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.


Georgina said...

Many thanks for posting your account of bringing your big brother's 'Cub' back to England.

Research by others tells me on the side is The Little Prince.

Did the puzzle book get completed?

Still hope Miss 26 is able to fly again ... she is too loved to end up becoming a museum piece.

Jem Shaw said...

Yes it is, indeed Le Petit Prince, but it actually isn't there anymore. St Exupery was a great aviator, but his best-known progeny always struck me as too camp for the side of an aeroplane. Martin clearly agreed as he scraped him off with a penknife (oo-er missus!). Now we just need to design something more butch to cover the area of bare canvas he's left behind.

As for Number 26, who knows? It's in the hands of the CAA who seem to be against the whole concept of flight.

Jan said...

Love this story...Jem, you little francophile you... you are very very very very sides hurt, face is aching from all the laughter, liver feels good.

Georgina said...

The Little Prince is gone! Have just seen a picture (dated 15 July 2007) of G-BFBY.

Now we just need to design something more butch to cover the area of bare canvas he's left behind

There is a Bear on tail, has the Little Prince also been replaced by a bear?

Georgina, Perth, Western Australia

Jem Shaw said...

Yes, Le Petit Prince has quité. There's now a grasshopper painting executed by my son Adam. I'll post the picture when I get time