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My (pretty poor) graphic.

 

Or … In the tent without a mattress.

 

Yes, that’s right, after a two hour drive and then pitching my tent (we had one each which given their size was just as well) in sweltering heat I realised that I’d forgotten to bring my ticket. The ticket, all £55 of it, was for the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at Fairford in Gloucestershire, an event that is fast-becoming an annual pilgrimage for me and already is for my friend Jen.

 

Jen didn’t believe me about forgetting my ticket at first. I’m usually really organised about stuff like that and relatively practical, but I sat there in my deckchair with what can only be described as a look of sheer horror on my face.

 

Resigning myself to a four hour round trip to pick up my ticket the following day (luckily I had a day spare as we’d come down early) I could have cried. But all was not lost.

 

I remember when I purchased my ticket back in January that I was really unimpressed that I wouldn’t get a proper ticket that I could gaze at nostalgically in years to come. No, this year I was sent an e-ticket. “Do you still have the email with the ticket attached?” Jen asked me.

 

Yes! I was pretty sure I wouldn’t have deleted it but alas I had no 3G so couldn’t access my email; the downside of camping in a field in the middle of nowhere! But, as she would keep reminding me throughout the weekend, Jen did.

 

Emails accessed and as it turned out I did still have the email. After debating whether the organisers would be able to scan the barcode from the screen of a telephone Jen had a brainwave. I was still too stunned at my own stupidity to have any sensible ideas! We went and fluttered our eyelashes at one of the lovely young men who kindly gives over his field to plane-spotters (which we are not!) and aviation enthusiasts once a year and asked if he could print the ticket for us if we emailed it to him. He said yes and said ticket was waiting for me the next morning. I could have kissed him! I didn’t … discretion being the better part of valour.

 

Of course, as you may have noticed the ticket wasn’t the only thing I forgot to pack. On pitching my tent – less pitching and more throwing given that it was a pop-up tent – I discovered that I’d forgotten my self-inflating sleeping mat. More worryingly, like the ticket, I hadn’t even written it on my list. My head, as they say, was in the shed or at least it had been. Luckily for me I’d borrowed an especially nice sleeping bag from my parents which is quite plump and, apart from a few aches each morning, I slept soundly. I also slept through much of the excessive noise created by some of our camping compadres and on one night a Police helicopter circling the field. That’s what happens when you have too much sun!

 

Unlike last year, when you may remember we were subjected to mud, mud and more mud, this year we were camping during the hottest summer we’ve had in this country since 2006. Temperatures were consistently around 28C which may not sound that hot if you live elsewhere in the world but is very hot for us poor Brits! And humid! And there was no shade! Oh and did I mention it was hot? On the Friday when we were hoping to watch some arrivals and practice displays we spent most of the day napping in our cars which provided a small amount of shade but were still very hot. It was all worth it though because the Red Arrows put on a spectacular display over the campsite. At airshows there are very strict rules about what the aircraft can do especially when it comes to flying over the crowd. A few tents don’t warrant the same safety precautions. Having your tent buzzed by the Red Arrows is a lot of fun!

 

Red Arrow buzzing my tent! My photo.

 

The airshow itself on the Saturday and Sunday was excellent although the heat was almost too much for me. I found that I didn’t have the energy to put into panning with my camera so settled for attempting to photograph the slower aircraft. Looking through my photos I seem to have also struggled to take photos against the bright skies and in some instances my camera seems to have been intent on focussing on the heat haze rather than the aircraft.

 

Highlights of the two days for me were, of course, the Red Arrows, but also the Dambusters memorial flypast (which I failed to photograph), the Vulcan and a display from the new British Airways Airbus A380 which was accompanied by the Red Arrows. One very enormous aeroplane and nine little ones looking more graceful than you can possibly imagine and flying past to the strains of Land of Hope and Glory sent shivers up my sweaty spine.

 

The British Airways Airbus A380 and the Red Arrows flypast. My photo.

 

Yes I know that looks like a grey sky. It was grey for pretty much the whole day on the Saturday but it was still swelteringly hot. Having got a little sunburnt on the Friday, whilst still in my pyjamas, I was glad of a little less sun. It did still come out a little bit and proceeded to burn me some more despite a liberal coating of sunscreen. Having barely seen the sun for several years my skin just held its hands up and surrendered to the inevitable. My left ear took it especially badly!

 

Sunday arrived and I breathed a sigh of relief in the knowledge that I would be sleeping in my own bed once more come night-time. I decided to take better care of my skin and donned a thin cotton cardigan for the entire day despite blazing sun once the early morning mist and low cloud had dispersed. I was hot but I thought reasonably well protected. Alas, on returning to the campsite in the evening I found that I had burnt and considerably swollen feet (I already have cankles and this just made them ten times worse), and nicely burnt boobs: the perils of a low cut top!

 

I had consumed plenty of water and suffered no other ill effects from the sun so I suppose swollen feet was a small price to pay. My left one took 2 whole days to return to normal!

 

So what have I learnt from this year’s adventure at RIAT?

  • DON’T FORGET YOUR TICKET!
  • Write better lists – preferably ones that include mattress and ticket.
  • You can never have strong enough sunscreen.
  • Pop-up tents are all very well but I wouldn’t want to camp in one in the rain – the dew leaked through if I so much as brushed the tent with my hair.
  • I can sleep through almost anything.
  • Washing your hair with cold water and a hosepipe is the best feeling in the world when it’s very hot and there are no showers. Yes we really did this!
  • Baby wipes are amazing!
  • Oh and RIAT would be no fun at all without Jen.

 

Jen has also written a blog about our camping exploits which I urge you to read for a whole different perspective. It’s in three parts which can be found here, here and here. And yes, her airbed really was too big for her tent. And no, that’s not a euphemism!

 

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Vulcan XH558. My photo.

 

When my friend Juliet, a self-confessed lover of all things relating to aviation, suggested that I might like to go with her to the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) at Fairford, I jumped at the chance! When asked if I fancied camping too I blithely agreed imagining a weekend of sun, fun and maybe some booze. It was going to be July, it would be perfect! I’ve always loved fast cars and the roar of their engines so moving on to jets seemed a natural progression.

 

As we all know, the great British summer has pretty much failed to appear this year and as I drove down to Fairford on the Friday (July 6th) my progress was hindered by large amounts of standing water on the motorways and non-stop torrential rain. I was dreading arriving at the campsite and sleeping in a tent seemed very unappealing. I began to wonder what on earth I was letting myself in for.

 

When we finally arrived at the campsite, a field only used for camping for this one week of the year, all my fears were realised. We were met by a sea of mud at the entrance. Getting out of our cars we gingerly made our way across the mud (me still optimistically wearing sandals) to register and pay. Formalities out of the way, we were told to wait in our cars until someone came to push us into the site. Yes…we had to be pushed through the sea of mud! I don’t use the word sea lightly: as my small Toyota Yaris was pushed across the mud, wheels spinning and engine over-revving, it felt as if it was floating, I had no control whatsoever and that was quite scary. Juliet’s car faired no better, but being a lot bigger and sitting a lot lower than mine, it kicked up so much mud the poor guys pushing it were left absolutely covered in it. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t laugh!

 

Once we’d found somewhere to pitch the tent we had the unenviable task of doing just that. I’d never seen it before and Juliet had only put it up once with assistance plus, it was pouring with rain and the ground was uneven. The tent was huge which made trying to get it up with only 2 people and a lot of water particularly tricky so we managed, by looking suitably helpless, to garner the assistance of a rather inebriated, but luckily capable and kindly man. He enlisted his dad’s help and between us we eventually got the tent pitched and habitable. I don’t think either of us had ever been called “babes” so many times in such a short space of time and we were rather shocked by the size of his flick knife but, incredibly grateful for the help.

 

Settled, fed and watered but somewhat muddy and exhausted we sat in our respective ends of the tent wrapped in our sleeping bags and talked until it was time to attempt sleeping. Surprisingly sleep came easily and we weren’t woken until 5:15am the next morning when a truck came to empty the portaloos which were next to our tent. I wouldn’t normally advocate the pitching of a tent next to the toilets but when camped in a mud bath it’s the best place to be!

 

The walk to the entrance of the air field was about a mile with at least another half a mile inside to get through security and to where we wanted to be. Wet and muggy weather coupled with my total lack of fitness was exhausting! However, once we’d found somewhere to sit down and the air show started I was mesmerised.

 

Despite the doggedly persistent rain I was completely hooked by the displays, the roar of the engines and the smell of the jet fuel. The camera my parents kindly bought me for my birthday, and which I have yet to fully master, proved to be a winner, capturing a surprising number of decent pictures and even some video.

 

The highlights of that first day for me were the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the Red Arrows; having never seen any of it before I was truly moved. The comedy moment of the day came when the commentator for the Black Eagles (Korean Air Force display team) announced quite seriously: “Black Eagles now from your behind”. The result was a missed photo opportunity because we were doubled up with laughter!

 

Battle of Britain Memorial Flight – Lancaster PA474, and Spitfires AB910 & P7350. My photo.

The Red Arrows. My photo.

The Black Eagles (Korean Air Force). My photo.

 

The walk back to the campsite was excruciating. Tired and achy from sitting on the grass all day and suffering the effects of having worn uncomfortable trainers, I just about managed not to limp and so avoided looking too pathetic. The rain, which we thought had stopped, started again with a vengeance once we were back in the tent and after several attempts to keep the stove alight so that Juliet could cook herself some sausages (I won’t relay here what her Twitter followers thought she was trying to cook), we resorted to chocolate biscuits for tea. The stove seemed determined to blow us up and blow out every few minutes, shooting fire out of every available hole before going out and needing to be relit. It settled down long enough to boil the kettle for some much needed tea and coffee which was just as well because by this time I was so cold my teeth were chattering!

 

After I’d had a fight with a large moth, we cocooned ourselves in our sleeping bags and talked until we were almost asleep. It’s amazing how much we found to talk about over the weekend! Juliet and I originally met on Twitter and over the last couple of years have become very good friends, but this was the first time we’d spent any significant amount of time together. I did warn her that I snore but she claims not to have heard a thing, although what was going to be a two-man tent turned out to be a four-man one with separate bedrooms. She swears blind this was nothing to do with my nocturnal noise-making but I’m sure I could give any fast-jet a run for its money!

 

I woke really early again the next morning disturbed by the torrential rain beating down on the canvas. Turning over I spied what I thought was a piece of grass stuck to the outside of the inner tent. It turned out to be a rather long slug which I thanked my lucky stars wasn’t inside the tent with me! I hate slugs and they were everywhere…one even took refuge in an open tube of Pringles!

 

So, after breakfast we set off to enjoy day two of RIAT, armed this time with our folding chairs so to avoid sitting on the wet grass. I was determined not to wear my trainers all day again so I just wore them for crossing the mud and then changed into my sandals. My toes had never been so grateful!

 

We decided to spend some time standing at the end of the runway outside the air field. It’s a good place to stand especially when planes come into land but we had no expectations about what we might see, we just hoped we’d get lucky. And quite frankly, we couldn’t have been luckier.

 

We’d only been standing there for a short time when we saw the Vulcan taxi onto the runway; it was facing away from us so we braced ourselves for the noise. If you’re unfamiliar with the Vulcan then it sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard before. It howls…quite literally…and it’s a sound that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. The video below is someone else’s but this is what we heard:

 

 

To top off the amazing display by this “tin triangle” we were privileged to experience the beautiful Vulcan coming into land directly over our heads. She looked close enough to touch and all I could do was put my camera down, stand there and drink it in (the photo at the top of the blog was taken just before I put my camera down). She is simply awe-inspiring.

 

The sound of many of the aircraft is astonishing and we were perfectly positioned on both days to bear the full brunt of the roar as they took off. The F-16 Fighting Falcon, MiG-29, F-18 Super Hornet, Typhoon and Tornado all have their own especially strident voices. The noise reverberates through your body, you feel it deep in the pit of your stomach and it’s the best feeling ever. So many people were wearing ear-defenders and I’m sure many more were wearing earplugs and although I had taken earplugs with me, I never once contemplated putting them in. To be honest the sound was not as deafening as I expected, it was more of an all-consuming sensation than simply a loud noise and every time I heard it I couldn’t take the smile off my face.

 

Despite the cold and wet conditions I didn’t really want to leave but we had to get back to the campsite earlier on the Sunday to strike camp because I had another adventure in Devon planned immediately afterwards. As we left the airfield we found that the sun was shining and once away from the more exposed areas it was actually very hot. Surprisingly we ended up getting sunburnt walking back! Of course as soon as we approached the campsite the heavens opened and it started to rain again. The tent was much easier to take down than it had been to put up and we managed to do it without the services of a man. Whilst packing the cars we were wonderfully entertained by the Red Arrows displaying over our heads; a perfect end to a fabulous weekend.

 

And so sadly, our muddied and jet-fuelled weekend came to an end. We were dirty, exhausted and aching all over but it was worth it and I’d do it all over again.

 

The pictures above can be enlarged by clicking on them and more pictures of these and other aircraft can be viewed by using the link to my Flickr on the right-hand side.

 

With special thanks to Juliet for inviting me to join her and for making my first air show perfect even with the mud. Love you lots xxx

 

 

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