THE COST WAS HIGH
but I don’t think the writer would have quibbled too much. Given the choice, would I have? I think not. I know so … and quibbling just wouldn’t have come into it. But you only have my word for that.
NO INTRODUCTION NECESSARY
for many of us. First up (close and personal) one of my grand unfulfilled ambitions was if not to actually fly one, then to try on for size a WW2 Spitfire; arguably the most beautiful aircraft ever built and one of the most loved. Hell, the nearest I ever got was to drool over one from a distance (and that had flat tyres) in the Auckland Museum.
I am told by people (who’d been there & done that) had a soul.
It would work with you if it liked you, if you had that confident knowing touch—but would never let you dominate it.
I like that—a machine to achieve unity and ecstasy with a discriminate soul, such as one John Gillespie Magee, pictured to the right not long before his fatal crash. Let the following poem by him be all the epitaph he needs …
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings,
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun split clouds — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air …
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or even eagle flew
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
— John Gillespie Magee
MY FATHER USED TO FLY
gliders. Sailplanes. Long skinny things that used a disposable engine (Piper Pawnee, or Tiger Moth) to get them up into their element after which they’d soar with the birds. Literally. It made me marvel that a heavier than air thing could just pop into an uprising bubble of warm air and hitch a lift.
In gliding circles (weak pun) if someone were already using the thermal you were joining you’d go around in the same direction as the guy already there. I was Dad’s passenger once when he joined a thermal, rolling the glider lazily onto its side to follow the incumbent. It was good lift and we spiralled steadily upwards. Climbing gliders can get away with very steep turns and by looking up* through the perspex we could see straight into the eyes of the incumbent doing likewise, golden eyes staring back that I imagine didn’t miss much.
We’d entered at about three thousand feet and he left us at about five thousand, I’d swear he waggled his wings as he departed. Even brief acquaintance makes company, without the hawk our thermal suddenly felt empty and almost chilly. But briefly, for a few companionable minutes we felt the meaning of the words “to touch the face of God“. Brrrrr.
Despite some really great lift we pulled out and went home—anything else that day would have been an anticlimax.
* Up? Okay, at right angles to our personal centrelines—think more like horizontal. It’s all relative anyway …