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.