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Barton Hood and Maid Cordelia - The story continues (posted on: 07-07-14)
This is the continuation of a tale previously published on this worthy website. As always, we must warn you of scenes of violence, sexual references, flash photography and squirrels.

Scene 19 (In a forest. Barton Hood is following maid Cordelia who is leading the way through dense undergrowth. Cordelia: Follow me and be not afraid. Burford: How do you know where you are going? It is as dark as the inside of a cow. C: I am following a duck. Duck: Quack quack quaaaargh! Burford: What has happened? C: Trevor (the dog) has eaten the duck. Now we are well and truly fucked! Barton: I am tired, fatigued and shagged after all that running. Can we have a little lie down? (Enter a stagecoach cunningly disguised as a taxi. A coachman is perched on top. He is a simple soul, of lowly peasant stock.) Cordelia: Barton, my love, lying down is not an option for see! Here is a stagecoach cunningly disguised as a taxi. We can employ the coachman to hie us to a place of safety. Barton: Then let us leap aboard! (They leap in an upwards direction) Coachman: Where to guv? (he starts the meter) As it is already night, that will be a surcharge of four groats. (As the Footsie has suffered a downturn, a groat is now G3.22 = 1) Burford: That is fuckin daylight robbery! (Dick Turpin enters from behind a wheelie bin) DT: No, you are wrong! That is not daylight robbery. THIS is daylight robbery! Hands up, mother stickers! This is a fuck-up. Audience: Ha ha ha. (A flash of lightning and a crash of thunder takes place) (The coachman, a simple soul of lowly peasant stock falls from the stagecoach) Barton: (with subtitles) Mein Postillion ist bei Blitzen gestruk! (My coachman has been struck by lightning) Burford: He is a German spy! Stone him! Audience: Yeah! Stone him! Stone him! Barton: I am not a spy. I am a simple shepherd. Burford: Ah! A shepherd spy! Audience: Groan! Director: I need a drink. Who wrote this fuckin' rubbish? Audience: (pointing at Barton) He did. The bastard! Stone him! Scene 20 (HQ of the Suffolkshire Mounted Foot, General Sir Tarquin Fishfinger Biscuitbarrel Ratburger commanding. The Company Sergeant Major is testing a military trampoline.) General: March in the prisoners, Sarn't Major! CSM: Sah!!. (Adopts thinking posture) Do we actually have prisoners Sir? Gen: Have the bastards escaped again? CSM: They told me they wanted to go outside for a smoke Sir. That was three hours ago. Gen: Then dispatch some minions to round them up again. And stop bloody bouncing on that military trampoline. You are making me dizzy. (Exit CSM in search of minions. The General leans back in his chair and adjusts his shorts whilst reading a gentleman's magazine) Scene 21 A wooded area outside the military base. Burford is digging a tunnel assisted by Trevor (the dog). Cordelia: The night is cold. Look, I shiver etc. Barton: (Looking at Cordelia's bumpy bits) So I see! (He looks again to make sure) Cordelia: Oh Barton, hold me in your strong arms. Take me to your bed, it says in my script. I offer my honour! Barton: And I honour your offer! Audience: And all through the night, he was more honour than offer. Director: That isn't in the script. Stop ad libbing. Audience: Sorry. Burford (from deep inside the tunnel) Oh fuckin' brilliant. I seem to have dug into Essexshire. There is a sign saying ' Welcome to Romford' Audience: And you are fuckin' welcome to Romford. Director (glaring at the audience): I told you. No ad-libbing. Audience: Sorry. Sir Edward Elgar enters from behind a tree. He is pushing an English rosewood upright piano. He sits down and composes Caroline by Status Quo. Frank Rossi (yes, it is he!) Good riff mate. I shall steal that. Barton: Enough of this frivolity and this diversion from the real story. We must make good our escape. Burford, pass me that tunnel, but first, point it towards our forest home in the blue blue mountains of Virginiashire on the trail of the lonely pines. Cordelia: Yes, what he said. Fartus Maximus (Now fully recovered from being dead): I would just like to point out that I have not had a line in this story since scene 18. Cynthia (Remember her?): And a good thing too. We need to hie to a place of greater safety and your heavy armour slows us down. FM: Lo, I will divest myself of it forthwith or fifthwith inc VAT. (He removes the armour to reveal that, apart from a string vest, a suspender belt and an NHS truss, he is naked.) Cordelia: Oooh! I say! May I draw a picture of you ? Enter CSM Plectrum, driving a military burger van. CSM: Evenin' all. Has a motley crowd of escaped prisoners passed this way? FM: Yes officer. They went into that tunnel. CSM: I say, Thanks awfully. (He enters the tunnel. Barton quickly fills the tunnel with quick setting cement Jewsons, 4.50 per 25Kg) Director: Okay folks, that will do for today. Same time tomorrow. Frank Rossi: Is that it? I joined fuckin' Equity for one line?
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Revival of the Famous Five (apologies to Enid B.) (posted on: 04-07-14)
As an explanation to the following tale, I should explain that I once met a famous drummer/singer in LA. Sadly, when I tried to speak to him, he told me to go away using naughty words. Some of those words are repeated here.

The Famous Five do Archaeology It was a Wednesday, the day following Holy Bin Day. The sun was shining from a cloudless sky. No, it really was. Julian was lying on a grassy bank beside the stream. He was reading a smutty book and clutching his private parts. George was also reading a smutty book but not the same one as Julian. George's book was a story about a lesbian horse. Yes, it really was. Dick was looking at Anne's knockers and Anne pretended not to notice although she was secretly pleased. Anne liked being perved at. She was a little slapper. Timmy the dog was taking a dump but stopped mid-dump when he saw Mr Green the shopkeeper approaching from the South-West on a heading of 045deg magnetic. ''Hello Mr Green!'' said Anne. ''Hello Anne,'' said Mr Green. ''Hello Dick, hello Julian, hello George,'' he said. Mr Green has not told anyone that he is not allowed within 500m of children because, if he did, it would fuck up his sweetshop profits. Mr Green tells lies and is a dodgy bastard, the sort your mummies warned you about. Anne closed her legs to avoid exciting Mr Green. Dick was pissed off. He really was. Mr Green sat down on the grass beside Anne. ''Are you interested in archeology, Anne?'' he asked. ''Is that about shooting arrows, Mr Green?'' asked Anne. ''No Anne, it is about digging and looking for old relics,'' he replied. Anne thought that the only old relic she could think of was Miss Quill, the science teacher. Mr Green pointed to a man coming towards them, pushing a drum kit in a wheelbarrow. ''My friend, Mr Collins knows all about shit like that,'' he said. ''Hello Mr Collins,'' said Anne. ''Hello Mr Collins'' said Dick. ''Hello Mr Collins,'' said Julian. ''Fuck off!'' said Mr Collins. ''I say, Mr Collins, that is jolly rude,'' said Julian who had recovered a bit from his book. He pointed over there. "Look," he said. "A squirrel! Are you going to teach us to do archaeology Mr Collins?'' ''Fuck off!'' said Mr Collins. ''I am going to show you where to dig holes. I need to recover a secret treasure what I buried seven years ago'' George, who as well as being of doubtful sexual orientation, was a grammar pedant. ''The secret treasure THAT I buried, Mr Collins'' she said sternly. She fuckin' did! ''Did you bury a secret treasure as well? That makes ..'' he did some hard sums, ''That makes TWO secret treasures. Come on! Get to work!'' What a fine procession they made! Mr Collins led the way followed by Julian, Dick, Timmy, George and Anne. Mr Green was last, mainly because he was looking at Anne's bum. He was a lecherous bastard! Mr Collins stopped and produced a bottle of beer and a loaf of bread from a secret pocket. Do you have secret pockets? Mr Collins did. Mr Collins had a long drink from the bottle and then a long eat on the bread. Then he pulled a paper from another pocket. ''What is that paper, Mr Collins?'' asked Dick. ''Fuck off! It is a secret treasure map.'' Dear readers will observe that Mr Collins says ''Fuck off!'' quite a lot. This is because he is very rude man and a drummer. ''May I see your map, Mr Collins?'' said Julian. Mr Collins showed Julian the map. Julian saw, with a thrill of excitement that it really was a treasure map. Yes, children, it really fuckin' was! ''I say! Mr Collins, this is jolly exciting. I am so excited that I might shit myself.'' He pointed to the map. ''Look! There is a cross marked just there.'' He pointed to just there. ''All we have to do is put the map on the ground and dig.'' They all started digging, even Timmy who dug with his little front paws. Do you have a dog that digs with his little front paws? I do and sometimes my little dog tries to shag cushions, pillows, tables and my leg. He is such a funny doggie. Some people say that Mr Green shags sheep. Shagging sheep is against the law, except in Wales. If PC Plectrum catches Mr Green shagging sheep, he will write his name down in his little notebook. When the hole was really deep, Mr Collins saw that there was no treasure there and he was quite sad. ''Oh fuckkit!'' he said. ''We will have to move the paper and dig somewhere else. The Famous Five were totally shagged after all the digging so they sat down and had some ginger beer. Dick had drunk lashings and lashings of ginger beer and very soon he felt the need to relieve himself. Do you ever feel the need to relieve yourself? Some mummies and daddies say that it is naughty and that you will get warts on your hand. That was not the sort of relief that Dick had in mind so he went behind a tree for a pee. Anne crept up behind him, the dirty little slapper, and looked over his shoulder. ''Oh gosh!'' she said. ''That is a really handy thing to take on a picnic. When can I get one of those'' ''In a minute, Anne,'' said Dick, lowering his trousering. There was a rustling sound from behind the tree. Dick said ''Anne, do you hear rustling from behind the tree?'' Anne listened. Then she listened some more. She did not hear rustling from behind the tree. Dick thought that it might be George spying on them. ''I don't hear any rustling, Dick,'' she said. Anne did not realize that she had said something ambiguous. Dick was frightened that if George saw him with his trousering lowered, she would tell her mummy. Then George's mummy might tell his daddy when they met in the big car park in the woods by the lake. Dick knew that his daddy and George's mummy played Hide the Sausage in the car when they thought that nobody could see them. He knew that because naughty Mr Green had shown him photographs. Mr Green takes a lot of photographs. Mr Green takes photographs of people doing naughty things. He is not a nice photographer. ''I think we should stop now, Anne,'' said Dick. ''I think I hear someone coming'' ''It's all right for some,'' said Anne. Anne was sulking. Anne is a little slapper.
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Further adventures in the Barton and Cordelia saga (posted on: 04-07-14)
When outlaws abounded and there were no mobile phones, Barton Hood was an outlaw and abounded a bit. This script is not for the faint hearted as it involves total insanity and naughty words. For an explanation of the identities of Cordelia and Barton, you might wish to refer to previous tales.

Barton Hood and Maid Cordelia A TV Special by Royal Command Barton: Himself Cordelia: Herself Tyrone Carpetsweeper (Finance Director) : Priscilla Trumpet (Make-up) Jethro Sparkplug (Floor manager): Bubba Fuksake (Cameraman): Wandering Minstrel (of simple peasant stock) : A Merry Man: Scene 15:, A barn somewhere in rural Suffolkshire. A Suffolkshire army detachment, (King Trevor's Mounted Foot) surround the barn. Cows (played by members of the cast) chew contentedly. Jethro Sparkplug holds up a card with Aplause written thereon. JS: (to audience) Clap you bastards! Bubba F; What he said! Audience: We ain't going to do nuffin until you spel correct, like. Barton Hood: So, here we are, far from our Nottingham home with only one of my merry men here to support me. Maid Cordelia: And nothing to do except watch the cows chewing. Cows: Chomp chomp chomp. Merry Man: I rush to do your bidding, master. (He rushes to place a bid on a sexy dress for Maid Cordelia on eBay) (He returns, out of breath and out of trousers ) Merry Man: Lo master, your PayPal account has been suspended. BH: But that means that Maid Cordelia will be unclothed in the sight of people of simple peasant stock! (He adjusts his tights as no shorts had been provisioned by the cheapskate sponsors) MC: I will dress as a boy and slip through the Suffolkshire Defence Force without detection. BH: Merry Man, bring hither suitable attire for MC. MM: For who? (Enter Grammar Polis mounted on a unicycle) GP: Ho! You are charged with using the word 'who' when it should have been 'whom'. Do you plead guilty, very guilty or guilty but insane? (BH creeps up behind the GP and smites him roughly on the head with smiting tongs) GP: Oooyah! That fuckin' hurt BH: There's plenty more where that came from! (He smites him again. Cue fake blood) GP: I am done for. (turns to camera for close-up) I did my duty. (zoom out to show GP falling to ground in slo-mo) MM: Master! You have saved me. I kiss your feet. (approaches BH's foot but withdraws a bit sharpish) On second thoughts.. Audience: Ha ha ha ha. Cows: Chomp chomp chomp. MC: See! The army has nipped out for a piss. We can make our escape! Make haste! (BH and MM make haste. The GP is still unconscious) BH: These green tights are killing me! (He adjusts them, assisted by Maid Cordelia) Bubba F: Sorry, I got Barton's tights adjustment out of focus. Take that again. BH: Ooooh yes! A little bit higher please Corders my dear. MC: Oh Barton, you are awful! Enter a Wandering Minstrel from a wheelie bin) WM: ..with a hey nonnie nonnie no and a heeeeeeyyyyy nonnie nonnie no! BH: Pray, what is that noisome din that offendeth my ears? WM: 'Tis I, oh Barton. I want to join your band. I know four songs, three of which are Sex on Fire. BH: Avast, fool. We are not that sort of band. We rob from the rich. WM: And give it to the poor? BH: I never said that. Now fuck the fuck off before the army catches thee. WM: (fucking the fuck off) and a heyyyyyyyyyy nonnie nonnie ARGHHHHH! (He falls to the ground, pierc-ed by a narrow. Close up on arrow. Cue fake blood) Priscilla Trumpet: I am running out of fake blood. I have no ketchup. Can I use mayonnaise? Director and Finance Director (in unison): This is going nowhere! Who wrote this shit? Audience: Yes. Who? PT (Pointing at Jethro S) It was HIM! Audience: Burn him. He's a witch. Burn him! Scene 16. Additional cast members: Cynthia (a serving wench): Burford Carpetsweeper(the landlord): A group of nomadic musicians: Flatulentia (landlord's mistress) Fartus Maximus (a Roman centurion): Location: A tree by a stream close to the Inn. Barton Hood: The night is cold. Hunger is upon me and I want my mummy. Mummy: here I am dear. is there any tea going? Maid Cordelia: You are not Barton's mummy. You are Pharaoh's mummy. Pharaoh: Yes, this is MY mummy. Burford: The inn is warm, for we have switched to an alternative dual fuel supplier. Flatulentia: Yes, what he said. Burford: And, tonight only, we have a live band. Barton: Then let us hie to the inn! Fartus Maximus: Hie? Hie? What the fuck is a 'hie'? Burford: I thought you centurions were educated! FM: I wasn't always a centurion. I used to be a miner down t'pit. Cynthia: You can't come in then. We don't serve minors. Audience: Groan. Barton: As you are not a member of Equity, there is no place here for a Roman Centurion. (He throws FM into the stream) Audience: He fallen in the water! Burford: Oy you! Swimming in my stream is not allowed. FM: I'm not swimming. I'm drowning. Burford: Ah! That be okay then. (They proceed in single file towards the inn, carrying the inert body of FM) Cynthia tries to give Fartus Maximus the kiss of life but she is unable to get his armoured incontinence trousering undone.) Mummy: Whose round is it? is there any tea going? Barton: Landlord! Take ye plastic? Voiceover: This programme is brought to you by Grumpycard, sponsors of drama on the Barton&Cordelia network. Group of Nomadic Musicians: Sadly, we have a problem of a technical nature. Our drummer is pissed so we are unable to play. However, I can do a Procul Harum tribute. (He skipped a light fandango and turned cartwheels across the floor) Audience: We are not impressed. Boo! get 'im off. Cynthia: I will sing a merry song. "'Twas in the merry month of May..." Audience: Show us yer tits. Show us yer tits. Show us yer tits, yer tits, yer tits! (120 bpm) Director: Fucksake! This worse than the last lot. Who wrote this shit? Audience (pointing to Fartus) It were 'im.. stone him! stone him! Director: CUT! CUT ffs! Scene 18 (Still inside the Inn. Cynthia has returned to behind the bar.) Barton: These green tights are in desperate need of adjustment. Any volunteers? Cynthia: I have NVQ in the adjustment of tights good sir. Barton: Then, pray proceed my good woman. (Cynthia kneels down and initiates the adjustment. Barton grins widely and looks at Cordelia who grins narrowly.) Enter PC Plectrum and PC Bollox accompanied by Police Dog Trevor. PC P and PC B (in unison, mainly in Em) Ho! We observe arrestable going ons. However, as we are off duty, we shall turn a blind eye. Cordelia: You have a blind eye? PC B: 'Tis but a figure of speech madman. (Cordelia pokes PC B in the eye with a sharp stick) Cordelia: Well, it ain't a figure of speech now! PC B: Oooyah! That fuckin' hurt. PC P: Madman, I suspect you of having committed a crinimals offence. I require you to accompany me to the station. The train leaves in forty minutes. PC B: And I must warn you that anything you say will be taken down. Fartus (Having recovered from being a bit dead) Do NOT say 'Knickers' Just fuckin' don't. (Trevor, the Police Dog lies down in a corner and starts to lick his nuts) Barton: Oh how I wish that I could do that! Burford (Whom, you may recall, is the landlord): Give him a Bonio and he might let you! Voice-over: This episode is brought to you by the makers of Bonio dog treats. Audience: Other brands of dog treats are available Burford: I don't wish to know that. Kindly shut the fuck up. (A crashing sound is heard from without.) Cynthia: Did mine ears deceive me or did I just hear a crashing sound from without? Ears: No we did not deceive you. That sound, produced on the GM section of a digital piano, heralded the entry of the Suffolkshire Army. Suffolkshire Army: Ho! We have tracked you down and now we have the inn surrounded by soldiers armed with loaded bullets. Do you wish to surrender before we shoot you? (Trevor growls in C# then bites the Suffolkshire Army on the arse.) SA: Ooyah! That fuckin' hurt. PC B: That's my line. It says so in my script. Can someone get this sharp stick out of my eye? PC P: Any tea going? Director: Clear the floor for Barton and Cordelia to make good their escape. Barton: I ain't going nowhere until I get paid. Director: Here is a drawing of a ten pound note. Now fuck the fuck off before the army shoots you. (Barton fucks the fuck off, accompanied by Cordelia, Trevor, Burford and Cynthia) SA: Oh bollox. They have escaped. (He leaps onto a pair of coconut shells and rides after them into the darkening night.) Director: That's a wrap people. Home for tea and medals. Same time tomorrow.
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A Beastie in the bath (posted on: 30-06-14)
The terrors of wildlife.

A Beastie in the Bath There are few things as effective at wakening a man from a light doze as the soprano screams of a woman in terror. Roused to wakefulness, I inquired of the originator of the screams as to what might be giving her cause for alarm. Knowing that my dear wife is much given to exaggerated fears of quite insignificant events and objects, I remained seated until the commotion could be more fully explained. ''What's the problem?'' I inquired. ''There is a Beastie in the Bath!'' she cried. ''Come up and get rid of it!'' ''Okay, I'll be right there.'' Gathering up the Beastie removal toolkit (tissue, a drinking glass and a square of cardboard) I bravely climbed the stairs, fully prepared to face the intruder head on. ''Where is it?'' I asked. She pointed into the bath where, after some searching, I saw a small spider, clearly minding its own business and presenting no threat to anything larger than a microscopic fly. ''Is that it?'' I asked. ''Yes! Get rid of it!'' With the sort of courage that would have made King Arthur issue an immediate invitation to join him at the Round Table, I scooped the inoffensive little arachnid into my hand and put it outside through the open window. ''It will come back in again.'' My wife is invariably optimistic regarding such things. In reassuring tones, I was able to convince her that spiders really prefer to be outside and that returning to a bath would be the last thing on its mind. As calm once again descended on Murray Towers, I recalled an incident involving one of my ex wives that might have had a more serious outcome. Posted with the Royal Air Force to Singapore, we occupied a married quarter adjacent to a piece of scrubland. The presence of small lizards in a house is normal in Singapore and these reptiles, known as Chit-Chats are useful in the control of insects and are, therefore, welcome. One day, whilst waiting for our aircraft to be made serviceable, I received a message, the effect of which was that I was to immediately call my wife. ''Hello?'' ''There is a big chitchat on the kitchen floor and I don't know what to do.'' ''It won't hurt you. If you are worried, just sweep it outside.'' ''I've tried that but it keeps biting the end of the broom.'' ''Stay there! I'll be right home.'' When I got home, I found my wife in the lounge with the door shut. Cautiously opening the kitchen door, I was amazed to see a four foot Monitor lizard. Although not given to aggression, monitor lizards have razor sharp claws and can show a mean streak if cornered. I carefully stepped around the beast and opened the door to the outside. Aware that he had outstayed his welcome, the lizard creaked and shuffled his way back to whence he had come. On only one occasion subsequently have I been troubled by wildlife. As a freight pilot, the nature of goods on our aircraft was a rare mixture. I was in command of an aircraft tasked with the transport of the complete furnishings and fittings of a millionaire businessman moving residence from the Middle East to our green and pleasant land. Our load included, as well as five of his personal servants, a large turkey which was thankfully confined in a stout cage. At about three hours into the flight, one of the servants decided that the bird might be hungry and opened the cage to offer it a light in-flight snack. Turkeys are quick thinkers and, seeing a chance for a little exercise, he hopped out of the cage and flew around the interior of the aircraft. Possibly disorientated by the lower than normal air pressure, both his flying ability and collision avoidance skills were seriously depleted. Gobbling loudly, he crashed into several parts of the aircraft before settling, confused and dishevelled on the top of a cargo pallet. Two of the servants cautiously approached him, making encouraging noises. Lurkey the turkey was having none of it and as soon as they were within grabbing distance he launched himself into the air again for another incident filled circuit of the cabin, leaving behind a trail of bird droppings. Clearly in need of a little nap, he attempted a landing on a pipeline running the length of the freight bay. Sadly, the vertical distance available was insufficient for his needs and he crashed to the floor. Skillfully avoiding his intended captors, he half flew, half ran towards the front of the aircraft. Needless to say, the door to the flight deck was open and my co-pilot and I were joined by a very substantial fowl, clearly agitated and apparently irritated. With voluble protests, he fluttered and scrambled around the flight deck and hit, amongst other things, the autopilot master switch. As I recovered the aircraft from the ensuing dive, my colleague, with commendable presence of mind, took the cloth bag containing our flight manuals, tipped the manuals on the floor and with a swift move, put the bag over Lurkey's head. Possibly thinking that nightfall was very swift at these altitudes, the turkey appeared to go to sleep and was thankfully returned to his cage. Having overcome situations like that, it is unsurprising that I am well able to cope with Beasties in the Bath. Don't you agree?
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Mikeverdi on 30-06-2014
A Beastie in the bath
Good stuff Trucks, like your style of writing mate; interesting look at life. I read it kind of like a blog, don't know if that was intentional... Or just me 🙂

Author's Reply:
Thanks Mike! I just enjoy writing light hearted stuff! Appreciate your comment.

Jimmy Brown (The Three Bells) (posted on: 30-06-14)
Behold! Most people have heard the song "The Three Bells" featuring one little Jimmy Brown. It is not generally known that there is another verse that is usually not sung. I append that verse here:

"Near the village, hidden deep in the valley, The snow lay crisp and white and deep, And there, one friday morning, Farmer Brown was shagging sheep. The coppers came along and saw him, And handcuffs they were clicked, So there, on a winter's morning, Little Jimmy Brown was nicked. (Bong bong bong Bong) All the Courtroom bells were ringing And the jury had their day, They had exercised their patience Due to their deliberations Jimmy Brown was put away. And the little congregation, Thought he had a bloody nerve Cos his amorous intentions Contravened the old conventions He's a dirty rotten perv." For those who are not familiar with the song, look it up on YouTube.
Archived comments for Jimmy Brown (The Three Bells)
Mikeverdi on 30-06-2014
Jimmy Brown (The Three Bells)
OMG! What conventions anyway? Was he not wearing Wellington boots for the back legs? You need a government warning LOL

Author's Reply:
There are several Government warnings about me! I really should not be allowed out unsupervised!

Tales of Barton and Cordelia, Part the First (posted on: 27-06-14)
Probably of no interest to those of a serious disposition. Rated 15. So there!

Preface These are the tales of Barton and Cordelia. You will not have heard about Barton and Cordelia, because they are figments of the imagination of one who is certainly old enough to know better. If you are liable to be offended by strong language, then these tales are probably not for you so you can fuck off now. Barton is a gentleman of stature and excellent breeding and makes a reasonable living in the theatrical profession. He has a tendency to wear shorts and those shorts are apparently in constant need of adjustment. Cordelia is Barton's co-star. She is very attracted to Barton and has very nice knockers. You may find some of the stories confusing but bear in mind that the tales were written by a confused person. Just be patient and try to understand. Thank you. Cordelia and Barton do Archeology Cast: Cordelia Holepunch Steamroller : Barton Laptop Beltbuckle Egyptian Mummy: Egyptian Daddy: Policedog Plectrum: M'bongo N'dongo (a simple labourer, honest, but of lowly peasant stock) The Egyptian Police Force The chorus: Scene 22 The pyramids, Egypt CM3 2LL. Cordelia is kneeling beside a hole in the desert. She is wearing a simple robe of camel fur, open to the knees. Barton is standing at her side adjusting his shorts. M'bongo is in the hole doing digging. Barton: Dig faster, simple labourer! We must expose stuff before nightfall. Cordelia: I can expose stuff right now my love. [She throws open her robe] Barton: [sweating slightly and experiencing a disturbance in the gentleman's area] I meant, as you well know, for the simple labourer to expose stuff. You will get us arrested. {Sounds of a high speed camel approaching with blue flashing lights and siren} Egyptian Police Force: (in Egyptian with sub titles) Ello, ello, ello. I understand that you have been doing flashing, Miss. Do you have a licence? PD Plectrum: Woof woof (with subtitles) M'Bongo etc: Master! I have uncovered a rare treasure. {He climbs out of the hole, sees Cordelia's uncovered body and falls back in.} Barton: What have you found, simple labourer? {He jumps into the hole} Strewth guvnor, it is a long lost Egyptian mummy. This relic is two thousand years old! Chorus: Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear mummy etc (in G major.) Egyptian mummy: Thank you, thank you. I declare this hole open! PD Plectrum: Woof woof woof. {He bites Barton on the arse. Barton writes a letter complaining of Police brutality) Voiceover: Here is a Police message. Will Pharaoh, last heard of near the pyramids, please contact Luton hospital where his mummy is seriously ill. Barton: Director! Director! Who wrote this shit? Director and chorus {pointing at M'Bongo etc} HE DID. Scene 23. {Same location. Barton is erecting a tent. Cordelia is filled with girlish admiration for the erection} Barton: There! That will keep the rain off. {He mops his brow with a mop (Sainsbury, 4.99 including handle)} Cordelia: My hero! {She throws herself at his feet} Barton: Did you put the cat out, Cordybumps? Cordelia: I didn't know it was on fire Bartybabes. {They undress in the darkness. Barton adjusts Bardelia's undergarments. She giggles} Cordelia: Giggle giggle giggle. {A thump is heard} Barton: What the fuck was that? Cordelia: It's probably the people in the tent upstairs taking their boots off. Barton: M'Bongo etc must have a one legged friend! {Another thump} Cordelia: Or two one legged friends {Yet another thumpwait for it.} Barton: Or one three legged friend. {Cordelia opens the door of the tent in her underwear to see the Egyptian Daddy standing there} Egyptian Daddy: That is a funny place to have a tent! Chorus: Groan! PD Plectrum: Woof woof (in Egyptian with subtitles) Egyptian Daddy: I came to ask you to keep the noise down a bit. Innit. Barton: Fuck the fuck off. Cordelia: Yes. What he said. {The Egyptian Police Force arrives on a cardboard model of the Great Pyramid} EPF: I arrest everybody on various charges and I must warn you that anything you say will be taken down. Cordelia: (Wait for it..) Knickers! Egyptian Daddy: Director! Director! Who wrote this shit? Chorus, (pointing at M'Bongo etc): He did. It were him! Again! (Theme music and roll credits)
Archived comments for Tales of Barton and Cordelia, Part the First
Mikeverdi on 27-06-2014
Tales of Barton and Cordelia, Part the First
Is all your writing like this? I am reading this in a hospital waiting room, this is just as well as I have had a seizure from laughing! My wife will return and find me on a trolley.


Reply box??!!?? HaHa! After a few years you may get the hang of it 🙂

Author's Reply:
Oh bugger! I forgot yet again!

Skytrucker on 27-06-2014
Tales of Barton and Cordelia, Part the First
Thanks Mike. Can you tell that I am a fan of both Monty Python and the Goon Show? I do other stuff as well.

Author's Reply:

More Barton and Cordelia drivel (posted on: 27-06-14)
This will be of interest to those with an interest in history. There again, perhaps it won't. As usual, the Barton and Cordelia tales are rated 15. For an explanation (of sorts) as to who Barton and Cordelia actually are, you may need to see the preface to the other B&C tale. You may also need Valium. Other barbiturates are available.

Barton and Cordelia's Roman ancestors win the Gallic Wars. It is probably not widely known that Barton is the direct ancestor of Bartonus Maximus, a full member of Julius Caesar's Senate and famous for attempting to commit suicide in a vat of wine (Chilean Merlot 1994, Sainsbury, 9.46). Cordelia is descended from Tittima Maxima, one of BM's mistresses. Let us visit those times and see just what the fuck they got up to. As we round the corner of the building, we see BM adjusting his toga from the inside. Cordelia, always up for a bit of rumpus-pumpus could scarcely contain herself. ''Bartonus,'' she cried, ''may I assist you in your adjustments?'' ''My adjustments are all but complete, dear Cordelia,'' said BM with a sigh. ''I fear that we have little time to tarry as I have a war to win at 4.15. It is already 4.05.'' ''In that case, we have ample time, my lord.'' She fluttered her eyelashes which became dislodged and fell, unheeded on the ground. Then she fluttered her robe, more in hope than anger. The sound of marching feet (on backing tracks) could be heard from afar. BM recognized the tempo as belonging to the Hated Gauls, led as usual from the rear by Mon General De Gaul. Bartonus drew his sword in preparation. Cordelia drew another nudie pic of Plectrumus, not in preparation for anything specific, but just in case. The sound of marching feet became louder and Bartonus prepared himself for battle. He jumped on his horse and fell off on the other side. ''Oh bollox!'' he uttered. ''Cordelia, could you please give me a leg up?'' Cordelia, not having switched on her hearing aid assumed that he had said 'leg-over' and threw her robe on the ground just as the Gauls came into view. Seeing Cordelia starkers threw a big gob of terror into the Gauls and immediately, the cry went up.. ''Run away! Run away! Run like fuck!'' and ''Look! A squirrel!'' Their battle flag of pure white fabric was thrown on the ground and the final vision of the Gaul army was that of bare arses vanishing into the distance. And so, the Gallic Wars came to an end. The Bartonus motto from thence on was to be Nuditas Ranas Vincit and still is to this day.
Archived comments for More Barton and Cordelia drivel
Mikeverdi on 27-06-2014
More Barton and Cordelia drivel
Look a squirrel! Priceless.....loving the reading; keep them coming (if you will pardon the pun). 🙂

Author's Reply:

stormwolf on 27-06-2014
More Barton and Cordelia drivel
Should it not have been " look a beaver?"
I must admit it took a me a moment or two to recover from my shock and disgust at the thought of a vat of Sainsbury's Merlot being wasted in that way...but on reading further I was quite taken in by the shenanigans.
I knew instinctively, they do not teach real, accurate history in schools.
Thanks for updating me.

Alison x

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 27-06-2014
More Barton and Cordelia drivel
Thank you Alison and Mike. I just feel that history should be portrayed accurately.

The phrase "Look! a squirrel" features quite extensively in the Barton and Cordelia tales (of which there are many.....

Author's Reply:

Pronto on 22-02-2016
More Barton and Cordelia drivel
I do love a good hysterical story. Hystericks woz mi favourite lesson in skool.

Author's Reply:

TV Commercial (posted on: 23-06-14)
This is the shooting script for a television commercial. As it is intended to be screened after the watershed, it contains strong language.

Incontinence Clothing Commercial Shooting Script. Lady Zoilda Undaware Sir Clive Binlorry Octopus Phukkit Crankshaft the butler (of lowly peasant stock) Scene 1. Clive and Lady Zoilda relax in the conservatory. Crankshaft, the butler, enters, bearing a tray of baked bean sandwiches. Clive: Ah! There you are, Crankshaft. Crankshaft: Indeed, sir, here I am. Lady Z: Yes. What he said. Crankshaft: Would sir consider it impolite if I were to mention that sir appears to have shit himself? Clive: (looking trouserwards) Good grief Crankshaft, I do believe you have a point! Crankshaft: Indeed I do sir, but I appear to have left it in the servants' quarters. Lady Z: What he said. Clive: Bring hither my NEVERSOIL INCONTINENCE TROUSERING as soon as possible! Crankshaft: I rush to obey, Sir. [He rushes to obey] Lady Z: When does your sponsorship deal with NEVERSOIL expire dearest? Voice over: NEVERSOIL incontinence products never expire. Wear NEVERSOIL products and shit yourself with confidence. [Lady Z and Clive look skywards] Clive: Who said that? Lady Z: Yes. What he said. [Enter Crankshaft bearing NEVERSOIL incontinence trousering] [Closeup on trousering and pan to Clive's lower garment] Voiceover: Avoid difficult situations. Always use a product that you can trust. NEVERSOIL is the one [closeup on product banner and fade to black]
Archived comments for TV Commercial
stormwolf on 24-06-2014
TV Commercial
Hi Skytrucker,
Bearing in mind your less than complimentary opinion of the standard of poetry here...I thought I would venture onto your page to see how I might improve my offerings. 😉
I have to say I laughed in-spite of myself. I saw it all very clearly.
Tell me, can I purchase a pair of Neversoil on Amazon?
(One can never be too careful as they say)

Alison x

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 25-06-2014
TV Commercial
You are a very kind and forgiving person. Thank you!

Author's Reply:

Mikeverdi on 25-06-2014
TV Commercial
Great stuff again! as someone who may soon need such a garment, I also will be searching Amazon for the said 'Neversoil'.... will I need a torch? 🙂

Author's Reply:
You can have the one I borrowed! Appreciate your comment!

Ionicus on 26-06-2014
TV Commercial
The category 'Just Plain Daft' sums it up. Sorry, couldn't even raise a titter.

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 27-06-2014
TV Commercial
Thank you for your comment, Ionicus. We are clearly at opposite ends of the writing spectrum as your creations fail to float my boat for which view, I apologise.

Author's Reply:

Dear Mr McBride (6) (posted on: 20-06-14)
This is the sixth letter written by Capt A Hall to the CEO of the airline. The previous five are hidden somewhere in the UKA equivalent of Room 101.

To: Mr T E McBride, CEO From: Capt A Hall Dear Mr McBride. It was kind of you to invite both Simon Watson and me to your office the other day. I have taken careful note of your comments and those of our HR lady, Miss Pegg. Regrettably, because of your sudden illness, we were unable to assure you that we were not responsible for the post-it notes distributed around the VIP Visitor area. I am quite sure that even senior clergymen have encountered those four letter words on previous occasions and that any outrage displayed was superficial and short lived. I make the assumption that the note causing most concern was the one on the light switch. At a quick glance, it is very easy to mistake the phrase ''flick off'' for something more offensive and I know that His Grace, the Bishop has poor eyesight. Regarding the strongly worded letter from the Engineering manager, it must surely be a stretch of the imagination to place the blame on SW and me for the unfortunate juxtaposition of the letters on the airline logo on the maintenance building. You will be aware, of course, that vandalism abounds in this area and I would hold those elements responsible but I doubt if any member of the public would notice that ''Fly United'' had become ''Fly Untied'' We were both disappointed to learn that we would not be scheduled to crew the aircraft conveying the Sisters of Mercy on their annual pilgrimage to Rome. I regret the confusion caused last year when the cabin PA system was accidentally left open when the discussion between Simon and me turned to the poor performance of the English cricket team. I accept that the language used might have been considered somewhat colourful and from the complaint registered by the Mother Superior, I imagine that she is a keen supporter of the team. As I recall the progress of our meeting, Miss Tomlinson, who was making notes, had some difficulty in transcribing your valued comments. I was able, after your ambulance had departed, to correct her spelling of the words ''puerile'' and ''bar stewards'' and also the correct name of the anatomical area by which you indicated that we were to be suspended on your office door. On another matter and whilst on the subject of office doors, I distinctly remember you saying, when we first met that your office door would always be open and I was disappointed to learn the exact meaning of that phrase. You will be pleased to know that I have arranged for a carpenter to refit the door as soon as possible. I know that our meeting must have been very stressful for you and I hope that you will make a full recovery soon. I have heard that daily aspirin is effective in dealing with blood pressure problems. The unfortunate relapse that you suffered when you learned that SW and I planned to visit you in hospital was not apparently too serious. Very best wishes, Allen Hall.
Archived comments for Dear Mr McBride (6)
Mikeverdi on 25-06-2014
Dear Mr McBride (6)
HaHaHa! Like this one, After reading some of your early posts I see where it came from; look forwards to reading more.

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 25-06-2014
Dear Mr McBride (6)
Thanks Mike. I would emphasise that none of the McBride episodes are real. They are all fictional. Every one. Honest!

Author's Reply:

Rab on 25-06-2014
Dear Mr McBride (6)
Like Mike, I went and hunted down the full series, which I can recommend to fellow UKAers; together they make a really good read. I can't help feeling sorry for Mr McBride, but given the choice would take the good captain as a drinking companion any day!

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 25-06-2014
Dear Mr McBride (6)
Good of you to comment guys!

Author's Reply:

The Solution (posted on: 20-06-14)
The life of a musician is seldom dull, but frequently enlivened. This small tale, featuring the correct use of apostrophes recalls one of several enlivenments. (Is that actually a real word?)

The Solution It is a well established fact that those involved in the difficult and mainly unprofitable business of entertainment should have, prior to achieving international fame, served an apprenticeship in the unforgiving environment of the Working Men's Clubs. Several of those clubs, especially those situated in industrial areas have earned a reputation of a distinct lack of either forgiveness or understanding when an entertainer fails to meet the expected standard and this represents excellent preparation for the hard and rocky road to stardom. The stories told by those entertainers who have progressed to greater things are all too familiar to both musicians and comedians alike. My band was booked to play at a somewhat notorious establishment in the West Midlands and as well as providing music of a general nature, we were to back a female vocalist. She arrived at the club rather dishevelled and clearly very nervous. ''My agent said that this is a difficult place to sing'' she said, ''and that the club is probably filled with men.'' Reluctantly, for the poor lady was exhibiting signs of distress, we confirmed that the information was correct. I suggested that we look through her repertoire and pick out some music that might suit the dubious taste of the members. To my horror, it appeared that we had to make our choice from a list of songs better suited to a Women's Institute than to an audience consisting mainly of hardened male factory workers. The band opened the proceedings with music from the current charts. Predictably, the concert secretary approached the stage. ''That's far too loud. You need to turn the bass down. Grace says she can't hear herself think.'' I pointed out, somewhat foolishly, that Grace was seated right in front of one of our speakers and would obviously consider that we were too loud. Could she not move? ''That is Grace's seat. She allus sits there. Band we 'ad last week were fine.'' ''Okay, we'll turn it down.'' ''See that you do.'' He retreated towards the bar, honour having been satisfied and having ensured that we had been made aware of just who was in charge. After each number, we were treated to a deafening silence apart from the predictable heckler. ''Play something we know,'' he shouted. ''Like what?'' our singer said. ''Anything. Just something we know.'' In desperation, we launched into some long and better forgotten songs of an earlier vintage. Half way through a song, the concert secretary approached the stage again. With some difficulty, for by this time he was rather inconvenienced by alcohol, he climbed up on stage, weaved his way uncertainly through the usual tangle of wires and grabbed the microphone. As is the habit of such officials, he tested the mic by blowing into it to the horror of our singer. ''Hello, hellois this thing working?'' (blow blow) ''Can you 'ear me at the back? Brothers, I 'ave just heard that poor old Harry Frost died last night. Very sad that. We'll 'ave a collection for the widder, Martha after the bingo and before the meat raffle.'' An agitated member ran up to the stage and told Mr Secretary of his mistake. ''Oh aye not Martha. Betty. We'll have a collection for Betty.'' He paused for thought. ''And now, the band will play 'Abide with me' Ready lads? one two three . Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhbide with mecome on bandFast falls the eventide'' To say that a damper was put on the already damp proceedings would represent the epitome of understatement, but we struggled on manfully until the break. Somehow, during the thirty minute break we managed to convince Josephine, the poor female vocalist, that there was no option other than to go on stage, do her best and try to ignore any negativity coming from the floor. Unconvinced and tearful, she reluctantly agreed to give it her best shot. The concert chairman was already on stage when we returned and was slurring his way through the myriad announcements that are usual in such places. He blew into the microphone several times more. ''Brothers, it's now time for the Turn. I'm sure this will be a lot better than the bloody rubbish the agent sent us last week.'' He looked accusingly at Josephine who was standing at the side of the stage. ''Come on lass. Don't keep us waiting. Tonight's turn is a girl singer. Give 'er a big 'and.'' A few half hearted hand claps followed. ''Her name is Joeline. Big 'and for Joeline'' He consulted the sheet of paper. ''No, her name is Josephine. Big 'and for Josephine now'' He stumbled off the stage with the microphone still in his hand as Josephine took her place. I gave her an encouraging grin and launched into the introduction to ''Take me Home, Country Roads'' unaware that the poor girl had no microphone. Terry, our bass player took his own mic from the stand and gave it to her as the intro went round for the third time. Josephine started the song well enough, except for the fact that she came in at the totally wrong place, at the wrong speed and almost, but not quite in the correct key. Somehow, we managed to sort most of the problems out and finally brought the song to a rather messy conclusion. The audience sat in stony silence as she announced that her next song would be ''Amarillo'' and that she was sure that they would sing along. Again, a stony silence greeted the rather lack lustre preformance, but undeterred, she pressed on, gathering confidence despite the obvious hostility of the audience. I knew that we were in trouble when the slow handclaps started. Josephine looked at me in terror, every shred of her newly discovered confidence gone. ''What do I do?'' she mouthed. ''Carry on for at least one more'' I said, hoping that there would be no bloodshed. ''And for my last number,'' she said ''a song made famous by.'' They never heard who made the song famous. A chorus of boos, whistles and cat calls drowned out any chance of continuing the performance. From the middle of a table near the stage, a single voice rang out above the general bedlam. ''Show us yer tits!'' it said. The call was taken up with increasing volume by the audience with a rythmic ''Show us yer tits! Show us yer tits, Show us yer tits, yer tits, yer tits.!'' Josephine fled from the stage, closely followed by the band and took refuge in the dressing room. Although shaken by the regrettable behaviour, her nervousness was gradually and visibly being overtaken by anger. Before we went back on stage for the last set, she was fuming. ''I'll teach the bastards!'' she said. Our final set progressed without very much in the way of drama, and a couple of brave souls even got up to dance. The concert chairman, who, it was said, only drank to be sociable, had become so sociable that he had fallen into a deep sleep at the bar. There was, it appeared, every chance of completing the evening without further incident. That is, until Josephine stormed onto the stage wearing her outdoor coat. She snatched a microphone from its stand. ''Right, you load of perverts. I didn't realise it was that sort of club. You should have said.'' She shrugged off her coat, revealing that beneath it, she was completely naked. There was a full thirty seconds of stunned, total silence. Then the applause, whistles and shouts was deafening and prolonged. Josephine put her coat back on and bowed low before making a very dignified exit. As we were packing our equipment away, the concert chairman, who had been woken up by the applause came into the dressing room. ''Gawd lass,'' he said. ''I 'aven't heard applause like that since we 'ad a stripper here. I told the agent we're not that kind of club and don't ever send us an act like that again. We'll 'ave you back though. Well done lass.'' Josephine grinned at us. ''There you are boys. If your music doesn't work, just show them your tits!''
Archived comments for The Solution
sirat on 20-06-2014
The Solution
First let me say how impressed I was by your impeccable comma placements. As to the subject matter, I agree that this young lady may indeed have found the key to pleasing an audience of this kind. I have always believed that great music should reveal something usually hidden about the human condition.

Author's Reply:
As always, your comments are greatly valued. Many thanks for reading!

Angus (posted on: 09-02-07)
Further tales from the archives of my eccentric family

Angus I have previously recounted tales about my Uncle Jimmy who closely followed the family tradition of eccentricity. Some aspects of this behaviour might have stemmed from having been brought up in a Scottish farming community where a journey even to the next village involved several days of careful planning. I prefer to believe that having experienced at first hand the terrible conditions of trench warfare in the Great War, he disassociated himself from the modern world and retreated to a life of idyllic simplicity. Strolling in a leisurely manner around his farm, he would take comfort from the sight of his small herd of Aberdeen Angus bullocks as they devoured the rich grass. Occasionally, puffing furiously on his pipe, he was inclined to poke at the animals with the walking stick which he carried, nodding with satisfaction at the fine condition of the beasts. On these tours of inspection, he was always accompanied by his faithful collie, the latest in a succession of collies, all of whom had been named 'Mike'. His other constant companion was six year old Angus. Every Friday evening, Jimmy would don his coat and scarf, scrape the majority of the mud from his Wellingtons and set off to walk the three miles to the hotel. Although he was a practiced and competent drinker, the demon drink generally left him more than slightly inconvenienced and the return home frequently involved unintentional excursions into the ditch. The Presbyterian minister was fond of recalling a conversation that had taken place one fine summer evening when he encountered Jimmy staggering back to the farm, clearly much the worse for wear and obviously having directional difficulties. ''Good evening James,'' he said. ''Weel, meenister'' (Good evening Reverend) replied Jimmy, having struggled to bring the man into focus. ''Have you been visiting friends, James?'' ''Jus' been tae the hotel fer a wee dram'' (I have been to the hotel for a small drink) ''And now, you are heading home?'' Jimmy hiccoughed loudly and grabbed the grass verge for support. ''Aye, sometimes.'' On one occasion, he was persuaded to let Angus accompany him on a Friday foray. Although Angus would follow Jimmy around the farm and never let him out of sight, Jimmy was concerned in case the youngster might become alarmed at being so far from home. He attached a length of binder twine to Angus and the trio set off towards the village. The sight of a man accompanied by a dog is commonplace, but when they are joined by a fairly substantial and friendly pig, the sight is fairly unusual. Angus was clearly delighted with this new game and snuffled and squealed as he encountered new and unfamiliar smells. Some ninety minutes later, the somewhat dishevelled party arrived at the hotel. Angus had discovered some fresh cowpats on the road and had been totally unable to resist the temptation to roll in it despite Jimmy's best efforts to restrain him. A thorough drenching in the stream had removed most of the offensive odour but had left Jimmy and Mike looking rather battered. The usual crowd welcomed them with uproarious laughter but, as they were all sons of the soil, soon accepted the pig as a welcome customer. The well intentioned landlord produced a basin filled with beer dregs and set it on the floor for the animal's inspection. Angus sniffed suspiciously at the basin then took a tentative slurp. Unsurprisingly, he discovered that the strange mixture was to his liking and quickly emptied the basin to the cheers and encouragement of the crowd. The basin was refilled several times during the course of the evening and Angus dutifully obliged by emptying it, apparently with no ill effect. Eventually, Jimmy produced a watch from his pocket and decided that it was time they set off for home. The watch had served him well for many years although the hour hand had disappeared at some point. He knew, of course that it was ten minutes past something, but the exact hour eluded him. With Angus in tow and Mike bringing up the rear, the trio stumbled from the bar and headed homewards. As they staggered along the road, Jimmy treated his animal entourage to a selection of half remembered and probably better forgotten songs that he had learned in the army. Angus trotted solemnly beside him, no longer snuffling and no longer squealing. His pace became more and more leisurely until at last the need to lie down for a little nap overcame him. Instead of settling down on the grass at the roadside, he simply slumped into an untidy heap in the middle of the road and immediately fell into a deep sleep. Nothing my uncle could do had any effect on the slumbering pig. Even his best army obscenities, delivered in the voice of a Sergeant Major failed to rouse Angus. Vigorous prodding with his walking stick and Mike's excited barking were equally ineffective. Even to one as sober as a judge, this scenario would present a problem. Obviously, he could not just abandon Angus but neither could he work out any method by which an unconscious porker weighing some fourteen stones and drunk as a lord might be transferred the remaining mile home. Jimmy's befuddled brain finally slipped into gear. Rummaging around in his coat pockets, he found a scrap of paper and the stub of a pencil. He scrawled a message and, assuming that the binder twine was unlikely to be of further use, he used it to attach the note to Mike's collar. ''Home, Mike. Get Janet.'' The dog looked at him curiously. ''Mike! Away home. Get Janet!'' Mike barked a brief acknowledgement and ran off into the night. Jimmy decided to make himself comfortable whilst he waited and settled down on the road with his head resting on the pig's side, wrapped his coat around himself and dozed off. Some time later, at twenty-five past something, he was rudely awakened by the dulcet tones of my Aunt Janet, screaming abuse at the slumbering pair. Jimmy, even in his alcoholic stupor realised that he was in bad trouble. ''Ye drunken auld fool!'' she shouted. ''When I saw yer note, I didnae know whit tae think. 'Bring barrow' indeed. Where was I supposed to bring it? That dog has got twice as much brain as you, ye idiot. I had to tell him to find you. What in the name of Creation possessed ye tae take a pig oot tae the pub?'' ''Ach Janet, even a pig has tae have some fun sometimes. Gie's a hand to get him into the barrow.'' Together they managed to load Angus into the barrow and, not without some difficulty, trundled him home with Janet's tirades ringing in Jimmy's ears. Happily, Angus suffered no ill effects from his night out, but now that he had acquired a taste for beer worse was to come. On the occasion of Jimmy's seventieth birthday, Janet planned a get-together of the family and friends at the farmhouse. The long kitchen table groaned under the weight of home-made scones, cold ham, cheese, salted herring, oat cakes and countless shapes and varieties of Janet's home baking. As the evening progressed, an impromptu orchestra was set up consisting of bagpipes, an accordion, fiddles, a mouth organ and various kitchen utensils pressed into service as percussion instruments. The dancing grew more and more frenzied and, as the evening was warm, the kitchen door was left open. Attracted by the noise and the unmistakeable scent of beer, Angus pushed his way into the house. Sniffing hopefully around the floor, he soon tracked the source of the smell. Yes, there it was. It was contained in a large milk churn in the dairy adjoining the kitchen. Even better, it was at floor level. Angus poked his huge head into the churn and started drinking. When he had drunk as far down the vessel as he was able, he tipped it over and very soon was licking up the last dregs from the dairy floor. Somewhat bemused, he looked around and sniffed the air. There was more somewhere. His unerring sense of smell told him that there was a similar churn in the kitchen. Overjoyed, he charged through the room, scattering musicians and dancers in his wake. Totally oblivious to the screams of frightened women and to my uncle's earnest entreaties, he followed his nose towards his goal. When he reached the churn, nobody could stop the determined pig as he drank greedily. At last, he had his fill, grunted happily, staggered into the table and knocking the contents to the floor. According to Jimmy, he gazed blearily around the room, smiled happily, laid down on the floor and fell asleep. Apparently the party continued unabated and the dancers treated the sleeping Angus as an obstacle to be negotiated. On occasions thereafter, the pig made many visits to the pub where he enjoyed the admiration of a wide circle of drinkers who were more than happy to keep both Jimmy and Angus in beer for the evening and many tried and failed to drink a pint faster than the pig. For the record, there was always a wheelbarrow provided although on more than one occasion, the returning occupant was Uncle Jimmy, wheeled by a sympathetic friend. Some clerics and many doctors of medicine would have us believe that consumption of alcohol is a certain way to ruin. I can say, however, that a fondness for the fine brown brew was entirely responsible for the fact that Angus survived to a ripe old age and was never in any danger of featuring on the family menu. Allen Murray Feb 06 2007
Archived comments for Angus
Gerry on 09-02-2007
Nice one, knowing a few eccentric families--I can well believe every word...


Author's Reply:
Thanks Gerry. Sometimes having a total of 28 aunts and uncles, all daft as brushes makes this sort of thing easy!

e-griff on 09-02-2007
Nice to see you back on UKA! 🙂 G

Author's Reply:
Good to be back Griff. I loved Truckerson - good luck with the sales.

RoyBateman on 10-02-2007
A welcome return indeed...oh, how I sympathise with that porker. Totally befuddled, he even gets a free ride home! If only we could all be so lucky. As usual, you bring the scene to life with a deft touch - a thoroughly enjoyable picture of a more innocent age. These days, if a pig walked in, the barman wouldn't be able to distinguish it from most of his customers. (Yes, me included...)

Author's Reply:
Many thanks Roy. You could probably identify the pig as the only one not wearing a hood!

JeffDray on 11-02-2007
A civilised way to travel. Fortunately, in my new home it is only a few yards to the Red Lion, the finest pub in Swanage, so it isn't an onerous task to return home, being fairly difficult to take a wrong turning. I look forward to more episodes.

Author's Reply:
Cheers Jeff. I suspect that you moved house for that very reason!

Granny's Teeth (posted on: 15-04-05)
Another family eccentric!

I was actually searching for black peppercorns in the kitchen cupboard when I came across a jar of cinnamon. Unable to resist, I opened the jar and sampled the contents. Cinnamon has an unforgettable flavour and the taste and smell took me instantly back to my childhood. As an eight or nine year-old, my parents, probably glad to be rid of me during the interminable summer holidays, packed me off to spend some time with my Aunt Carrie. Carrie was, even then, an elderly spinster and, to my eternal fascination, had a mouth entirely devoid of teeth. For me, numbered amongst the attractions of a stay with my aunt, were that she possessed an ancient harmonium on which I was allowed to play, and that she lived on a croft with a staggering menagerie of animals. The main attraction, however, was that she owned the village shop and Post Office. I was allowed to help by weighing sugar into paper bags and dispense Golden Syrup and black treacle from huge urns into glass jars. Pre-packed goods had not as yet made an appearance and most groceries were delivered to the shop in bulk. Even now I can recall the smells of tobacco, tea, sides of bacon and, yes, cinnamon. There was very little that Auntie Carrie would not tackle. She would clamber up on the roof of the croft house to replace loose or broken slates or to clear blocked guttering with little regard for personal safety. When her only cow was in difficulties with a calf, reluctant to make an appearance into the world, she turned her hand to veterinary surgery and safely delivered a healthy infant. The house benefited from very little in the way of amenities. Oil lamps and candles provided lighting and water had to be drawn from a well by means of a hand pump. There was always a fire burning in the gleaming black kitchen range, the renewal of both the blackness and the gleam being a regular chore in case of unexpected guests. Although she had never married, she enjoyed male company and the frequent visits of the local doctor, a distinguished looking elderly widower, had little to do with the state of Carrie's health. On those occasions, she would brush her hair into a severe bun and wear a voluminous black dress that was several inches too long and trailed on the floor. To complete her preparations, she would produce a set of dentures from a box in the kitchen drawer. I knew from a previous enquiry that these were known as ''Granny's Teeth'' and that she had inherited these family heirlooms when her mother had ceased to have need of them. To say that Granny's Teeth enhanced Carrie's appearance would amount to a gross distortion of the facts. They had been constructed for a person of more generous oral proportions and when installed in my aunt's mouth they protruded to a significant degree and rattled when she spoke. My childish fascination with Granny's Teeth centred mainly on the expectation that they would fall out, rather than on the bizarre spectacle of watching Carrie clack her way through a conversation with the good doctor. As was common amongst the rural communities of Scotland, the Sabbath was strictly observed. Being the church organist, Carrie took a major part in the religious proceedings. Seated at the organ, a rather asthmatic instrument with several notes that refused to play and several other notes that refused to quit, Carrie provided the vocal and instrumental lead to the subdued singing of the small congregation. I was given the task of sitting in the small cupboard at the side of the organ and operating the long handled air pump that provided the motive power to the instrument. The minister, a dour Presbyterian, much given to lengthy sermons would favour my aunt with a grimace closely resembling a smile as she played and clacked her way through the hymns. Although the work involved in operating the bellows was not hard, a certain amount of care was required. If the hymn was a quiet, contemplative piece, then only minimal effort was required by the pump operator. However, should the programme call for a rousing hymn with loud choruses, then a considerable amount of input was required. One Sunday when the bellows duty had been allocated to me, I sat in the stuffy bellows cupboard, armed with a bag of boiled sweets and a list of the hymns. The Scots, always keen to extract the maximum possible value from anything, favour long Kirk services with extended prayers for the benefit of everyone from the local sick and dying to the world in general, hymns with a copious quantity of verses and a sermon lasting at least fifty minutes. Despite the reverend gentleman's forecast of eternal damnation, I was overcome by an irresistible need to doze and fell into a deep sleep. The man of the cloth wound up his sermon and ordered the terrified congregation to ''Praise the Lord with hymn number one hundred and forty three, omitting verses three and eighteen.'' Carrie flexed her fingers and struck the opening chord. There was total, absolute silence. I was awakened by a frantic banging on the wall of the cupboard as Auntie Carrie realised that I was in the arms of Morpheus. I sprang to the pump and gave it my all. Carrie had, by now, given up all hope of producing any sound from the organ and elected to lead the singing by voice alone. The first sound to reach the ears of the startled worshippers was a very discordant whistle as five of the stuck notes responded to my energetic pumping. The second sound was my aunt's voice hitting a top C, closely followed by a clatter as Granny's Teeth leapt from her open mouth and disappeared between the organ pedals. Somehow, the remainder of the devotions passed without further distraction and we were eventually blessed and allowed to escape into the sunshine. When the church was at last empty, Carrie and I returned into the gloom and commenced the search for Granny's Teeth. With the aid of a spluttering candle, I searched diligently without success for a considerable time. Just as I was about to give up in disgust, I saw them. They were grinning up at me from under the C# pedal. Try as I might, even my small hand was unable to reach them and it seemed probable that some degree of disassembly would be required to effect a recovery. Even my multi-talented aunt was unwilling to attempt such a task and it appeared likely that Granny's Teeth had found their final resting place. The dark cloud that hovered over the sequence of events had the expected silver lining. Under some pressure and with a certain degree of reluctance, my aunt allowed the good doctor to transport her to Aberdeen in his motor car, there to visit a dental surgeon. Some months later, equipped with a properly fitting, gleaming set of teeth, Carrie posed, rather self-consciously with the doctor outside the church for their wedding photograph. Carrie had one final trick up her sleeve. When she passed away in her nineties, I learned that I was named as a beneficiary in her Will. ''Carrie's Teeth'' are in my possession to this day.
Archived comments for Granny's Teeth
Emerald on 2005-04-15 09:50:13
Re: Granny's Teeth
A delightful story, I really enjoyed this tale of inherited teeth.


Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2005-04-15 09:53:31
Re: Granny's Teeth
many thanks Emma. glad you enjoyed the story 🙂

Author's Reply:

RoyBateman on 2005-04-15 11:37:14
Re: Granny's Teeth
As always, a sheer delight to read - superbly written, engrossing and amusing at the same time. Not an easy accomplishment. A Friday morning treat for us all!

Author's Reply:

Jen_Christabel on 2005-04-15 11:50:32
Re: Granny's Teeth
Sheer magic!

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2005-04-15 12:02:36
Re: Granny's Teeth
Many, many thanks to both Roy and to Jen. Your comments are most appreciated. My daft ancestors have provided me with a wealth of material and it is difficult to select the daftest anecdotes!

Author's Reply:

shadow on 2005-04-16 21:51:08
Re: Granny's Teeth
Another fantastic story! There's something about teeth, isn't there, especially the detatchable kind - are they in the organ still?

Author's Reply:

shangri-la on 2005-04-17 13:12:15
Re: Granny's Teeth
An enchanting and captivating story, very well written. Made me laugh out loud in places.

Author's Reply:

Claire on 2005-04-17 21:18:17
Re: Granny's Teeth
What a canny entertaining read! Very amusing too.

Author's Reply:

nibs on 2005-04-17 22:45:29
Re: Granny's Teeth
A delightful tale, I loved it.

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2005-04-19 08:51:48
Re: Granny's Teeth
Thanks very much Shad. Yes, teeth have always been a topic for amusement in my family!

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2005-04-19 08:52:50
Re: Granny's Teeth
Your comments are much appreciated Shan! Many thanks

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2005-04-19 08:53:43
Re: Granny's Teeth
Thanks Claire. As always, your appreciation is very gratifying.

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2005-04-19 08:54:33
Re: Granny's Teeth
Thank you nibs. Glad you enjoyed the story.

Author's Reply:

Kat on 2005-04-20 11:28:17
Re: Granny's Teeth
What a great story - enjoyed lots!

Kat 🙂

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2005-04-20 13:01:20
Re: Granny's Teeth
Thank you for your comment, Kat. Glad that you enjoyed the story.

Author's Reply:

Gerry on 2005-04-20 13:22:24
Re: Granny's Teeth
Allen, a delightful little tale. Sounds like you had interesting early years. lol.


Author's Reply:

Uncle Jimmy's Tractor (posted on: 04-04-05)
My eccentric family strikes again.

Although my Uncle Jim was a skilled hand at humorous poetry and was blessed with a wonderful ability to tell outrageously tall tales, there was at least one episode in his long life that was never mentioned in his presence. Because he is no longer with us, I feel fairly safe in telling of his giant leap into technology in the certain knowledge that he would forgive me. As I have mentioned on a previous occasion, Jim scraped a living from the meagre soil of a small farm in Aberdeenshire. He was assisted in his efforts by my Aunt Janet, a long series of collies, all named Mike and two ancient Clydesdale horses. However, even the most willing horse cannot achieve immortality and sadly my uncle had to admit that their capacity for work had diminished to such an extent that it was clearly impractical to rely on them for power. On one of his monthly visits to the Farmers' Market, he was telling his woes to an unwilling and largely disinterested audience when one of his companions announced that horse power was a thing of the past, and that a tractor was clearly the way forward for Jimmy. The suggestion fell on ground as stony as his farm. He pronounced that in general, tractors were nasty, noisy, smelly things, and that in particular, any tractor recommended by the speaker was bound to display all the said defects in abundance. Undaunted, the speaker pressed his case and finally persuaded Jimmy to visit his farm and view a tractor which, by coincidence, happened to be for sale. The demonstration was, for the seller, an unqualified success. For my uncle, it was the beginning of a series of disasters. He considered the internal combustion engine to be the work of the powers of darkness and totally unfathomable to any God-fearing person. He rode on the beast as the owner displayed the ease with which it could pull a plough and watched as the machine climbed a steep slope, pulling a heavily laden trailer. Despite himself, Jimmy was impressed and rode home on his bicycle as fast as he was able, to collect Janet and the seemingly enormous sum of money required for the purchase. It has to be said that, despite having served in the Great War where mechanised transport was not unusual, my uncle's understanding of mechanical issues could only be described as minimal. Much of the driving lesson offered by the vendor passed without any real understanding but he was eventually deemed fit to conduct the machine home. With my Aunt Janet clinging precariously to the back, he bid the tractor ''Giddy-up!'' and took his foot off the clutch. In a series of leaps and bounds, he negotiated the narrow track leading to the main road, collecting a gatepost on the way. Remembering the warning given by the seller, he approached the right-angled turn onto the public road with more than a little disquiet. ''Whoa!'' he roared as the tractor plunged headlong towards it. ''Whoa, ye brute!'' Wrenching hard on the steering wheel, he succeeded in persuading the contraption to alter course and head along the King's highway for home. Although the journey was but a few miles, it was to prove far from uneventful. It was necessary to pass through a small village and the villagers were treated to the spectacle of the tractor, ridden by my uncle and with my aunt clinging on for dear life proceeding along the middle of the road at a brisk pace with animals and small children scattering before them. As there seemed nothing better to do, a motley collection of dogs and children on bicycles ran alongside, cheering them on their way. The village bobby patrolling the normally quiet street hoping to find someone to arrest was amazed to witness the entourage, clearly out of control, causing, at the very least, a serious breach of the peace. With dreams of promotion, he commandeered a bicycle and set off after them, blowing as hard as he could on his whistle. ''Stop!'' he shouted. ''Stop at once, in the name of the Law!'' ''Whoa, ye awkward bugger!'' Jimmy screamed. Oblivious to his entreaties, the tractor thundered on. ''Put your foot on the clutch!'' the policeman suggested, pedalling furiously alongside. ''The what?'' ''The clutch,'' the bobby replied. ''The pedal by your left foot.'' Thus advised, my uncle was able at last to bring the machine to a halt. The policeman dismounted from his bike and leant it against the back wheel of the tractor. Pulling his notebook from his pocket, he lovingly licked the end of a stub of pencil. ''Now then,'' he began ponderously. ''Do you have a licence for this vehicle?'' At this point, Jimmy's leg suddenly developed a severe cramp. As his foot slipped from the clutch, the tractor bounded forward, crushing the bicycle under the wheel. The roar of the engine, Janets cries of terror and Jimmy's angry commands to the tractor to slow down faded into the distance. Deprived of both a possible arrest and of any means of transport, the bobby sadly turned, cursing, for home. Eventually, the spectators tired of the procession and also headed for home. Alone, the trio proceeded along the road, and apart from a small excursion onto the grass verge and a relatively minor collision with a road sign, arrived at their destination without further incident. Finally managing to find a gear producing a more leisurely pace, Jimmy eased the tractor into the barn where he bedded it down for the night. The following day, the village policeman arrived on an official bike. His subsequent enquiries satisfied him that my uncle had been the driver of the machine that had terrorised his village and he demanded the production of a licence. As my uncle had no licence of any description a serious offence had clearly been committed. This was the bobby's first contact with criminality and he was unsure of what to do next. ''I'll have to report this to my Inspector,'' he said. ''I expect that you will be hearing from us.'' ''Will you take a cup of tea with us, John?'' My aunt was always the perfect hostess. ''Aye, Janet, that would be most welcome.'' He lowered himself into a chair and unbuttoned his jacket. ''You know, I think it might be better for everyone if Jimmy left that tractor alone. I could forget about yesterday. That would save a lot of my valuable police time.'' Time passed and the noise of Jimmy's tractor was not heard. The horses were retired to a life of ease, grazing peacefully with the cows and sheep on the grassland to which the whole farm had been converted. Jimmy cycled every month to the Farmers' market but always avoided any question about the fate of his tractor. One evening, Janet was attending a meeting of the WI or some such organisation and another lady expressed interest in why the tractor lay idle. ''Och, the silly old bugger doesn't know how to start the engine and he has been too embarrassed to ask anyone!'' (c) Allen Murray April 2005
Archived comments for Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
RoyBateman on 2005-04-04 10:40:38
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
A wonderful, warm story that sounded truly authentic. Like something out of those whimsical films that we could only make properly in the 40s and 50s...excellent read, packed with wholly credible characters and incidents.

Author's Reply:

Emerald on 2005-04-04 12:05:38
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
Enjoyed this greatly, and could picture the whole scene.


Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2005-04-04 12:20:41
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
Many thanks Roy. Your comments are always appreciated.

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2005-04-04 12:22:08
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
Thank you very much Emma. Glad you enjoyed it.

Author's Reply:

tai on 2005-04-05 13:53:12
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
Hi skytrucker, I enjoyed your story of innocent times of old. Your narrative was vivid and I could your dear old uncles journey, yard by yard made me smile.lol Oh for the good old days. 9 from me.

All the best


Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2005-04-05 15:48:47
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
Many thanks for your appreciation Tai. Greatly appreciated.

Author's Reply:

Archie on 2005-04-05 16:16:14
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
Hi Skytrucker,
I think this is very well written - easy-reading and professional without the sentimental tone that often spoils this sort of article.

I can relate to it as well. I drive a tractor - very old. Can be embarrassing if you forget that the accelerator and brake pedals are not in the usual places.


Author's Reply:

shadow on 2005-04-05 17:06:43
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
That was terrific! I could see it all.

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2005-04-05 17:16:51
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
Hello Archie and thanks for your comment. I recall that the tractor was a Ford Ferguson which was certainly not a marriage made in heaven. It started on petrol then it was switched to run on paraffin.

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2005-04-05 17:17:47
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
Thank you Shad. Always good to hear from you!

Author's Reply:

Kat on 2005-04-05 22:20:56
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
What a lovely story. Loved the way 'Uncle Jimmy' used his 'horsey' language for dealing with the tractor too.

This is so well-written and deftly done - some great images!


Kat 🙂

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2005-04-06 08:53:58
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
Many thanks for taking the time to comment Kat. I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

Author's Reply:

AnthonyEvans on 2005-04-06 18:58:36
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
skytrucker, this is the first piece i have read by you and it won't be the last. i also thought it was very well written and very funny, especially the journey home. best wishes, anthony.

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2005-04-07 08:53:18
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
hello Anthony and many thanks for your message. It is always good to hear that one's efforts have raised a smile. That, of course, is my primary objective. There is already far too much misery and depression around.

Author's Reply:

Claire on 2005-04-07 15:32:55
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
I can see why you got that nib, hun. Congrats. Excellent read, I enjoyed this rather a lot. Very entertaining.

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2005-04-07 15:42:48
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
Awww bless and thanks. Glad you enjoyed it.

Author's Reply:

JeffDray on 2005-04-07 15:59:37
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
Nice one TRuxy, a bright spot in a dull time at home.

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2005-04-07 18:07:58
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
Many thanks Mudster. Sorry you're not feeling too clever and I hope you feel better soon. Take care mate.

Author's Reply:

discopants on 2005-04-08 09:34:13
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
An enjoyable piece. I can picture it all beautifully.

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2005-04-08 12:04:21
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
Many thanks disco! Good of you to comment.

Author's Reply:

sirat on 2005-04-08 12:38:09
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
Coming in late to say I've just read this one and I loved it. Beautifully written. Would make a great short film. Very visual and great fun.

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2005-04-08 13:34:44
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
Glad you took the time to comment David. Thanks for the compliment.

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2005-04-10 16:05:32
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
Welcome back, O Truckers...... Trux (sorry!)

Author's Reply:

Gerry on 2005-04-14 21:53:00
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
Allen, I have read this before somewhere. lol
Couldn't miss the chance to read it again---


Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2005-04-15 08:53:10
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
It follows a pattern, Gerry but no, you haven't read it before! Written edited and posted within an hour at work, waiting for a problem on the airplane to be fixed. Nice to see you again. 🙂

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2005-04-15 08:54:26
Re: Uncle Jimmy's Tractor
Thanks mate, good to see you too. 🙂

Author's Reply:

Salt (posted on: 14-01-05)
A short tale concerning the food chain!

I consider myself fortunate in that my father and my mother each had six siblings. This simple fact was responsible for an astonishing quantity of aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, great-aunts and the like. Due in no small measure to a significant streak of eccentricity on both sides of the family (a streak which some are unkind enough to claim that I have inherited) my relatives have provided me with enough material to fill several books. My uncle James was a farmer at the turn of the century. He came to farming late in life, having emigrated to Canada where he variously tried his hand at lumber jacking, trapping and fur trading. From there, he moved south to California, tempted by the unfounded rumours regarding gold in them thar hills. Soon tiring of America, he moved to Australia just before the outbreak of the Great War. Losing no time, he joined the Black Watch and took part in many of the famous battles, including Gallipoli. After such a varied lifestyle, his return to his native Aberdeenshire and the purchase of a small farm might seem to be an anti climax but Uncle Jimmy claimed to have found more excitement on the land than Kaiser Bill had provided in Europe. He transferred his amazing sense of humour into print in a modest book of poetry, a copy of which is listed amongst my most treasured possessions. This tale is my recollection of a story he loved to tell concerning one of his neighbouring farmers, a man noted for his meanness and selfish ways. Because farmers in that part of Scotland were usually referred to by the name of the farm rather than by their family name, I shall henceforth refer to this gentleman as Miserton. One night, as winter winds blew over the bleak Aberdeenshire countryside, Miserton’s pig became trapped in a sea of mud from which it became impossible to extricate her despite the valiant efforts of the farm workers. The expiry of the unfortunate animal sent Miserton into an initial fit of black depression but realising that some benefit could be derived from the tragedy, he issued instructions for the pig to be cleaned of the mud and separated into her component parts. In those days, there was no interference in the food chain from the Authorities, and it was common practice for farmers to act as butcher. One of the very young members of Miserton’s labour force was despatched to the nearest store with instructions to acquire some thirty pounds of salt. On his return, the pig was packed into wooden tubs using brine as a preservative. Over the winter and indeed over spring and early summer, the farmer, his family and the farmhands feasted mightily although the fare was somewhat limited in variety. Indeed, the only item on the menu was pork and potatoes, occasionally varied by potatoes and pork. At long last the bottom of the tubs became closer and the workers breathed a sigh of relief. The relief proved to be short lived, however, as another disaster befell Miserton. At five o clock one morning, just as the cattleman entered the byre, he was just in time so see one of the old dairy cows choke on a turnip. Unable to revive the poor animal, he roused Miserton from his slumbers to relay the sad news. Once again, the farmer wailed in dismay but soon realised that, although plainly deceased, the animal had not been diseased and could therefore provide a further supply of food. The young lad, a mere child of fourteen and blessed with a childish ingenuousness, was once more sent to the village to fetch salt. Owing to the weight of salt required to preserve a complete cow, a wheelbarrow was provided for the boy and off he set, the iron wheel clanking over the stones. Wheelbarrow or not, the eight mile return trip must have taken a heavy toll, for the poor young man was drenched in perspiration despite the chill of the day. Miserton and his reluctant staff set about skinning and jointing the beast. Eventually, as the day drew to a close, they had filled several tubs with salted beef and returned to the farm kitchen for their pork and potatoes, although it might have been potatoes and pork. All through the year, over Christmas and almost into the following summer, the salted beef was the sole item on offer at the table. Although there was a strong undercurrent of objection, none of the farmhands would dare to take the matter up with their master. It was salt beef every night and twice a day on Sundays. Eventually, Mrs Miserton suggested that a variation in the menu might be appropriate as the farmhands were probably becoming tired of salt beef. Miserton’s response, delivered in a single sentence, punctuated with appropriate Scottish epithets, expressed the doubt that anyone could possibly be tired of their food and the matter was pursued no further. If there was one person more feared and disliked in the whole of the Miserton establishment than Miserton himself, it was Mrs Miserton senior, his ancient and irascible mother. It was widely believed in the area that she possessed dark powers and certainly her appearance did little to suggest otherwise. Although in excellent condition, she was much given to complaints regarding her health and was well known to imbibe a restorative dram at frequent intervals throughout the day as she kept watch on the farmhands from her window to ensure that they did not give less than their best. It will come as little surprise, therefore, that when she was taken ill, the local doctor insisted that the minister, a dour Presbyterian, accompanied him to her sick bed. Alas, the years of overindulgence in the home distilled spirit had taken their toll, and nothing that the good doctor or the man of the cloth could do would revive her. She expired, not peacefully like any decent person, but with a curse on her thin lips and was no more. Although there was much quiet satisfaction about the farm, none grieved her passing. That is, except the young lad, who fled to his lodgings and hastily packed his trunk and fled before anyone could stop him. When Miserton inquired of the lad’s father as to the whereabouts of his employee, he was told that Jimmy (for that was his name) had pronounced that he had eaten the sow and that he had struggled to eat the old cow but he was not, under any circumstances going to be despatched for more salt and be forced to eat Miserton’s mother!
Archived comments for Salt
RoyBateman on 2005-01-14 06:26:35
Re: Salt
Excellent stuff - beautifully crafted as usual, and keeps the attention right to the end. One thing strikes me...if salt is so bad that we're only supposed to have - what is it, 6 gm a day maximum - how did everyone survive when salting was heavy, universal, and just about the only cheap way to preserve food? Okay, lifespans were shorter, but not by as much as is commonly believed. Mm...puzzling!

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2005-01-14 06:34:01
Re: Salt
Many thanks for you kind comment, Roy. Very much appreciated.

Author's Reply:

sirat on 2005-01-14 11:37:41
Re: Salt
Good to see you back Trux. I had been wondering where you'd got to.

Excellent story: entertaining from beginning to end and told with style and elegance. There is only one thing I would chgange: in the sentence: "Although in excellent health, she was much given to complaints regarding her health" the word "health" is over-used. Just needs rephrasing. Otherwise, no complaints.

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2005-01-14 13:26:43
Re: Salt
Thank you David. Great to hear from you. Glad you liked the story.

Author's Reply:

Andrea on 2005-01-14 13:34:26
Re: Salt
Great stuff Trux. And bloody great to see you back, too 🙂

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2005-01-14 14:46:14
Re: Salt
dank u vel Cloggy! great to see you too 🙂

Author's Reply:

tai on 2005-01-16 07:52:47
Re: Salt
Hi skytrucker, I enjoyed the story but the ending was too predictable for me. It needs more of a twist imo.

All the best


Author's Reply:

flash on 2005-01-16 08:01:26
Re: Salt
Entertaining solid little tale, nothing great or bad about it though and a tad predictable.

Good stuff.


Author's Reply:

shadow on 2005-01-16 12:38:52
Re: Salt
Lovely funny story - I don't think it matters at all if you guess the end. Glad to see you back, discipline on the bins front has been sliding badly since you went away.

Author's Reply:

JeffDray on 2005-02-26 09:04:00
Re: Salt
More of these please, I'm sure that granite Aberdonian past has a lot of tales to tell.

Don't be a stranger.

Author's Reply:

The Brotherhood (posted on: 30-04-04)
A tale of the Cold War


It is the Year of our Lord 1963. We are sitting, my colleague and I, in a large steel shed at the end of the runway. I look up and idly count the trusses in the roof. By tilting my head as far back as the equipment that I am wearing will permit, I can count twenty-four. The steel doors in front of us are opened wide. The doors are electrically operated and can open in less than ten seconds.

Looking down to my left, I see two men leaning indolently against the wall of the shed. They both wear denim overalls and clumsy red earmuffs. Although I am unable to hear it, I know that a ground power unit is running outside the shed. This ground power unit is providing alternating electrical current at four hundred volts and two hundred cycles per second. Plugged into the aircraft, into which John Waterstone and I are tightly strapped, the output of the unit is running all the aircraft systems.

The two engines are, for the moment silent. I can hear the sounds of the invertors and gyros. I can also hear the terse messages being transmitted over the cable link from Wing Operations. Some two miles distant from our lonely outpost, people are crouched over a plotting table. Information from many sources is collated and plotted on this table. These people are able to talk to us by means of the cable link and they will give us the order to launch if they feel that such an order is warranted.

In a nation that is effectively at peace, I am sitting in one of two Gloster Javelin fighter aircraft that are fully armed with live missiles. If we launch, it will be because a threat has been perceived to which an armed response is deemed necessary. The duty of waiting is known as QRA, meaning Quick Reaction Alert. It is plain that every crew carrying out this duty hopes fervently that a scramble order will not be given.

Of the two aircraft on standby, one is ready for departure within twenty seconds of the order. The crew of the other aircraft relaxes in the lounge area adjacent to the hangars. If the first airplane is scrambled, they will instantly climb into their machine and assume twenty second readiness.For the moment, there is nothing to do but wait. John, who sits behind me, is reading a novel by the light of his torch. The inside of the hangar is bathed in a red glow in order that our night vision will not be compromised.

The radio crackles into life. I expect a report stating 'situation normal'. Instead, the voice tells me that one of our Early Warning systems has detected an unidentified aircraft over the North Sea. I know that if this intruder enters our airspace we will be sent to investigate. Almost subconsciously, I tighten my straps one at a time. In the canopy, I can see the reflection of John stuffing his book into the document stowage. The messages from Operations tell me that the intruder has not responded to interrogation and is currently on a heading that will takehim right to the shores of our green and pleasant land. I flash the landing lights as a signal to the ground crew to be ready and receive a thumbs up signal in response.

The radio crackles again.''Two four from Wing Ops, Scramble scramble scramble. Your vector to target is heading zero two five.''I hit the battery master switch and signal to the ground crew. Press both starter buttons simultaneously and as soon as the engines have properly lit up, push both throttles forward and release the brakes. ''Ops, two-four is rolling'' Not bad, that. Just twenty-three seconds from the scramble to moving.

We turn on to the runway. Both engines to full power against the brakes. ''Two-four, ops, cleared for take-off. Contact Fighter Director on stud four when airborne.'' Brakes off and we leap forward. The runway lights stream past us as the speed increases. I scan the instruments. All temperatures and pressures in the green. The rumble of the wheels ceases as we start to fly. Landing gear retracts into the wings and the doors close with a thud. I turn slightly left onto the heading and we climb hard.

The voice of the Fighter Director bids us good morning. Our target is an unidentified aircraft that they have been tracking for some time as it came down from the Arctic Circle, staying just outside Norwegian airspace. They assume that the target is one of the huge four-engined Russian bombers. Radar shows it to be some twenty miles from the Scottish coast and our time to intercept is just fourteen minutes. John remarks that this situation is not unusual. The Soviets keep sending the Bears towards the British coast just to measure our reaction time, he complains. I respond somewhat acidly that if he was any good at his job, he would have found the target on his intercept radar by this time.

The Fighter Director gives us steers towards our target and John eventually confirms that he has contact. We take up a position about three miles behind the intruder and make a positive identification. Sure enough, it is the huge Tupolev 95 that NATO code-named 'Bear' Although he is in international airspace, our task is to intercept and escort him to make certain that our Sovereign territory is not violated. Initially we must persuade the Soviet to change his heading. I position our aircraft on the left side of the Bear.

In the moonlight, the huge aircraft seems to hang in space. The flight deck lights are on and I have a clear view of the Russian pilot. He has what appears to be a paper cup in his hand. He raises it as if toasting us. I allow the distance between us to close and we can now see that the flight deck is crowded with Russian aviators, all waving happily at us.I gesture with my hand to ''follow me'' and break off to the left. Obediently, the big Russian enters a lumbering turn. He straightens out much too soon. They are still aimed at Scotland. We take up our station again just off his left wing. The Russian pilot grins at us. ''Follow me'' I signal again. The Bear obliges with another half hearted turn. We are running short of time, John reminds me. Unless we get this big mother pointed in the right direction very soon, they are going to have to scramble the second QRA aircraft because we are going to be out of fuel.

I signal again to the Soviet aircraft but this time, the crew all appear to be pointing at their wristwatches. They are laughing. It occurs to me that they know our mission capabilities almost as well as we do. At last, just as we are becoming obliged to return to base, the Bear obligingly swings onto a southerly heading. The captain salutes us. I return the salute. Honour has been satisfied.

The brotherhood existing between airmen transcends all bounds of nationality. At that turbulent period in our history, a state of war with the Soviet Union was never out of the question. I am pleased to relate however that the crew of a Soviet Air Force Tupolev and the crew of a Royal Air Force Javelin found a sort of friendship in the night sky over the cold North Sea, just off the Scottish coast.

(c) Allen Murray

Archived comments for The Brotherhood

Gerry on 2004-04-30 06:06:27
Re: The Brotherhood
I had read this before Allen, but enjoyed the read a second time.
I remember this time well...

Author's Reply:

JeffDray on 2004-05-01 03:13:37
Re: The Brotherhood
1963? You must be very old indeed. Now let me see, I was *starts counting fingers - realises he only needs one hand*

Ha Ha

Good story Allen

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-01 12:01:27
Re: The Brotherhood
Nice one, Allen; a very readable example of the camaraderie that exists between all aircrew, no matter who the 'good guys' and 'bad guys' are supposed to be. That reminds me – a Russian Air Force colonel was talking to his RAF counterpart after glasnost.
"We feed our pilots one thousand calories a day," he boasted.
"That's nothing – we give our aircrew three thousand calories per day," replied the RAF officer.
"Nonsense," thundered the Russian, "No one can eat a sack of potatoes in twenty-four hours…"

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2004-05-02 08:27:43
Re: The Brotherhood
Excellent story Steve! thanks for your comment.

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2004-05-02 08:29:19
Re: The Brotherhood
Thanks Gerry. I re-discovered it in my files and realised that I had never inflicted it on the membership of UKA. It was a wee bit worrying during the 60s!

Author's Reply:

flash on 2004-05-02 08:36:19
Re: The Brotherhood
Wow i didn't realise Russians had a sense of humour. Fascinating tale, funnily enough i read this the other night on ABC when i was browsing the members pictures and profile's.nice tale.


Author's Reply:

Skeeter on 2004-05-02 18:30:38
Re: The Brotherhood
I liked it too. Took me back actually, (sorry about this), to days spent making airfix models when I was little, Sopwith Camels and Fokker triplanes, and Lancasters and the one that begins with H and I can't remember it... nnyyaa!! nnyyyaaaa!! ack ack ack!! etc etc and so on. And Biggles books, that I read loads of when I was callow and pimply. Anyway, I may have spoiled the tone, but thats what it made me think of.

Author's Reply:

expat on 2004-05-03 04:00:28
Re: The Brotherhood
Halifax or Hampden, perhaps, Skeet?

Author's Reply:

A Matter of Perspective (posted on: 26-04-04)
In which I discover that I am not always right!


It has been said on many occasions that the greener grass invariably grows on the far side of the fence. This axiom applies especially when contemplating the work and lifestyle of other people.

“What a life you have!” I hear friends say to me. “Always jetting off all over the world!” The plain fact is that aircrews travel a great deal but see little. I have travelled to many countries but in reality, I have actually taken the time to explore only a very few places.

“Give me a country”, I have been known to cry, “and I will instantly recall not only the name of the main airports but also the runway alignments, the communications frequencies and the location of any adjacent hazards to navigation such as radio masts or Hilton hotels.” Should they inquire gently if I had enjoyed visiting, for example, the Bridge of Sighs or the Palace of Versailles I would be obliged to confess that such attractions had yet to enjoy my patronage.

As my wife’s birthday was approaching at a frightening speed and I was still at a complete loss as to how to celebrate the occasion, one of my very rare good ideas crawled warily into my head. I would plan a surprise weekend in a European city. I would book a fine hotel with excellent food and I would leave it until close to her birthday before telling her. My two daughters sabotaged my plan almost as soon as it was revealed to them. They pronounced almost in unison that prior to any such excursion, time and opportunity had to be provided for the purchase of the necessary items of female apparel.

The announcement that we were going to Barcelona was finally made some ten days prior to departure and was greeted with delight although that delight was tempered with the requirement to commence packing immediately. In many years of flying, I have invariably left such preparations until the previous evening and have never found it necessary to include the extensive range of equipment deemed essential by the female members of my family.

“We are going to a four star hotel,” I said. “I hardly think it is necessary to pack toilet rolls and shower gel.”

“Better to be safe than sorry,” she replied. “After all, Manuel from Fawlty Towers came from Barcelona.” She stuffed half a dozen coat hangers into the suitcase.

“I really think that the hotel will provide coat hangers.” With a determined sweep of the arm, she scooped almost every pair of trousers and most of my shirts from my wardrobe and folded them into the case.

On the following Saturday, I was given yet another opportunity to witness the dedicated female shopper at full throttle. I trailed meekly in her wake as she systematically demolished the stocks of several ladies’ clothing retail chains. Some time ago, I developed a rather subtle tactic for abbreviating such onslaughts. If I felt that too much time had been wasted and that we should move on to more interesting shops, I would locate the millinery department and set about trying on ladies hats and admiring the result in a mirror. On this occasion, the ploy was unsuccessful and Anne pointedly ignored me although I attracted several disapproving glances from other shoppers.

On our return home, burdened down with carrier bags, my wife managed to persuade the already overstuffed suitcase to accept yet more cargo, and we settled down to wait the next few days until our flight departure. When the great day finally arrived, we set off for the airport very early. The airline to which I had graciously accorded the privilege of transporting us is well known for its inflexible attitude towards late arrivals. We arrived at check-in some three hours prior to departure. That afforded me the opportunity to experience the sort of conditioning that the aviation industry applies to those who would travel by air. By the time passengers are ready to board, they have become automatons, ready to obey without question each and every instruction issued by the airport public address system.

With a great effort of will, I managed to refrain from adverse comment about the apparent skills of the flight crew, even when the landing at Barcelona left, in my opinion, considerable room for improvement. Comforted by the thought that any landing from which one can walk away and in which the escape slides have not been deployed may be considered reasonably successful, we summoned a taxi to convey us to our hotel. Despite my interference in halting Spanish, the driver eventually located our hotel.

We decided that we should have dinner before settling in the bar for the remainder of the evening. Dinner was not to be without incident. As the waiter approached our table bearing our main course, he appeared to be struggling to maintain a sound and effective grip on the apparently very hot plates. He wore an expression of grim determination but it was obvious that he was fighting a losing battle. With a muffled yelp, he lost control of the dishes and performed an impressive although unsuccessful juggling act with them.

In these modern times, I cannot believe that there is no cleaning agent capable of removing the stains made by cod in a Catalan sauce, baby new potatoes and an unidentified vegetable of the leek family. Deeply apologetic, the restaurant manager attempted to remove the worst of the mess with a handful of paper towels and moved us to another table.

“Good job I persuaded you to pack extra clothes,” I remarked smugly.

We set off to explore the city early the following morning. There is a very efficient tourist bus system that, on payment of an entirely reasonable fee will allow the traveller to journey between all the main points of interest in Barcelona, leaving at will and joining a subsequent bus to continue the tour. We alighted at Placa Catalunya, which is almost the main square of the city and spent a moment amongst the fountains and the pigeons deciding where to go next. Barcelona is almost dominated by the works of Antoni Gaudi and, whether or not the outrageously ornate architecture can be considered beautiful, one has to concede that it is impressive. Amongst his most famous creations is the Sagrada Familia, an extremely decorative and permanently unfinished temple in the Gothic Quarter of the city.

It was towards this building that we strolled in the sunshine when an apparently very well fed bird answered the call of nature directly overhead. Needless to relate, Anne was wearing a bright yellow sweatshirt and light trousers.

“Quick! Get some tissues from my bag,” she gasped, barely able to contain her revulsion. I decided that it was time to revive a very old joke.

“Don’t be silly, darling,” I responded. “The bird will be miles away by now.” There was no alternative other than to take a taxi back to the hotel. Freshly showered and dressed in yet another change of clothes, we set off yet again towards the Placa Catalunya. Lunchtime in Spain is roughly from eleven in the morning until three-thirty in the afternoon. The time was approaching lunchtime so we located a restaurant in Las Ramblas, one of the many famous thoroughfares in Barcelona and took a table on the pavement from which we could indulge our passion for people watching. The top right hand corner of Spain is the home of Cava, a rather superior type of sparkling wine. (The French forbid the use of the term champagne when referring to Cava.) Nothing would suit our purposes better, we thought, than a nice bottle of Cava to accompany our meal. The waiter brought the bottle and proceeded to cut the wire.

With a sound similar to the discharge of a shotgun, the cork flew out, struck an adjacent lamppost and rebounded into Anne’s paella. As the wine gushed from the bottle, the waiter appeared to be smitten by a delusion that he had just won the Spanish Grand Prix, for he waved the bottle, spraying not only me but also two unsuspecting passers-by.

Happily, the remainder of our weekend in Barcelona passed without incident, but I suspect that I will suffer continuing reminders of the ill-advised comments that I made prior to departure. The additional clothing was certainly required and sadly, there were not really enough coat hangers in the hotel wardrobe. My opinions are entirely my own and reflect only my viewpoint. Others may agree with my wife on the subject of packing. Others might agree with me that the landing at Barcelona left a little to be desired. The bird may not have intended to hit us and the waiter probably just panicked. Robert Burns famously remarked in his Ode to a Louse, “O wad some power the Giftie gie us, to see oorselves as others see us” (It would be rather pleasant if God would give us the power to see ourselves as others see us)

Everything is just a Matter of Perspective.

Allen Murray April 2004

Archived comments for A Matter of Perspective

shadow on 2004-04-26 04:01:13
Re: A Matter of Perspective
Glad you had a nice holiday - but never thought to see you, as a full-blooded male, admit to having been wrong! Gad, Sir, that's letting the side down a bit, isn't it, what?

Author's Reply:

JeffDray on 2004-04-26 11:16:12
Re: A Matter of Perspective
Welcome back, it's been too long, as I keep telling TCMD

Author's Reply:

Gerry on 2004-04-26 11:41:02
Re: A Matter of Perspective
Nice to read your works again--glad the humour is still there.

Gerry--Ex TC.

Author's Reply:

sirat on 2004-04-26 12:01:15
Re: A Matter of Perspective
Welcome back Allen.
Enjoyed this one tremendously, as ever. Hope "More Skytrucking" is coming on well. I have loaned my copy of "Skytyrucker" to several people and they have returned it with only glowing reports. Must read it myself some time. No, only joking, have read it at least twice and loved it. I'm flying to Portugal tomorrow by a certain Irish low-cost carrier, will give you a full report on the landing. As you have said though, provided the total number of take offs and landings in a pilot's career are the same why worry?

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2004-04-26 12:59:46
Re: A Matter of Perspective
Thank you one and all for your kind comments. In actual fact, my take-offs number one more than my landings as I had to descend courtesy of Martin-Baker after a little incident where another aircraft reversed into mine whilst doing a bit of formation flying. David, are you sure that Rhino Air can actually find Portugal?

Author's Reply:

Gerry on 2004-04-26 14:51:17
Re: A Matter of Perspective
I have disabled many a Martin-Baker--lol.
A soft landing?


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Skytrucker on 2004-04-26 15:17:24
Re: A Matter of Perspective
Relatively! The acceleration as the seat goes out is a bit worrying though! I was almost two inches shorter for about a week!

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JeffDray on 2004-04-26 15:27:48
Re: A Matter of Perspective
Well, you needed to be sut down to size. I recently ejected from a twin engined launch, but it was part of a training excercise with the boys in blue and orange. I was the same height when I finished

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razorcuts on 2004-04-26 15:59:38
Re: A Matter of Perspective
i liked this casual narrate, sky. it was like you'd been there done that got the t-shirt. easy reading. well done.

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Skeeter on 2004-04-28 03:32:17
Re: A Matter of Perspective
A god read, it cheered me up, which is welcome, so thank you! Women, there are times when they do turn out to be right; though often not in connectionwith coathangers. Yours is a unique experience.

Author's Reply:

chrissy on 2004-04-28 04:09:42
Re: A Matter of Perspective
A very enjoyable read. Lots of quick humour which I enjoy.

Author's Reply:

Friends (posted on: 25-07-03)
You can choose your friends.....


Over the years during which I have been employed in the aviation business, I have had the good fortune to make many friends. The bond of friendship between flying people transcends race, class and creed and can survive circumstances that would destroy casual relationships. My wife, not a flier but otherwise a reasonably rational being, finds it hard to understand why I can chat for hours on end with an old flying acquaintance but swiftly run out of conversational steam in a domestic environment.

I am forced to concede that several of my friends have been involved in incidents that can only be described as bizarre. Some of my own escapades cast a shadow of doubt over my sanity. For example, I spent three days in the slammer in a West African country well known for its casual attitude towards human rights. The charge was that I attempted to destabilise their currency by taking a substantial sum in Uncle Sam's folding green into the country rather than leave it on board the aircraft. Because of the nature of our airline, we could never be certain that we would obtain fuel and services on credit terms and we normally carried around fifty thousand in cash to cover such contingencies. Not only did they arrest me they also arrested the rest of my crew. The conditions were truly appalling and physical abuse seemed a distinct probability. Such is the level of forgiveness that not one crewmember pointed the finger of blame in my direction and their friendship continues to this day.

Many years ago, I struck up a friendship with a Dutch pilot who arrived at our airport in the Southeast of England every Friday evening in an ancient DC3. Captain Jan van Vliet owned this venerable airplane and apparently made a comfortable living transporting the produce of Holland to various parts of Europe. To the fury of my second and soon to be ex wife, Jan and I would spend whole evenings talking about flying. In his fourteen thousand hours, he had experienced almost every terror that can beset an airman. He had survived against all the odds and was a truly remarkable man.

One evening as the DC3 was sliding smoothly down the approach a Piper Seneca flown with an enthusiasm that greatly exceeded the pilot's competence cut in front of him. Jan was obliged to carry out an overshoot but otherwise no real harm had been done. The tower controller decided to file an airmiss report and in due course, the man from the CAA arrived to interview all interested parties. Bursting with bureaucratic self-importance, he demanded the production of the licences of everyone in sight, even the controller and the tea-lady. With agility that denied his fifty-odd years, Jan slid silently from the room and a remarkably short time later the familiar sound of the DC3's engines became apparent as the aircraft taxied past the tower. To the fury of the CAA man, Jan favoured him with a cheerful wave from the open cockpit window as the airplane chortled its way to the runway. The official bounded up the flight of stairs leading to the tower only to be faced with a locked door and a total inability to prevent the departure of Captain van Vliet and his aircraft.
Neither was ever seen at the airport again although the CAA expressed a very urgent desire to locate either or both.

It transpired that Jan had purchased the Dak shortly after the war and used it extensively on the Berlin Air Lift. Although he had been a Flight Engineer on DC3 during the war, he had never held any form of pilot's licence but had learned to fly by diligent study of the flight manuals. It was widely believed that he had maintained and flown the airplane for almost thirty years without even scratching the paint.

Such deviations from legality would, quite correctly, not be tolerated today. I have another very close friend who is a captain on an Airbus. When I related the story of Jan van Vliet he expressed horror. Some twenty-two years younger than I, he truly believes that a public flogging would be an appropriate punishment for such transgressions. He has been known to heap coals of scorn on my head regarding my preference for Boeing over all other manufacturers claiming that an aircraft such as Airbus that needs the bare minimum of human interference must be a superior machine. He displays little interest in the days when aircraft burned solid fuel and had outside toilets despite the inordinate skill and wisdom of the early pilots. He is content to allow the computers that fly his machine to calculate descent profiles and perform the myriad other tasks hitherto delegated to First Officers.

We have a great deal in common despite our age difference and our widely differing views on our shared profession. Like me, he started as an aircraft engineer. Both he and I inherited our passion for aviation from our fathers. Unlike me, John learned to fly the hard way. Whereas I learned in the Royal Air Force at the expense of the British taxpayer, John paid his own way through the private and commercial licences. His first flying job was as co-pilot on a regional airline at a rather derisory salary. He served a long and hard apprenticeship and richly deserves the command that he now holds. Despite our good-humoured arguments I have profound respect for his abilities both as an aircraft commander and as a pilot. I value his friendship above that of any other male acquaintance.

This is a singularly fortunate situation as he and my beautiful daughter-in-law will soon be the proud parents of my grandchild.

Archived comments for Friends

myos on 2003-07-25 03:58:47
Re: Friends
So John must be your son? A well written, easily readable account, and having met a number pilots during my working life, I am well aware of the strong cameraderie between them. Nice one.

Author's Reply:

JeffDray on 2003-07-25 15:18:24
Re: Friends
Nice to see you back on form again. there's nothing like the camaraderie of those who share a passion.

Keep 'em coming, therre;s been too little from you in the last weeks.
*Sticks on gold star, writes note in register*

Author's Reply:

pgarner on 2003-07-28 11:43:16
Re: Friends
Nice piece. I must confess though, when it says "Jan had purchased the Dak shortly after the war" ...for a few moments I thought we might be talking about the, er, 'produce of Holland' rather than the DC3. Like... is that stuff still smokable after all that time? 😉

Author's Reply:

shadow on 2003-07-29 05:13:55
Re: Friends
Hi Trux, good to see you posting again, your stories always cheer me up, I've missed them. Nice one!

Author's Reply:

ritawrites on 2003-11-12 06:45:29
Re: Friends
Liked the way you ended it. Got me foxed there.

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Skytrucker on 2003-11-12 15:02:30
Re: Friends
Thanks to all of you for your comments. Oh, and hello again Rita - it has been a long time!

Author's Reply:

Nevada on 2003-11-13 15:37:51
Re: Friends
You're absolutely right about the flying 'club' sort of attitude Alan. I could listen to flying talk all day every day.
Congratulations on the imminent birth of another potential aviator.

Author's Reply:

Gee on 2004-01-28 06:58:47
Re: Friends
A very enjoyable and interesting piece and what a wonderful tribute to your son.
I, like you, am fortunate enough to share interests with a very good friend who also happens to be my daughter.

Author's Reply:

Gerry on 2004-03-07 05:19:46
Re: Friends
Superb read as usual.
You will be a granddad now then--how do you like it?


Author's Reply:

Maiden Voyage (posted on: 19-05-03)
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I often wonder if there really is such a thing as "Plain Sailing"


Maiden Voyage

It must be a fatalistic streak in my genetic code that causes me to undertake projects of a magnitude likely to cause people with more foresight to run for cover. Numbered amongst my more notable failures are such grandiose schemes as the conversion of my garage into a gymnasium and the restoration of a 1939 MG. It was hardly surprising, therefore that when I arrived home one day and announced to my nearest and dearest that I was the proud owner of a boat, the reaction was somewhat lacking in enthusiasm. The aforementioned N and D correctly supposed that the vessel would undoubtedly require work, as I was patently incapable of buying anything that was fit for immediate use.

Undeniably, the vessel had seen better days. She had been one of a fleet of hire cruisers operated on the Norfolk Broads by one of the holiday companies and had been retired at the conclusion of the previous season. An initial and rather cursory inspection indicated that the boat was at least floating and that there appeared to be no catastrophic defect. A closer inspection subsequent to purchase showed that there was also a notable lack of the Volvo diesel engine and any hint of furnishings and fittings. When I pointed out these omissions to the seller, he shrugged his shoulders and offered to sell me an engine that just happened to be lying in a corner of his boathouse. After some rather ineffective haggling on my part, he agreed to supply and install the engine and transmission for a sum of money almost equal to the cost of the boat.

Over the winter months, I spent nearly all my spare time rubbing down, painting and carrying out the myriad tasks required before I dared display the cruiser to my family. The woodwork presented few problems, as I appear to have an aptitude for carpentry and very quickly, the cabin structure was sound in wind and limb, gleaming with new varnish. The soft furnishings presented a more serious difficulty. Even although I have a Bachelor's degree in Aeronautics and studied Latin at school, I cannot even sew on a button without stabbing myself or sewing my finger to the garment. A discreet advertisement in the local newspaper produced a gentle lady with a sewing machine who undertook to sew all the cushions and curtains for a very modest fee.

By the middle of March I had installed the gas cooker, the toilet and shower. The small fridge and the new sink and drainer gleamed brightly in the newly furnished galley area. It looked exceedingly probable that, at long last, a completed project would result from my labours. Elated, I started the engine, untied the vessel from its mooring and headed out onto the river for a test run prior to making the triumphant announcement to the family. With the exception of a few minor adjustments to the engine everything was eminently satisfactory. I tied the boat up and sped back to the bosom of my family to impart the joyous tidings that the Endeavour was ready for occupation.

With understandable reluctance and with a considerable degree of scepticism, the members of my household allowed themselves to be loaded into the car and conveyed northwards to Wroxham on the Norfolk Broads where lay my pride and joy. As soon as they were on board, the two dogs carried out a thorough investigation of every nook and cranny and, finding no trace of wildlife, settled down to snooze whilst we stowed grog and victuals in the cupboards and unpacked our clothes. The weather was unusually mild for April and my teenage daughter lost no time in cramming herself into a microscopic bikini and stretched out on the foredeck to sunbathe leaving my son and me to carry out the functions required prior to departure. The lady destined to become my ex-wife settled herself comfortably on one of the richly upholstered seats and demanded tea, determined to take no part in matters nautical.

Eventually we left our mooring and headed up the river towards Coltishall. The two dogs, both Springer spaniels stood at the stern of the boat looking with great interest at the large numbers of wildfowl on the water. Being hunting dogs by nature they eventually succumbed to temptation and abandoned ship. The excited barking and the double splash alerted us to the fact that we were now two passengers short and the two passengers in question were causing havoc amongst the duck population. By manoeuvring the boat as close to the riverbank as possible, John was able to jump onto dry land to coax the two villains from the water. The land in question scarcely justified the adjective ''dry''. With an epithet better suited to a person twice his age, my son sank knee deep in glutinous mud. Unable to move, he was unable to escape the attentions of a gang of waterfowl who had probably assumed that he was bearing food. They surrounded him, quacking in an encouraging manner in the expectation of a tasty morsel or two. With commendable presence of mind, John crawled onto firmer ground and attracted the attention of the dogs.

I instructed him to proceed upstream until he came to a place where all three might be able to rejoin us on the boat. Jenny viewed the proceedings from her vantage point on the foredeck with ill concealed disapproval, indicating that her brother was making an exhibition of himself and attracting attention. The dogs, in scrambling onto the bank had also become covered with the same black mud and the dishevelled trio progressed towards a more suitable embarkation point. I instructed them to proceed into the water in order to remove as much of the mud as possible prior to coming back on board and eventually John and his dishevelled entourage were once again listed as amongst those present on the good ship Endeavour. There is no animal on earth that exhibits the degree of friendliness of a wet dog. They joyfully bounded from one end of the boat to the other, barking excitedly in the way that only Springers can. Discovering Jenny, they greeted her as a long lost friend in the usual canine manner. They took turns to stand beside her recumbent form and shake vigorously, ignoring her indignant squeals as a shower of river water descended on her.

At long last, peace was restored and we set sail once again. My time-speed-distance calculations gave every probability that we should arrive in Coltishall in time for lunch. As I eased the boat towards the mooring by the Stag's Head, I summoned John from the cabin and asked him to go up on deck to tie the boat up. Freshly changed into clean clothes, he swung himself from the cabin onto the gunwale, which is the narrow walkway around the side of the boat, by grabbing the handrail on the cabin roof. Regrettably, the rail thus grabbed was not the handrail, but the handle of the mop used for swabbing the deck. Arm outstretched and with a plaintive wail, John and the mop once again disappeared into the water closely followed by the dogs who sensed a jolly game.

As we set about the drying process once again, Jenny snorted in a most unladylike manner and indicated that she had known from the outset that the trip was doomed to disaster. Her talent for prophecy was to become very apparent during the following two days during which I threw out the mud anchor only to discover, much too late, that the other end of the rope was not attached to the boat. The brief and embarrassing episode involving my propeller and a mooring rope belonging to a small rowing boat, occupied by a dozing angler added several very useful and expressive words to my vocabulary of nautical swear words as the rowing boat was gradually but inevitably pulled under the water as the Endeavour gathered speed. I would prefer not to refer to the incident with the yacht race except to say that the marine principle indicating that power gives way to sail works best when the skipper of the sailing vessel expresses his intentions in easily understood language and the damage caused by the subsequent collision was of a very minor nature in any case.

Notwithstanding the disruption to what I was later given to understand was the first yacht race of the year and a very important event in the sailing calendar, I firmly believe that the comment made by the Commodore of the Yacht Club in the local newspaper indicating that total idiots should not be allowed near any form of boat, referred not to us but to the blue motor launch that towed us out of the way when I was unable to find enough clear space to turn round and let the sailing fleet pass. They let me fly aircraft at several hundred miles per hour. Surely I am more than capable of handling a thirty-two foot boat at four miles per hour.

Don't you agree?

Archived comments for Maiden Voyage

shadow on 2003-05-19 05:30:21
Re: Maiden Voyage
They let you fly aircraft ??? Though planes don't have mud anchors and wet Springer spaniels, so I suppose it's all right ... Brought back happy memories of childhood holidays. I don't think we ever lost an anchor, but my mum rammed the bank at least once and I fell in (while chasing a duck, actually).

Author's Reply:

JeffDray on 2003-05-19 07:23:18
Re: Maiden Voyage
I am thrilled to find that, at heart, you are a coarse boater and have learned the thrill of mud at first hand. surely once you have experienced "Real" transport you could nevr go back to those nasty dangerous flying things.

did I tell you about the coastguard chopper that come down near my house last year? A sea king got into difficulties and picked the Royal Marine's rugby pitch, which had just been re-turfed. after the fire and several fire engines, many gallons of foam it was a total write off, as was the aircraft

Nice story

Author's Reply:

JeffDray on 2003-05-19 07:38:52
Re: Maiden Voyage
Of course you should have referrd the commodore to the international regulations for the prevention of collisions at sea (IRPCS) which clearly state that sail no longer has priority, and that the master of any vessel should take whatever action is necessary to prevent a shunt, trouble with Yotties is that they think they own the bloody water. As a rule a sailing vessel should give way to any vesssel that is proceding with difficulty, i.e towing, engine trouble, restriction of draft etc. Is it too late for a rude letter to the commodore?

Author's Reply:

myos on 2003-05-19 13:13:10
Re: Maiden Voyage
Wonderfully told Trux, though you failed to mention how you managed for so long without your favourite galvanised receptacle.....or did you tow it behind?

Author's Reply:

sirat on 2003-05-21 01:17:57
Re: Maiden Voyage
Jean and I have recently taken up the noble passtime of canal-boating, as we have a friend who lets us borrow one now and again. These craft would greatly appeal to you I'm sure. They are more than forty foot long, steered by a tiller at the back so as to minimise your view of where you are going, and being constructed of solid steel can be smashed headlong into fixed objects or one another with little obvious damage. In addition to this they can be trapped under bridges and other fixed objects in locks and either sunk or overturned as the locks fill up, or (my personal favourite) the lock doors may be left open as you proceed on your way causing the picknickers on the toe-paths to become suddenly engulfed in a tidal wave. All the usual opportunities for rapid water-entry are provided (such as mop-handles that resemble rails, ropes to trip over etc.) with the additional attraction that they can be jammed crosswise between one bank of the canal and the other, forming a semi-permanent barricade of solid steel until rammed by other canal traffic unable to slow down rapidly enough. It's a sport highly reminiscent of skittles. I wonder if these are the same craft traditionally employed on the Broads (haven't been there yet)?

Author's Reply:

woodbine on 2003-05-21 03:05:10
Re: Maiden Voyage
Speaking as an accomplished punter at Oxford and Cambridge (The rivers, not the universities!) I keep a wary eye out for boaters like Trux. The best part of punting is when somebody else falls in. This is considered a source of joy and hilarity to all except one.
A good read.

Author's Reply:

JeffDray on 2003-05-21 05:11:05
Re: Maiden Voyage
I cut my coarse boating teeth on just such craft as you decribe. canals are a great way of gettingaway and slowing down the pace of life and there are some great canalside pubs to be visited.

Author's Reply:

The Contract (posted on: 10-03-03)
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A brief narrative about damage to Mr Pew's chopper.


Throughout my long and less than dazzling career in aviation, I have always maintained a profound distrust of helicopters. In my opinion, the wings on a mechanical flying device should remain stationary and ought neither to rotate nor flap. Unaccountably, and in defiance of the true spirit of flying, the lift producing devices on a helicopter do both. Helicopters do not actually fly. They merely demonstrate a very crude form of levitation.

Against what I considered to be my better judgement, I accepted a position with one of the major offshore helicopter operators. My function was to fly the fixed wing communications aircraft and no mention of any other form of flying had been discussed. It was with understandable trepidation that I learned that some exposure to rotary wing flying was mandatory for all Company pilots. A telephone call from the Chief Pilot informed me that the Operations Manager of the company, known to us as 'Blind Pew' required my presence. I assumed that because the poor man wore spectacles with impossibly thick lenses and his surname was probably Pew, he had inherited the name of the Treasure Island character.

The subsequent interview could not be described as an unqualified success. Despite my protestations and weak excuses the outcome of the meeting determined that I was to receive a concentrated course of instruction in the black art of helicopter flying.
''You will enjoy it immensely,'' he told me.
''But I don't enjoy flying sideways, Mr Pew.'' The great man frowned and fiddled with a pen on his mahogany desk.
''This Company has based years of success on the ability to put an aircraft down on the platform of an oil rig.'' He leaned back in his richly upholstered leather chair. ''Runways are a thing of the past. Helicopters are the future.''
''I didn't exactly see them as my future, Mr Pew.'' He frowned again, this time more deeply.
''Due in no small measure to poor eyesight, I have never been able to fly any sort of aircraft. You should count yourself fortunate that we are giving you this opportunity to add a helicopter rating to your logbook.'' The interview was clearly at an end and I rose to leave.
''I will give it my best shot Mr Pew, although I really didn't envisage this when I joined the company.'' As I turned to go, my attention was attracted to the nameplate on his desk.
''P.E.Walker'' it proclaimed. ''Operations Manager''


If my encounter with the Ops Manager had been somewhat less than a resounding success, my introduction to flying a chopper was even more of a disaster. Following a week in ground school, I was led out to an alarming looking contraption with a large plastic bubble at the front. My tormentor indicated that I was to sit in the bubble and strap myself in. Expertly, he switched switches, pulled levers and twiddled knobs until the beast shook itself into life. The controls on a small helicopter are far from intuitive. A control column is, of course, familiar to most fixed wing pilots as are the rudder pedals on the floor. By one's left hand, however there is a large lever resembling a handbrake. This is known as the collective and supposedly controls proceedings in the vertical plane. On top of this lever there is a twist grip throttle similar to a motor cycle.
''I'll take her up to a safe height then you can have a go,'' my instructor announced. With enviable smoothness and the ease that can result only from long experience, he caused the machine to rise from the ground and head for the far corner of the airfield. I watched him very carefully. His movements were economical. I concluded that it might not be too hard to get the hang of flying the thing and I was reasonably content when he decided that it was safe for me to try my hand.
''You have control,'' he said.
''I have control.'' He took his hands from the controls and immediately the machine started to revolve to the left.
''Rudder,'' he said. ''Stop the rotation with rudder.'' Obediently, I pushed the right rudder pedal. The effect was dramatic. Certainly the rotation stopped but the beast was not to be denied the opportunity of inflicting terror. It descended like a dropped grand piano. As instructed, I hauled mightily on the collective. The rapid progression towards the grass slowed but to my dismay, the rotation started again, this time in the opposite direction.
''I have control.'' The calm voice from my left belonged to the owner of the hands that tamed the thing instantly. Small movements were, he assured me, the best way to make the recalcitrant machine obey. ''There. You have control again.'' It is a devastating blow to the dignity to be invited to take control of a perfectly behaved aircraft that is hovering politely and turning neither to the right nor to the left and have the confounded thing make a serious attempt to fly up its own exhaust. This time, it spun violently and attempted to fall out of the sky whilst actually flying both backwards and sideways. Once again, the expert soothed its violence with gentle persuasion and invited me to try again.

The clock on the instrument panel was patently wrong. We had certainly been in the air for several hours, yet the clock proclaimed that only thirty minutes had elapsed. I was finally starting to make some semblance of progress. I can only compare flying a helicopter to balancing a ball bearing on an inflated balloon but by the end of my first lesson, I had managed to complete a circuit of the airfield without complete loss of control. Determining that I would eventually prevail and conquer the contrivance I realised that such a victory would take time.

Over the subsequent two weeks, I fear that the patience of my long-suffering instructor was gravely taxed but he never once appeared to admit defeat. I wrestled with the aircraft, frequently causing a flurry of activity in the cockpit as I struggled to regain control after some obscene gyration or made lack-lustre attempts to place us on the ground without breaking anything and within a few hundred yards of the target. When the time came to learn how to land safely after an engine failure, Len, my instructor inconsiderately went off on holiday and left me to the tender mercies of a colleague. The procedure, known as autorotation, is possibly the most critical part of helicopter operations. In a simplistic form, if the engine dies, the pilot increases the speed of the aircraft in order to make the rotor gather speed and consequent momentum. As the ground approaches and at precisely the correct moment he will pull up on the collective lever and the blades will generate enough lift to slow the descent and allow the machine to settle, butterfly-like on the ground. The timing of this action is critical.

Len had explained the procedure and had even demonstrated it but I had never actually carried out a power-off landing. My new instructor watched as I lifted off and climbed. Without warning, he twisted the throttle on the collective.
''You have an engine failure,'' he announced and sat back to watch my reaction. Without going into the gory details, my timing of the procedure left quite a lot to be desired and as we contacted the unyielding earth, our rate of descent was still in excess of eight hundred feet per minute. My mentor had realised, much too late that I did not have a clue and that he was powerless to rescue the situation. The last thing that I can recall with any degree of clarity was that the rotor blades hit the ground and the Plexiglas bubble shattered into a thousand pieces.

Although neither of us suffered any serious injury, I vividly recall the hurt, accusing look on the instructor's face as he lay on the next trolley in the Emergency Room.
''Why didn't you tell me that you had never actually done a power failure?''
''Why didn't you ask?''
''Your training record shows that you have had instruction.''
''Yes, on the ground. That was my first attempt in the air. How did I do?''
He pretended to be asleep.

Despite my concerns, I was persuaded to continue and to complete the course. To my immense surprise I became legally qualified to fly a single engine rotary wing aeroplane and to carry passengers therein. I have never experienced a real power failure in a helicopter but I know for an absolute certainty that the little devils will await the time when I least expect it and spring it on me as a revenge for wrecking a sibling. Well, let me tell you that I am well aware that there is a contract out on me and I now travel in choppers only when it is totally unavoidable.

The current score is, Me, 1: Helicopters, Nil. I am not interested in a draw.

Archived comments for The Contract

shadow on 2003-03-10 06:09:12
Re: The Contract
Helicopters - never did trust them. No-one is going to get me into one of those contraptions. Flying without wings just isn't natural. Funny, though.

Author's Reply:

LadyAli on 2003-03-10 16:03:01
Re: The Contract
This story held my interest throughout. Well-written, funny and flowed well. Great final line.

Suggestion - a title change to grab attention, something like - Breach of Conract? or a play on words.

Author's Reply:

sirat on 2003-03-10 19:08:55
Re: The Contract
Excellent story, beautifully written. Confirms my worst suspicions about those contraptions. Watched one take off in a high wind from the schoolyard across the road from one of the places I work, taking a heart-atack victim to hospital I think. It did a little forwards and backwards dance about six feet off the ground and got its rear end within about a foot of the playground fence before it finally managed to muster enough power to get clear of terrestrial obstacles. If the heart attack guy was able to see out he probably had another one.

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2003-03-11 06:26:41
Re: The Contract
Yes, excellent enjoyable story, after a small drought of such. 🙂 Thanks.

Author's Reply:

Nevada on 2003-03-12 13:57:51
Re: The Contract
Very funny Allen. I love these aeronautical tales.

Author's Reply:

JeffDray on 2003-03-14 15:40:31
Re: The Contract
I have only used one of these contraptions before, it was to get from Penzance to the Scillies, it didn't seem like flying, more like struggling to keep aloft, i felt very heavy in it and didn're relax until it landed. The pilot and cabin crew seemed totally unconcerned but I suppose you can get used to anything.

Author's Reply:

On the Wrong Track (posted on: 07-02-03)
Not all our musical adventures turned into disaster. It's just that the disasters tend to stick in the memory.

Any touring band is almost certain to experience a share of the disasters waiting to pounce on unwary musicians. By definition, a touring band must move from place to place and no two venues are alike. Some places where such a band is expected to perform are up several flights of stairs. Others are enormous distances from the car park. The sole common factor is the total inability of the promoter to comprehend the weight and complexity of the equipment involved.

Although we could not, with any degree of accuracy, be described as a touring band, we still covered an impressive amount of miles every weekend. The advisability of having a reliable vehicle is obvious. The financial considerations dictate that the vehicle should be acquired with as small an outlay as possible. Regrettably, the two considerations scarcely ever occur in the same transport and reliability generally suffers. We had managed to acquire a retired Public Service vehicle at a very reasonable cost and we had even considered changing the name of the band to avoid the necessity of repainting the vehicle. To call a band 'Ambulance' however, seemed a measure unlikely to ensure great musical success.

Although very heavy, the old girl hardly ever failed us. It was gratifying to see traffic ahead of us move over to allow us to overtake and on one occasion, we even had a police car escort us through a traffic jam in Slough.

All of the foregoing factors came together in an alarming fashion one Saturday night. We had been booked to play for a dinner dance held for the membership of a golf club situated on the outskirts of Brentwood in Essex. With his usual efficiency, John our bass player had noted down instructions for access, but as we approached the club, the promised wrought iron gates were conspicuously absent. The irritating fact was that we could clearly see the clubhouse from the road. All the lights were on and even from our rather distant vantage point, the glitter of cutlery on snowy white tablecloths was apparent.
''Perhaps we came in from the wrong direction.''
''Maybe we just missed the gates.''
Robbie turned the van round in the road and we set off to retrace our steps. Several times we drove slowly past the infuriatingly close building without ever seeing anything that even resembled a wrought iron gate. As our drummer turned the old ambulance for the fifth time, John caught a glimpse of a pair of unmistakably iron gates at the side of the clubhouse.
''There they are!'' he called, pointing. A consensus of opinion indicated that certainly the gates were there and certainly they appeared to be made of iron but there appeared to be no way of reaching them except for a rather narrow track across the grass field separating the complex from the main road.

''That must be the way in,'' Robbie exclaimed and turned the vehicle off the road and onto the grass. For several yards, we made excellent progress. The weather over the previous few days had been on the inclement side with copious rain. As we drove warily along the track, I became aware that our progress, although still in a forwards direction had become rather laboured and the wheels did not seem to be gripping in the recommended fashion. Eventually it became obvious that we were losing all semblance of traction. The wheels spun happily but forward movement had all but ceased.

''Keep it going, Robbie,'' I shouted. ''Don't let it stop or we'll never get going again.'' Too late. We were firmly stuck and close inspection revealed that the van was resting on the underside of the chassis with the wheels spinning freely quite clear of the ground. The heavy rain had obviously rendered the track unusable for a vehicle of such weight. With a total lack of consideration, the rain started again. We stood by the stranded ambulance debating our next move. The obvious solution appeared to be to lighten the load by unloading the equipment.

Piece by piece, rapidly becoming soaked to the skin, we lifted the assortment of amplifiers, speakers and drums from the back and transported them towards the clubhouse. By the time we had completed this mammoth task, we had transformed the area into a quagmire and we looked as though we had been rolling in mud. As we recovered from our efforts, a police Landrover pulled to a stop on the road, blue lights flashing attractively. I trudged over the field to greet him.
''Evening sir.'' He looked me up and down, debating the manner of person that could emerge from a cultured establishment and present such a dishevelled appearance. ''Having a bit of trouble, are we?''
''We appear to be stuck in the mud.''
''Mud won't stop my vehicle sir. I'll get my tow rope and we'll have you out in a jiffy.''

Although the four wheel drive Landrover finally managed to free the ambulance from the muddy trap, the achievement was not accomplished in the promised jiffy. In fact, we had to unhitch the kindly copper three times so that he could pull from a different angle before the field grudgingly gave up its victim. Viewed in the retreating headlights of the Landrover, the previously green sward was now a total mess, thanks to our own efforts and those of the police. Safely back on the road, I thanked the officer most profusely.
''Think nothing of it, sir. When a passing motorist reported the ambulance stuck there we were duty bound to assist. Patient all right, I hope?''
With a considerable degree of embarrassment, I explained to the policeman that our ambulance had carried its final sufferer some twelve months previously and that the vehicle was now used for less humane purposes.
''So you're the band playing at the golf club?'' He roared with laughter. ''Glad we could help anyway.'' He turned to climb into his vehicle. ''Why didn't you go down the road instead of trying to go across the grass?''
''We couldn't find the road.''
''It's off the side road. Over there. Well, you'll know next time! Goodnight sir.'' The van disappeared in a cloud of diesel smoke.

To say that the atmosphere in the club was on the chilly side would have been a masterpiece of understatement. Unaccustomed to being entertained by people covered from head to foot in a patina of mud, the diners either ignored us completely or viewed us with thinly disguised contempt. The club secretary arrived late. Additionally, he arrived furious and demanded our presence in the office at the earliest possible opportunity.
''What kind of bloody morons are you?'' he demanded to know, his handlebar moustache bristling with indignation. ''Why did you choose to ignore a perfectly good road and try to drive across our new putting green?'' We looked at each other in consternation.
''New putting green?''
''Our brand new putting green,'' he said, with considerable emphasis, ensuring that his point was made.
''But there were tyre marks on it already.''
''Yes, tyre marks made by golf trolleys. Not bloody big vans. That little episode is going to cost you a lot of money. I hope you're insured.'' We exchanged concerned glances.
''I doubt if our insurance would cover that sort of thing.''
''Well, you needn't expect to be paid tonight.''
Robbie bristled. Never one to back away from a confrontation, he addressed the furious secretary.
''We'll just pack up now and leave then.''
''Oh no you won't. You are under contract until midnight and here you will stay.''
The argument swayed back and forth for some considerable time before a final agreement was reached. We would honour our commitment to our contract by playing until the appointed time but accept only half our fee to make reparations for the damage caused.

In retrospect, I think that it was the final remark made by our lead singer, Dave that put the final straw on the camel's back. As he signed the receipt for our reduced fee, he looked up at the still fuming club secretary.
''I suppose a return booking is out of the question then?'' Answer came there none as the official snorted his way out of the room.

Archived comments for On the Wrong Track
shadow on 2003-02-07 04:22:06
Re: On the Wrong Track
Why is it that reading about other people's disasters always cheers one up? Great stuff!

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2003-02-07 04:57:18
Re: On the Wrong Track
This is bloody awful! I'm sorry I read it now!

It's TOO SHORT!!!!!

Author's Reply:

JeffDray on 2003-02-07 06:59:57
Re: On the Wrong Track
It reminds me of the night we were booked to play for the South Berks Hunt and Pony Club Annual Ball, all the blokes were called Rupert, all the blokes that weren't called Rupert were fillies called Finella and all looked as though they could win the Oaks themselves.

The evening was livened up when a tree knocked out the power in a storm. Maybe I should chronicle that night - as soon as UKA start a Porn category

Author's Reply:

shadow on 2003-02-07 09:59:27
Re: On the Wrong Track
Thought we already had one (see Erotica)

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2003-02-07 11:26:12
Re: On the Wrong Track
Ooof ! Sooz! Hellcat! Well! mmmm. I say! Tantalising! I say!

Author's Reply:

Not Quite Top of the Pops (posted on: 03-02-03)
Another musical disaster from Singapore.

Stardom, even minor stardom in the music business sits uneasily on the shoulders of those ill equipped to cope with it. Serving members of Her Majesty's Air Force are generally unused to mass adulation, even if the masses appear to consist mainly of underage schoolgirls. A short time after our appearance at the National Theatre, the band was offered a spot on a Singapore Television weekly popular music show.

In these modern times, very few television programmes are transmitted live and any mistakes made during a performance can be easily corrected by a second 'take'. Even a totally inept vocalist can benefit from digital enhancement of his voice. In Singapore in the seventies such facilities were either non-existent or beyond the financial scope of RTV Singapura and the programme went out to the television audience complete with warts. It will therefore be unsurprising that interminable rehearsals were considered necessary.

In addition to practising the musical content of the show, rehearsals involved complicated floor plans to ensure that an artiste would be in the correct area of the studio to come under the scrutiny of the appropriate camera. The procedures involved silent traverses of the floor, following a predetermined route in order to avoid areas where the cameras would be live. Because the content of the programme generally included a troupe of Malaysian dancers, the number of people on the studio floor at any one time turned any degree of movement into an exercise in traffic management that made the work of Heathrow Approach Control appear childishly simple by comparison.

The Floor Manager, a well-upholstered Indian gentleman with a rather obvious glass eye appeared to have overcome the need to breathe as he delivered a series of highly complex instructions into his headset, switching from Urdu to English, from Malay to Cantonese without the slightest break in transmission. When confronted by this person, it was a matter of conjecture to determine whether he was addressing his remarks electronically to some distant party or to an individual, present in the flesh. Consequently, a response to an apparent question might elicit a rather startled and quizzical stare accompanied by an abrupt gesture in the direction of his microphone.

We were absolute newcomers to the medium of television and were, in fact, the very first European performers to take part in the weekly programme. Our reaction to this organised confusion was entirely predictable. Either communally or individually we tripped over cables, misunderstood instructions or otherwise drove the production team to exasperation point. Our carefully arranged stage set-up was demolished by studio engineers and rearranged to accommodate access to power points and microphone positioning. As a result of these adjustments, my keyboard and I found ourselves at some considerable distance from Dave, our lead vocalist. We professed to be a close harmony group and therefore placed a great deal of reliance on the ability to listen to what other members of the band were doing. There was no possibility that I would be able to hear anything apart from the drums, situated close behind me. My keyboards were connected directly into the studio sound engineer's panel, as were both of the guitars. It seemed that the only sound that we would hear would emanate from the TV monitor some distance away. All things considered, the arrangement was not conducive to a sparkling performance and I entertained some quite unkind thoughts about our manager and his ceaseless quest for publicity.

The final dress rehearsal took place two hours prior to transmission. It was an unmitigated disaster from start to finish. Several members of the dance troupe had disappeared without trace to the great consternation of the producer. Diminished in numbers, they bravely struggled through a complex routine being additionally burdened with the wrong music track. When it came to our turn, my worst fears were realised. Not only did the enthusiastic contribution of our drummer make me unable to hear any of the vocals, but also my keyboards were inaudible. I was therefore playing entirely by feel whilst attempting to lip-read. The resultant performance was notable by its mediocrity and I was painfully aware of a rather lukewarm reception from the studio crew.

The hands of the studio clock advanced without mercy and the only concession made to ease my discomfort was the provision of a small and inadequate monitor speaker concealed in the foliage of a plastic palm tree close to my keyboards. With only four minutes left, the missing dancers came into the studio quite obviously suffering from the effects of a substantial liquid lunch. Two of the female members of the troupe giggled helplessly as they took their places before the still inert camera. The studio doors swung open to admit our compere. He was tall, dignified and apparently very famous, for the producer seemed hard pressed to avoid bowing. He glanced disdainfully at the script handed to him by a production secretary before taking his place in front of camera one.
''Stand by everyone. Quiet please'' The floor manager raised his arm. ''We are live in ten, nine, eight, seven..'' We all silently counted down to zero. The theme music for the programme blasted out over the speakers then faded to allow Famous Person to introduce the show. From an area at the edge of the floor, we watched the monitor screens as the image dissolved to reveal the dancers.

This time, the sound engineer had found the correct track and the dance progressed in an entirely satisfactory fashion marred only by one of the ladies stumbling slightly and apparently losing track of the routine. In such situations, there is little opportunity for originality and the carefully rehearsed performance descended into chaos. Displaying admirable presence of mind, the producer switched cameras to the compere and the dance music faded into obscurity. The Great Person swiftly managed to conceal the hip flask from which he had been absorbing talent and faced the camera with confidence.
''And now, ladies and gentlemen,'' he pronounced in the cultured resonant tones of one who had attended one of the better public schools, ''Please welcome one of Singapore's favourite singers Miss Alice Chan.'' We had met Alice several times and we watched with pleasure as the diminutive Chinese beauty delivered a faultless performance of a Dusty Springfield song. The producer smiled happily and waved his script in time with the music.

The image of Miss Chan faded from the screen as the music ended and the face of our master of ceremonies appeared. As he introduced the next act, there was a resounding crash. Investigation showed that one of the dancers in search of support had leant against a substantial looking wall. The wall was noticeably lacking in the solidity department and had toppled over, taking with it one of the lighting battens.
''Go to the commercial!'' The producer was unflustered. ''Go go go!'' The floor manager beckoned to us.
''We have to rebuild the set,'' he said. ''You are on after the break. Good luck.''

Our television debut was not without incident. Neither was it the disaster that I had feared. We were introduced, somewhat unfairly, as the most popular European band in Singapore. To the best of my knowledge, we were the only active European band in Singapore. Given a choice of venues, I would never elect to play on a building site, blinded by arc lights and unable to hear anything but drums. The sounds of the studio crew attempting to re-establish the lighting rig did little to help as the portable cameraman pointed his lens directly onto my keyboard probably hoping to acquire a close-up of supple fingers dancing with lightning speed over the ivories. If that was the case, I fear that he was disappointed due to the fact that I was playing some rather simple chords at the time. Despite the enthusiastic banging from the studio floor as the electricians put their world to rights, we subsequently learned that no unwanted sound had been picked up by the microphones and that our overall performance had been adequate, if not quite stunning.

It was certainly adequate enough to gain us a minor recording contract with Decca, a result that we found very gratifying. It was also sufficiently adequate to attract the attention of a large crowd of giggling schoolgirls whose custom was to wait at the stage door of the television studios to seek the autographs of the famous. As we emerged, weighed down with equipment, they descended on us en masse. As we congratulated ourselves on our newly discovered star status, the stage door opened again and our compere emerged to the shrill screams of our former loyal fans. One little girl remained behind.
''How old are you?'' she inquired.
''Twenty-six,'' Dave replied.
''Well, I think you were very good,'' she said, ''even if you are old.''

Archived comments for Not Quite Top of the Pops
JeffDray on 2003-02-03 04:18:07
Re: Not Quite Top of the Pops
Ah! those heady days of the seventies! Now where did I put my Fender Strat? Time to makes sweet music again. A great read, looking forward to the book and soundtrack album.

*gets out harmonica and plays Captain Pugwash theme in the bath*

Author's Reply:

shadow on 2003-02-03 05:13:24
Re: Not Quite Top of the Pops
Great to see your musical reminiscences are back! And you got to be a real pop star, with a recording contract and everything. I am very impressed. When did you go on the real TOTP?

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2003-02-03 05:30:38
Re: Not Quite Top of the Pops
some lovely touches! 'absorbing talent' indeed! I bet you chuckled over that one - I did!
very fine raconteuring!

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2003-02-03 05:38:21
Re: Not Quite Top of the Pops
Alas, the 'real' TOTP always escaped us. We recorded 'Games people play' and they didn't release the Joe South version in Asia!

Author's Reply:

Andrea on 2003-02-03 09:51:13
Re: Not Quite Top of the Pops
What, no roadies?

Author's Reply:

Lulu on 2003-05-12 10:20:32
Re: Not Quite Top of the Pops
he he he he he he he he he he he he ha ha ha ha ha ha ho ho ho ho ho ho ho ho ho ... arrrrrrrrhhggggg... give me a brake, my tomy aches of laughter!

thanks for sharing that with us! greatly written too..


Author's Reply:

Complete with Horns (posted on: 09-12-02)
You can choose your friends but not your relatives!

Contrary to popular belief, not every member of my family is eccentric although I grudgingly admit to some rather odd behavioural patterns demonstrated by a few of my maternal relatives. Uncle Willie was a World-Class oddball.

He emigrated to Australia in 1910 when he was in his twenties and set about making his fortune. A subscriber to the theory that hard work alone can result in success, Willie progressed from hotel bellhop to kitchen hand, from motor mechanic to chauffeur and probably managed a little sheep shearing and mustering in his spare time. By the age of thirty, his labours had enabled him to make an investment in a small hotel in Adelaide and several years later, he became the sole owner.

My mother made the long journey to Australia at the age of seventy-three and returned some ten weeks later accompanied by Uncle Willie. I had never seen my mother’s brother except in photographs so I was totally unprepared for the fact that he was profoundly deaf. This disability was not allowed to impede his enjoyment of life. He carried out conversations at the top of his voice, irrespective of surroundings and frequently to the great embarrassment of those in his company. In a rare moment of carelessness, my mother took him to our local church. The customary tiny congregation was alarmed to have their devotions interrupted by a stentorian comment, delivered in an Australian accent to the effect that he had “seen dead sheep looking healthier than that bloody minister.”

The Western Australian climate and his comfortable lifestyle had treated my uncle very well and although in his eighties, he had the enthusiasm for the pleasures of the flesh normally associated with a man twenty years younger. My mother was, by her own admission, rather traditional in her views. As the former principal of the local school, she felt obliged to host bridge parties and to perform other similar acts of hospitality. As it was clearly unrealistic to remove her brother from the house on those occasions, he was invited to make up a four with three female members of the staff.

At first, the three ladies were intrigued by the extrovert colonial. As the evening progressed they discovered that his success at this genteel card game was enhanced by his undoubted skill at card manipulation, gained over decades of poker with sheep shearers. Their reaction to this revelation was only equalled by their feigned horror at the outrageous propositions allegedly made whilst my mother’s best china progressed around the table. The bridge evening terminated in total disarray, Willie dispensing Scotch whisky with a generosity only ever associated with a bottle belonging to someone else. As the guests departed unsteady and much the worse for wear, my uncle could be heard bellowing his goodnights having been thwarted in his efforts to escort the ladies home.

I suspect that the quiet area of Adelaide wherein his hotel was situated was probably quite free of vehicles. Whatever the reason, Willie was totally fearless in traffic. At the outset of a visit to the city of Aberdeen, some seventeen miles away, he announced that he would drive my mother’s Hillman Imp. My mother actively hated driving and was all too ready to believe her brother’s exaggerated claims to perfection at the wheel of any motor vehicle. Her illusions were shattered as Willie thrashed the gear lever around the floor in a futile attempt to find a forward gear. His first try resulted in a very rapid rearward progression only halted by a grass verge and a thankfully resilient hedge. Unable to hear my mother’s instructions, he finally managed, after several further attempts, to engage a forward gear and set off for the city. I understand that he accomplished the whole journey without ever discovering the location of third or fourth gear.

Claiming that the middle of the road was the safest place to be in order to avoid the dangers of local fauna springing from the undergrowth, he reportedly ignored the needs of other road users who were forced to swerve and brake violently to avoid him. The final straw was loaded onto the camel’s back when Willie, having eventually arrived in Aberdeen, spotted a small shop selling souvenirs of Scotland. Despite the heavy rush hour traffic, he simply stopped the car in the middle of the road and wandered over to the shop to stare through the window. Unable to hear the cacophony of horns as angry drivers expressed their disapproval, he disappeared into the shop. My mother was obliged to get into the driving seat and move the car to the side of the road, ignoring the double yellow lines. Some minutes later, Willie emerged from the shop triumphantly bearing an enormous stag’s head complete with antlers.

With his trophy secured in the back seat, glassy eyes glaring balefully at following traffic, he took his passenger on a tour of the city, reportedly ignoring a succession of red traffic lights, one way streets and pedestrian crossings. Eventually his erratic progress attracted the attention of the local constabulary and a police car followed him for several miles before they managed to attract his attention and convey their earnest wish for him to stop. Despite a list of offences that would have occupied the Magistrates’ Court for several sittings, the policeman despaired of trying to make himself understood and let him off with a warning and an insistence that my mother take over the duties of chauffeur.

Eventually, to the great relief of many of my relatives, the visit drew to a close. My mother and Willie travelled to Heathrow where he became involved in an animated discussion regarding the quantity of luggage that he offered for checking in. There was still a good deal of time to kill prior to the departure of his flight and he pronounced that they would travel by taxi to Oxford Street for some last minute shopping. As he had not been satisfied about the safety of all of his luggage in the airline left luggage, the stag’s head accompanied them on the visit to the shops.

Even after many years had elapsed, my mother shuddered each time she related the story of their progress through the crowds on Oxford Street. The antlers of a stag are used in courting rituals but their main purpose is that of a weapon. It was probably some primeval instinct that made the London shoppers realise that the approach of my heavily armed relative spelt immediate danger, because they dived into shop doorways, they ran into the road and some even turned and ran the other way.

The show was terminated when a large policeman came up behind them. Uncle Willie was of course unable to hear the summons to stop. The officer reached out and put a restraining hand on my uncle’s shoulder. Willie spun around in alarm and one antler jabbed the policeman in the stomach. After a great deal of explanation from my mother and an even greater deal of protest from Willie, the policeman decided that there was no case to answer and summoned a police van to convey the pair back to Heathrow before some serious damage could be done. Predictably, my uncle assumed that he was being arrested and seemed inclined towards resistance. Still clutching the stag’s head he was shovelled into the back of the police van protesting vigorously about Police Brutality every inch of the way.

Several months later, I was on an overnight stop in Athens and was chatting with a Qantas crew who was also overnighting. As is customary, the conversation turned to flying matters and one of the Qantas flight attendants related the tale of a totally deaf Australian who insisted on carrying a stuffed stag’s head, complete with horns into the cabin. He steadfastly refused to be parted from the beast and claimed to be unable to hear the instructions to hand it over for safe stowage by the cabin crew.

Eventually, he was upgraded to an unoccupied seat in First Class where the animal was able to occupy an adjacent seat. Reportedly, both passengers slept soundly all the way to Singapore. A chorus of disbelief greeted her story.
I leaned over to whisper the name of the outrageous passenger in her ear and confessed to my relationship. She looked at me with amazement.

“So you can back up the story!”

“Yes, absolutely,” I replied. “By strange coincidence, the man is my uncle.”
She looked at me with disbelief.

“You mean, you are actually related to that man and they let you fly aeroplanes?”

“It’s not as crazy as giving a free upgrade to a dead stag.” I retorted.

Archived comments for Complete with Horns

shadow on 2002-12-09 09:36:59
Re: Complete with Horns
Brilliant! Just the thing to brighten up a Monday morning. Where would we be without our relations?

Author's Reply:

JeffDray on 2002-12-10 12:08:41
Re: Complete with Horns
Read again, and still like it.
If I fly with you and bring my plastic toad can I get an upgrade too?

Author's Reply:

sirat on 2002-12-12 02:28:15
Re: Complete with Horns
Great story. Would make a terrific short item for Radio 4. Have you considered sending anything to the BBC? They used to do a daily amusing short story slot, not sure if they still do but worth investigating.

Author's Reply:

RoyBateman on 2002-12-12 09:33:09
Re: Complete with Horns
Smooth, professional slice of real-life humour, beautifully arranged - I was wondering how you were going to sign off, and you didn't disappoint! Only one point - I can't believe that anyone actually kept an Imp going long enough to locate even SECOND gear. I learned to drive in one of those recalcitrant little buggers, and the only way I could start it was by rolling down our (admittedly steep) drive and letting the clutch out. But that's another story.. great read, cheered up a dull afternoon a treat.

Author's Reply:

Walls Have Ears (posted on: 01-11-02)
A totally fictional account. Any similarity to....etc etc.

Walls have Ears

One of the benefits of the nomadic existence experienced by long-haul aircrew is the immediate familiarity of hotel rooms. At first sight, it would appear that all international class hotels are designed and constructed by the same builder, using the same blueprints. The name of the hotel is then determined apparently by putting all the names in a hat. The Rome Hilton might just as easily be the Ramada or the Metropole. The layout is exactly the same.

The advantages of this concept are various. One is seldom at a loss to discover the exact location of the toilet in the middle of the night. The telephone works in precisely the same way in whichever hotel the airline have decided to accommodate their humble servants. Breakfast, if it can be so described, is predictable in both quality and quantity. Even the waiters and the reception staff appear to have been cast from a common mould.

There is at least one major disadvantage. Economics dictate that the walls dividing the rooms are made from paper-thin, acoustically transparent material. Bearing in mind that aircrews frequently arise at unsociably early hours in the morning, their sleep patterns may differ from those enjoyed by more normal people. We may, therefore, be inclined to retire early in the evening in order to achieve the requisite eight hours. The activities in adjoining rooms can on occasions cause some disturbance to sleep. Hotels accustomed to sheltering flight crews generally attempt to allocate adjacent rooms in order to minimise disturbance to other guests but the disturbance is not invariably caused by the airline people, nor is it always the other guests who suffer.

It would not be fair to comment on the moral decline experienced by travellers but in my own experience, the libido level increases in direct proportion to the distance from home. Consequently, there is a natural law that indicates that a pilot attempting to settle in the arms of Morpheus will be in a room adjoining a lady called Honey and a man apparently called Ohmygod..Derek. The nocturnal activities of Ohmygod..Derek and Honey will apparently centre on a rhythmic pounding of the headboard against the wall. Whilst this will undoubtedly strike joy into the hearts of those addicted to African drumming, it is not conducive to restful slumber.

On one occasion, during a particularly energetic and extended session of headboard pounding from next door, I had given up all attempts at sleep and was leaning on the balcony rail observing the traffic in the street below. Ohmygod..Derek elected to take a break from his labours and emerged from his room onto the adjoining balcony. Despite my attempts to shrink back into the shadows, he spotted me.

''Nice evening,'' he remarked. I mumbled a response from which he appeared to draw encouragement. ''Just got in on this evening's flight from London.''

There appeared to be no way of escape and he went on to tell me that he had got acquainted with one of the cabin crew on his flight and that she was even now anxiously awaiting his return to the headboard.

With a mixture of surprise and irritation, I realised that the only flight from London that evening had been the one on which we had arrived. The amorous flight attendant was therefore almost certainly a member of our crew.

Having previously remarked on the identical nature of hotel rooms, there have been occasions when crew members have suffered total memory loss. Answering a call of nature one night, I stumbled out of bed and opened the bathroom door. The sound of the door swinging shut behind me brought me to wakefulness only to realise that I was standing in the hotel corridor wearing only a wristwatch. Happily, the occupant of a nearby room had indulged in a bottle of bubbly and his tray, complete with napkin was on the floor outside his door. Swiftly, I girded my loins with the napkin and set off in search of a member of the hotel staff who, it might be hoped, would have a passkey. After a brief and fruitless search, I elected to descend to the next floor. Happily, a room service delivery was taking place and I explained my plight to the waiter who smirked in a most irritating manner before offering to open the door for me.

To my horror, I could not remember my room number. We travelled the length of the corridor, the waiter pointing at each door with a question framed on his grinning face. At last, I thought the number on a door seemed familiar.

''This one,'' I said with as much conviction as I could muster.

''Okay senor.'' He inserted the card in the lock and opened the door with a flourish. I examined the darkened interior and noted that the bed appeared to be unoccupied. This was almost certainly the correct room. I breathed a sigh of relief, thanked the man and closed the door behind me. I attended to the function that had initially caused the problem then headed for bed. I almost made it. Our lead Flight Attendant came back into the room from the balcony. After some initial surprise, she burst into laughter.

''My word,'' she exclaimed, ''you are a dark horse.''

''I appear to be in the wrong room.''

''Perhaps you are.'' She smiled seductively. ''And then again, perhaps you're not.'' She took my hand and led me meekly towards the bed. ''How on earth would you explain this to the Fleet Captain if anyone ever found out?''

There are some questions to which there is absolutely no answer.


Archived comments for Walls Have Ears

emsk on 2002-11-01 10:54:28
Re: Walls Have Ears
This was really funny. I know an air hostess, if that's still the correct terminology, but she's never told us anything like this!

Author's Reply:

sirat on 2002-11-02 11:56:08
Re: Walls Have Ears
Are all female flight attendants equally hospitable? I thought aircrew occupied their stopover time studying weather reports and reading the Gideon bible. I'm beginning to see what makes it such a great career choice.

Author's Reply:

shadow on 2002-11-02 16:42:37
Re: Walls Have Ears
Great stuff, very funny. I assume you made an excuse and left . . . Oh, no, you said this was a fictional account.

Author's Reply:

Carol on 2002-11-04 19:03:37
Re: Walls Have Ears
As usual - very funny. The images that you created left me giggling helplessly! A most enjoyable read.

Author's Reply:

e-griff on 2002-11-06 14:08:00
Re: Walls Have Ears
Excellent! I personally prefer this style of writing to your letters/messages to ... whcih are a bit close to being work related in-jokes. In this however, you have used your work to supply a backdrop to a humorous and entertaining story. More pse!

Author's Reply:

RoyBateman on 2002-12-05 10:47:55
Re: Walls Have Ears
Excellent, fluid style and believable content make this a thoroughly enjoyable read. I TRUST it's fictional.. either that, or the missus doesn't get to see the last bit. Presumably, referring to the earlier section, the hostess (I assume she was female, but you never know these days) gave herself away on the return flight with constant yawning? If so, I assume you noted her name?

Author's Reply:

The Band and the Staish (posted on: 10-10-02)
A close shave. Another musical disaster.

The Band and the Staish.

When a civilian signs on the dotted line and becomes a member of Her Majesty's Armed Forces, the Queen expects that the new recruit will be available for duty twenty-three hours and fifty-nine minutes of every day.

The acceptance of other paid employment whilst a serving member of the armed forces is not pleasing to her Majesty. Despite her wishes, however, many military personnel find that their generous off-duty time can be utilised for alternative employment. Early in my RAF career, I discovered that the provision of music for the masses provided a useful, if somewhat unimpressive source of additional income.

Shortly after I had been posted to my first fighter squadron I joined a local band whose function appeared to be the ritual destruction of the popular music of the day. Due, no doubt to the shortage of bands in the area, we were remarkably active and played frequently in the local area.

Although the RAF was, by comparison with the other services, quite relaxed about command structure, there were certain boundaries that were inviolate. Junior ranks did not tread the sacred ground of either the sergeants' or the officers' mess. It was with some trepidation that I discovered that we had been booked to perform at the officers' mess monthly dinner dance.

Despite being a relative newcomer to the base, I was concerned about the possibility of the discovery of my identity and decided to adopt measures aimed at concealment. A false moustache and sunglasses would probably suffice, I thought. The majority of attention would most probably be attracted to our lead singer, a posturing, strutting local man who considered himself to be the natural successor to the recently departed Eddie Cochran and few people would even notice the shy, retiring lead guitarist skulking behind the maestro.

Thus prepared, we played softly throughout the dinner. All was well. I had not attracted so much as a second glance from my squadron commander whom I assumed would recognise me were I to be recognisable. As the alcohol flowed more freely, both on and off the stage, the tempo of the music increased and very soon, dignity decreased in direct proportion. Squadron Leaders and Wing Commanders threw caution to the winds and displayed remarkable agility as they enthusiastically tackled the incomprehensible popular dance movements demanded by the music of that period.

Every RAF base has, at its helm, a senior officer, usually a Group Captain. In the parlance of the air force, this gentleman is generally referred to as the 'Staish', the word being an abbreviation of Station Commander. The Staish, as a general rule, retains his dignity and composure at all times. Not for such dignitaries is the traditional hurling of bread rolls after dinner. Not for them is the abandonment of personal standards of behaviour by excessive consumption of intoxicating beverages. The astute reader will probably surmise that, as the hour grows late, the Station Commander is probably going to be the most sober of those present. A sober senior officer will realise that in order to keep his good lady contented he will have to ask her to dance. Patently, a dance such as the twist would necessitate a sacrifice of dignity. A nice waltz would be just the ticket and a junior officer was despatched to the bandstand to make the request.

''We don't do waltzes, mate.'' Our leader was totally unskilled in any form of social grace.

''Well then, anything a bit slow. The Staish wants to have a dance with his wife.''

To the somewhat shaky strains of 'Unchained Melody' the station commander gathered his amply proportioned wife in a fond but dignified embrace and together, they sailed around the dance floor. As they passed the stage for the first time I managed to avoid his glance by concentrating on my guitar. I started to perspire freely, thereby loosening the glue that retained my moustache. To my horror, the confounded thing came adrift at one side just as the happy couple approached the stage on their second circuit. The great man favoured me with a puzzled stare. I was spared further embarrassment as his partner wheeled him into a complicated manoeuvre known to the exponents of ballroom dancing as a reverse turn. Mrs Staish squealed as his full weight descended on her foot. In the resultant confusion, I was able to take advantage of a four bar rest and rip off the offending appendage. Barefaced, I waited with some apprehension for the pair to complete another circuit of the floor.

Happily, the band ran out of steam and the song came to a blissful but rather messy conclusion. His husbandly duty performed, the Staish took no further part in the proceedings and shortly afterwards made an exit. To my intense relief, the remainder of the evening passed without further mishap.

Some months subsequently, I had decided to apply for training as a pilot. My initial interview with the Squadron Commander passed without comment and my request was forwarded for the mandatory consideration of the Station Commander. I was fairly sure that I would not be recognised and presented myself on the appointed date with shoes gleaming and a fresh haircut. The meeting went reasonably well and at the conclusion, he wished me well as he signed his approval of my request. I favoured him with a salute that would have gladdened the heart of my old drill instructor and turned to go. As I reached the door, he spoke again.

''Are you still playing guitar, corporal? That was just about the worst version of Unchained Melody that I have ever heard in my life!'' He smiled benignly. ''I see you shaved off the moustache. Good thing too. It didn't suit you.''

Archived comments for The Band and the Staish

shadow on 2002-10-13 17:20:25
Re: The Band and the Staish
I love these stories. Keep them coming, please!

Author's Reply:

scamp on 2002-10-13 22:06:59
Re: The Band and the Staish
Reads just as god here as on TC $;-)

Author's Reply:

emsk on 2002-11-01 19:09:51
Re: The Band and the Staish
I had a similar performance, with my band The Hideous Green Bubbly Things. Well, we were never destined for rock glory. Great little funny interlude!

Author's Reply:

Serenata (posted on: 04-10-02)
If I should serenade you tunelessly,
Would you discard me, dismiss me?

Listen whilst I sing to you again
With well tempered intention.
With the support of my friends,
I will survive.
Only with the support of my friends
Will I survive.

Archived comments for Serenata
sirat on 2002-10-07 12:19:19
Re: Serenata
I will only truly understand this one when I'm sixty-four.

Author's Reply:

Jed Thresher and the Haymakers (posted on: 30-09-02)
Another musical escapade.

Under protest, and not without a great deal of grumbling, I was attempting to deal with a plague of snails in my garden when the phone rang. Gardening was, at that period in my life, a function that I carried out strictly in self-defence and I was far from dismayed when my wife indicated that the caller wished to speak to me.
Without preamble, the voice at the other end demanded to know if I was Allen, the keyboards player. With some slight hesitation I admitted that the information was accurate. Over several years of deputising with various bands, I had learned to exercise caution in making such admissions, as many semi-professional musicians are reluctant to discuss their earnings with HM Inspectors of Taxes and those Inspectors tend to use similar discretion in disclosing their identity.
For reasons that were not immediately apparent, the name given to me by the caller seemed vaguely familiar. He claimed to be a singer. A singer without a backing band, a state of affairs that he intended to remedy forthwith. He wondered whether I would be interested in working with him that very evening. After some consideration, I agreed and started to write down details. It soon became apparent that other musicians were also required. Did I know of a bass player, he enquired. Fortuitously, my son, then a mere teenager, was rapidly becoming a fairly competent bass player although he had never appeared in front of an audience other than his immediate family circle. The acquisition of both keyboards and bass from the same household inspired great delight in my caller and we agreed to turn up at the venue where we would meet the guitarist and the drummer.
Warning bells started to ring when the singer arrived and introduced himself as Jed Thresher. Although I am not generally given to forming opinions about the competence of musicians based on their dress sense, logic should have indicated trouble ahead when I observed that his attire comprised a John Wayne style shirt, flared trousers, high-heeled boots and a black cowboy hat. To complete the picture, he wore horn-rimmed glasses and had attempted to conceal his baldness with a truly dreadful toupee. I learned that we were to be known as Jed Thresher and the Haymakers. The sinking feeling was enhanced still further on the arrival of the drummer and guitarist. The drummer confided to me that it had been some fifteen years since he had even touched a drum kit and he confessed to being a trifle rusty. The guitarist, however seemed fairly confident although the guitar, produced from the back seat of his car had certainly seen better days.
Bravely, we trooped into the pub and set up our equipment in a suitably dark corner. It is customary to carry out a sound check prior to commencing the performance and it was at this point that my worst fears were realised. Jed’s ability as a singer made his dress sense appear worthy of Saville Row. It was instantly obvious that the poor man was totally incapable of singing in tune and his concept of timing was, to put it kindly, fatally flawed. He was, however, brimming with an entirely misplaced confidence and patently considered himself to be God’s gift to the music business. He roared tunelessly through a couple of well-known pop songs from the fifties whilst we struggled to determine both the key in which he was attempting to sing and at which point in the song he had arrived. John gave me a despairing glance as if to ask what manner of circus his father had got him into. I avoided eye contact in a despicably cowardly fashion.
The audience started to arrive and my already low spirits plummeted. I have absolutely nothing against the aficionados of Heavy Metal music, but I felt sure that they were going to be impressed by neither Jed’s choice of music nor by his vocal abilities. Undeterred by the mass of shaven heads and tattoos, Jed launched into an enthusiastic version of what I vaguely recognised as ‘Singin’ the Blues’ accompanied by vigorous, if meaningless gesticulations. At the end of the song, the silence was deafening but the glares spoke volumes. Undeterred, Jed pressed on and treated them to a truly delightful assault on Hits of the Fifties. By the time we decided to take a break, the mood had turned decidedly ugly.
John and I retreated to the bar, studiously avoiding any form of contact with the rest. To be accurate, Jed had retired to his dressing room (the gents’ toilet) to carry out running repairs on his hairpiece which had slowly slid sideways during the last two numbers. The guitarist and drummer had disappeared in the general direction of the car park. The proprietor of the pub approached us.
“This is not what I expected,” he announced. “If that buffoon sings again, you will not be getting paid.” He paused, collecting his thoughts. “In fact,” he continued, “If you don’t play something more modern, this lot,” he gestured towards the audience, “will tear you apart. They are not happy.”
Jed appeared from the toilet, hair adjusted and reeking of aftershave.
“Ready to go again?” he enquired cheerfully. I studiously ignored the warning glare from the proprietor.
“I think they want something a bit more modern,” I said. “Do you know any Status Quo?” Jed looked scornful.
“I don’t do any of that sort of rubbish.”
“John and I could manage a couple if you like. Why don’t you have a break and rest your voice for a while.” With some reluctance, he agreed and I despatched John to the car park to locate the other members of the band. He returned empty-handed a few minutes later to report the defection of both guitarist and drummer. We were doomed to perform alone, it seemed. Having watched my son and I for some ten minutes or so, Jed decided that it was time for him to take his place again as the undoubted star of the show. Carefully adjusting his hat, he strode purposefully towards the stage. As he seized the microphone, an impressively large man rose to his feet.
“Oh no yer don’t!” he cried. He picked up a chair and advanced with obvious hatred in his eyes. “Get ‘im off that stage before I kill ‘im,” he cried. Jed bravely ignored his potential assailant and sailed into another of his Fifties Favourites. Finally realising that the big man menacingly brandishing a chair was intent on doing him physical harm, he squealed in terror and, dropping the microphone, ran off in the direction of the door. The man looked almost tearful as he realised that his intention to cause mayhem had been thwarted and sadly returned to his seat. The proprietor came over to me.
“Call it a day, lads. I know you two did your best, but you’re on a loser here. I’ll put the jukebox on.”
I am happy to report that John and I did get paid. As we drove home, I suddenly realised why the name had sounded familiar. Jed had been the leader of a great many bands, none of which had ever lasted more than one performance. For John, it had been a character-forming experience. Not many musicians, I told him, are threatened with extermination on their first public performance.
“Are there many singers like him?” he asked.
“No,” I replied. “There is only one Jed Thresher.”
“Thank God,” he said with a sigh.

Archived comments for Jed Thresher and the Haymakers
red1hols on 2002-09-30 10:57:01
Re: Jed Threshere and the Haymakers
The more I read of these, the more I want. I liked this one especially as I think I may have attended a Jed Thresher gig. It was back in late 70s/early 80s at a club in Wiltshire. You've captured the atmosphere of that gig so well!

Author's Reply:

shadow on 2002-09-30 12:50:56
Re: Jed Thresher and the Haymakers
Lovely story. I do believe I came across Jed a couple of years ago, in a pub in Brixham.

Author's Reply:

Carol on 2002-09-30 19:44:38
Re: Jed Thresher and the Haymakers
Great story! Even though I knew how the whole concert would end it was still extremely funny. The last two lines sum it up!
I'm sure that you've rattled a few memories with other musicians playing their first 'concert!'
Very well written and enjoyable

Author's Reply:

But it doesn't even scan! (posted on: 30-09-02)
Glitter and glitter yet again

Denizen of origins beyond my ken
Oversee our globe from lofty perch
Like precious gem in celestial home
Glitter and sparkle tiny nova
Unknown, incomprehensible to me

Archived comments for But it doesn't even scan!
Carol on 2002-09-30 16:39:06
Re: But it doesn't even scan!
An interesting perspective, combining the known with the unknown. Well done.

Author's Reply:

It's Only a Dance (posted on: 23-09-02)
It's about time that I wrote about something other than flying. My other passion is music and this is a true story from a period with a touring band.

It's Only a Dance

When said quickly, the prospect of touring with a band sounds like fun. Shaun, our bandleader announced that the band had been booked for a short tour in Scotland. We were to perform three concerts on the mainland before making the crossing to the island of Orkney for a series of seven more performances. With some difficulty, I was able to arrange two weeks off work and I eagerly anticipated the prospect of swapping my airline uniform for the rather casual attire favoured by musicians.
Although the band played most sorts of music, our speciality was a brand of rock and roll known as Southern Rock, as performed by such bands as Lynard Skynard and ZZ Top. We were rather dubious as to the prospects of acceptance by the rather staid residents of the Northern Isles. Shaun was unperturbed, however and we set off northwards in our convoy of two Transit vans.
The first concert was in Dundee. Our debut CD had sold fairly well in Scotland and we were gratified to see that a full house awaited us. Happily, a similar response awaited us in the beautiful city of Aberdeen and in the equally beautiful Inverness. Flushed with success, we boarded the ship that was to carry us over the water to Orkney. To relate that the crossing was rough would be to seriously understate the case. The weather, always unpredictable in the northern parts of our green and pleasant land decided to turn really nasty. The small ship forced her way northwards in the teeth of a force nine. Mountainous waves crashed over the bows and although we were never in any real peril, I noticed Carl, our bass player, surreptitiously fingering his rosary between bouts of seasickness. As I have never been affected by motion sickness in any form of transport, the eventual docking in Kirkwall came as a relief to others more than it did to me.
A small man whose few remaining strands of hair were carefully arranged to cover as much as possible of his balding head met us on the quayside. With an air of immense self-importance, he announced that he was our agent and responsible for our welfare and accommodation during our stay in Orkney. Discussion with this worthy led us to believe that instead of playing our normal programme, we were expected to provide music for dancing. Idle speculation on the type of dancing favoured by the people of the island pointed to an almost complete lack of interest in anything more upbeat than Celtic folk music.
The atmosphere in the hotel could not be described as amenable. All conversation ceased as we trooped into the bar. We settled down at a table whilst Shaun ordered drinks and attempted without success to engage the barman in conversation. Eventually one of the locals approached us.
''You'll be the band then,'' he said. ''I hope you're better than the last lot they sent us.'' This did not bode well for us. The previous band to tour the island had been very highly acclaimed. If they had failed to meet with approval, then we stood no chance whatsoever. We assured him that, indeed we were a much better band and that we were eagerly anticipating playing for the islanders. He made a kind of Scottish noise at the back of his throat and returned to the bar.
We arrived at the venue for our first gig to find the place deserted. We located the caretaker who grumblingly opened the doors. It was immediately apparent that our equipment, designed for use in a large auditorium, was inappropriate for the school hall but our road crew managed to find room for most of it on the tiny stage. By eight o' clock, we were ready. Although the evening was billed to start at half past eight, there was not a soul to be seen except for an old lady who sat at the back of the room and produced some knitting. At around eleven, the doors burst open and within minutes, the tiny hall was bulging at the seams. The locals apparently stayed in the pub until closing time and then headed for the dance.
Without wishing to be disrespectful, I found it amusing to note that they conversed at the top of their voices, even although the recipient of their words might be only inches away. At the end of our first number, we saw that they were paying little or no attention. By the end of the fourth song, it was obvious that the main attraction was the availability of a late bar. As the evening wore on, the consumption of prodigious quantities of alcohol had led to the opportunity for the settlement of old scores and several independent fights broke out, the protagonists being surrounded by their cheering supporters. The floor was now ankle deep in a mixture of blood and beer and we realised that we were playing music to fight by. Interestingly, as soon as a fight was over, the two combatants would be seen drinking together, all the while looking around for someone else to fight.
There seemed to be no definite finish time and as the hour hand approached two in the morning, a large man staggered up to the stage. With some apparent difficulty, he focussed on Shaun,
''Can you play a Strip the Willow?'' he enquired. Shaun looked across at me with a question framed in his face. I shrugged my shoulders.
''Ask the piano player,'' Shaun said. The man shambled across to me.
''Can you play a Strip the Willow?'' he said. I knew, of course, that Strip the Willow was a formation dance but for the life of me, I could not remember any of the tunes associated with the dance.
''How does it go?'' I asked him.
''Och, it's easy. You line up in two lines facing each other and '' His explanation lost impetus and he tailed off into an embarrassed silence. I tried again.
''What are the tunes?''
''The tunes?'' He seemed confused.
''Yes, the tunes. If you can tell me some of the tunes, I'm sure we can do it.''
''Oh, the tunes.'' His face lit up. ''Well, everybody lines up facing each other and then you justdance.''
''No,'' I explained. ''Not the dance. We'll leave that to you. I just want to know what music to play for you.''
''Oh.'' He seemed irritated that I was apparently unable to understand. ''I'll get Norman.'' He wandered off intent on finding someone capable of explaining this very simple matter to the idiot on the piano. Some minutes later, he returned accompanied by another man. The newcomer came straight to the point.
''Geordie wants you to play a Strip the Willow,'' he announced.
''Yes, I know that but I can't remember any of the tunes. Can you tell me any of the tunes? Hum one or two maybe?'' He lapsed into a period of deep thought.
''Well.Everybody forms up in two lines.'' He looked at me with hope in his eyes. I decided that I would take a chance. If I dredged through my childhood memories I could probably manage at least a few Scottish reels. That would probably satisfy their lust.
''Okay,'' I assured him. ''I think we can manage that.''
Somehow, we managed to convince them that the awful mixture of half remembered tunes represented a Strip the Willow. They certainly formed up as described and charged up and down the floor with abandon. At the end of the night, represented by the closing of the bar, Geordie came up to me and thanked me for a great evening. We were thankful that we had managed to avoid involvement in any of the fights and returned gratefully to the hotel. The following night was almost an exact repeat. The fights, the shouting and the inevitable demands for Strip the Willow happened almost on cue. Again, we got away with it but I determined to get it right before the next gig.
Kirkwall has only one shop that sells records. Positive that I would finally discover a correct sequence of tunes, I approached the elderly proprietor.
''Have you got any music for a Strip the Willow?'' I asked. He shook his head.
''We don't sell music,'' he replied, apparently anxious to put an end to the conversation.
''I need to find out the tunes for it,'' I said. ''Can you help?''
''Och, it's only a dance,'' he said. ''There are two lines of dancers and they line up facing each other..''

Archived comments for It's Only a Dance
shadow on 2002-09-24 10:08:40
Re: It's Only a Dance
Loved it - really put a smile on my face!

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2002-09-24 13:00:24
Re: It's Only a Dance
Thank you very much Shad. Very kind comment. That was exactly the intention although I certainly did not intend to provide humour at the expense of the good folk of Orkney!

Author's Reply:

red1hols on 2002-09-27 15:06:02
Re: It's Only a Dance
These are a delight to read. Thanks.

Author's Reply:

Entertaining the Chinese (posted on: 23-09-02)
.....or how the professionals do it!

Entertaining the Chinese

It may come as something of a surprise to some people that I have interests in areas other than aeronautical. Music has been an abiding passion since I was a very small child despite having been bulldozed into piano lessons at the age of five years old. I suffered terribly at the hands of Miss Ritchie and defiantly refused to become adept at such delights as the Scale of Ab Major.

In latter years, however, I discovered that the piano was a useful item of furniture upon which to ritually murder the popular hits of the day and the self-taught ability to do so won me the attention of several well-endowed young ladies of my own age. Concurrently, I discovered a certain ability on guitar. This was even more beneficial when coupled with the emergence of Mr E Presley.

By the time I was sent to Singapore with my squadron, I was considered to be pretty proficient on both instruments and I lost no time in joining an already established band. Because of a considerable degree of good fortune and an astute manager, we secured a recording contract with EMI. This contract led to several appearances on local television and radio stations. I must point out however, that Singapore is not a very large island and that our apparent success meant very little anywhere else in the world.

The National Theatre in Singapore is a very impressive building. Although the majority of the seating is out in the open air, the sound system, even by today's standards was superb. It was an obvious choice for famous artistes on a world tour. After all, at that time, in the late sixties, the island was an excellent duty-free shopping zone and despite the racial mix of Tamil, Malay and Chinese, the general impression received by a visitor was that the British influence was most apparent. Most of the major artistes of the period performed in Singapore at least once.

It would be too much for any promoter to expect an artiste to perform for a whole evening without support acts. The combination of heat and humidity was hard to endure even in the evenings. We were summoned to a meeting with Arthur Dyke, our manager one evening. With considerable pride, he told us that we had been engaged to appear as the support act to not one, but two major performers. We were to appear at the National Theatre along with Cliff Richard and the Shadows and topping the bill was to be the legendary Ertha Kitt. Although neither of the acts was at the peak of their popularity, none could deny that to take a place on the same stage with such big names was certainly something about which to write home.

The long awaited weekend finally arrived. We had been rehearsing almost non-stop and had polished our programme until it shone. We presented ourselves at the theatre early in the morning to the amusement of the stage crew. We set up our equipment in strict accordance with the stage plan prepared by the stage manager, a rather portly gentleman with an enormous moustache and the weight of the world upon his shoulders. He made continuous efforts to lessen the weight by copious consumption of gin from a hip flask. The stage was enormous. It was at least ten times the size of any stage that we had even seen before. The revolving section was almost eighty feet in diameter and was divided across the width of the stage by a heavy curtain.

Sometime around noon, the Shadows arrived, complete with an articulated truck carrying their equipment. We were surprised to discover that they were really easy to talk to and that they appeared to have more questions for us than we had for them although their questions mainly concerned food and drink and were quite easy to answer. As the day progressed, other sections of the performing community drifted in. Ertha was to have the backing of the complete String and Horns section of the National Orchestra, plus her own Musical Director, bass player and drummer. The Shadows had their own sound engineer and technicians for each instrument. Although Hank Marvin would certainly have been capable of tuning his own guitar, a guitar technician would take care of that chore on his behalf. As far as we were concerned, there were just the four of us. No techs, no roadies, no sound man, just the four of us.

With less than an hour to go, the theatre was filling up. From the wings, we could hear the excited chatter of the mainly Chinese audience. At twenty minutes to go before Curtain, we took our places on the revolving stage. To say that we were nervous would be an understatement. All our amplifiers were warmed up, all the instruments and microphones tested and there was nothing to suppose that anything would go wrong. The moment arrived. The compere introduced us and we launched into our first number. The applause grew more appreciative as we progressed and when we played our final song, the euphoria was almost too much to bear. As we were revolved out of sight, the compere was already introducing Cliff and the Shadows to the delight of the audience. This was a name that they knew. Famous. Important. The applause was deafening.

Cliff Richard walked on stage as the band launched into the introduction to Move It. Behind the curtain we were leaning on the equipment, smoking cigarettes and congratulating ourselves on our flawless performance. Without warning, there was a loud bang from the front of the stage and the music stopped. Cliff paused in mid-phrase and made a comment about hired equipment. The immediate response of the stage crew was to revolve the stage. Because the stage was so large, the movement was smooth and slow. We suddenly found ourselves in front of the curtain once more but in a state of undress, (we had taken our shirts off!) and clearly expected to play something. Frantically, we bustled around and had just started to play when we noticed that the stage was revolving again. The technicians had produced a spare power amplifier and the Shadows were performing again. Thankfully the rest of their act proceeded without impediment, but we kept our shirts on just in case. The audience applauded enthusiastically, obviously believing that the interruptions had been planned as part of the show. Cliff Richard was gracious enough to comment on the way that we had filled the gap although he had quite a lot to say to the hire company engineer responsible for their equipment. Despite his religious inclinations, he certainly knew a great many really interesting words.

After the intermission, the great Ertha Kitt took to the stage. Without preamble, she launched into her first song. The Chinese audiences have an irritating habit of chattering to each other during performances and most artistes are aware of this. Ertha was having none of it. She turned round and stopped all the musicians. She held her hands up for silence. Amazingly, the chatter died down until it was as quiet as it ever can be in Singapore. They were waiting for something to happen. She kept them waiting for fully three minutes.
''All of you people,'' she said, ''have paid a lot of money to see me. At least have the decency to shut up and listen to me.'' She paused for effect. ''Now, are you going to keep quiet and stop chattering?'' The answer came slowly as just a few people started clapping. The applause grew to thunderous proportions. The whole audience rose to their feet. They were screaming in appreciation that someone so important had taken the trouble to talk to them. For the rest of her act, Ertha Kitt had them eating out of her hands. To our delight, she invited the Shadows and us to join her on stage for her final song.

As she brought her Musical Director to the front of the stage for the curtain call, I heard her say to him,
''Now that is the way to handle a Chinese audience! Keep them entertained!''

Archived comments for Entertaining the Chinese
geordietaf on 2002-09-23 13:24:25
Re: Entertaining the Chinese
Tlemendous, especially the bit about Criff. I had a wonderful picture of you being slowly revolved around back to the audience. I hope you've got a lot more of these stories Tlux.

Author's Reply:

red1hols on 2002-09-23 18:04:24
Re: Entertaining the Chinese
You have either led an interesting life or have the most amazingly detailed imagination. Either way, the result is a pleasure to read.

Author's Reply:

CLJ on 2002-09-24 10:39:52
Re: Entertaining the Chinese
If this was true, then it is an interesting account...if fabricated, it is a brilliant piece of craftmanship. I would have paid money for the evening's entertainment you have described.... I sobbed from the moment Bachelor Boy was released, but would have paid anything to hear TPPOP swear!
I suspect Ms Kitt might be slightly miffed that you spelt her name incorrectly throughout...but I won't tell.

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2002-09-24 12:57:17
Re: Entertaining the Chinese
Thank you all very much for your kind comments. The story is 100% true - the year was umm...1968 or 69, my band was called The Road - all verifiable!

Author's Reply:

Dear Mr McBride...part 5 (posted on: 16-09-02)
More e.mails to the CEO

To: Mr T E McBride CEO
From: Capt. A Hall

April 16 2002

Dear Mr McBride.

I was greatly honoured to learn that you had made a personal visit to my office and I apologise that my re-arranged schedule prevented me from being present at the intended meeting. I must emphasise, however, that the plants in the corner of my office pointed out to you by Miss Tomlinson are most certainly not Cannabis. I purchased the seeds during our night stop in Tangiers and the tests that are currently in progress at the police laboratory will doubtless confirm that it is a harmless species of decorative plant, exactly as the gentleman in the market assured me.

Your own extensive travels throughout the African Continent will have made you well aware of the high regard in which beasts of burden are held in those countries. In retrospect, it is unfortunate that some members of our crew saw fit to bring a camel back to the hotel. My own opinion was that the animal should have been tied up outside and not brought into the foyer. The receptionist's primary objection to the situation referred to our attempts to persuade the camel to enter the elevator. We felt it unkind to try to make it climb the stairs. When the manager was summoned, both he and I agreed that it is truly incredible how one animal is able to produce such a large amount of effluent. The crew settled the additional payment for the cleaning and no further charge should have been added to our account. I suggest that the excess charges are strongly refuted by Accounts.

The regrettable confusion during the departure preparations from Tangiers was mainly due to language difficulties. The catering contractors obviously were unable to translate the list of preferred meals, resulting in the provision of an exclusively local menu. In my own opinion, kebabs are a perfectly acceptable substitute for Chicken Maryland. I strongly, but with respect, resent the suggestion that I somehow profited by dealing direct with a local restaurant in preference to our approved caterers. I can also categorically assure you that no member of the crew referred to any passenger as a bleating old bat.

Due to a shortage of correct engineering capability, it was not possible to have repairs carried out to the in-flight entertainment system during the night stop. We managed to provide musical entertainment on the return flight by connecting the First Officer's portable CD player to the cabin PA system. I can readily appreciate that Iron Maiden and Deep Purple are not to everyone's taste, but I am sure that the majority of the passengers appreciated our efforts. As you are aware, the volume level on the PA system is set at a level to ensure audibility under most flight conditions and it is a pity that several passengers found the music excessively loud.

Although I readily agree that the responsibility for the conduct of any flight rests with the aircraft commander, I felt it appropriate to allow the First Officer to fly the aircraft back to base without interference from me. As his usual home base is Gatwick, he is not totally familiar with the layout of Stansted and it is not therefore surprising that it took him several hours to locate the Terminal after landing or to realise that we had actually landed at Luton. I understand that Easyjet were extremely helpful in arranging coach transport for our passengers. I have had a discussion with him and have pointed out the advisability of admitting any uncertainty at an early stage. Any accusation that I was asleep is totally unfounded.

Your requirement for an early meeting is noted and I will endeavour to make myself available.

Kindest regards

Allen Hall.

Archived comments for Dear Mr McBride...part 5

woodbine on 2002-12-04 13:53:58
Re: Dear Mr McBride...part 5
It reads a bit like Punch in the fifties and sixties (this is not a putdown. Punch was very funny) where correspondence back and forth was widely often used for it's oblique humour. The two best two jokes are about the cannabis and the camel which are at the beginning so as a piece it peaks too soon for me, but I must read more of the early parts to get an overview. I've got to go! The Catering Officer is going to swing for me if I ignore any more cries of, 'Your dinner's going cold!"

Author's Reply:

jamesallen on 2004-03-09 02:43:11
Re: Dear Mr McBride...part 5
I just read all of these on your website, and I must say that they are all superb. They remind me a little of Catch 22. Will have to go over some of your stories also now........

Author's Reply:

Hard Centres (posted on: 16-09-02)
I have absolutely nothing against mountains. Neither do I have a problem with clouds.

In common with most people who choose to spend the majority of their working life in the sharp end of an airplane, however, I have reservations when those two natural phenomena share the same location. Good airmanship dictates that one should avoid flying into clouds containing mountains. The people who select the routes and heights for commercial flights are at pains to avoid bringing the aircraft into close proximity with high ground.

Every now and again, although such occasions are thankfully infrequent, it becomes necessary to send aircraft into mountainous regions at low level. Such occasions are generally the result of Search and Rescue operations and it is at such times that the courage and tenacity of the aircrews are stretched to the limit. There are few missions more terrifying than blundering around at an altitude below that of the mountain tops in visibility which, at best, could be described as marginal. When such missions are undertaken deliberately, the aircraft in question is generally a helicopter and the crews are extensively trained for such operations and familiar with the local area.

Whilst based in Aberdeen, in the Northeast of Scotland, I decided to offer my services as a flying instructor to a local flying club. The weather in that part of the Country is frequently less than ideal from a private pilot's viewpoint but with the proper exercise of caution and good judgement, a reasonably experienced private pilot might take to the air with impunity. The problems arise, however, when common sense is overtaken by a pressing need to fly and the pilot's confidence exceeds his competence.

One December day we had departed from Manchester and although we had been cruising at a considerable altitude, the weather was little short of appalling and we had landed in snow flurries with a blustery wind from the North. Glad to be back on the ground, I finished my post flight report for the airline and headed for the flying club.

With a steaming mug of hot chocolate in my hand, I watched from the window as a rather smart light aircraft taxied away from the shelter of the building. Wondering aloud as to where the aircraft was going, I was dismayed to learn that the pilot intended to return to his home airport in the West of Scotland. Although he had a fairly high level of experience, it was plain that his pressing need to return home had taken precedence over concerns regarding the weather. Ignoring the advice of the Chief Flying Instructor he had made the preparations for the trip and was not to be dissuaded.

We watched the small machine as it lifted off the runway, soon to disappear into the lowering clouds. Although the aircraft was apparently fully equipped with all the additional instrumentation and navigational equipment required for instrument flying, the CFI and I agreed that his decision was foolhardy, to say the least. Both the CFI and I had professional licences but neither of us would ever venture into the air in such conditions unless absolutely necessary. The problem was that the recently departed aircraft was privately owned and as such, was not subject to the jurisdiction of the Flying Club.

Some time later, as the late afternoon light faded into a wintry darkness we discovered that the light aircraft had been reported as overdue. When he failed to appear in accordance with his flight plan, the emergency services were called to stand-by. Repeated radio calls elicited no response and the last reported position of the aircraft indicated that it was some thirty miles off course and had disappeared from radar in an area of high ground. Although the police and mountain rescue services had been alerted, it was by now very dark and the weather had deteriorated even more.

At first light, a full search and rescue operation was initiated. A helicopter from RAF Lossiemouth was despatched to search the general area and all aircraft flying over that sector of the Grampians were requested to assist. Late in the morning the weather cleared and the helicopter crew reported the discovery of aircraft wreckage on a tiny clearing on the side of one of the less accessible mountains. Although the helicopter was unable to land close to the scene, a crewmember was winched down to investigate. Although the aircraft had sustained major damage, the helicopter crewman discovered the pilot huddled in the cockpit suffering only from hypothermia and a dislocated shoulder.

Some time later, he came to visit us at the club. Shortly after take-off he had found himself in absolute zero visibility. Foolishly, instead of calling for assistance, he decided to press on in the forlorn hope that the conditions would improve. Due to his increasing panic and lack of experience, he had allowed an already grave situation to develop into one that was almost certain to prove fatal. In attempting to keep straight and level, the aircraft had drifted off course and he became hopelessly lost. His most critical error was to descend in an attempt to get below the weather. To his horror, he emerged from the cloud to discover that he was perilously close to the ground. Terrified of climbing back into the murk, he attempted to fly down a valley. Although he had reduced the speed to as low as he dared, jagged spurs of granite flashed by dangerously close to his wingtip.

As if to taunt him, the floor of the valley started to climb upwards. He found himself with no choice other than to climb with it and very soon found himself back in cloud. At this point, he made the first of the decisions that unquestionably saved his life. He opened the throttle fully and put the aircraft into a steep climb. Scant seconds later the airplane shuddered violently and he felt and heard the impact as the wheels crashed through the treetops. Incredibly, the aircraft continued to climb. Had he delayed for even a second longer, the tall pine trees would have claimed their victim.

His second correct decision was to turn south. He was unable to provide a reason for that decision but had he not turned at precisely that moment, he would have flown straight into the almost vertical western face of a large and very solid mountain, invisible in the fog. His luck was about to run out however. Because of the excess of moisture in the air combined with the temperature, a large accumulation of ice started to form on the upper wing surfaces. The little aircraft staggered manfully onwards but soon became unable to maintain height.

The final incredible coincidence that prevented him from becoming an integral part of the scenery of Scotland was the small clearing on the side of a hill. Just as the aircraft gave up the unequal struggle of carrying the load of ice, the fog lifted just enough for the pilot to see a strip of relatively flat ground straight ahead. He closed the throttle and prayed. It was a collision rather than a landing. The aircraft would never fly again but the pilot was safe.

We did not labour the point as a lesson had clearly been learned. There is room for neither luck nor coincidence in flying and it is prudent to avoid clouds that might have hard centres.

Archived comments for Hard Centres

geordietaf on 2002-09-16 12:39:30
Re: Hard Centres
Now i know why I prefer sitting at the back near the toilets. Gripping stuff birdman. may I point out however, that every time Biggles dropped through the murk in his Sopwith Camel, he always got away with it...

Author's Reply:

harv on 2002-09-16 13:19:26
Re: Hard Centres
Stirling stuff, artfully written.

It brought to mind a recent chapter on tone, in a book I've been reading - entitled "Wordpainting". Your very balanced and amiable piece suggests very much that the pilot was an unfortunate victim of inexperience rather than anything more sinister, stupid or otherwise.....interesting...

Well said.

Author's Reply:

red1hols on 2002-09-16 13:49:49
Re: Hard Centres
While I can't fault these pieces, I can't help feeling that they fall into the same category as "What really goes into sausages" and "What is the current mental attitude of your dentist".

There are things in life that are sometimes best not to think about and as a frequent passeger, "Does that cloud have a hard centre?" is right up there!

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2002-09-16 14:14:01
Re: Hard Centres
Simon, let me reaasure you. There are very few mountains of thirty thousand feet! Also I was at pains to point out that flight plans studiously avoid anything that even resembles a hard centre!!

Thanks for your comment!

Author's Reply:

red1hols on 2002-09-16 14:25:27
Re: Hard Centres
This is supposed to be comforting? I would have thought as a pilot that you realised that at least twice in a flight, the plane has to pass through those cloud thingies. Whenever that happens, the plane bounces around a bit and strange noises pervade the cabin. I'd rather not be thinking "Is that the duty free clinking or the top of a pine treee on some snow covered Alp?".

Also, on occasion, I get to travel from Cambridge airport (yes, it has one) in a lovely little turbo prop thingy flown by nice men who used to fly Stukas. They don't fly at 35 000 feet. They don't fly very high at all!

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2002-09-17 07:55:35
Re: Hard Centres
Yes, I know that Cambridge has a Nairport. I work from Stansted. The little turboprop thingies are sweet. I have lots of hours in Bandeirantes and Saabs. The frequency of hard centres around Cambridge is fairly low. As added comfort, we use a procedure called MEA (Minimun En-route Altitude) and all the high ground is kept away from commercial aircraft so there is no need to worry!

Author's Reply:

First Solo (posted on: 13-09-02)
How I learned to stop fretting and love a Chipmunk.

Most people recognise the fact that milestones representing occurrences of significance mark the life of any human being. First day at school would, I suppose, be classed as a fairly significant incident. Ones first sexual encounter would presumably be another. In any event, these milestones are forever etched on the brain and are unlikely to be forgotten.

We aviators have an opportunity for another huge milestone denied to others. That particular milestone is the first time that you fly an airplane with nobody else on board. Ingeniously, this episode is known as ''First Solo''. This flight is usually of a very short duration, about seven or eight minutes but to the various participants who are firstly, the new solo pilot, secondly, the flying instructor who authorised the first solo, thirdly, the rest of the airport population, this period of time is perceived differently, depending on the viewpoint of the participant. The third category can go to hell. They only want to be on the scene if there should be any blood. As far as the instructor is concerned, the flight lasts for about two hours. As far as the pilot is concerned, it lasts only twenty seconds. All three categories breathe a sigh of relief when it is all over and the triumphant pilot taxies back to the aircraft park. It says much for the standard of flying instruction that I truthfully cannot remember a serious incident happening during a first solo. Of course there have been slight mishaps. For instance, one first solo decided to go rather a long way round the circuit and got totally lost. He had to be rescued by gentle messages from air traffic who were able to overcome his rapidly increasing panic and got him to point the airplane in the right direction. To the student's great credit, he performed an absolutely faultless approach and landing.
I vividly remember my own first solo, although it is by now many thousand flying hours and many years in the past. Aircraft have been a passion with me since as far back as I can remember and I had a fairly good understanding of the principles of flight at eleven years old, gained from the construction of countless flying model aircraft. The theory came to me quite readily and a subsequent exposure to gliding at sixteen years of age gave me experience in the control of the real thing. It was not, therefore entirely due to aptitude that my first solo took place at a very early stage in my instruction in the RAF. It happened one afternoon when I had just undertaken a very grueling forty minutes at the mercy of Flight Lieutenant Mann who had made me perform a practice forced landing after take-off, a series of stalls and several touch and go approaches (we used to call them 'circuits and bumps' in those days). We rolled to a stop outside the line hut and Mann told me to keep the engine running. To my amazement, he climbed out of the aircraft and fastened the straps in the back seat.
''I have to go for a pee,'' he said. ''Just take it round the circuit once and then come back here and stop. Don't break anything, lad. I'll see you here when you get back down.''
The practice is not to allow the student to think for too long. I certainly had no time to become concerned.
''Okay, sir, once around the circuit then back here.'' I looked around for obstructions and seeing none, opened the throttle of the Chipmunk and carefully taxied out to the end of the runway. I requested and obtained permission from the Airfield Controller to line up and take off. I realised that I was a little nervous and counselled myself that I had already done this many times with the long suffering Mr. Mann in the back seat. We were lined up with seemingly miles of black runway in front of us.

My brain was telling me that I should not open the throttle. It reasoned that it would be far better to just turn around and say the aircraft was unserviceable than to finish up in the inevitable smoking heap on the ground. Discretion, it told me, was the better part of valour. My body, however, had other ideas. My left hand grasped the throttle lever and smoothly pushed it forward. My feet on the rudder pedals prepared themselves for the ''Chipmunk lurch'' as power came on. My right hand was feeling for the flying controls to come alive as the airplane bounded happily down the runway. My brain gave up the uneven struggle and agreed that as we were now committed to going flying, we might as well make the most of it.

As we soared into the air, I felt totally elated and could not resist bursting into song. I firmly believe that every student sings loudly on first solo. It's something to do with being totally out of reach of every other living thing on the planet. There is a feeling of absolute freedom and that nothing else matters. With the trauma of take-off safely over, I sang a filthy song with some really bad words. As we climbed, I sang it loudly over the roar of the engine, putting special emphasis on all of the bad words, simply because nobody could hear me.

Being totally alone for the first time in an aircraft is an experience unlike any other. For the first time, the true magnitude of the element in which I had been a perspiring student started to become apparent. Struggling to come to terms with a machine seemingly determined to defy my every effort to make it fly straight and level, I had failed to notice the true character of the sky. During the next several decades of my career as a pilot, I would discover that this character would always elude complete understanding.

I started my downwind turn. I carefully checked that I was the right distance from the airfield, that the height was correct and that everything about the aircraft was in order. Rather professionally, I considered, I carried out the downwind checks, which ensure the best chance of a safe arrival. Things like making sure there is enough fuel in the tank in use, that the brakes are off, and that the landing gear (or undercarriage as the RAF call it) is in the best position for landing (i.e. not retracted.) It is also considered kindly to look after the engine by making sure that there is no carburettor ice. Better communicate, I thought.
''Tower, four four echo downwind,'' I called.
''Four four echo, cleared to final approach, no other traffic.''
''Four four echo, roger.''
I realised with a bit of a shock that whilst I had been on the radio I had allowed myself to gain some two hundred feet and had lost about twenty knots of airspeed. I corrected the deficiencies and determined to concentrate on the basics - aviate, navigate, communicate. in that order. The big test was now looming very close. Could I get this thing back on the ground in one piece. My mentor had told me many times that a good landing can only be made from a good approach and that, if the approach was sloppy, then an equally sloppy landing was inevitable. I determined to get this approach absolutely right. Nearing the end of the downwind leg, everything was looking reasonable. To my astonishment, as I turned base and started to lose height, I could hear my instructor behind me.
''A little on the fast side, laddie, remember, speed is controlled by raising or lowering the nose......watch your height.....still a bit fast.......aim for a descent rate of five hundred feet per minute......that's better..... start your turn onto finals now... nice gentle bank... reduce power a little more, you're a bit high....runway nicely under the nose.....that's a good rate of descent.....keep it there.....check harnesses one more time..... height is fine now ....that's good positioning...keep it coming.....almost there.....'' Then, suddenly, the rear cockpit was empty again and I realised that this time I had to get it right on my own. I would not let Mr. Mann down.
''Four four echo final approach,'' I told the tower.
''Four four echo is clear to land. Surface wind is zero eight zero at ten knots''

As the runway threshold slipped under me, I closed the throttle and started to feel for the ground. I gently pulled the stick back to raise the nose for the flare. The Chipmunk settled on the ground on her two main wheels, and the tail wheel only a couple of seconds later. It had been a textbook landing. I don't think I managed that degree of competence in a Chipmunk landing ever again. In a taildragger (an aircraft with a tail wheel) the landing is never over until the aircraft has come to a complete stop so I maintained a high degree of concentration all the way back to the line. Flt/Lt Mann was waiting for me as I taxied in. He puffed furiously on his pipe and said
''Got it back in one piece, then. Seen worse landings too. Well done laddie.''
''Thank you sir.''
''Enjoy it?''
''Very much.''
''Now you can start learning to fly. Don't get the idea that you're something special just because you're the first one on the course to solo. You all have a lot to learn.''
''Yes, sir, I know that, but I'll never have another first solo. That was special.''
Mann gave me a curious look. He knew exactly how I felt.
''True, laddie, very true.''

Archived comments for First Solo
CLJ on 2002-09-13 12:12:59
Re: First Solo
Was a teensy touch disappointed when I realised this had absolutely nothing to do with furry rodenty types...for all of about thirty seconds.

This was a fabulous tale...enjoyed totally by someone who normally shuts eyes tight, grits teeth and prays like crazy during take off and landing..whilst cutting of the circulation off the poor unfortunate in the seat beside me!

This was well told and I was with you every step of the way....Great read!

Author's Reply:

harv on 2002-09-13 12:37:46
Re: First Solo
Fantastic (...I'm an aeronautical engineer - at least in spirit these days).

Marvellously written. Has it been published?

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2002-09-13 13:04:37
Re: First Solo
Thanks for your comment harv. It is a modified exerpt from my book Skytrucker currently in the course of publication. Are you still in the aviation biz?

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2002-09-13 13:06:07
Re: First Solo
Thank you Crista for your kind comment. Sorry about your disappointment! Furry rodents just ain't my thing!

Author's Reply:

Nevada on 2002-09-13 13:21:04
Re: First Solo
Keep the aviation stuff coming Allen. I love it Personally I know the Chipmunk well from my ATC days though it doesn't compare to the Nimrod of course.

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2002-09-13 14:34:23
Re: First Solo
Thanks Neil. I never was involved with Nimrods although I flew as a passenger on board a Nimrod operated by 120 at Lossie. Nice beast. I still prefer the Herky though!

Author's Reply:

harv on 2002-09-13 16:23:24
Re: First Solo
Only indirectly - mostly software and systems for aircraft is as close as I get 🙁

Did manage to get to Farnborough this year though (v. disappointed with the flying displays though).

Author's Reply:

dgl on 2002-09-14 13:28:24
Re: First Solo
In common with CLJ, I was looking forward to an erotic tale about miscegenating with fat-cheeked vermin, but I was not disappointed when I read the story. I don't normally like this kind of storyline- as I have never been into vehicles. However, the style is engaging and would work well with any medium. It is likely that you would find a market in magazines for flight enthusiasts. Your style is strong and I feel that it will be saleable. Good luck.

Author's Reply:

shadow on 2002-09-15 23:24:34
Re: First Solo
Brilliant! Allowed me to share an experience which could never have in real life.

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2002-09-16 07:51:55
Re: First Solo
Many thanks for your kind comment and fpr making this a Hot Pick. Much appreciated.

Author's Reply:

Gemma - A special lady (posted on: 06-09-02)
I was there when Gemma was born. I was right there as she struggled to make her appearance into the world at two thirty on a chilly March morning.

I held her when she was just ten minutes old and I marvelled at how perfect she was.

I was there when her brother and her sister were born too, but something deep inside me told me that Gemma was very special. She lay quietly in my arms, her eyes tightly shut. Looking at the tiny creature I marvelled at the perfection of her body and realised at that moment that we were destined to be very close indeed.

Gemma was the absolute replica of her mother. She had almost exactly the same markings, even down to the white smudge over her right eye. When she was old enough to leave her mother, I proudly collected the Springer Spaniel puppy and bore her in triumph to her new home. Although she was surrounded by new toys and every care had been taken to ensure her comfort and well-being, the first two or three nights were traumatic both for the puppy and for me. Common sense dictated that I should let her get used to her new surroundings without interference but I was unable to bear the whimpering and went downstairs rather too frequently to reassure the little dog.

As the clumsy puppy grew into a graceful dog, her true character emerged. From the start, she was potentially every inch the field champion that both her parents had been. When we walked together, she would scamper around with her nose stuck to the ground in typical Spaniel fashion. If I were to attract her attention and click the fingers of my left hand, she would take her place by my left leg and stay there as if anchored to me although she had never received training in that respect. She would sit, stay and fetch on command and had the eagerness to please which is so typical of the breed.

Retreiving was difficult for Gemma, as she could never bring herself to pick up any bird. I hasten to add that the only birds I ever attempted to shoot were the wood pigeons, more than capable of stripping a whole field of wheat if given the opportunity. She would stand beside the fallen bird with the sorrowful expression that only a spaniel can achieve. However, she would joyfully chase and catch the water rats around the pond, and despatch them with enthusiasm.

If dogs are truly reincarnations, then in a previous existence, Gemma must surely have been a nurse. In the rambling old farmhouse where we lived, the stairs were quite difficult to negotiate. My grandson who was living with us at the time was a new but extremely proficient crawler. Ascending the staircase was an achievement that he found ridiculously easy. Getting back down was another matter. My attention was drawn to the fact that there was a problem of some nature by the frantic barking. Gemma seldom barked without due cause. On investigation, I discovered Jonathan poised on the top step. He had pulled himself to his feet by using the handrail and was swaying unsteadily from side to side. On the step below him, Gemma had blocked the stairs, effectively preventing him from attempting the descent.

On the frequent occasions when Jonathan had some minor injury, the dog would fuss round him, generally getting in the way, but trying her best to reassure and comfort the child. The boy and the dog were inseparable and when Jonathan went to school for the first time, Gemma was inconsolable. Despite her strong attachment to my grandson, she remained very firmly my dog. For me and for no other, she would perform several tricks although I have never taught a dog to 'beg'. Her favourite trick was to roll over and play dead if I pointed my finger at her and said ''Bang''.

Because spaniels and Springers in general are known to be avid hunters, it is common for people to excite the dog by excitedly saying ''Rats'' or something similar. I never used that word with Gemma. I realised, of course that such excitement is at times necessary for boisterous dogs so I used the word ''Camel'' in place of both rats and cats. It caused great amusement to our visitors to see Gemma, having been invited to 'search for camels' looking hopefully under chairs and sniffing excitedly at cupboard doors.

She was very conscious of the inner dog and eagerly anticipated meal times. We fed the dogs at five-thirty in the evening. Co-incidentally, that was the time when the lady of the house settled down to watch a certain Australian soap. Consequently, the theme tune from 'Neighbours' had a profoundly Pavlovian effect on Gemma. Should anyone be forgetful enough to whistle the theme at an inappropriate time, there was a flurry of activity terminating with a Springer standing by her food bowl with a hopeful expression on her face and her ears pricked up.

We rescued another dog when Gemma was six years old. She was a small puppy whose parentage would probably have occupied the resources of the Genealogical College for some months. My youngest son, then a teenager and totally smitten by a recruit to the Royal Family, decided that the newcomer would be known as Fergie. The new puppy was instantly adopted by Gemma and incredibly, was totally housetrained by her in a very short space of time.

When I set off on my forays across the fields, (I professed to be a farmer in my spare time) the two dogs always accompanied me. Gemma would trot sedately at my side and Fergie would trot beside Gemma. To better maintain her station on the older dog, Fergie would take Gemma's ear in her mouth and the three of us would stride across the fields, inspecting our domain.

As the years passed, Gemma's passion for anything edible produced a certain comfortable rotundity and, as befits an older dog, she became less active. At the age of eleven, I noticed that she was losing interest in many of the activities that she enjoyed so much. The vet carried out an examination and diagnosed a type of leukaemia apparently not unusual in spaniels. A blood transfusion appeared to be the only solution. Fergie saved Gemma's life by providing the vital fluid and Gemma was almost her old self again.

To my immense sorrow, the ailment returned after about a year. This time there was to be no respite. Gemma died very peacefully in her basket during one warm afternoon in June. I constructed a box for her and we lined it with the blanket from her bed. I felt it important that Fergie should be aware of circumstances so she was allowed to investigate. We were deeply moved when Fergie fetched one of her own favourite toys and dropped it in the box with Gemma.

I buried my old friend under a cherry tree in the garden the next day.

Rest in peace Gemma.

Archived comments for Gemma - A special lady
shadow on 2002-09-07 13:59:45
Re: Gemma - A special lady
I found this very moving. It made me think of my own much loved Bonnie and Judy, now sadly no longer with us.

Author's Reply:

ali364 on 2002-11-02 18:03:04
Re: Gemma - A special lady
I'm a total 'softie' when it comes to stories about animals..I liked your style just the right amount of pathos in your story....to make the reader feel 'involved' ..Gemma and Fergie come across as real' characters..felt quite sad that Gemma had died and the last line about Fergie's favourite toy being dropped into the box...that really 'got' to me.....Sheila

Author's Reply:

Dale Brown multiple best selling author chats with Allen (posted on: 30-08-02)
Dale Brown is a former captain in the US Air Force. Born in Buffalo, New York, he now lives in Nevada, a State that, perhaps by coincidence is the location of the top-secret advanced aircraft and weapons facility about which many of his best sellers are centred.

Whilst serving in the Air Force as a navigator-bombardier, he flew over 2,500 hours and was decorated several times. It was whilst he was thus employed that he wrote his first book, the highly acclaimed "Flight of the Old Dog." Since that first novel, Dale has written an impressive list of best sellers including, Silver Tower, Day of the Cheetah, Hammerheads, Sky Masters, Night of the Hawk, Chains of Command, Storming Heaven, Shadows of Steel, Fatal Terrain, The Tin Man, Battle Born, Warrior Class and Wings of Fire.

He is also cooperating with Jim DeFelice on another series of novels based around the facility in the Nevada desert. The comments and reviews by such worthy publications as the New York Times and Publishers Weekly confirm that Dale Brown is one of the most highly acclaimed authors of our time and I am greatly honoured by his kindness in agreeing to answer a few questions for UK Authors.

Allen: Dale, thank you for taking the time to talk to us. UK Authors is a website for mostly unpublished authors here in England and your success as a writer is something that most of us can only dream of. May I ask you, first of all, when did you first start to write seriously?

Dale: I started writing fiction and news articles for my high school newspaper in 1972, but I really didn't realize the excitement and potential of writing until 1976 at Penn State University. I thought I could do better than one of the daily columnists, wrote my own column, and submitted it. I had that column for 2 years and was paid $2 per piece ($6 per week). Just about paid for beer calls, but I was happy.

Allen: Your first novel was Flight of the Old Dog. Was it hard to find a publisher? I imagine that high technology novels would not score highly on every publisher's list.

Dale: Other than the good fortune to realize that it takes persistence to get published as well as talent, I also had the good fortune to have Tom Clancy's "The Hunt For Red October" and "Red Storm Rising" and Stephen Coonts' "Flight of the Intruder" come out just before "Flight of the Old Dog." So I give some credit to being in the right place at the right time. Techno-thrillers aren't a new genre, but it is a change from a strict war story, a political thriller, or sci-fi.
But the point is this: write whatever you like. Don't worry about whether it'll be "hot." Remember it takes time for most books to make it to the bookstore shelves, so what is hot now might not be in 12-24 months, and vice versa.
These days, I think it's important to find an agent and let him comb the market for you. Few publishers buy fiction "over the transom"--they simply don't have time to cull through hundreds of queries and manuscripts per week. It took me several months and hundreds of queries to find an agent; it then took another several months for him to find a publisher and make a deal. It's not "hard" to do, but again, it takes persistence.

Allen: It is immediately obvious that a great deal of research is involved with all of your books. Your military service will have provided a lot of the technical content, but you have an uncanny grasp of world politics. Do you use the internet for research or perhaps you have a lot of friends in high places!

Dale: I have a few friends in high places, but I rely on the Internet, newspapers, and world TV news for information. The rest comes from my imagination.
I still believe in getting technical details right--and my readers demand it--but plot can be as fanciful and as wild as you dare. As the old saying goes, "Don't let the truth get in the way of a good story!"

Allen: The New York Daily News is quoted as saying "Clancy's got serious company" Do you list Tom Clancy amongst your favourite authors?

Dale: I have all of Clancy's books, but I don't have time to read them. I listen to some audiobooks when traveling. "Red Storm Rising" is one of my favorites.

Allen: Assuming that you ever get time to read, which authors would you say were your favourites?

Dale: I like Richard Bach, Richard Herman, Stuart Woods, Bill Woods, and John Lescroart. I used to read a book a week--now I'm lucky if I read one a month--not counting children's books, though! I love reading to my son.

Allen: Do you base your characters on real people? Patrick McLanahan, for example has a background quite similar to your own.

Dale: I readily admit that, like most first novels I think, "Flight of the Old Dog" is a "fantasy autobiography"--the adventures you wished you had. I definitely wanted to be Patrick McLanahan--the lonely, quiet, unassuming guy with a little bit of an attitude that was the acknowledged world expert in strategic attack.

Allen: When you set out to write a new book, do you formulate the complete story line prior to starting or do you let the plot and extra characters (I am assuming that McLanahan and his crew will feature anyway) find their own place as the story develops?

Dale: I start a new book usually with a new technology and a setting ("Air Battle Force" is unmanned B-1 bombers fighting over Turkmenistan). I start out with my little core group of characters and expand out as needed--I try to reincorporate characters from previous books in new ones to maintain some continuity. The characters will almost always assume their own identities and personalities. LET THEM.

Allen: It is very difficult to find a Literary Agent to handle an unpublished writer. Do you have any thoughts on how an unknown author would best be able to surmount such an important obstacle?

Dale: Again, the key to finding an agent is persistence!
Look at the life of an agent. Unless they're established, most agents comb through hundreds of queries and manuscripts a week. They have to--that's how they pay the rent and earn a living. But they know they have to work fast because there are so many to slog through. So your query has to be fresh, tight, sharp, and right to the point, or they'll feel compelled to go on to the next.
So if you have a list of agents that represent your particular genre and you go through the list and query all of them once, query them again. If they've written back, reference their first response and tell them how you addressed their concerns (did you fix plot problems? Did you make it longer? Shorter? How is it different?). Most agents don't write back; others reject you simply because they're too busy with current clients. But clients come and go, so a "no" six months earlier might be a "yes" today.
But make sure your query is the absolute best it can be. You have about 200 words--about 2 minutes--to tell the reader about your book and about yourself. What you say in your query has to be straight to the point and paint an image in the agent's mind that fast.

Allen: Would you ever consider electronic publishing?

Dale: I would definitely consider electronic publishing--in fact, I publish a short monthly newsletter (go to http://www.AirBattleForce.com).
Yes, you can e-publish your work for free--but why? Don't be afraid to set up a Web site and e-publish your work for a fee. Do what the bookstores and e-sellers do--give the reader a taste of what your book is about with a good synopsis and some sample pages, then make it easy for them to buy it online.

Allen: Have you ever had an outright rejection? (and if so, how did you handle it?)

Dale: Since I'm trying to get into the screenwriting business as well as writing novels, yes, I've had lots of rejections lately. After the initial disappointment, just go on to the next agent or producer. Go back and rewrite both your query and your manuscript. Start on the next project while trying to sell the other.
But again, the word is persistence. Don't quit! I have a scrapbook with dozens and dozens of rejection letters in it--and those were just from the few agents that bothered to reply!

Allen: Several members of UK Authors are very interested in writing for
the screen. Would you want to become involved with direction and casting
when your works are converted to film? I hope that you would insist on editorial

Dale: I would want full access to the set and be able to observe the
cast and crew, but I wouldn't demand anything. I don't like folks
looking over my shoulder when I write, even if they've invested a lot of
money in my work. I know that if I sell my rights, they don't belong to
me unless the new owner needs my continued input.

Allen: Do you listen to music whilst writing? I can sense a definite
rhythm in your writing which drives the story along and makes it very
hard to put the book down!

Dale: Depends on the scene. Writing action scenes I have heavy metal
music or fast-paced rock and roll; most times I have classical
orchestral music on. It's on very softly so I can barely hear
it--headphones are a no-no. I have to be able to hear what's going on in
the house or else I'll get up to see what's going on. I used to be able
to write with the news on, but that's too distracting.

Allen: On behalf of all the members of UK Authors I would like to
thank you most sincerely for the time and effort that you have given in answering
my questions. May we wish you continuing success in your work and we hope
to see the Dale Brown movies in the near future. Do you have any last
words of advice for us?

Dale: Two words: KEEP GOING. Keep writing, Keep trying to sell your
material. Keep re-writing. Keep researching. Keep thinking. Keep
replanning. The most important quality in success is not talent, or
knowledge, or upbringing, or luck--it's (my favorite word) persistence.

Allen: Thanks a million, Dale.

Archived comments for Dale Brown multiple best selling author chats with Allen
harv on 2002-09-18 13:03:50
Re: Dale Brown multiple best selling author chats with Allen
Hey Skytrucker - I enjoyed this a lot. I've read quite a few of Dale Brown's books. "Flight of the Old Dog" was one of the first that brought the techno-thriller to my collection (and I've never looked back!). I thought it was fresher and more immediate than either Stephen Coonts' or Tom Clancy's work.

I have to say that the same is reflected in your writing - it's fresh, engaging and moves apace (whether article, autobio, or fiction).

As a struggling writer myself (and wholly unpublished), I know how easy it is to become daunted, and reduced to massive frustration at one's inability to get anywhere. These sort of articles just give me that extra bit of juice to keep going.

Author's Reply:

Gerry on 2002-10-15 11:47:29
Re: Dale Brown multiple best selling author chats with Allen
good interview--enjoyed the read.

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2002-10-15 13:07:45
Re: Dale Brown multiple best selling author chats with Allen
Thanks for your kind comments Harv. They are greatly appreciated.

Author's Reply:

Dear Mr McBride...Part Four (posted on: 30-08-02)
yet more emails to the boss

To: Mr T E McBride CEO
From: Capt. A Hall

April 13 2002

Dear Mr McBride.

I feel that I must correct any impression that you may have regarding the relationship between Miss Tomlinson and myself. Despite indications to the contrary, nothing of any significance took place at the Christmas party. When I went to the stationery store to rest, Miss Tomlinson was already there, and with the lights out, I tripped over her, thereby causing both of us to fall to the floor. Due, no doubt to our close proximity, she acted in a very friendly manner and I was not aware of any protest on her part. I was greatly surprised when she made a complaint some three days later.

I have apologised to the Financial Director who regrettably was on the receiving end of the phone call from her irate fianc. My understanding of the situation is that the gentleman telephoned the Company and demanded to speak to 'whoever was in charge.' It was a very regrettable situation and I trust that Mr Eggleton will recover soon. I also made an attempt to ease Jennifer's anger by inviting her to dinner at a venue of her choice. When she suggested the Stansted Hilton I naturally assumed that she would not wish to drive home afterwards, so I took the liberty of booking a double room for her. I had absolutely no idea that her fiance had followed her and had drawn a completely erroneous conclusion when he managed to persuade the Hilton receptionist to show him the register. I should mention, whilst on the subject of the Hilton, that I had every intention of paying the bill myself. How it came to be invoiced to the Company is a total mystery.

Regarding the incident in the dining room, the report made to the Company by the manager fails to point out that it was Miss Tomlinson's fianc who struck the first blow. I consider it entirely inappropriate for a vicar to behave in that manner or to use that sort of language, especially in the presence of a lady. Had I known that he was a man of the cloth, I would not have retaliated in the manner in which I did. Had I also been aware that he was trained in martial arts, I probably would not have been thrown onto the adjacent table. The elderly gentleman was quite understanding about the interruption to his meal.

Because of the valuable training in Interpersonal Relationships that I received as part of the Company induction processes, I was eventually able to convince the fianc that nothing untoward had been envisaged. We spent the rest of the evening drinking together at the bar to Jennifer's obvious irritation. I feel sure that you will agree that a vicar would never engage in the sort of behaviour that was alleged by the bar staff. Neither the reverend gentleman nor I requested the blonde barmaid to display any portion of her anatomy and we certainly did not suggest it loud enough for anyone else to hear.

As Miss Tomlinson had retired to the room that I had booked, the vicar and I decided to take advantage of the late licence available to residents. At around three in the morning, we decided to check on Jennifer to ensure that she was satisfied with her accommodation. We went to the room together because I had the key and the Rev. Dennis wanted to accompany me. I have to say that she was quite abusive when it was suggested that Dennis and I take the weight off our feet by lying on the bed beside her. Exhibiting surprising strength for such a slim lady, she propelled us both into the corridor and slammed the door behind us. I am happy to relate that she allowed us to collect our clothes on the following morning.

Our relationship has subsequently been somewhat frosty and I would ask you to request that Human Resources take that into account when dealing with her complaints.

Best regards

Allen Hall

Sally I know that you work in a different department, but obviously I cannot ask Jennifer to type this. Could you please spell check and send on my e.mail account. I need hardly ask you not to tell Jenny!! I owe you one babes!


Archived comments for Dear Mr McBride...Part Four
Carol on 2002-08-30 14:27:14
Re: Dear Mr McBride...Part Four
I absolutely adored this! I laughed out loud at the reference to the vicar! This really is clever stuff!

Author's Reply:

Nevada on 2002-09-12 08:03:16
Re: Dear Mr McBride...Part Four
Great Allen. Loved the martial arts vicar bit.

Author's Reply:

An Idle Thought (posted on: 26-08-02)
An attempt at this poetry stuff

An Idle Thought

Reflective glass, squared and squarely fixed
To the hard boundary of the room,
Answers the question posed through vanity
Never the craved response received
But another causing jealousy.

Archived comments for An Idle Thought
Carol on 2002-08-27 08:58:10
Re: An Idle Thought
How true! Ban all mirrors - that's what I say!

Author's Reply:

Andrea on 2002-08-27 09:31:06
Re: An Idle Thought
Well, it wasn't that obtuse!

Er...what does it mean?

Gave you a five for effort, though 🙂

Author's Reply:

Gerry on 2002-10-15 11:39:53
Re: An Idle Thought
Afraid so Allen, that's the way it is.
Nice little poem.

Author's Reply:

One Per Cent (posted on: 05-08-02)
I scribbled this piece in response to a comment made by a colleague on A Memo to Myself.

Imagine, if you will, a job where the remuneration is considerably in excess of the National Average. Imagine that ninety-nine percent of the working day is spent merely sitting in a comfortable chair watching an extremely expensive piece of electronic wizardry perform its function. A wonderful job, I hear you say. A sinecure, even. Money for old rope. You may be correct. On the other hand, it is the remaining percentage of the time that can allow a pilot to justify his whole salary for twelve months in a space of time as short as a few seconds.

Before my colleagues and I get too comfortable, however, we should bear in mind the extent of our reliance on other people, not actually inside the airplane. Some aircrew claim that the term 'Air Traffic Controller' is a misnomer, based on the fact that they do not actually control any aircraft in the physical sense. Certainly if we consider that an instruction issued by air traffic is unsafe we have the authority to refuse to comply. In reality, the ladies and gentlemen of the National Air Traffic Service carry out an extremely difficult task with enviable efficiency and their instructions are generally based on sound judgement and extensive experience.

It is when fate decides to stir the pudding and throw the well laid plans out of the window that the assistance of others is most urgently required to ensure a reasonable expectation of survival of the 'one-per-cent'. The purpose of these few lines is to pay tribute to those souls who, although not in actual danger, were otherwise fully influential in the outcome of the events.

We had departed from Luton late on evening in late October. Having only fairly recently been promoted to captain, I was pleasantly aware of my position and was enjoying the high level of responsibility. Our destination was Menorca and we were carrying some one hundred and twenty adults and children on the final holiday charter of the season. Being October and being England, the weather was rather unpleasant with a low cloudbase below which an irritating drizzle persisted. Our BAC1-11 soon climbed through the clouds and emerged into a pleasantly clear sky. Everything was proceeding precisely to plan and everything in our flying garden could be considered lovely when the aerial equivalent of Japanese Knotweed suddenly took control.

A warning light and the strident clanging of the fire bell indicated a fire in the rear baggage hold. Such warnings were not uncommon, as the temperature sensors were known to be somewhat pessimistic and tended to react to even minor temperature changes. Fire warnings are always treated with the utmost seriousness and even if it is obvious that no actual fire exists, discharge of the built-in fire extinguishers and a swift return to the ground is usually initiated.

The First Officer and I carried out the immediate fire drill and were attempting to find some evidence to prove or disprove the presence of a fire. The door to the flight deck opened to admit one of the cabin crew.
''There seems to be a bit of smoke in the cabin,'' she said. ''And there is a smell oflike..hot oil in the rear galley area.''
''And we have a rear baggage hold fire warning Sandy.'' Paul Jennings, my co-pilot was never one to make light of a situation.
''Go with Sandy and check it out,'' I told him. He climbed out of his seat and disappeared on his mission. Rather sooner than I had expected, he returned, his face white.
''There is definitely smoke back there and the smell is hydraulic fluid. I think we're in trouble.''

I made a swift, but rather obvious decision. We had to get the aircraft back on the ground before the situation deteriorated too much. It was time to involve the assistance of the folks on the ground. I pressed the radio transmit button and confessed our sorry plight to air traffic. Immediately, the well-oiled wheels of recovery started to turn. Our nearest diversion airfield was Southend on Sea, some thirty miles to the north. Whilst Paul spoke reassuringly to the passengers, I disconnected the autopilot and turned the aircraft north. The fire warning light was still glaring accusingly at me, indicating that the problem was refusing to go away.

Sandy came onto the flight deck again to tell us that there was now a good deal of smoke in the cabin and that several passengers were starting to panic. To add to our bag of ill fortune, two hydraulic warning lights flickered then lit up. These two lights represented our primary flying control system. To move the controls of a large transport aircraft without mechanical assistance would take the strength of superman. Once the pressure in the reservoirs was gone, I would be left with only a minute degree of control from the trim tabs. I had to be very sparing with control inputs in order to maintain the reservoir pressure for as long as possible.

When we explained our increasing problems to air traffic, they instantly came up with a solution. Our track to Southend would be an almost direct approach to the short runway. This runway was hardly ever used for large aircraft as it was uncomfortably short. It seemed to me that we had little choice. At least with such an approach our controls would in all probability be still functional but if I had to manoeuvre to make an approach to the long runway, we would run out of pressure. We opted for the short runway.

With something like fifteen miles to go, and with all the safety briefings delivered, I settled down to comply with the very precise instructions coming from the ground. It was similar to walking on a knife-edge as I gingerly applied tiny amounts of control whilst watching the pressure gauge drop alarmingly with every movement. Paul and I were startled to hear shouts coming from the cabin. Sandy rushed forward to say that the floor was getting very hot and that the smoke in the cabin was now quite visible. It was obvious that there was quite a substantial fire burning in the hold, probably fuelled by leaking hydraulic fluid. Because of the clear and calm instructions from air traffic, I was able to concentrate on the actual handling of the aircraft without worrying about direction or position.

At just a few miles to run, we broke out of the clouds and we saw the runway dead ahead of us. Thanks to the continuous guidance of air traffic, we were in exactly the right position and at precisely the correct height. The landing was going to be a difficult one but we were comforted to see the complete airport fire service ready to welcome us. Thankfully, the control pressure remained until just after touchdown and although the landing was uncomfortable, we stopped without running off the far end.

I ordered an immediate evacuation of the aircraft by the escape slides. Even as the first of the passengers made the undignified descent to the ground, the fire crews had the hold open and were pouring foam onto the fire that was raging inside. Happily, there was not a single injury although I learned later that within a further five minutes, the fire would have burned through the floor. In that event, the possibility of a safe landing would have been substantially reduced. Had we not had the most excellent guidance from air traffic control, we would have used up the five minutes in unnecessary manoeuvring.

Sometimes, control of a personal 'one per cent' relies heavily on others. Being able to depend on the complete professionalism of such people is greatly comforting during the 'ninety-nine per cent'.

Archived comments for One Per Cent
sirat on 2002-08-07 15:18:34
Re: One Per Cent
A fascinating account of something that must rank high in most people's worst nightmares. Brings back memories of all the great air disaster movies from "The High and the Mighty" on. John Wayne calmly explaining: "We'll only get one crack at this, so I think we'd better get it right..." I wonder what the aircrew really feel while somewthing like that is going on? Are they as calm and controlled as they appear or are they human too? I think what I would like to know is more about the thoughts and feelings going through your head as you make those tiny course corrections...

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2002-08-08 11:05:42
Re: One Per Cent
Sirat, It is almost invariably calm although obviously tense. The thoughts flying around in the cranium usually centre on getting it right first time, based on experience and feel for the aircraft. The possibility of getting it wrong cannot even enter into the equation. I think from that viewpoint we are probably sub-human! The act of keeping an aircraft on a fixed track or descent rate is pretty much the same as planing a fraction of an inch off a piece of timber. A little at a time - see how it goes - a little bit more - oops!
Flying an aircraft is not one of the black arts! Anyone who can walk and chew gum at the same time can keep it right side up and pointing in approximately the right direction. It's the operation of the thing that is tough at times!
maybe I should try writing a piece on the Philosophy of Aviation!
Thanks for your comments!

Author's Reply:

The Brian Lecomber interview. (posted on: 29-07-02)
Brian Lecomber talks to UKA Drama Editor Allen

Brian Lecomber is one of the most experienced aerobatic pilots in the world. In 21 years of professional display flying he has flown more than 1,800 public performances - an all-time world record for any single pilot.

Brian left school at 16 and began a career in journalism, firstly as a general reporter and then specialising in motoring. He was Technical Editor of Car Mechanics - at that time Britain's largest motoring magazine - when he started learning to fly in 1967 with one of the last flying clubs in Britain still operating Tiger Moth biplanes. From the moment of his first solo flight the journalistic career was doomed.

For a short time he was the wing-walker in a flying circus, and then became an instructor. In the early '70's he was Chief Instructor of the Antigua Aero Club, in the West Indies, and it was during this time that he started his first book, Turn Killer, based on his flying circus time coupled with first-hand experience of Mafia activity in the Caribbean.

Returning to England in late '74 he became a full-time author for the next four years, following Turn Killer with Dead Weight and the international best-seller, Talk Down. His books have been translated into 16 languages.

During this period Brian instructed on De Havilland Chipmunks at weekends "to keep myself sane". It was the Chipmunk which fostered his interest in aerobatics - "mainly because the thought of the aircraft being capable of more than I was irritated me".

In the late '70's Brian won most of the aerobatic competitions in the UK at various times, and also flew a replica 1917 Sopwith Camel with the Leisure Sport Warbirds display team, culminating in a seven-aircraft 'dogfight' routine at the Farnborough Air Show. He also bought and displayed his own aerobatic Stampe biplane.

In 1979 he joined the world-famous Rothmans Aerobatic Team - much to his publishers' disgust. He flew in the coveted Number Four position for two years - Number Four flying not only the formation manoeuvres but also the solo 'slot' in the display. The Team flew all over Britain and Europe, and also in the Middle East and Malaysia and Borneo

After leaving Rothmans Brian started his own company, Firebird Aerobatics Ltd, flying Pitts Specials and later the German-built Extra series of specialist aerobatic machines in both solo and formation displays. The aircraft operate in the colours of major sponsors, and at various times Brian has run solo aircraft for Dunlop, Toyota and Jaguar, and also the Daily Express Aerobatic Team and the Rover Aerobatic Team.

Brian has been British Freestyle Aerobatic Champion, and has accumulated a number of other awards and honours including, in 1999, the Guild of Air Pilots Sword of Honour for services to display flying. He has flown more than 6,000 hours (including more than 300 hours actually on live public display) and is an Examiner and Display Evaluator on behalf of the British Civil Aviation Authority.

Allen: Hello Brian. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. I guess that you will be aware that UKAuthors is a website for aspiring writers and we are all hungry for the sort of information and advice that can help us along the road to becoming a published author. When and how did you start to write seriously?

Brian: Before flying professionally I'd been a journalist for 5 or 6 years, on newspapers and then motoring magazines. I quit that and went to the Caribbean as a flying instructor, got fed up with instructing after a couple of years, and sat down to write a book. (Turn Killer. Dreadful book). I wrote it 'cos I needed the money.

Allen: I expect that you collected the usual thick file of rejection letters! Did you ever feel like just giving up?

Brian: I was lucky - I never had a rejection letter. The first publisher I took it to (Hodders) made an offer and I rejected them because I didn't think it was enough. They took this in a very gentlemanly manner, and directed me to a top class agent: this is vitally important because thereafter you never really think about publishers again. With hindsight I was very lucky - but at the time it never entered my head that it might be difficult getting a book published, probably because I was used to seeing my journalistic work in print. Perhaps that confidence made a difference when I was writing the book - I've no way of knowing.

Allen: One frequently asked question concerns Literary Agents. Do you use their services or would you recommend direct approaches to publishers?

Brian: For fiction, definitely an agent. Quite apart from anything else, man cannot live by British royalties alone, and no individual can flog his own book in 50 countries. (Text books etc might be different).

Allen: Do you always draft a novel before you start or do you just let the action happen? For instance, Dead Weight and Turn Killer are excellent plots and could have been equally exciting if set in other fields. Did the flying aspect govern the course of action?

Brian: I always aim to draft a book before starting to write - I've come a cropper by getting started and hoping it'll work itself out. Aviation has always been the backdrop of my books, so 'govern' isn't a term I'd use - it's a part of the whole.

Allen: Happily for me, your books centre on flying. Would you ever consider writing a book that does not involve aviation?

Brian: Probably not.

Allen: Have you ever just given up on a struggling plot and trashed the whole thing?

Brian: Yes - the result of not having thought the bloody thing through before getting started. If I ever write again I'll not pick up a pen until I know the end of the story. (More important than knowing the beginning, that)

Allen: When you are in the process of writing a book, would you set yourself a target of so many words per day or would you write as the mood takes you?

Brian: Must have a target or it never gets done. You might throw it away afterwards (I throw about 80% away anyway) but for me, I must have discipline or I piss off down the pub.

Allen: Most of our members take their work fairly seriously. How important would you consider that to be?

Brian: Different people, different drives. I took it seriously due to the tiresome need to continue eating, buying a house, etc. Others may do their best work light-heartedly.

Allen: Assuming that your schedule allows you time to read, what sort of books do you prefer and who are your favourite authors?

Brian: Books that pick me up and move me somewhere else. Gavin Lyall, Neville Shute, Ernest Gann (the best), Patrick O'Brien, John Mortimer.

Allen: We are, most of us, strongly influenced by works that we have read and enjoyed. Can you point to any author who has had a strong influence on your writing?

Brian: See above. However, for me, I can never read a favourite author during a period when I'm writing myself. If I do, his style will 'rub off' into my work.

Allen: There is a strong undercurrent of humour in your work. How important is it to entertain as well as tell the story?

Brian: I don't know - I go by gut feel.

Allen: Despite the concerns and pitfalls, e- publishing is becoming more widespread. Do you have any views on the subject?

Brian: Not really - I'm not that current.

Allen: Apart from the obvious elation, how did you feel when you were first accepted for publication?

Brian: I wanted to see my name in print - on the cheque...

Allen: Is the majority of your research carried out before starting a draft or do you fill in details as you see the requirement?

Brian: Generally I don't do research.

Allen: It would be of great interest to find out how your career as a writer developed, warts and all!

Brian: Writing was bloody boring and developed into a career as a display pilot.

Allen: You have achieved great success in both display flying and in writing. I know that your display work is continuing, but can we hope for any more books in the future?

Brian: Maybe, maybe not. We'll just have to wait and see!

Allen: Thank you again for giving us the opportunity of talking to you. We wish you continued success.
Archived comments for The Brian Lecomber interview.

TomSaunders on 2002-09-05 19:53:51
Re: The Brian Lecomber interview.
Very interesting.

Author's Reply:

Dear Mr McBride...Part Three (posted on: 12-07-02)
To: Mr T E McBride CEO
From: Capt. A Hall

April 11 2002

Dear Mr McBride.

Thank you for your letter.

May I start by commenting on your fine sense of humour. Not many men in your position would sign themselves as ''The Old Fart,'' especially on Company Letterhead.

As you so forcibly suggested, I have taken Simon Watson, my First Officer aside and requested that he explain the circumstances of the arrest and subsequent delay to the departure of our aircraft from Tenerife. It appears that whilst dining in the Sombrero restaurant, he had extended his hand behind him to relieve muscular tension. At this point, the waitress reversed onto his hand. He tells me that he is unsure why she was walking backwards.

The ensuing difference of opinion between Simon and the German live-in partner of the waitress was greatly exaggerated by the police. There was admittedly, a somewhat bitter exchange of epithets between the two and one or two blows may have been struck. To describe the incident as a running battle would be an outrageous amplification of the actual sequence of events. Simon has assured me that he climbed up on the counter in an attempt to escape from the other party who was brandishing cutlery in a threatening manner. The subsequent collapse of the counter and accompanying demolition of the adjoining cold display cabinet confirms my long held suspicions regarding the quality of Mediterranean construction work.

It was unfortunate that the two German tourists who were also dining at the Sombrero decided to become involved. On reflection, it was probably not conducive to Anglo-German relationships to demonstrate the goose-step when the situation was already so tense. I was not aware that the waitress's partner was so sensitive about the history of his fatherland. You might care to consider that the odds were now heavily weighted against us and that it was predictable that the two English diners decided to attempt to recover the situation. I imagine that the inference made by the manager of the restaurant was not well received. After all, it is unjustified to refer to a person as a 'Tattooed English lager-lout' without just cause. I am not certain as to how the manager's head got wedged in the toilet bowl, but I am sure that he will recover fully in the course of time.

The small fire caused when I accidentally knocked over a table bearing the oil lamp would not have spread to the roof of the restaurant had I not been prevented from extinguishing it by the only means at my disposal. Any reasonable person would have considered that there was enough confusion without accusing me of indecent exposure.

I am of the opinion that there is no such thing as bad publicity. The coverage of the events at the Sombrero by the local television station mentioned the airline no less than seven times. I am disappointed that you feel that the reputation of the Company has been harmed. Perhaps an investigation into the relationship between the young lady journalist and the owner of the Sombrero might provide a clue as to her very obvious bias against us. It was unfair to attempt to interview us as we were leaving the police station after our release. I strongly suspect that the soundtrack was overdubbed because I most certainly do not recall inviting her cameraman to insert his equipment into any portion of his anatomy.

Once again, I regret that you have been troubled by circumstances concerning my crew. I have taken appropriate steps to ensure that your warnings and instructions regarding Company reputation are taken fully into account.

Best regards

Allen Hall

Jenny You did it AGAIN! Surely you must have realised that when I wrote about 'the old fart,' it wasn't meant to be included! If this is some sort of revenge for the regrettable episode at the Christmas party, I already apologised for that.


Archived comments for Dear Mr McBride...Part Three
Carol on 2002-07-14 11:21:15
Re: Dear Mr McBride...Part Three
Hilarious! I just love the 'domino effect' storyline!
Your letter conjured up such funny images. Extremely enjoyable.

Author's Reply:

geordietaf on 2002-07-15 07:14:31
Re: Dear Mr McBride...Part Three
You obviously don't fly for Virgin... The letters are building up into a great series, and I also like the interplay between "you" and Jenny (or was it foreplay?)

Author's Reply:

Spanishgypsy on 2002-08-07 11:41:44
Re: Dear Mr McBride...Part Three
Very funny Skytrucker!, and well written. I think I may have ran into your crew on the Costa, and I hate to tell you....... but they are still at it!!!!

Author's Reply:

Dear Mr McBride...Part Two (posted on: 05-07-02)
more e.mails to the boss.

From: Capt. A Hall

April 10 2002

Dear Mr McBride,

Thank you for your memo, which I read on my return from Malaga.

I can readily see how my remark about the 'Old Buzzard' might have been open to misinterpretation and I apologise for any offence caused.

I note from your memo that you wish to discuss crew discipline as a matter of some urgency. As applied to the ladies of the Cabin Crew, perhaps the cabin Crew Supervisor could more effectively handle this aspect. I feel that the matter of their alleged dancing on the tables in the lounge bar in the Ramada Hotel in Barcelona is of little significance. There were two Qantas crews also in residence and it would have been difficult to identify our girls as they had their skirts over their heads. I suspect that the elderly gentleman who attempted to climb on the table with them probably just overbalanced. I am sure that neither of our girls actually pushed him and I feel certain that neither girl would ever utter the phrase ''dirty old perv''.

With reference to the damage to the ceiling fan in the dining room, I agree that the situation was allowed to get out of hand. My First Officer, as you will be aware, was until recently a serving officer in the Royal Air Force. He was demonstrating an Officers' Mess tradition known as 'Stop the Fan'. The procedure, as I understand it, involves climbing on an array of furniture and allowing each passing fan blade to brush the top of the head, applying increasing pressure until the blades finally stop. The major problem arose when I remembered your warning about behaviour and instructed him to desist. He misunderstood my instruction of ''Stop that immediately!'' and placed his head straight into the path of an advancing blade. I am told that cold water and a mixture of vinegar and bleach is effective at removing blood from carpets.

I trust that the foregoing will set your mind at rest. I try to ensure that my crew endeavours to present a good image of the Company at all times.

Best regards

Allen Hall

Jen, this next bit is NOT for transmission. The old fart will probably try to switch all my schedules and drag me into the office for a 'personal chat'. Please try to find out from his PA Myra I think is her name if he intends to do that.


Archived comments for Dear Mr McBride...Part Two
shadow on 2002-09-04 23:21:51
Re: Dear Mr McBride...Part Two
I do like your 'Mr McBride' emails, they throw such a valuable light on the workings of a modern airline. Please keep them coming.

Author's Reply:

Dear Mr McBride - Part One (posted on: 01-07-02)
To: Mr T E McBride C.E.O. April 7 2002
From: Capt. A Hall

Dear Mr McBride,

Ref: Your telephone call of April 7.

I regret that I was unable to take your call personally. As you will be aware, I was, at the time of your call, some 400 miles away, over the Atlantic Ocean. Miss Jennifer Thomlinson apprised me of the content of your message and I feel that it is appropriate to answer you by e-mail.

May I state quite firmly that the circumstances and the ensuing complaints have been greatly overstated. The allegations made by the manager of the Athens Hilton are almost without foundation. I believe that he referred to an unprovoked attack on the piano player in the Residents' Lounge. I concede that there were a few cross words over his reluctance to play Zorba the Greek more than once, but perhaps he should have realised that we had practiced the dance in the bar for several hours and were eager to demonstrate to our Greek hosts that we were all part of a big global community and that their culture was our culture and so on. I am still convinced that the lid of the piano simply fell on his fingers and I believe he hopes to be able to play again by mid September.

The misunderstanding with the chef was due entirely to his lack of Basic English. At no time did I accuse him of having dubious sexual habits. The gesture that I made was meant to convey a suggestion that he shake the ketchup bottle more vigorously before serving.

I turn now to the regrettable incident concerning the dead rat. As you are doubtless aware, it is incumbent on a crew commander to ensure the safety of all food served to any crewmember. The rodent in question had expired on the road leading to the hotel. It had been my intention to advise the hotel management at the earliest opportunity for reasons of food safety. It was not my intention to infer that it had been served up as a constituent of the Moussaka and I regret any confusion that may have arisen from its discovery on my plate.

Neither my crew nor I was aware that the gentleman who objected to the Traditional Greek Dancer's presence in my room was the British Ambassador. His accusation that I referred to him as a ''bloody chinless wonder'' is completely without foundation. I did not, at any time assault him, but I remember seeing him trip and fall as he left my room. I did not offer to staunch the bleeding as I am not qualified in First Aid and the words ''public schoolboy woose'' were never uttered.

With reference to the discovery of washing-up liquid in the ornamental fountain in the hotel lobby, I can only imagine that the bottle that my First Officer had purchased to take home must have fallen into the water. The damage caused to the carpet was not as serious as alleged, and I very much doubt that it was worth the amount of money stated. I feel that the bottle should have carried a warning about the bleach content in any case.

I trust that these notes will clear up any misunderstanding.

Best regards

Allen Hall

Jenny, can you please send this to McBride as soon as I have left for Malaga. I don't want the old buzzard hounding me on the phone.


To: Mr T E McBride C.E.O. April 8 2002
From: Capt. A Hall

Dear Mr McBride.

Your phone message, received when I was in Malaga has been passed to me by Jennifer.

It was an unfortunate slip on my part to fail to clarify to Jennifer that the last few lines of my previous e-mail were not part of my message to you. I can well understand your indignation, but I hasten to explain that the 'Old Buzzard' referred to was not your good self but the Operations Secretary who is affectionately known by that nickname.

I accept without question that a captain is responsible for the actions of his crew, but I feel it unjust to hold me responsible for a paternity suit brought against my First Officer. I have taken the matter up with him and he assures me that no promises of matrimony were made and that the lady in question was already showing signs of intoxication prior to the visit to his room.

I agree wholeheartedly that the matter of crew discipline needs to be addressed at the earliest opportunity.

Best regards

Allen Hall
Archived comments for Dear Mr McBride - Part One
geordietaf on 2002-07-04 08:45:05
Re: Dear Mr McBride - Part One
Very, very funny. I hope it's from your imagination and not true-life!

Author's Reply:

on 2002-07-05 16:54:17
Re: Dear Mr McBride - Part One
Sorry, I'm not a member here because I can't write for toffee. This was pointed out to me by a friend of mine. really funny, hope theres more to come.

Dan Harmer (also a pilot)

Author's Reply:

Mikeverdi on 25-06-2014
Dear Mr McBride - Part One
Thought I would go back to the beginning, pleased I did. really funny writing.

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 25-06-2014
Dear Mr McBride - Part One
Thanks Mike!

Author's Reply:

Splash One Tanker (posted on: 21-06-02)
We are facing into the setting sun as we line up on the runway. By looking to my right, I see my colleague Danny Martin. I know that it is Danny because we walked out to our aircraft together.

Splash one Tanker!

We are facing into the setting sun as we line up on the runway. By looking to my right, I see my colleague Danny Martin. I know that it is Danny because we walked out to our aircraft together. Because of the silver helmet and the tinted visor his face is not visible and I know that he has the same perspective of me. Side by side, we are poised at the end of the runway. Over eight thousand feet of asphalt extends in front of us as we await clearance to go.

Through the headphones inside my helmet, I hear Wing Operations clear us for take-off. All of the fidgeting with harnesses has long since been carried out and we are ready to take to the air. I acknowledge the transmission and raise my gloved hand as a signal to Danny. Although I cannot see into his cockpit, I can tell from the way the nose of his aircraft dips that he is running both of his engines up to full power. He is aware that I am doing likewise. I press my toes forward on the brakes and release the parking brake. My raised right hand drops smartly and I release the brakes. In perfect harmony, both of our aircraft rock slightly then bound forward. Check on the gauges. Both engines delivering full power. Temperatures and pressures good. Airspeed increasing. I glance to my right. Danny is perfectly on station. There is a distance of twenty feet between our wingtips.

I feel the pressure of acceleration as we pass the point where we are committed to fly even if we have a failure of some description. To attempt to stop now would result in a long and embarrassing excursion off the far end of the runway. The aircraft feels light and I know we are ready to fly even without reference to the airspeed indicator. From the corner of my eye, I see Danny's aircraft lift off the ground. I ease the control column back and suddenly, the rumble of the wheels on the runway ceases. I snap the landing gear selector to the up position and I hear the hydraulic jacks pull the wheels up into the wells and close the doors.
Danny and I have agreed that we will stay low after take-off. We are twenty feet off the ground and travelling at almost two hundred miles per hour as we flash over the red and white caravan at the end of the runway. I turn my head to the right and point upwards. Danny raises his hand in acknowledgement. Hard back on the stick and I feel my body weight quadruple as we scream upwards. The two Bristol Siddeley Sapphire engines in the Javelin will stay at full power until we have reached our first operating altitude of twenty-four thousand feet. The climb to that height will take us less than six minutes.

In the rear cockpit, John Waterstone my navigator is warming up his radar gear in preparation for the exercise we are tasked to perform. The term 'navigator' is somewhat of a misnomer. The man riding behind me is responsible for finding our target, getting us pointed in the correct direction when it is time to go home and a myriad of other tasks. They have a jaundiced view of life.

Navigators view pilots in the same way that a film star views a chauffeur. We are there, in their opinion, only to convey the four missiles carried on the wings of our Gloster Javelin to a position appropriate for firing at a target. They only grudgingly acknowledge the part we play in getting the aircraft into the air and back down again.

At the required height, I ease the control column forward and reduce power to our cruise setting. Even at this reduced power, our mount guzzles fuel at an alarming rate. Our so-called 'linger time' is therefore severely limited. However, protruding forward from the underside of my left wing is a long piece of tubing, approximately four inches in diameter. It extends forward to a point where I can see the forward end by looking down and to the left. This device is an in-flight refuelling probe. By linking this probe with a hose trailed behind a tanker aircraft, we are able to receive fuel in the air. One of our tasks today is to rendezvous with an American Air Force tanker and take on enough fuel to complete our second task.

Danny falls in beside me again although he is now some five hundred feet to my right. John has been using his radar to find the tanker and now he announces that the American is twenty miles ahead of us. Slowly, we close the distance until, at around five miles, I can see the big aircraft against the darkening sky. The vapour trails from his four engines point a white pathway to our goal. It would be a very simple matter for me to simply fly along the contrail but John has other ideas. He gives me a series of complicated course changes which I follow obediently, knowing that from his cockpit, he cannot actually see the tanker. I decide to play him along by claiming that I cannot see the big aircraft and ask him if he is absolutely certain that we are going in the right direction. When I tire of the sport, I admit to having visual contact. He mutters darkly about bloody pilots and childish games. It pleases me to irritate him so because we are very good friends and I know that he will bear me no malice when we land.

We creep up behind the tanker. I have reduced our closing speed to less than five miles per hour. We are one hundred feet behind him. I make a short radio transmission to tell him so, and he tells me that the hose is coming out. A long fuel hose unwinds from behind the aircraft. At the end of the hose there is a conical device known as the basket. It is my function to manoeuvre the aircraft so as to engage the end of the probe on my aircraft into this basket. The closing speed must be very precise. Too fast, and the probe will push the basket aside and even possibly break the end off the probe. Too slow, and the two will not latch and no fuel can flow. I need to hit the basket dead centre with a closing speed of precisely four miles per hour.

Buffeting around in the tanker's slipstream, this is not a simple task. I juggle with the throttle and with the airbrakes to maintain an honest direction and the correct speed. The disturbed and turbulent air disturbed by the tanker's progress causes the basket to oscillate violently. It is akin to threading a needle wearing boxing gloves whilst riding a monocycle. The ride in our aircraft is uncomfortable and John complains bitterly. At last, the deed is done, and we are locked to the tanker.
The connection is confirmed and the precious fuel starts to flow at one hundred gallons per minute. I have to draw three hundred gallons from our benefactor. Three minutes is an eternity in this situation. Exact position has to be maintained or the connection will be broken.

Eventually, I tell the tanker crew that we have taken sufficient for our needs. I thank him most kindly and ask if he might care to check our oil and wash the windshield. He laughs and tells me you're welcome buddy. Yew-all have a nice day now. I reduce power and drop away from the tanker.

John and I watch as Danny sidles up to the rear of the tanker rather like a thief in the night. I note with some measure of satisfaction that he makes three attempts at engaging the hose before finally taking on his fuel. He will have to buy me a drink in the mess for that terrible display. When we have both drunk our fill, we break away from the American, push the throttles all the way forward to engage the afterburners and climb hard to near our maximum height of fifty thousand feet. From this giddy altitude, the curvature of the earth is clearly visible and the sky is a dense black. At this height even in daytime the stars are visible but at night the view is astounding. The whole sky is a mass of pinpricks of light, each competing for priority in the vision of the beholder. If a man were committed to the contemplation of infinity then this empty place would be the ideal location for such a pursuit. Here, on the very edge of space, many airmen have reconsidered their earthbound views on the existence of a Supreme Being. The view of our home from up here is of a beautiful, undisturbed planet. There is little indication of the seething unrest, the minor wars or the injustices with which we are bombarded on a daily basis when on the surface.

I snap out of my daydream as John's voice gives me a course to steer towards our target. The target is some thirty thousand feet below us and one hundred miles ahead of us. I order Danny into line astern formation and we dive steeply. The engines are throttled back to flight idle and we have our dive brakes extended lest we exceed the maximum speed of the airframe. Because we are descending at almost free fall velocity, we are almost weightless. We are closing on our target very fast. Time to range is four minutes, John advises me. I lift the guard on the arming switch and set the missiles alive. They are devious beings, the missiles. Once armed, they will hunt out a heat source emanating from their prey and fix it with a beady electronic eye.

I watch the indications on my display as the missile looks around hungrily. It settles and starts to emit the warning tone, telling me that it has found a target and that it is anxious to get to work.
I wait until the tone builds to an anxious howl before pressing the 'commit' button on the control column. If the missile were real, it would fire its rocket motors and scream off into the darkness, following the guidance given by its sensors. Escape from one of these creatures of destruction is not generally possible although several skilful pilots have been able to achieve this. In our case, our missiles are not live which is a blessing, since our target is the benevolent tanker, now cast in the role of an invading bomber. Since the range at which we 'launched' the missile was within the correct parameters and a solid 'lock' had been obtained, I am able to assume that our attack was successful. I tell John 'Splash one tanker!' Danny lines up in turn and once again the superiority of the guided missile over a Boeing tanker is proven.

Our tasks for the evening are completed. Ahead of us lies the laborious de-briefing with the Squadron Tasking Officer and the interminable reports about everything from engine performance to radar serviceability. Danny and I fly along the runway at three hundred feet and close to four hundred miles per hour before pulling up and breaking for a tight right turn, a sedate run downwind and a stream landing, one behind the other. As we taxi back to the Squadron, I tell Danny that he owes me a beer to compensate for the terrible mess that he made of the refuelling. He laughs and says that I owe him three beers for the bloody awful awful landing.
It's a pretty good life really, being a warrior.

Certainly beats working.

Archived comments for Splash One Tanker
Sooz on 2002-06-25 13:17:37
Re: Splash One Tanker
I have learned more about flying this week than I've known in my lifetime so far. Another goodie, this one didn't touch me the way the eagle one did, but it was still beautifully written. I like your stories sky. I write fiction, you write from personal experience and the fine detail shows every time.

Author's Reply:

Carol on 2002-07-13 16:10:13
Re: Splash One Tanker
I am a scared passenger - and one about to fly around the world in two weeks time! I love all your stories because they are written from the point of view of one who isn't scared.
The attention to detail is spectacular - and I feel that I need this at the moment.
I am one of those nauseating passengers who needs four glasses of wine before stepping on a plane.
I read your stories and I calm down.
This is a gift!
Keep them coming!

Author's Reply:

Soar Like an Eagle (posted on: 21-06-02)
I have always had a great admiration for birds of prey. From the smallest to the largest, they all demonstrate an enviable ability to bear themselves aloft with ease and stay airborne with apparently little effort.

Soar Like an Eagle

I have always had a great admiration for birds of prey. From the smallest to the largest, they all demonstrate an enviable ability to bear themselves aloft with ease and stay airborne with apparently little effort. Not for the magnificent Golden Eagle, the strenuous and noisy labours of any engine. They require neither carbon fuel nor mineral oil to support their ventures into the sky. For the majority of the time, they move their wings in such a manner as to generate aerodynamic lift which carries them into the sky. Many birds of prey do not even require to flap their wings. They are extremely proficient at the seeking out of thermals, rising currents of air, spiralling up from the ground.
We earthbound creatures attempt to emulate this enviable ability to fly without the assistance of an engine. This form of aviation can never be described as efficient, for the glider pilot is ruled by the distribution of those frequently elusive thermals. The greatest problem is that a glider cannot flap its wings and when the thermals fail, a gradual but definite descent is the inevitable result.
Glider pilots fly for the pure joy of experiencing the sensations of flight. With skill and a measure of good fortune, enough thermals can be found to enable flights of several hours' duration. To fly in a glider is to share the absolute peace of bird flight. Only the sound of the wind disturbs the silence. The glider, more properly called a sailplane, comes alive in the air. A competent pilot is able to interpret the moods of the sky and adjust his progress accordingly. Cloud formations cease to be considered for their potential of bringing rain and become the indicators of the subtle differences in temperature, which betray the presence of the rising air currents. The proper use of such indicators will permit the glider pilot to travel impressive distances by flying from cloud to cloud.
I was introduced to powerless flight at the tender age of sixteen as a member of the Air Training Corps. By the time I had reached maturity, I considered myself to be a fairly skilled glider pilot and I had achieved several of the standards that mark the stages of glider pilot's proficiency.
There was a flourishing gliding club at Akrotiri, a Royal Air Force base in Cyprus. Posted there as a member of a fighter squadron, I wasted no time in becoming a member and spent practically every weekend out on the airfield indulging myself shamelessly in the sport.
The sun beat mercilessly down on the salt flats to the south of the airfield. The heat from the ground rose in shimmering currents towards the sky. There was an absolute certainty of strong thermal activity as I strapped myself into the club's Swallow. The Swallow, a sleek single seat sailplane was a fine aircraft with which to explore the possibility of achieving the coveted Diamond Height badge. This qualification demands a height gain of three thousand meters, which is a difficult task only achievable under ideal conditions. Conditions on that day were unlikely to support such a venture but as I was pulled into the air by the tow aircraft, I felt that it might almost be possible.
I released from the tug at two thousand feet above the salt flats and immediately struck gold. A strong thermal buffeted the aircraft and I put the Swallow into a tight right hand turn to stay within the current of rising air. I grinned as I looked at the height that I had been able to gain. The first thermal and almost a thousand feet had been gained. The thermal died and I looked around for indications of further activity. A tiny cloud was just starting to form about a mile away. With plenty of height in the bank, I set off towards it.
Ahead of me, I noticed a Sea Eagle. The big bird was also heading towards the cloud, his white belly and grey wings showing crystal clear in the sunlight. He flew right under the cloud and immediately started to climb. The huge wings fluttered slightly as he corrected the turn to stay in the rising air current. That bird certainly knew his stuff. When I finally reached the cloud, the Sea Eagle had climbed almost another thousand feet above me. Clumsy by comparison, I was able nevertheless to emulate the performance and I, too gained almost another thousand.
The bird looked around for a minute or two then set off purposefully towards a tiny smear of white vapour. I realised that this bird could be the solution to my Diamond Height quest. Were I to follow his leadership, I would be able to utilise the instinctive ability of the seabird and share in his height gain. My Sea Eagle entered the thermal just as it started to form. How could he have known, I wondered. This thermal was a giant. I banked tightly with the wingtip almost pointing to the ground. The variometer that indicated the rate of climb or descent fluctuated wildly then steadied on a climb of almost fifteen hundred feet per minute. The climb petered out when the bird and I had gained almost a further two thousand feet. Suddenly, the goal was at least within my grasp. We flew through the downdraught that borders every rising air current and I watched to see where my mentor would head next.
He circled for a few minutes, patently considering his options. Below me, the salt flats glistened white in contrast to the deep blue of the Mediterranean lapping on the beach. Ant-like bodies dotted the golden sand and children splashed happily in the waves breaking onto the beach. I turned my attention back to the Sea Eagle. He had arrived at a decision. He flew towards a large area of building cloud some four miles distant. I turned to follow. Almost instantly I encountered a huge downdraught. The variometer plunged towards the bottom of the scale. By the time I had reached the promised cloud, we had lost almost all the height that had been gained. The Sea Eagle started to wheel and almost immediately commenced to climb. Hopefully, I followed, blindly trusting that the great bird knew his business. Sure enough I was gaining height once more. A paltry gain of only a couple of hundred feet but a gain nevertheless.
To my great surprise, my partner suddenly departed from the weak thermal and purposefully set off towards the south. My obsession was, by this time, so great that I followed him blindly, not caring that we were now over the sea. My hero would surely not be mistaken. He knew by pure instinct that there would be a certainty of substantial height gain even here, over the water.
Comparing the altimeter and the distance from land, I realised that if there was no thermal, I was going to get my feet wet and invoke the justifiable wrath of the other members of the club. I had decided to turn and run for dry land when the bird, now some hundred yards to my left suddenly broke into a tight turn. A thermal! He has found another thermal! Good old bird! I turned to follow. Almost immediately, I flew into a strong downcurrent. We were sinking at a very fast rate indeed. I broke out of the turn and headed for the beach. It was going to be a very close call indeed and I would probably cause havoc amongst the bathers.
Having trimmed the sailplane for the best glide, I had nothing to do but wait. To my great surprise, I saw the Sea Eagle actually flying alongside me. Flapping his damn great wings. Staying in the Air. Not descending. Looking right at me with a smug expression. And bloody laughing.
I only just made it to the beach. I caused total disruption to the bathers. It was necessary to dismantle the Swallow and carry the pieces back to the salt flats by hand. The other members of the club were not amused and I was obliged to buy large quantities of drinks to salve their wounded feelings. It was, altogether, not my best day.
Thanks a bunch, Sea Eagle.

Archived comments for Soar Like an Eagle
Sooz on 2002-06-25 12:41:59
Re: Soar Like an Eagle
Facinating. This is my favourite piece of yours so far. The affinity with the bird and the trust put in him comes across perfectly. I so wanted the Eagle to lead you to the diamond. Lovely, lovely story. the best piece I've read today 4/5 (wish it went to ten. 8/10)

Author's Reply:

A Memo to Myself (posted on: 17-06-02)
A Memo to Myself.

The conditions, here in my air-conditioned office are very pleasant. The temperature is a comfortable sixty-five degrees. There is a stream of cool air caressing the back of my head.

A Memo to Myself.

The conditions, here in my air-conditioned office are very pleasant. The temperature is a comfortable sixty-five degrees. There is a stream of cool air caressing the back of my head. I relax in my leather seat and look through the window some five feet in front of me. I notice the clear blue sky with not a cloud in sight. The conditions outside my office are non-survivable. There is neither air to breathe nor is there enough warmth to sustain life at thirty-three thousand feet. If the window some two feet to the left were to fail in some catastrophic fashion, I would be pushed out into those hostile conditions by the air pressure inside. It would be a force capable of tearing me from my seat despite the four nylon straps that restrain me.

To my right, across the office, my assistant scribbles industriously on a clipboard. He seems totally unaware of the potential for the sudden termination of our existence. He shows complete trust in the engineers who designed and constructed this machine. This aircraft is a practically flawless example of the complete marriage of man and mechanism. Although neither of us is physically controlling this contraption, the electronic genius which is the autopilot is capable of detecting and rectifying minuscule deviations from the parameters which I have set into it.

Behind us there are almost two hundred and forty women, men and children. They are trusting souls, confident in my ability as captain and commander of this aircraft. They do not have to know that I have logged over fourteen thousand flying hours, of which some six thousand have been spent in command of large jet aircraft such as this. They do not have to know that my First Officer has logged over five thousand hours and will very soon be a captain. They must only know that there is a competent, fully trained crew in charge of this aircraft. The degree of competence is irrelevant. There are no 'aces' these days. If a pilot is not quite up to standard, he will not fly until he can demonstrate the required ability. Therefore, my own fourteen thousand hours are of no more significance than the five thousand of my companion. At least, not until something goes wrong.

Some twenty years ago, I was a First Officer on a Trans Oceanic flight. Our destination was England and we had departed from Boston in a Lockheed Tristar. My captain was a vastly experienced man who had served with BOAC before they merged with BEA to form British Airways. Grey haired and rather taciturn, he believed that the function of a First Officer was to fill in forms, adjust the air conditioning and operate the radios. If the captain wished to visit the toilet, the First Officer was allowed to keep a watch on the progress of the flight whilst the great man attended to the call of nature. For some reason, he had grown to trust me and I was allowed to carry out a few of the duties that he would normally guard jealously as his own prerogative. I had been permitted to land the big aircraft on several occasions and conversation flowed freely although our respective roles of master and apprentice remained a matter of strict observance. On that February morning, we had just taken off from Logan Airport and both the captain and I were busily engaged in the after take-off checks. All was proceeding normally and we appeared to be in good shape for the long transatlantic crossing.

Neither of us was prepared for the flock of migrating Barnacle Geese flying just ahead of us and at exactly our height. Because of the nose-high attitude of the aircraft, we did not even see them. The first indication that we were sharing our airspace with others was announced by multiple thumps as several of the big birds smashed into the aircraft. Simultaneously, the right engine started to wind down. The flight deck was a flurry of well-organised activity as we shut down the failed engine and commenced damage assessment.

A Tristar is more than capable of flying with one of its three engines inoperative although any form of asymmetry must be treated with great respect. We had no option other than to initiate a return to Boston. As the captain made the announcement to our passengers, the centre engine, mounted at the rear of the aircraft also started to exhibit signs of extreme distress and joined its fellow in silence.

A Tristar is a large, heavy aircraft. Even at low speeds, it requires a very large amount of square miles to turn through one hundred and eighty degrees. With two engines inoperative, any steep turn will cause a loss of height. On this occasion, just off the ground and with the landing gear still extended we were paupers in both speed and altitude. There was little doubt in my mind that we were bound to descend gracefully into the cold grey waters of the Atlantic. Every item in the performance graphs confirmed that this would be the case.

However, the performance graphs had not taken into account the astounding abilities of Captain Jack Postel, formerly of BOAC. Had the designers of the aircraft been aware of Postel's incredible airmanship, they might have modified their somewhat gloomy prognostication. I do not know exactly which gods Jack had summoned, or exactly how he managed to turn the aircraft back towards Boston and still keep us clear of the ground. We did not even have time to retract the landing gear that was robbing us of speed and height, height that we could ill afford to spare.

The normally well organised flight deck was a shambles of warning lights, bells and power levers out of position. I sweated profusely as I tried to restore some order whilst my commander willed the wounded aircraft to remain airborne. I could see his lips moving as he cursed the devils that seemed determined to force us down. He was flying the aircraft on an extremely fine line between stalling in the turn and keeping the turn tight enough to get us pointing back the way we had come. I was obliged to rub my hands on my clothes to remove the dampness and I was increasingly aware of the smell of my own fear. This was the insidious kind of fear that takes a short period of time to build. The sort of fear that slowly strangles the victim. It is not the sudden scare that releases adrenaline and permits superhuman feats of strength.

With the last remaining engine bellowing at full power, Postel heaved the reluctant beast towards Logan's runway. I realised that we were too low and that we were going to crash into the ground well short of the runway threshold. We were also too fast. To reduce speed would rob us of even more of our already scarce altitude. Jack's options were grievously limited. I was taking little part in the proceedings but managed to warn the passengers to prepare for a possible forced landing. The runway seemed a long way ahead and still we were losing precious height. When it seemed that we were about to hit the ground and still about half a mile from the runway threshold, Postel called for full flap. As the flaps extended, he pulled the nose of the aircraft up and by sheer willpower made the lumbering beast gain a few feet. Almost instantly, the stall warners started baying like hungry wolves. Jack pushed the nose back down and to my immense relief, the runway threshold flashed below us.

The touchdown was untidy and because of our excessive speed we burst a few tyres but thanks to Postel's incredible airmanship, we were safe. Over his many thousand hours of flying in every conceivable situation, his feel for flying machines had transformed a non-survivable situation into a safe landing.

I maintain, however that there are no 'aces'. Experience is of little value. A pilot is good enough or he is no good at all. Just occasionally, I have been known to be mistaken.

Archived comments for A Memo to Myself
geordietaf on 2002-06-17 13:38:34
Re: A Memo to Myself
What a corker! You had me ready to assume the brace position while reading at my desk. I hope you are thinking of collecting these stories for joint publication, what a book for enthusiasts and rabbit fliers like me alike.

As I said about another of your pieces, you could use your background knowledge to write some cracking aviation thrillers - the Dick Francis of the air!

Author's Reply:

on 2002-06-25 23:45:41
Re: A Memo to Myself
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Author's Reply:

Sooz on 2002-06-27 11:49:49
Re: A Memo to Myself
He must have been confident himself to make that descision. I'd have thought it would be better to land safelt in the sea than risk all of those lives on an outside chance. Now that you are in his shoes, if you were in exactly the same circumstances at exactly the same height, would you make the same move? Another facinating story from you. I really like these.

Author's Reply:

on 2002-07-30 09:41:27
Re: A Memo to Myself
hello again. As I thought, I remember this incident but it took me forever to find this site again!.
Now its time to stop hiding and tell us about the time you got a burning BAC1-11 on a tiny municipal airport AND got all the pax evacuated without a scratch.

Cheers, Al.


Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2002-07-30 16:53:54
Re: A Memo to Myself
Thank you Dave. Okay then, maybe I will write about that one. I note that you have finally managed to log on to MY computer at work. I shall have no option but to tell 'McBride' !!

Author's Reply:

The Aviator (posted on: 09-06-02)
It is a long way from Copenhagen to Aberdeen. It is an especially long way if you are flying an elderly Piper Apache...

It is a long way from Copenhagen to Aberdeen. It is an especially long way if you are flying an elderly Piper Apache. The majority of the flight is over the sea. At two hundred miles per hour and at a height of five thousand feet, the only event that would take place quickly would be the time from failure of both engines to the impact with the sea. An Apache can almost cope with failure of one of its two engines. If the remaining engine can be persuaded to develop full power, it is generally possible to stay in the air although it is preferable to find somewhere to land at the earliest opportunity. Regrettably, the open sea is rather short of suitable places to land.

The pilot relaxed in the worn leather seat and allowed his gaze to take in the pale moon, just visible through the scattered clouds. Soon, he thought, the weather would close in completely. The five passengers behind him were either trying to doze or staring out of the crazed Perspex windows. To all intents and purposes, the pilot was alone in the aircraft.

He turned the volume up on the radio and listened to the silence, broken only infrequently by distant aircraft requesting Copenhagen's weather. He switched channels to the International Emergency frequency. All aircrews are required to monitor this frequency as a matter of course. As usual, the hiss of static was the only evidence that the radio was functioning correctly.

The pilot reached above his head and switched to the primary radio. As he did, he heard a voice. He hurriedly switched back to the emergency frequency. Silence. Even turning the volume up high did not produce so much as a whisper. Resignedly, he changed again to his primary communications radio. He scanned the instrument panel. All was in order. There was nothing to disrupt the progress of the flight. A nagging voice in his head insisted that there had been a voice on the emergency frequency. A voice that would not be still. He reached up and switched to the second radio. The silence and unbroken static mocked his doubts. The pilot forced his hand towards the channel switch. As his fingers touched the selector, he heard the voice in his headset very faint but clear. A voice speaking English. The pilot pressed the transmit button.
''Station calling on Emergency Frequency, this is Piper Apache aircraft receiving you strength three. Say your message.'' He listened intently. Nothing. The aircraft droned on into the night. He tried again. ''Station calling emergency, say your position and nature of emergency.'' The reply came back instantly.
''We can hear you. Can you help us? We are drifting and in danger of sinking.''
''Yes, I hear you but I need to know your position before I can help you. Do you know where you are?''
''We are the sailing ship Samuel Taylor. Please help us. We are sinking. For God's sake, help us..'' The voice tailed off into silence. The pilot pressed the transmit button again.
''Samuel Taylor, stand by. I will try to get a radio fix on your position and get some help on the way. Hang on.''

The nearest Air Traffic centre was Amsterdam. With any luck, they should be able to hear the sailing ship and get a reasonably accurate position for it. To the dismay of the pilot, he was unable to make contact with Amsterdam. He tried Aberdeen without success. It seemed that he was unable to make contact with any station at all. In desperation, he switched back to the Emergency frequency.
''Mayday,mayday,mayday. This is Piper aircraft Golf Alpha Victor. Any station receiving me?'' There was no response. He concluded with dismay that both radios had failed. Radio failure on this particular aircraft happened with monotonous regularity.

The pilot noted with some concern that the visibility had deteriorated dramatically and that ice was starting to form on his windshield. Despite the failure of the radios, the voice in his headset was stronger now.
''Can you help us. The water is coming faster now and we shall surely sink. Help us for pity's sake.''
''You sound much louder. Perhaps you are quite close. Can you hear my engines?''
''I hear nothing but the wind. Please hurry. We have little time left.'' The voice was now booming in the pilot's headset. The ship must be very close indeed.

He turned to the passengers.
''Sorry people, there is a ship in trouble very close to here. I have to go down and look for her. Keep your eyes peeled. It is apparently a sailing ship and sinking fast according to the radio.'' He wondered why he could hear the messages from the ship. He would worry about that later.

He reduced power and started to descend. The ice forming on the windshield was getting thicker and the de-icers seemed to be ineffective. As the aircraft descended, swirls of water vapour danced around the tips of the idling propellers and flew in streams from the wingtips. Forward visibility was non existent. From the side window, the pilot could catch an occasional glimpse of the steel grey sea below. One thousand feet. Dangerous to go lower in this fog.

Again, the voice from the ship spoke. By now it was so loud that he did not even need the headset. He tore it off his head and threw it on the floor.
''Samuel Taylor, I hear you very clearly now. I am searching for you. Can you hear my engines yet?''
''I think that you are very close, my friend but I fear you may be too late. The water is rising fast.''
The pilot peered through the side window, his face pressed against the glass. Nothing but the sea and the thick swirling fog. Then he saw it. A large two masted schooner, listing at an alarming angle with the port side of the deck almost under the water. The naked masts had a thick coating of ice and the rigging sagged under the weight.
''I see you! I see you! I will get a fix on your position and help will be here very soon. Hang on!'' The pilot pushed the throttles forward and pulled the aircraft into a climb.

As he turned his face away from the side window to look forward, he was just in time to see the huge white sea bird in front of the windshield. The impact of such a massive bird was sufficient to crash through the double thickness laminated glass, totally devastating the flight deck. One huge, black tipped wing smashed into the pilot's face, throwing his head backwards and breaking his neck. The body of the bird carried on into the cabin, decapitating the people in the front two passenger seats.

The unconscious pilot slumped forward, pushing the control column. The aircraft obediently responded to the unintentional control input by nosing over into a terminal dive. Under full power and with the steep angle of the dive, the Apache was travelling at a speed in excess of two hundred and ten miles per hour as it hit the unyielding surface of the water. The aircraft disintegrated on impact, killing the three remaining passengers instantaneously.

Incredibly, the pilot was thrown clear and although terribly injured, managed to swim towards the stricken Samuel Taylor. Exhausted, he reached the side and hands reached out to pull him from the freezing water. He looked up at his rescuer. Clad in tattered, filthy rags, he was a pale, haggard man with a long grey beard. The old man's eyes burned like fire as he dug talon-like fingers into the pilot's arm. As if in a trance, the pilot realised that he was unable to move. He was sure that his death was very close. He faced the old man and summoning up the last of his strength, forced himself to speak.
''Whowho are you?''
''It's a very long story," the old man said, "but as we now have all the time in the world, I will tell you.''

He held him with his skinny hand. ''There was a ship,'' he began.

Archived comments for The Aviator
Carol on 2002-06-10 19:28:41
Re: The Aviator
What an excellent story. It made me go cold when I reached the last bit - and left the reader to interpret the history of the distressed ship in his/her own way - which is a sure sign of an excellent tale!
I really enjoyed this.
Top marks.

Author's Reply:

Sooz on 2002-06-11 14:55:06
Re: The Aviator
Chilling! Crackin` story that held me begining to end. At first I* wondered why he was going down to look for him, it seemed to me that it would be better to give approximate location and concentrate on getting help. I didn't understand what a small aircraft could do to help them, but then later on the pilot said that he was pin-pointing the exaxt grid ref or whatever so it made sense I suppose. Other than that small thing that had me womdering I thought this was excellent. Oh I'm not sure that he would be able to swim with a broken neck, and after hitting him wouldn't the bird have lost some of its velocity. It would have to have some force to break the pilots neck and decapitate two passengers, but then I know sod all about plamnes other than that they go bloody fast so I'm happy to be corrected.

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2002-06-15 07:34:30
Re: The Aviator
Thanks for your comments. The technical considerations are that a seabird the size of an albatross would certainly get right through the front of an Apache and do horrendous damage further back in the cabin. A Piper Apache is a small twin engine airplane and there is no closed-in flight deck.

Ref the 'broken neck' the assumption could be that the pilot was already dead when he hit the water!

I really appreciate your feedback on this because I never attempted to write fiction before. I suppose everybody recognised the paraphrased quotation from the Ancient Mariner and the name of the ship as Samuel Taylor.

Hey! I'm new to this!!

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2002-06-15 07:59:36
Re: The Aviator

Thank you for your most welcome comments

In a situation like that, the first objective would be to assume a Search and Rescue role. If the search aircraft does not have direction-finding equipment then a visual location is about the only option.

The sea-bird is meant to be recognisable as an albatross (ref Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Ancient Mariner) which, as you probably know, is somewhat large! The momentum of a seabird with a wingspan of about 9 feet flying at around 70 mph is quite considerable.

That was the technical bit. I really really appreciate your comments and the fact that you obviously took time to read and consider the story (my first attempt at fiction!)

Thank you.


Author's Reply:

fecky on 2002-06-22 17:18:05
Re: The Aviator
I too wondered about the decapitation and swimming with a broken neck but, what the hell! It's a ripping good yarn. I also enjoyed the symbolism.

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker - the Epilogue (posted on: 05-06-02)
The flight deck of the Airbus 321 is darkened. The instrument displays are bright and very clear...


The flight deck of the Airbus 321 is darkened. The instrument displays are bright and very clear. The Distance Measuring equipment (DME) clicks down, showing the miles to the next waypoint. A line stretching up and down the display shows our proposed track. Apart from short radio transmissions, no one has spoken for some time. I am aware of the subdued hum of the two huge CFM56 engines that are propelling us through the rarefied atmosphere that exists at thirty-three thousand feet. Our speed is seventy-eight per cent of the speed of sound.

The Traffic Collision Avoidance System known as Tee-cass shows that there is another aircraft some fifteen miles ahead of us, cruising at the same level as we are. The thought of this separation gives us comfort because we can only see the flashing of his strobe lights in the far distance. We arrive at the waypoint and the aircraft imperceptibly alters course by a few degrees to take up a new heading. The majority of the passengers are unaware of this necessary change. They have been given a hot meal, cooked in the microwave ovens and served by attractive cabin crew. Some of the passengers are watching the in-flight movie. Some are sleeping in the rather cramped accommodation. Even after all these years, the charter airlines still cram as many souls on board as they possibly can.

The push of a button changes the display on the screen to show the condition of the engines and aircraft systems. All is well, both engines and the three hydraulic systems are functioning perfectly. The display returns to indicate our progress over the Bay of Biscay. From the navigational computers, we are able to accurately predict to fractions of a minute our arrival time at the subsequent waypoint, a hypothetical point in space designated by the Air Traffic authorities in order to maintain order in the crowded skies. Such estimates are, and always have been essential to allow the controllers to ensure adequate separation of aircraft. We are exactly on time.

There is a tremendous sense of peace and order here. To chatter without due cause would be to disturb the tranquillity of the moment. Even in the cabin, the only sounds come from fractious children and the low chat of passengers queuing to use the toilets. I consider that the peace that was very common on night flights on my introduction to charter flying is the same sensation that I am now experiencing many years later. The aircraft have changed beyond all recognition. A very efficient and very expensive Flight Management Computer flies this aircraft which is hurrying us through the night sky. Compared to the elderly aircraft that carried happy holidaymakers then, this airplane is faster, flies higher, uses less fuel and carries more passengers. It is also very much quieter, although the hysterical outbursts of anti aircraft protesters would appear to indicate otherwise.

The display shows that we have arrived at the final waypoint. Our track line on the screen shows a small arrow a few miles ahead. At this point, we will commence our descent. Even this small calculation is taken care of by the pre loaded flight plan. When we reach the arrow, a selection on the autopilot puts the aircraft into a gentle descent. As we pass between the islands the First Officer who is the handling pilot disengages the autopilot. He selects the Instrument Landing System display and watches as the bar moves across the instrument. Smoothly he turns the aircraft to the left and the bar centres vertically as we line up on the distant runway. I ask him if he intends to land the aircraft manually instead of using the autoland facility.. He replies in the affirmative. The approach is perfect and the mainwheels kiss the runway.

When we have turned off the runway and we are taxiing towards the terminal building, he turns to me. He gives me the grin that I have known since he was just a little boy. I am immensely proud. I have now completed the full circle from being an eleven year old kid trying to persuade balsawood model aircraft to fly to this point where I am sitting in the jump seat of an Airbus watching my son at work. He has been kind enough to say that his interest in aviation came from me. That may or may not be a good thing because this industry has had more than a fair share of difficulties and in the light of the dreadful events of September 11 2001 the problems are obviously far from being over. I reiterate, however that I have an enormous sense of pride in seeing my son taking his place in a business that is unlike any other.

AH October 2001

Archived comments for Skytrucker - the Epilogue

Carol on 2002-06-08 13:53:24
Re: Skytrucker - the Epilogue
I feel as though I had been there with you. Such a lovely blend of technical (but not too technical) information and emotion. The reminiscence of how it used to be a perfect complement to the desdription of how it is now.
I experienced the peace of night flying and your pride as you revealed that your son was in the *****-pit.

Author's Reply:

on 2002-06-08 20:14:44
Re: Skytrucker - the Epilogue
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Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2002-06-09 20:31:31
Re: Skytrucker - the Epilogue
Thank you Carol. It is certainly very gratifying to see my son follow the same career path and doing very well at it too. I appreciate your kind comments.


Author's Reply:

on 2002-06-12 18:11:35
Re: Skytrucker - the Epilogue
superb piece of writing. I think I detect the hand of a certain captain of my acquaintance!

Debs xxxx

Author's Reply:

geordietaf on 2002-06-13 13:45:16
Re: Skytrucker - the Epilogue
The detail really put me in the cockpit with you, without in any way being over technical. The mention that your son was First Officer was timed beautifully, giving the piece an exceptionally strong close. Have you thought of using your knowledge of and love for flying as the background to some fiction? The way you've put this description over suggests to me that you have the talent to do a great job.

One small niggle, on first reading it sounded like the passengers who had been cooked in the microwave ovens!

Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2002-06-15 07:23:36
Re: Skytrucker - the Epilogue
Yes, on re-reading you are absolutely correct. I have to say, however, that not every passenger is cooked in the microwaves. Only those who misbehave!

Thanks again for your kind comments people.

Author's Reply:

Jenny on 2002-06-17 19:52:49
Re: Skytrucker - the Epilogue
I just HAD to read the piece that is currently 'topping the charts' I can see why. You get a five too!


Author's Reply:

Skytrucker on 2002-06-18 05:30:07
Re: Skytrucker - the Epilogue
Thank you very much ma'am. 🙂

Author's Reply:

sirat on 2002-06-23 13:03:28
Re: Skytrucker - the Epilogue
Really enjoyed reading this. It was my fantasy too as a boy: Yeah! I could be a pilot! I could do that! Never did of course. I suppose it must be that I didn't want to badly enough. Other things just seemed to get in the way. I love reading about it though, and this piece really makes you feel that you're there. Excellent piece of writing, excellent ending.

Author's Reply:

Nevada on 2002-09-09 23:48:22
Re: Skytrucker - the Epilogue
Hi Allen,
Wondered why you were missing on TC recently. Looks a decent site to show off your very interesting aeroplane pieces.

Author's Reply: