in the face.

The world isn't going to hell in a handcart after all. There are good people all around the world with the energy, the compassion and the power to pull us all back from the brink. People who are your friends even though you may never meet.

Thank you guys. You give me hope for our stupid little species.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Thank You Robyn

I've just received a response from Robyn (alias Zimble) to my anger at NHS waste and callous administrative cuts. It made me cry.

Take a look at her blog on and look for Sunday, 18 November 2007. Robyn's eloquence and literacy always make her comments worth reading, but it's her honesty and openness that make it so moving.

Robyn, thank you from the other side of the world. Never doubt what you do.

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Health & Safety Costs Lives

If this wasn't criminal it would be funny
As I write this my youngest son's in hospital awaiting surgery for a brain tumour. This follows weeks of bullying doctors to agree that unsupportable, disabling head pain merits something more effective than paracetamol. But our beleagured National Health Service can't afford to use its MRI scanners to save patients' lives.
Fortunately though there's plenty of money to pay consultants to create the ludicrous, pointless crap in the poster above. We can't afford to treat patients, but we can afford to educate them in the difference between an accidental fall, an anticipated physiological fall and an unanticipated physiological fall. Click on the image and read the text. I promise you this is real.
Money - your money if you live in the UK - is being spent on "Desk Awareness Training" to make sure that the NHS's overmanned administration departments don't get backache, while trained, dedicated and outnumbered nurses work in unforgiveable conditions for insulting wages.

All the signs indicate that Tom will make a full recovery, and I thank God for that. But the people we pay to keep us safe have failed in their duty and endangered my son's life. And for that they have to be exposed.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

The (Relatively) Sensible Face of Blogging

Bearing in mind that I'm supposed to be earning a living somewhere in all these rambles I've decided to start a new Blog to run alongside this one.

The new one, Marketing Mutters, will centre on my somewhat distorted view of how marketing works. Don't worry, it won't be too serious. I don't believe you should ever take marketing too seriously.

If that puts prospective clients off working with me it's undoubtedly for the best - you probably wouldn't have liked the way I do things anyway. One great bonus of what I do is that I get to work with people I like. It's what keeps me as near sane as I ever want to be.

See what you think.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Looking up at the Ground

Just got this picture e-mailed from my Dad. Couldn't resist posting it up here. It depicts me preparing to commit aviation in Paul Bennett's Stearman. Edited out for effect is the ever-lovely Bruce Monk who was pilot in command for a great trip over Norfolk.

Bruce flies my Brother's Stearman (now back in action at last) for air displays, so he's more than reasonably familiar with the old brutes. We were drinking Old Buckenham coffee when Bruce mentioned that he needed to take Paul's plane back to Priory Farm, so did Dad fancy a breath of (very) fresh air? Dad's 85 going on 17, so he was strapped in and impatient before the rest of us had reached the tannin stains at the bottom of our mugs.

He's actually older than the aeroplane, but in even better condition

Martin and I drove to the farm, with me trying to act pleased that I was making the trip on four wheels. But on arrival, Mr Bennett (may his tribe increase) suggested that Bruce and I might fancy a further aerial jaunt. Oooooh yesss.
Once aloft, Bruce handed over to me so that I could make a total arse of myself trying to fly the thing. The Stearman uses 220hp to achieve almost exactly the same performance that a Tiger Moth produces from 95. So you expect it to be big, numb and American. What it actually is, is amazingly delicate and responsive, asking none of the stick-waving needed to persuade the venerable deHavilland to change direction. To an experienced pilot this is a delight. To someone with the airborne prowess of a dog-whelk it's like trying to adjust the temperature in a TraveLodge shower. After 15 minutes the aeroplane feels sick. Oh but I had such a lovely time.

Paul's Stearman is unique. The intercom works. So on handing back to the man who can, I hear Bruce's voice asking me if I fancy a loop.
OK, it's time to fess up. I've never done that. My feeling about flying is that if God had meant us to go inverted he'd have given us some sort of system to keep us from falling out. Oh, these straps? I see.

You can hear it can't you?

Let's do it.

We're into a steep dive. This big Boeing needs plenty of velocity to coax it over the top, and the only way to get that is with plenty of downhill vectorage. Up to 120mph and a big pull back. I get shorter, which I can't really afford to do. As we come fully inverted I feel all that weight come off. Looking directly up I can see Norfolk spread from horizon to horizon. There's a strong feeling that, but for this harness, I'd be spread to a similar extent.

A few pops and farts from the noisy bit at the front registers the Stearman's protest; it doesn't have an inverted fuel system, so everything stops working for a bit.

Back right-side up we do a few lazy wing-overs and stall turns and then into another loop. He knows what he's doing does our Bruce.

So that's another long-standing fear dead and buried. Until now I've felt that flying should be carried out, as far as possible, straight and level. The idea of doing anything the wrong way up filled me with abject terror.

But you feel very safe with a flying Monk.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Time for a Walk

This is definitely one for the caption competition

Now that my daily exercise regime consists of lifting an electric toothbrush I've noticed that I'm seeing less of my feet each morning. I've been promising myself that I'll get my legs moving for weeks, but there's just no time. So I made some.

I'm lucky enough to live within five minutes' walk of Stafford Castle so it's boots on and off into the green stuff.

It's not that impressive as castles go. What's visible now is actually a Victorian folly built on the original 11th Century foundations. But who cares? There were squirrels, buzzards, even a jay giving me accusing looks from the branches of a beech tree. I think it was a beech. Could have been a rhododendron to be honest. Or a giant hogweed.

There's no point whatsoever to this blog today, other than the picture at the top, which made me chuckle even if no one else sees the humour. But it's worth mentioning because today's walk in the woods made me realise there's always time. Nothing disastrous happened because I was away from the phone. No one died because I didn't pick up my Skype messages.

So go. Tomorrow morning, do yourself a favour. I promise you'll come back in a better mood than before you started.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

James Blunt, misunderstood artist or rhyming slang?

Give the Boy a Break!

The notion that Chris De Bergh could have a spiritual successor may be as believable as Gordon Brown's smile, but I feel that one has emerged. And as such , in my unhumble opinion, he deserves something other than the general opprobrium that surrounds his name.

You see, like the five-foot, rolled-sleeve eyebrow gnome, I think he's the victim of our need to be cool.

When Phil Jupitus commented that, on the basis that Radiohead allow us to download their new album for what we think it's worth, James Blunt should be paying us, we all laughed dutifully, "Oh that James Blunt, he's just such a perfect gadget, do not you think, Camilla?". Then we all snuck off and made it the number one selling album.

As I write this, I'm listening to Mr Blunt's new offering. There, I've said it out loud. Good afternoon everyone, my name is Jeremy and I... I... I'velistened toJamesBlunt!

D'you know what? It's really not that bad at all. In fact when I stop being prejudiced there are some good songs in here. Trouble is, because the guitar-strumming, lyric-based genre was established by a Duluth-born bloke from Minnesota, we presume to judge anyone who can't create a line like "Dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free" as a pretentious git. This is like condemning Albinoni because he wasn't Vivaldi (which a lot of people do). It's just a bloody pop song for God's sake!

Back in the eighties, my wife caught De Bergh's Syndrome, and the house resonated to Lady in Red and Tender Hands. I shut all the windows in case the neighbours heard, opening them only when she'd gone out and I could redress the balance by playing Tom Waits. Then I caught myself singing along with Last Night, or admiring the Gilmour-like guitar solo in What About Me.

So the point of this entry - if there is one - is that everyone has the right to like or dislike any bloody music they want to, and the people who produce it have an equivalent right. So James Blunt has an androgynous voice? No one seemed to have a corresponding problem with Nina Simone. Don't listen to it if it threatens your sexuality.
I do accept that You're Beautiful is pretty dire though.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

The Excitement of Vintage Aviation

Any modelling contracts on offer?

The target for today is Cherbourg. We're taking a group of enthusiasts over to Northern France for a tour of the Normandy Beaches. What better way to do that than in a Dakota? I'm tagging along for the ride because we'll be spending most of the day giving pleasure flights in Plymouth.

So it's an early start from Coventry, with an unscheduled aircraft change because G-AMPY isn't feeling very well this morning. We transfer lifejackets and catering to G-AMRA. There's some sort of philosophical relevance to the fact that we're loading inflatable clothing that will do us no good whatsoever should we make an unscheduled landing, as well as chocolate muffins that are doing us no good whatsoever whatever happens, but at least don't smell like polystyrene cement.

I'm buggered if I know what it is though.

The new merchandise clothing has arrived, so I'm wearing my white Classic Flight baseball cap with pride ("White? Why the bloody hell did you order white?" "Because white won't boil your brain on a hot day" "Sod that, I'd rather have sunstroke than look like a pouf").

We take off and I'm asleep in seconds. Tom Everitt takes a photo of my sartorial sleeping elegance which he feels we should use to promote the new headgear. I try to show him how funny I find this, but unfortunately the slipstream prevents me getting him all the way out of the exit door.
Nicole asked me if I wanted a muffin when I woke up. I know that's not what she meant, but in my half-asleep state...
(note to non-UK readers - this schoolboy humour only works in English).

What Price Bushido?

This all happened within living memory. The human race has little to be proud of

This was a big one. We were planning to fly the Dak from Plymouth Airport. As part of the advance publicity campaign, and with the help of the airport's PR agency, I arranged a competition through the Plymouth Herald. The idea was for those with powerful memories of the Dakota to send them in to the Herald. The response was overwhelming, but among them was a simple, unembroidered account of Alf Baker's liberation from the Japanese at the end of world war two. His account of flying to freedom in a Dakota, with his stretcher mounted near the forward window, was an obvious winner, and so I invited Alf to join us on board the Dakota.

Alf's a quiet, pleasant-natured gentleman, so when he kindly sent me a copy of his book What Price Bushido I had few defences ready for what I read. He was one of 600 artillerymen captured by the Japanes and transported on one of the infamous hell ships to Rabaul. When he was liberated three and a half years later he was one of only 18 survivors. Alf's story is one of the most powerful accounts I've ever read, not least because it's told without drama, heroism or intention to shock. He's written it in the third person, with "Blackie" Baker as just one of the cast. As he explained to me, "I didn't want to include 'I did this' or 'I thought that' because it isn't my story; it's the story of all of them, all those people who fought disease, famine and cruelty to stay alive".
One of the great privileges of working with Classic Flight through this summer has been the opportunity to speak with people like Alf.
You can buy his book - and I recommend strongly that you do - by sending £12.50, plus £2.50 post and packing, to
Rev Alf Baker
The Anchorage
111 Trelawney Road
Plymouth PL3 4JZ

What happened to the Summer?

Following a few prompts from Caroline Van Gysel (thanks Caroline - nice to know that someone finds this stuff vaguely interesting), I'm appalled to find that my last blog entry was in July.

So what happened in the last months? What's my excuse for zeroBlog? Who invented concatenatedWords? WhoDecided where theCapitalsGo? Who givesAToss?

I feel I need to catch up, even if it's only to remind myself what's been going on. It's been a hell of a summer and I don't want to lose it to hardening arteries.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

Unréal Coventry

Couldn't resist this. Following Nicole's encounter with geriatric bladder limitations at Liverpool (see Old Man's Piss, below) it seemed the logical way to continue the relentless harassment. She's got it blue-tacked to her computer screen, so she must think it's funny.

So why am I convinced she's plotting revenge?

Thursday, 28 June 2007

The Trouble With Cruise Control

1200cc of untamed power, a big exhaust and a wagging fist

It happened again today. My son Daniel and I were heading for Wimbledon (To visit a client, not to hear Cliff Richard showing that there's something worse than sitting on wet bleachers). The cruise control is set. Everyone we overtake either speeds up as we pass, or overtakes immediately after the manoeuvre, only to slow down again.

On Sunday a woman and her passenger in a Corsa made onanism-related gestures because I had the audacity to drive at a constant speed. I have 80mph dialed in, and we cruise gently past the little Vauxhall. By the time I've resumed the left-hand lane she's already overtaking me; she's accelerated by at least 15mph. Then she's in front of me, and she's slowed to around 75. Still set to 80, I pass her again. She does exactly the same again, with rather more aggression, then slows down as soon as she's in front.

After four repetitions, she swerves sharply into the right hand lane, much to the dismay of the Golf that's just about to overtake her. The Corsa finally attains a consistent velocity and, barping incontinently through its big-bore exhaust, bounces into the distance. The occupants treat me to what Patrick O'Brian called "antic gestures".

I don't know the moral of all this, unless it's that cruise controls have no ego.

Old Buckenham Airshow is a No-Rainer

There'll be a few scraps of video here when I get time to edit it all together.

Old Buckenham bribed the weather gods to give us a great display on Sunday. It all began pretty inauspiciously with a cloudbase you could reach by standing on a chair. The rain would have dug holes in the umbrellas if it had further to fall. Then it was time for Denny Dobson to start the displays and - tzing - 10,000 feet of fresh air.

I had a few battery challenges, so I managed to miss some great moments. When Will Curtis took off and flipped his Sukhoi inverted less than 20 feet above the runway, I wasn't filming. When the Swift sailplane induced collective respiratory suspension as it tail-slid, flip-flopped, made an impossibly low final and fast-taxyed by us, to gently drop its wing next to its service truck, I wasn't filming.

But the camera was turning over as Gerry Honey, Bruce Monk and Dave Bagshaw showed their mettle in the Stearmans (Stearmen?). It was sad to see Martin's No 26 looking wistfully up at its skymates, grounded by the weight of CAA paperwork. Dave, Bruce and Gerry showed their customary mastery. Various problems meant that their only rehearsal was one single practice the night before the display. It didn't show.

BBMF displayed their Dakota. It seemed strange to see a non-Classic Flight Dak flying by, but the Coventry boys received some good mentions from the commentator for overhauling the BBMF Lancaster, and for their imminent restoration of the Dak.

Peter Lawton was distressingly accurate in the Bucker Jungmann, but typically modest on the ground afterwards. Hopefully the video will show what a great job he did.

The day finished with the impossible calisthenics of Will Curtis in the Su26. It was during this performance that the battery finally died so the final madness as he hovered, hanging from the prop, is missing. The man has no respect for physics.

Old Buck's a small, aero club airfield. But Paul Layzell and his team put together an afternoon that would have done credit to the major national displays. We saw superstars like Hurricane, Mustang, Spitfire, and Seafire, along with beautiful performances from world-class local pilots.

As well as a great day it was a demonstration of what determination and resourcefulness can achieve.

Old Man's Piss - Because I'm worth It

The toilet is old technology too
We flew the Dak from Liverpool over the weekend of the 22nd-24th. The old girl behaved impeccably and we were lucky enough to be able to play host to five of the guys who worked on her when she worked for Starways in the 50s. They made me laugh immoderately with a comedy script that Richard Curtis would kill for.
An example:
We're sitting on the tarmac prior to departure. It's raining hard outside so G-AMPY, in true Dakota tradition, is dripping gently into the gangway. A few passengers look slightly concerned: is it supposed to leak? One of the Starways guys, hearing a whispered comment from a nearby seat, responds, "Don't worry love, this is a good one. On most Daks you'd be drier outside."
Then, as we land, another ex-engineer leans across to his workmate and says - just a little too loudly - "If these wheels don't come down I'm holding you personally responsible."
Best comedy moment, though, was after the landing, as we waited for the bus to collect the passengers. An elderly passenger approaches Nicole, the Cabin Services Manager. "Excuse me, how long will the bus be?"

"I'm afraid we don't know - that's up to the airport."

"Trouble is, I really need to go to the toilet."

Nicole delivers welcome news: there's a camping toilet in the tail. Not the height of luxury or technology, but fine for an emergency. She installs him in the rear compartment, where he stays for some time.

The tail space of G-AMPY does have a toilet. It doesn't have a wash basin.

The passenger returns, mission successful. He places his hands on Nicole's cheeks and declares his undying love. Somehow her smile doesn't drop by a millimetre, but the eyes scream for help as he pats and strokes.

After the bus leaves she makes a hurried check on the type of transaction that has been carried out. Huge relief - it's a number one. She's had a urine skin treatment, not an organic mudpack.

Naturally we're all sympathetic. In the hotel Signals Bar (we decide there's a lonely dyslexic endlessly waiting at the bar) it's my round. Want a drink Tom? John? How about you, piss-face? By the end of the evening we're doing L'Oreal commercials. "My skin has never felt so hydrated. Thanks to P-Uro nanosomes my face is wrinkle-free, vibrant, invigorated."

Old Man's Piss by L'Oreal. Because I'm worth it.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Mods Hit the Road

A Vespa Sportique. Even Gordon Brown couldn't create a greater swing to the right

Just received an unexpected comment on the blog from Andrew Greenwell, an old friend from nearly 40 years ago. Andy and I went to the same school - Aldridge Grammar - so it'd be interesting to know if he emerged from its strange view of reality as twisted as I did. The English teacher was an American, and the woodwork teacher had a bizarre line in sadism - known as the Titchenor Knock. This involved being summoned to the front of the class. "Cherub" would then mug extravagantly at the expectant throng before driving his knuckle vertically down to the top dead centre of the cranium. No wonder we developed behavioral anomalies.

Following school we both ended up as apprentices at Birlec, where the training school was run by a failed sergeant major irresistably reminiscent of Fulton McKay in Porridge. I took Andy on the back of my Lambretta down to the clocking-in station. This thing was the ultimate in 1968 chic. Front and rear crash bars, flyscreen, backrest, even an aerial with a fur tail at the top.

I gave the scooter a fistful of throttle and about 12hp of raw Italian power kicked in as, with razor precision, I laid the machine over on its silencer box. This was called scraping. What followed was called falling off. Given that I was easily the most talented Lambrettist in the northern hemisphere, I blamed Greenwell for his mediocre pillion skills.

I'd previously sold Andy a 1964 Vespa Sportique, a 60s icon maybe, but certainly the absolute nadir of man's design insight. You see, when the Vespa designers first laid out their new masterpiece, they forgot to leave space for an engine. So they put it in the right hand side panel. Now this thing has to balance on two wheels, so what did they put in the left hand side panel? Nothing. Nada. Naff all. Vespas were unbeatable at turning right, but entering a roundabout took some skill.
So, Andy, my 38-year-late apologies. I sold you a scooter with the poise and balance of Stephen Hawking auditioning for Riverdance. Then I treated you to 30 feet of gravel-rash.
It was good to hear from you.

Shrapnel Holes in the Rain

The Americans call them Gooney Birds. They deserve a better name

Interesting day at Liverpool on Thursday. Classic Flight are flying the RAF Transport Command Dakota from John Lennon Airport next week (22-24th June). Richard Parr and I drove up on Thursday to brief the local media. Paddy Green kindly gave us the run of his immaculate C-47 so that we could give the press a preview of what it feels like inside. Keenair looked after us as well as they look after the Dak. One of the great things about aviation is that it brings you into contact with some great people.

And speaking of great people...

Classic Flight's Dak used to be owned by Starways, a Liverpool-based airline that disappeared in the early 60s. We put the word out for ex-Starways employees to get in touch, and on Thursday we met four real stars. Bob, Bernie, Tony and Cliff were engineers on G-AMPY in the fifties and 60s. I could have listened to them all day. The standard Christmas present from the Starways management was "a pork pie, a bottle of jungle juice and your cards". You got your job back in the new year, hence saving holiday pay.

Paddy's C-47, like all Dakotas, isn't particularly watertight. But this one has some extra leaks, courtesy of German anti-aircraft. There are jagged shrapnel holes still clearly to be seen in the unlined fuselage walls. There are patches outside, but the rain in Liverpool would find its way into a submarine.

Good coverage on radio and papers, so a successful day. Here's hoping for lots of pleasure flying bookings next weekend.

The Lady Sings the Blues

Time to do some catching up here. The blog's been ignored for a couple of weeks - been busy - so here's a few days' worth to be going on with.

I went to see my niece Sophie fronting Blue Harlem, a great swing band that's well worth checking out when they're in your area. Sophie's an amazing singer and great to jam with, but seeing her with a seriously good band behind her was something else again.

Sophie asked if one of us could shoot some video on our phone. As it turned out I'd got the MiniDVD camera in the boot so she got this. It's camera sound, so don't expect too much on the audio front but you'll get the idea.

What struck me as I looked around the audience is that we need to re-define our definition of sad. We call people who dress up sad. We call trainspotters sad, in fact we call anyone with an interest that we don't share sad. On this night I was surrounded by people in 40s dress, doing 40s dances. There were GIs, land army girls, even a couple of spiv black marketeers. And the only sad person in the room was the dork with the video camera. I was the saddo looking on while they had the time of their lives.

Next time you see someone dressed up in a uniform from another period, don't give it the pitying head-shake routine. Ask what you need to do to join.

Sunday, 27 May 2007

Paines-Taking Triumph

My white bicycle. I miss it
My business partner and good mate Matt Paines has been blogging his two-wheeled odyssey to Le Mans for the Moto GP. You can read his story here.

I'm envious. He's been in one of my favourite countries, doing something I can't do anymore. There are several things I can't do anymore, but motorcycling is the only one I can confidently say that Matt can still accomplish. His Triumph Daytona is always indecently clean and gleaming - I also envy his patience; every bike I've ever owned has developed a patina of road film and insect corpses.

As the weather improves I'm missing my Buell. OK, they're not the fastest bike on the planet - in one dimension. It's an American 1000 with the straight-line performance of a Jap 600. But go playing in the twisty bits and you come back with flies in your teeth and a grin like James Coburn. And the noise! It's like Louis Armstrong accompanied by the zipper on the fly of God Almighty. Sadly, that famously powerful front brake couldn't quite rein it all in before we hit the tractor.

Matt's sat-nav dramas brought to mind yet another triumph of fashion over sense. Why are the latest TomToms wide screen? OK, I can see the sense of a widescreen TV. I'm less convinced by widescreen computer monitors. But widescreen sat-nav? If your car had headlights that illuminated the fields each side of the road you'd get a similar effect.

So Mr T. Tom, go and pick up one of your new models and turn it through 90 degrees. See? Yes, tall screen, that's what we need. Rotate your screen display and give us something practical instead of fashionable.

Then go and sack that designer with the plasma screen telly.

Hello, Who have I telephoned please?

Obsession with security has taken over our lives. On Friday I received another of those bizarre promotional phone calls, this time from Orange. A couple of days before I'd had something similar from Sky TV. In fact it's happened a few times now. The telephone rings and a strongly accented voice says "Hello, is that Mr Shaw?"

"Yes, speaking"

"Hi Mr Shaw, this is XXX from YYY. Would you mind confirming your address and postcode please?"


"So that I can confirm your identity."

"And how do I know who you are?"

"I'm XXX from YYY."

"So you say. Would you give me your date of birth and home address please?"

"I'm sorry Mr Shaw, I'm just trying to confirm I'm speaking to the right person."


I'm not a big fan of identity theft, but I can't see the threat in someone else getting my spam phone calls.

Friday, 18 May 2007

I'm a CAA Approved Test Pilot!

Old Buckenham's CFI, Gerry. A great pilot, but clearly not in my class

Forgot to mention this; had an unusual phone conversation with Gerry Honey yesterday. My phone rang and Gerry's crisp, Battle of British crackled over the airways. "Hi Gerry Honey here, do you know much about Stearman 26?"

26 is my brother's Stearman, that was parked upside down by another pilot two and a half years ago. I admitted some knowledge of the matter. "For various reasons, the CAA won't accept the test flight that I did," said Mr H, "They say that they want you to do it."

Gerry has over 1,000 hours on Stearmans alone, so I'm understandably flattered that my aviation skills are so highly rated by the CAA. They may, however, have overlooked the fact that I lack a couple of the necessary certificates. A license for example.

"That's great Gerry, I'd be delighted. But, er, I don't think you've phoned who you think you have."

"Who's that then?"

"Martin's brother"

****LONG PAUSE****

"Well, hello old boy, how the devil are you?"

You probably had to be there.

Stampe Fly-in

A Stampe: It's sort of a Tiger Moth, done properly

Received some interesting posts from Caroline in Belgium. She alerted me to the site on - well worth a look, and the Stampe Fly-in looks like the place to be this weekend. There's also a Chipmunk meet in Zoerst from 16-20 May. Details on
Caroline's looking for CDs by Amazing Blondel. I thought I was the only person who remembered these guys. I used to go to see them in the 70s. Very British, with a faux-Elizabethan style. I thought they were great, but I also rated the Incredible String Band and Lindisfarne so don't be guided by my tastes. It was AB and ISB that gave rise to my collection of flageolets. We were a folk-rock band called Fern (v. fecund) and later Summatz Grappen (v. stoned) and I used to emulate my multi-instrumental heroes by switching from guitar to ukelele to mandolin and other more obscure instruments. I'd often do this in a single song, to the acute bewilderment of the audience, most (or sometimes both) of whom I knew.

Le Mans or Bust

Matt's bolide, ready to roll. probably

Matt Paines, my co-director in XSEO, the search engine optimisation specialists, is off on an adventure of his own this weekend. He's saddled up his Daytona and headed for Le Mans for the MotoGP. The Daytona decided to eat its own instrument lights yesterday. This is less than ideal for a night trip. By six o'clock last night the front of the bike looked like John Hurt after his unscheduled caesarian in Alien.

He's bought a sat-nav for the journey. He's going to need to learn to spell Le Mans (heh heh)

Check out Matt's blog here.

Madeleine McCann

This needs no further comment from me. Do everything you can. If you're outside the UK call +44 188 373 1336

Thursday, 17 May 2007

The Flapping Rapide and the Dove that Doesn't

It looks lovely. Pity so much of it fell off on the way home

That last post was actually from last week. I've caught up now and this is today. Interesting week. Classic Flight has a new Rapide. Romeo Papa has a good pedigree and Jon and Trevor flew confidently down to the south west to collect it. It looked v. pretty on approach, but as it taxyed in I couldn't help noticing that the fabric on the sides was flapping like a beach towel. Captain Corley looked like he'd limped a flak-damaged Lancaster back from Dresden. "It needs a bit of attention" he muttered, looking at the holes left by the bits that had fallen off on the flight home.

Not quite up to our standards of maintenance this one. Off to the engineers for some TLC.

We have an at-home day at Coventry this weekend. The public can walk around the planes and point, and they can try a ride over Warwick Castle in the Dakota, Rapide, Twin Pin or Prentice. We've been hoping to add the Dove to the list. It's been in the hangar for extensive maintenance for some months so it was great to see her rolling out into the afternoon sunshine.

Yes I know it's really a Devon. Your anorak's undone

She's in fine looks. The Dove's a very pretty plane, and it looks amazingly modern for a 40s aircraft. This is an ex-military version, so strictly speaking it's a Devon, but only people who wear Kangol and speak like John Major really care. (Oooh I'm going to get some stick for that comment).

The right-hand engine burbles happily to life, but the one on t'other wing isn't interested. Apart from a few flatulent chuffs (not the sort Bill Oddie watches) it just doesn't want to burn petrol.

We're going to be a Dove down this weekend.

Thank You Exeter!

It worked! People are telephoning and requesting their Exeter Shopper discount. Suddenly the rainwater down the back of our necks seems worthwhile. Given half-way decent weather this weekend we should take a few people flying...

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Waterproofing Exeter

Having collected Will (designer extraordinaire) from Kidderminster at some ungodly hour, I was feeling fairly sanguine about the whole giving leaflets out deal. Exeter is considerably closer to the equator than Stafford, so there's plenty of time to eat Welcome Break breakfasts, subject young Jarman to my eclectic musical taste, and try to digest Welcome Break breakfasts.

We reach Exeter more in the form of a splashdown than an arrival. The sky's sprung a leak. God appears to have left the bath running.

We find the Guildhall Shopping Centre and go bravely to work. I hand out leaflets to strangers, Jarman forms several deep and meaningful relationships and appears to have more fun. Then security chuck us out for dirtying their lovely Devon floors with our nasty Midland shoes. We withdraw to the deluge and within an hour we're squelching up to bemused shoppers and handing them unidentifiable pieces of papier maché.

At lunchtime we join the rest of the guys who've brought the Dakota and the Rapide down from Coventry. The cockpit of the latter isn't completely water-resistant. Jon would have arrived with drier feet if he'd come down on a bike. The passenger compartment's dry and snug though. Nobody bothered too much about the driver in the thirties.

We complete the afternoon by pushing wet blotting paper through 500 Exeter letter boxes. I'm sure they didn't bite back when I was a paper boy. We retire to the pub with bleeding knuckles. Everybody in the bar is nervously polite.

Wednesday, 9 May 2007

Why Doesn't Exeter Like Flying?

It's the 70th anniversary of passenger flight from Exeter International Airport this weekend. The first aircraft to land here in 1937 was a deHavilland DH86. There aren't any of those left outside museums, so the nearest equivalent today is the DH89 Rapide. Classic Flight now has three of these magic biplanes in flying condition so it made sense for the mayoral recreation of the event to use some of Coventry's hardware.

A Rapide, A Dakota and some sort of Volkswagen

Tango Mike, Classic Flight's blue Rapide is one of my all-time favourites. She's a lovely old girl with a sweet nature and an amazingly comfortable cabin. She's going down to Exeter with her old friend G-AMPY, our Transport Command Dakota. We're offering pleasure flights to all comers for just £65 a head. Usually you have to fight people off with a mucky stick, but this weekend - where's everybody gone? We've done the advertising, the press releases, the radio interviews... And the forward bookings look like the AGM of the All-Sahara Apathetes League. On a wet Tuesday.

As I'm in charge of marketing, this is slightly more than mildly embarrassing.

So I'm driving to Exeter tomorrow morning with a car full of flyers. I'll be handing them out to shoppers, smiling, cajoling, pleading and, if necessary, buying them a flight.

It's a bloody long way to Exeter, so all you lot in the South-West, make sure you appreciate what I'm doing for you.

Because if you don't come and fly with us we'll fly over your house and drop bombs.

The steery bits of the Rapide. If you came to Exeter this weekend you could even waggle some of them

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Easter at Classic Flight

If you're of a certain age you'll remember those press-out cardboard models you could buy. When I was three my elder brother made a whole fleet of cardboard aeroplanes of the day. His favourite was a tiny de Havilland Vampire that he crafted with ten-year-old dedication and I burnt with three-year-old vileness. The guilt has pursued me ever since.

When I started working with Classic Flight I mentioned the fact that they fly a restored Vampire. Martin replied "Bloody hell, they'd better not let you near that."

Over Easter weekend I was able to pay back the debt. With the kind co-operation of Classic Flight and conspiracy from Jon Corley, their chief pilot, we were able to get Martin aloft in the Vampire.

Maiden Flight: Bruce Dickinson at the controls of the Twin Pioneer

And what a great day it was. There were pleasure flights in a DC3 Dakota, a Scottish Aviation Pioneer (with Bruce Dickinson at the controls), a de Havilland Dragon Rapide and a Percival Prentice. It was a real thrill to see war veterans step out of the Dakota with tears in their eyes. One ex-paratrooper commented that he's taken off in a Dakota lots of times, but this was the first time he's landed in one.

Jon and Martin put the Vampire through its paces in the afternoon sun, finishing with a low, high-speed fly-past that drew a few gasps from the crowd. It's easy to say that the Vamp's not fast by modern standards, but not when it comes by you at 50 feet, doing around 400mph. Martin gets out grinning like James Coburn.

I scuttle around getting on everyone's nerves with Jon's video camera and put together a little film to remember a great day

It needs music. I ask my son Adam to put his musical talents to work and he comes up with a stunning semi-classical piece. I edit it in wide-screen and then realise that YouTube operates in 4:3 format. One day I'll find the time to re-edit it, but in the meantime at least it makes everyone look thin.

Saturday, 5 May 2007

Epilogue: I Can Still Break Your Toys!

There's an important job still undone. At least, I think it’s important. The whole flying experience has been vicarious for me; now I can have a turn. I buckle into the front seat of the Cub; at last, I get to play with Mart’s new toy. Now, shall I scribble on it with a biro or just throw it in the fire?

After 2,000 miles, it's my turn at last

The take-off is… interesting. Adrian’s at the controls – not something you’d usually have any concern about. The initial roll is a little wobbly, but the wind’s not straight down the runway, and this is a Cub after all.
Then it turns sharp left. Within a second we’ve got one wheel on the grass, meanwhile the tailwheel has dropped, leaving us with minimal visibility ahead. Adrian, fearing unseen edge markers, puts the Cub up on one wheel. We gather speed, recover our dignity and rise a little raggedly into the air. “Sorry about that old chap”, says an unruffled voice from behind.

Meanwhile, on the ground, everyone’s assuming it was my fault. “How many hours has Jem got on taildraggers?” is the question on everyone’s lips. “No more in my bloody plane” is Martin’s clenched-teeth answer, his mind dragged inexorably back to all the other toys I’ve broken.

A hint of untidiness on take-off
Meanwhile, overhead, I’m having a very good time. Adrian has handed over to me and we take a gentle afternoon cruise over Norfolk. He tries to correct my inability to recognize anything on the ground and I finally manage to identify Martin’s house and the runway at nearby Shipdham.
Returning to Old Buck my sky blindness returns. Adrian’s talking me back towards an invisible runway. As I cut the throttle for turning final, I still don’t know where we’re going. It’s something of a relief when “I have control” crackles through the intercom.
In the last few weeks we’ve seen old pilots, cold pilots, even bold pilots. Finishing with an old blind pilot burying the plane would be just too much of an anti-climax.

AHC admits it was all his fault

As we touch down (silk-smooth greaser from AHC, no wonder we all hate him), there’s a row of interested faces along the railings. Everyone wants to know exactly how I screwed up the take-off. We decide it would be best for Adrian’s air-cred if I take the blame, but he can’t cope with the mendacity and owns up. He puts it all down to rotating too soon, possibly with a binding brake. He’s been noticing a certain amount of wobbling and swerving in Mart’s take-offs, and now he understands why.
All I know is we walked away from it, and the plane didn’t pick up any tarmac rash. There were edge markers along the runway, any one of which could have pulled a wheel strut off and tipped us over.
On that basis, the boy done bloody good in my book.

Two of the nicest guys I've ever known. And Martin
The only problem now is, what next? I’ve spent a series of extended weekends in the best company anyone could ever wish for. We’ve fallen in love with a country that does nothing to deserve the reputation we choose to give it. Our adventure might have lacked the glamour of a Bugatti Veron screaming through French tunnels. But Clarkson didn’t get the chance to meet the people we did. Jean and Mary’s eccentric but warmly genuine hospitality, Ully’s gloriously bad taste in humour, Robert’s generosity, and the welcome we found virtually everywhere we came to rest.
It’s an experience I’ll never forget.
Thank you guys.

Day Two: Dieppe to Old Buckenham

As dawn breaks I go in search of a boulangerie for breakfast. We recce’d several last night and ascertained that they open between 6.30 and 7.00. It’s 7.15 and they’re all shut. I eventually locate the only one that doesn’t lie about its opening hours and buy fresh chocolate croissants, warm raisin bread and some outrageous pineapple tortes. The Cub’s going to be heavily overweight today.

Adrian goes to get the meteo

Weather at Dieppe is looking OK, and improving rapidly. The Cub just might be going home today. It’s cold but clear, and the angle of the windsock steadily decreases as the morning breeze settles down.

We’re seeing the birth of a perfect flying day.

Clear skies and a drooping windsock. The trip is on

Flying over water in a single-engined plane calls for thorough preparation and a healthy regard for procedures. When everything within gliding distance contains fish, the last thing you want is an embarrassing silence from up front. Adrian and Martin are always conscientious about safety checks, but today there’s a definite sense of added thoroughness.

Adrian checks whether there's any fuel in the water

We’ve got starting down to an approximate science, so AHC confidently pours a sightglass-full of fuel into the right front inlet manifold. After only 20 minutes of cranking we’re rewarded by the mechanical clatter of a happy Continental.

Adrian risks a few more fingers

The Cub taxis away and I climb into the Jeep, pausing to watch the little yellow kite make its characteristically lazy ascent into a violet sky. As the Continental snores into silence I point the Jeep’s nose homeward.

Take-off from Dieppe

I’m alone with the Grand Cherokee. It’s a strange mixture; the 2.7 litre diesel pulls it along at a highly creditable gallop, and you can’t fault the comfort or equipment. It’s just a shame that the steering seems to be transmitted through knicker elastic. I had a 1960 Morris Minor that required almost this much sawing at the steering wheel. The built-in Traffic Master system would benefit from a little more thought. “Your route of 476 miles will take you along the…” by which time you’ve missed the turning and it has to recalculate. Then it says it all again, by which time you’ve missed another turning. I turn on my TomTom and the two squabble all the way home.

Mart announces imminent arrival at Le Touquet. Or Margate

Up above, navigation’s a more straightforward affair. Adrian’s contention is that technology can go wrong; maps can’t. This pre-supposes that you can recognize ground features. My own abilities in this area are modest, so I’m always impressed when pilots convince me they aren’t really lost.Whether they’re secretly using their GPS receivers or not (they’re carrying one each – so traditional), Le Touquet comes up on the nose

Notice to Airmen: The right-hand runway is a bit soggy
I get a call as I approach Le Touquet. They’re on the ground and refuelling for the cross-channel leg. The Cub’s behaving beautifully and they’re enjoying perfect flying conditions. They’ll be airborne again before I get there.

I’m settling down with the Jeep’s directional numbness and finding considerable diversion in Martin’s choice of on-board CD entertainment. I descend under the channel to the accompaniment of the Malcolm Sargent/Huddersfield Choir version of the Messiah. I know it’s not authentic; I know purists say the choir’s too big; I know Handel didn’t use clarinets. Know what else? I don’t care. Elsie Morrison knows that her redeemer liveth, and right now she’s got me convinced.

Those cliffs are twenty miles away - much too far to glide

Life jackets in place, the boys start the crossing. The Continental O-170 is a wonderfully simple – and hence reliable – engine. It’s extremely unlikely to fail, but the channel still looks very, very wide. I can attest from personal experience that when the big fan on the front of a Cub stops turning, the plane has more of a trajectory than a glide angle.

As soon as the French coast falls behind, the engine note switches to automatic rough. Every change in noise, revs or glide angle is suddenly keenly noticed.

Martin see something slower than the Cub

At 75mph there’s plenty of time to look around. The channel’s one of the world’s busiest sea ways, so there’s always something on the surface to look at. The Cub can race ships. It can even beat some of them.

D'you know, I think we're catching him!
The Continental snores happily over the channel and Dover’s soon passing under its flared nostrils. The hop fields of Kent slide smoothly by as the nose turns towards Headcorn.

Overhead Dover. Normal respiration resumes

The landing strip at Headcorn has the consistency and colour of thick Bisto. The cub slithers to a halt in a corner of some English field, covered in most of it. Floats might have been a good idea.
As I pull out of the Eurotunnel terminal I receive a text to say that Adrian and Martin are on the ground at Headcorn. The Cub’s back in England!

Headcorn - quality English mud

Pilots and plane need refuelling. Adrian celebrates his return to Blighty with a bacon and egg sandwich in the airfield café. You can tell a good one by measuring how far up your elbows the yolk runs.

French cuisine may lead the world, but sometimes your arteries need a good British breakfast.

International gourmet and his bacon and egg buttie

I’m back on British motorways. You can tell because everyone drives on the right. I sit in the interminable fast-lane traffic and yearn for French roads. The Cub’s on the last lap, heading for its new home in Norfolk. As usual I’m behind and, impressively quick though it is, this Jeep hasn’t quite got the power of the trip one and two conveyances. They’re going to beat me again.

I pull into the car park at Old Buckenham. No sign of the Cub. A scout round the apron, hangars and bar confirms it: they’re not here yet. Is everything OK?

Ten minutes later, a dot in the sky resolves into a yellow crucifix. G-BFBY is coming home. With his club mates watching, Martin takes extra care with the landing and produces a creditable greaser.

Lots of man-hugs and back thumping ensue. The odyssey is over, and the Cub has a new home.

We did it! The aircrew at Old Buckenham

Cub Trip Three: Jeepster

Diaries have intervened and it’s been difficult to get the team together for our third-time-lucky attempt. Martin’s had several opportunities to bring the Cub home thanks to other flying friends, but he’s held out so that the original three amigos can complete the job. What a splendid chap.

We’re back with General Motors for this trip. We’re using Martin’s Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland. It’s an interesting package, of which more later.

Did I mention we’re videoing this? We’ve carried a video camera with us through all of the trips with a view to recording the experience for the future boredom of dinner guests. Martin tries to do a piece to camera on the Eurotunnel train, but it’s impossible because of a deaf van drivers’ outing immediately in front of us. They stand next to their transit with their faces three inches apart, bellowing obscenities and emitting barking laughs throughout the journey. If the rumours are true, and the English aren’t popular abroad, then the reason why is parked 6 inches in front of us.

Mart primes a hand-grenade for the transit drivers

On the previous visit I attempted to find Dieppe airport by programming TomTom with the latitude and longitude. It failed due to TomTom using Celsius for co-ordinates, while I’m more used to avoirdupois. AHC and Shaw senior were unsympathetic. Mart tries to demonstrate his superior technological grasp by programming our destination correctly. Our route provides us with unparalleled opportunities to take in the Bois de Boulogne, the Ruhr Valley and Easter Island.

Martin achieves level 2 on Super Mario Brothers

Eurotunnel runs smoothly this time and we’re soon sub-Manche and southward bound. My unerring directional talent puts us on the road for Paris – after all, I’ve done this trip a few times now.

But we’re going to Dieppe.

The few moments of irritated silence soon dissipate and within a few minutes we’re singing Tom Tom Turn Around again.

Adrian has an old-fashioned belief in maps. He has no sense of adventure.

AHC identifies where they went wrong in 1944

Martin’s at the helm as we head down past Le Touquet. The weather’s fine, but gusting to 30mph. Each time we pass a truck or cross one of those astonishing French valley-spanning viaducts, the Jeep lurches alarmingly across the carriageway. The steering-wheel swerves like a slowed down Michael Schumacher in-cockpit video.

There’s plenty of room in the back so I perform a few druidical sacrifices to various weather gods. It’s a 4x4, so it’s easier to hose the blood out than it was in the Bentley. I set aside the liver of an unblemished goat for Adrian’s tea.

The original Willis version had rather less wood and leather
We’re back in Dieppe in time to visit the Cub. It’s still sitting where we left it, looking expectantly at the hangar door. There’s a definite expression on its face. If it was a spaniel it would have its lead in its mouth and a look of pleading. Weather permitting, we’ll go walkies tomorrow.
What’s this? L’Auberge Clos du Normand is fermé! With tears in our eyes we go in search of an alternative. It’s off-season and the choices aren’t extensive. We eventually locate a small hotel in the centre of Dieppe. Not picturesque, but clean, friendly and serviceable.
Time for a cold beer. The Pirate Bar in Dieppe harbour has beer so cold it hurts the back of your neck. It also boasts a pleasantly pneumatic barmaid who endures our unsubtle geriatric slobbering with charm and balance. Music’s alright too.

Who invented the riff? The Beatles, Stones or Chuck Berry? Discuss
Hungry now, we begin the customary quest for vegetarian food in a country that believes you can get a good meal out of a pond. After examining every menu in Dieppe, Hall-Carpet nominates one as being the pick of the bunch. We’ll go in, explain to the patron, and he’ll cook us something delicious. We try it. It’s true! There really is a Gallic shrug! The restaurateur helpfully offers three choices: meat, fish or someone else’s restaurant. He directs us to a pizzeria. It’s shut.
We’ve now walked every street in Dieppe. Hall-Carpenter is looking at pigeons and licking his lips. Of all the lives in all the world, he had to get involved in ours. We try to cheer him up by pointing out that he’s no longer Monsieur Vrai, having been wrong about the restaurant. But every time we point at him he bites our fingers.
Desperate, tired and ravenous we return to our hotel. We reason that, as we’re guests, they have to feed us. I ask the waiter if he has anything for vegetarians. He turns the menu over and shows me the vegetarian options.
AHC just ate the table display, and people are staring.

Dusk in Dieppe. A good city to walk around. We know this.