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Apologies for the delay in writing this but I’m still struggling to put into words the wonderful weekend I recently spent in London. Two plays, four friends (plus me) and the big smoke … weekends don’t get much better. But throw Richard Armitage into the mix and you reach the heights of pretty damn perfect!

 

But I digress a little … after all, I started the weekend with a couple of doubts.

 

First things first; my friends and I got to meet Rachel. We’ve been chatting to her online for simply ages and I was dying to meet the person who I say fangirls “like a boss”: straight talking and with an honest appreciation of all things Armitage and Cumberbatch there was little to go wrong. No doubts here and definitely no disappointments.

 

We all met up on the South Bank at the BFI, watching the strange and eclectic mix of London life go by. Pantaloons anyone? All present and correct we made our way to The Globe to watch Julius Caesar. Doubt número uno!

 

I have been ill for some time now. I have endured an interminable wait to find out the results of a CT scan I had a few weeks ago; the good old NHS had a backlog and so I waited … and waited … and waited. I have unexplained pain in my back and elsewhere, which the doctor thought may be kidney stones. (It turns out it’s not, so back to square one for me). I’d also been laid low with a nasty virus for about four weeks – my third in six months thanks to me working in a school – which only started clearing up with the help of some antibiotics after this much anticipated culture weekend. Anyway, the upshot of this was that I knew there was no way I could stand for three hours in the yard at The Globe, hence my doubt. I planned to see if they had any returns of seated tickets but fully expected to be spending my afternoon mooching around St Paul’s Cathedral just across the river instead.

 

I went to the ticket desk and asked if they had any seated tickets. They didn’t. My lovely friend Julia pleaded my case and miraculously a ticket became available – pretty much the best seat in the house. Major doubt quickly dispelled.

 

I hired a cushion to soften the wooden bench I’d be perched on for the duration and grabbed a free cardboard hat to shield my face from the scorching sun and settled down. The players were in the courtyard outside the theatre before the play making lots of noise and revving up the audience.

 

Me in my free and very silly but much needed hat at The Globe. Source: Julia.

 

The play started well with a raucous opening with the players encouraging the audience to join in and chant “Caesar, Caesar, Caesar” over and over with much clapping of hands and stomping of feet. It was like being at a football match when a popular player is about to walk onto the pitch. At The Globe each and every member of the audience is a member of the cast.

 

Overall I enjoyed the play but I suspect that was mainly because of where I was. There were some great performances but sadly I felt Caesar wasn’t one of them. Julius Caesar isn’t the most compelling of Shakespeare’s works. After Caesar is killed the play just seems to be a succession of people convincing someone else to kill them rather than take their own lives.

 

If it seems like I may have missed something then blame the heat. My seat may have been very good but it was in full sunlight for the entire play. The hat helped shield my face but it felt like I was sitting in a furnace with little or no breeze to provide any relief. I resisted the urge to remove my thin cardigan in an effort not to get severely sunburnt. Several members of the audience had to be taken out in wheelchairs after succumbing to the heat.

 

Finally released from the furnace the real excitement of the day started. The Crucible! Out of the furnace and into the fire, so to speak.

 

O conspiracy!
Sham’st thou to show thy dangerous brow by night,
When evils are most free?”

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 2, Scene 1

But what of my doubts? I’m not too proud to admit that although I had a long-held interest in Richard Armitage and thought him to be a very good actor, an interesting and intelligent person and thought him not too shabby in the looks department, I was not of the opinion that he was a great actor. I was desperate to see him on stage because he fascinates me but I was prepared to be disappointed, or, at least, not blown away. I doubted him and I was so very wrong.

 

Richard Armitage, The Crucible at The Old Vic. Source: The Old Vic.

 

Our seats were in the second row back from the front and the first I knew of this was when I sat down. I don’t think I realised just how close the actors would be to us until the play started, from which moment on I was completely captivated.

 

I’m not going to go into any detail about the play because there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t been said before. There are not enough words in the world to describe how wonderful this particular production is, how moving, evocative and thought provoking it is, or how compelling and completely absorbing I found it.

 

From the moment he first appeared on the stage my eyes were drawn to John Proctor. It was not Richard Armitage that appeared on that stage, it was all Proctor. From his sore-looking feet to his bloodied fingers, from the roar of his voice to the tears in his eyes, every last inch of him was the embodiment of John Proctor. When it was all over, I stood, heartbroken and in awe, and applauded. As he took his final bow and looked upwards to take the applause from those sitting above us, the lights that shone down upon him showed us that Proctor’s tears still glistened in his eyes and my heart broke a little more.

 

Of course, one actor does not a play make, or at least not this play and it would be remiss of me not to mention that the whole cast was magnificent. There wasn’t a single performance that was unconvincing or lacking. The whole play was brilliant; beautifully staged and stunningly performed.

 

Despite being heartbroken and devastated I didn’t cry. I might have done were it not for the fact that I spent the entire play trying desperately not to cough thanks to my nasty virus. As I’m sure many of you will know a cough is always worse at night and mine was no exception. I had plenty of water but the constant dry ice did me no favours. This is not a criticism it’s just a shame that I spent so much time trying to remain silent instead of relaxing. The woman in front of me didn’t help. She turned round every time I had to give in and cough – and it wasn’t like I was the only person coughing! My friends were not amused with her.

 

A friend should bear his friend’s infirmities,
But Brutus makes mine greater than they are.”

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act 4, Scene 3

Anyway, coughing aside, and apologies to anyone I annoyed (except “Brutus” in front who made me mildly paranoid – and yes I know the quote implies Brutus is a friend), when the play was over we gathered our wits and made our way to the stage door. I had been in two minds about whether or not to do it – another doubt – and having seen the tears still in Richard Armitage’s eyes when he took his bow, my doubts escalated. But this was probably going to be the only chance I’d ever have to meet him in the flesh. In the end only two of us joined the queue which eventually stretched all the way back to the front of the theatre. In hindsight we could have been better prepared but he came, he signed, he spoke, I took a photo and he moved on.

 

The photo was not my finest moment. We thought we’d be able to get a photo with both of us in but hadn’t thought through how we would take it and as Richard kindly pointed out, the security guys aren’t allowed to help. I took a photo of him with my friend, Nic, and then he was gone. She was concerned that I didn’t have a photo of me with him but all things considered: my cough, being a horrible sweaty mess thanks to London still being sauna-like even late at night, and the distinct possibility that I didn’t smell too sweet, I was happy to leave having spoken to him (about taking photos) and wielding a signed programme. I was not disappointed. The queue was enormous, he was the consummate gentleman, and quite frankly, having witnessed what he goes through on stage I was astounded he came out at all.

 

What of the photo? Well, he blinked and Nic looks decidedly shocked but we met him so I don’t think either of us really cares! I’m not posting it here because it’s not especially flattering of either subject. It’s a shame because the overall quality of the photo is actually quite good!

 

I left The Old Vic with the biggest grin on my face despite the hacking cough and unsightly sweatiness. I can’t help but say that in the flesh Richard Armitage is far more beautiful than he is in any photo or film. I was quite stunned. On stage he is a towering presence whereas at the stage door he was less tall and a lot slimmer than I imagined – although seeing him shirtless on stage (right in front of me) it seemed obvious to me that his apparent broad chest and shoulders are more about how he carries himself rather than his physicality.

 

Anyway, I did wonder why he comes out to greet people night after night when he must be exhausted and completely spent, especially after a day of two performances. In the interview he did with Richard Armitage US at the Into The Storm premiere, when asked why he goes out of his way to “connect with his fans on a personal level”, he said that he is “blown away” by the support he receives and for that reason alone I’m so glad I queued outside the stage door.

 

As to my doubts. I said before I was wrong and in a way I’m glad. Seeing just how great an actor he is blew my mind and took my breath away. To discover it this way was a real privilege.

 

So there you have it. It’s not a review but it’s what I want to say. Thank you to the lovely ladies who made the whole weekend simply wonderful – Julia, Nicola, Rachel & Carole. They deserve special thanks for putting up with my coughing and not making me feel like a leper although now I come to think of it no-one seemed keen to share a room with me!

 

Finally, I’ll let you into a little secret. I’m going to see The Crucible again in less than two weeks time! This time with no annoying cough … might need tissues!

 

 

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Tweeting friends …


Tweets. Source: Monette Enriquez

 

Almost two years ago I wrote about how Twitter changed my life. I still thank my lucky stars for it every day. It’s enriched my life immeasurably. I know that a lot of people don’t understand it and some don’t want to understand it but for me it’s opened up a whole new world of possibilities, introduced me to wonderful friends and widened my horizons. It’s made me laugh and it’s made me cry, and if it were to be switched off tomorrow I would mourn its loss because I would be poorer without it.

 

Back in March 2011 I did something which some might say was very stupid. I agreed to drive over 50 miles to a small Lincolnshire village and meet a Twitter friend in a pub car park. We were meeting in the evening so it was dark and when I arrived I discovered I had very little phone signal. Sandy won’t mind me saying that the word “dodgy” crossed my mind more than once as I sat in my car waiting for her to arrive. I’d given my dad every piece of information I knew about Sandy and her partner Chris because you can never be too careful. I’d spoken to her on the phone a couple of times and I knew what she looked like but you hear such awful stories …

 

A large saloon car pulled into the car park and I squinted through the glass and there she was grinning like a Cheshire Cat and waving. I got out of my car and before theirs had barely stopped the passenger door flew open and Sandy came rushing towards me with arms outstretched. She hugged me tightly and I knew everything was going to be ok. After a hug from Chris I was positive. I felt like I’d known them for ages.

 

Friendship has no distance. Source: EnabledDelirium

 

As I drove home later that night having had a thoroughly great evening I couldn’t quite believe my luck. I’d just met two of the loveliest people you can possibly imagine and I knew without any doubt that we would be friends for a very long time.

 

Two months later and I was greeted with a big hug outside York Minster by another lovely person, Nic. We spent the day eating, drinking (tea for me, wine for her – I still get teased about that), gossiping and gazing with rather bemused looks at some rather risqué artwork in York Minster. Another friendship forged.

 

A few months later Sandy, Chris, Nic and I all met in London for a day of picnicking in Regent’s Park and visiting the zoo. It was the first time Nic had met Sandy and Chris. There was much laughter over popping corks and a multitude of double entendres, some rather wonderful potato salad and a lot of chattering. We all got on so brilliantly it was hard to imagine a time when we hadn’t met.

 

Twelve months after I first met Sandy and Chris we all (Nic too) arranged to meet in York for a weekend and this time someone else, Julia, came too. You may remember we capered in a convent! Another fantastic friend to add to the list and it was Julia who was there with me last week, helping me find my courage.

 

We all meet as often as we can. Sometimes all of us together, sometimes not, but we never fail to have fun, talk a lot, laugh and eat plenty.

 

They never meet but there’s a skirmish of wit between them.”

William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, Act 1, Sc. 1.

There have been several other wonderful people I’ve met along the way. The lovely vivacious Vix who introduced me to the joys of Brixham; Jen, simply the best person to camp with at an air show come muddy swamp or sun-scorched field; kind and generous Sal who will tramp round London in the pouring rain; and Julian and Amanda both of whom I finally met last week after nearly three years of tweeting. And there have been others.

 

Without Twitter I wouldn’t have met any of these people or shared so many experiences with them. I wouldn’t be writing about air shows or convents or steep hills. I wouldn’t be raving about Shakespeare at The Globe. I probably wouldn’t know what the Pathfinders were and I certainly wouldn’t have been to a screening of a film about finding them. And my life would be so much poorer.

 

But it’s not just about the people I’ve met in the flesh. It’s about those I’m yet to meet and those I’ll never meet; all those people who fill my Twitter timeline 24 hours a day. You’re only ever a tweet away from a kind word, a shared laugh or just a hello. Twitter can be an escape, a provider of inspiration, a shoulder to cry on, or a place to let off steam. Sometimes it’s just a place to be ridiculously silly.

 

If it wasn’t for Twitter I wouldn’t be writing this blog. Blogging hadn’t even crossed my mind before I was inspired by other bloggers I discovered through Twitter. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t be writing at all because it was fan fiction that got me writing and I’d never heard of that before Twitter.

 

I’ve discovered new music, new films, new books, new places, new food, so many new things through Twitter it’s hard to comprehend just how I ever survived without it.

 

Don’t get me wrong, there are downsides: hate, ignorance, spam, misogyny, sexism, I could go on. But, those things are downsides of life; they don’t exist solely on Twitter. And if you’re sensible, apply common sense and maybe don’t arrange to meet in a slightly less than salubrious car park in the dark (although I don’t regret this for one minute) all of that can be avoided and who knows what you might discover?

 

To all my Twitter friends, those I’ve met, those I hope to meet and those who I never will, wherever you are, I send much love and a big thank you from the very bottom of my heart.

 

 

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I’m going through a Shakespeare phase; while looking for inspirational quotes I find myself increasingly drawn to his works. Actually, I hope it’s not a phase because as Ben Jonson wrote about Shakespeare in 1623, “He was not of an age, but for all time!” I don’t know if I should be concerned that Macbeth seems to be quite prominent in my subconscious … the title of this post being a prime example. Hopefully that’s simply a result of my recent trip to The Globe.

 

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time.”

William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 5, Sc 5.

While my life at the moment seems mostly to be a succession of days with a rather bleak outlook (although infinitely better than Macbeth’s) I’ve just had a busy, stressful, but wonderful week. A friend came to stay for four nights and we went out and about to various events, and I had to cope with a particularly tough event of my own. The theme of these few days has definitely been courage, either other people’s or mine.

 


 

A “German” soldier keeping watch from his trench. My photo.

 

On Saturday my friend and I went to The Victory Show, a tribute to World War II. The show is a step back in time to the 1940s with battle re-enactments, flying displays from World War II aircraft and a huge army encampment. I go mainly to see the aircraft as I can’t resist the lure of the Spitfire, Hurricane, Messerschmitt, B17 “Sally B” and countless others. This year we stood and watched the set-piece battle between the “Germans” and the “Allied Forces”. While it was done primarily for entertainment purposes, with a few tricks for the crowd like exploding water tanks that soaked anyone unlucky enough to be standing behind the hedges in which they were hidden and a “German” soldier being shot in the bottom, there was, of course, a serious side.

 
It’s not difficult to see how much courage was required on both sides of the real war. Watching the “Germans” crouching in their trenches like sitting ducks as the “Allies” advanced, and seeing the “Allies” face heavy bombardment from anti-tank guns and rocket launchers makes you think.

 

Where is your ancient courage? You were us’d
To say extremities was the trier of spirits.”

William Shakespeare, Coriolanus, Act 4, Sc. 1.

The “Allies” advancing on the “German” trenches. My photos.

 

Something else that gave me great pause for thought was the tiny confined space of the cockpit in each of the aircraft, not to mention the seemingly flimsy frame of these war birds. We paid a few extra pounds to walk the flight line and get up close and personal with the aircraft. You don’t realise how small a Spitfire or any of the other planes are until you’re standing next to the wing peering into the space which is less of a pit and more of a small hole with a view. The bravery and courage of the pilots who threw these aircraft around the skies is something I can barely comprehend. They must have found their sticking places, but sadly it took more than courage to ensure they didn’t fail. It took skill and a great deal of luck. During World War II air crew had less chance of survival than the infantry did in World War I. For many their fates were set as soon as they set foot inside the aircraft.

 

Our wills and fates do so contrary run
That our devices still are overthrown.”

William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 3, Sc. 2.

The cockpit of the Grace Spitfire (ML407). My photo.

 


 

On Sunday we went to the Shackerstone Family Festival. Shackerstone is a small village in Leicestershire best known today for the Battlefield Line Railway, a preserved steam and diesel museum that runs trains to Bosworth Battlefield. The festival brings together an eclectic mix of family attractions such as vintage narrowboats on the Ashby Canal, llama racing (seriously), lawnmower racing (again … seriously), dog agility displays, arts and crafts, steam traction engines, birds of prey displays, fairground rides and this year, and my main reason for wanting to go, the Red Arrows.

 

The Red Arrows displaying at the Royal International Air Tattoo in July 2013.
My photo.

 

The Reds put on a terrific display over the canal and for the first time ever I heard gasps of amazement from the crowd as the synchro-pair flew towards each other, seemingly heading for a collision. You never hear gasps like that at the big airshows because the majority of the crowd know what to expect. It gave me immense pleasure to be able to show my mum why I love the Reds so much. She was one of the gaspers and even professed to finding it really scary to watch. She did also say that she really loved it but having never seen them before was taken aback by their skill and courage.

 

To be a pilot with the Red Arrows does indeed take great skill and it’s something that only a very few RAF pilots get to do. Not only are they putting on a great display for the crowds but they’re showing us what the aircraft can do and showing off their own professional excellence. To do what they do, to do what any RAF pilot does, takes great courage, just as it did in the past.

 


 

On Monday morning I had to screw my own courage to the sticking place. I’m not going to go into the details but I had an interview for a job that was near perfect for me and one I truly wanted. I tried so hard to overcome my fear and be brave. I was determined not to fail and I don’t think I did. I didn’t get the job but I succeeded in overcoming my fear and finding some courage that a week before I truly didn’t think I had. This was a huge thing for me and while I’m disappointed at the outcome I was given wonderful feedback and now have some learning points to take forward for the next time. I must remember that while “brevity is the soul of wit” (William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 2, Sc. 2) it is not necessarily the best approach in interviews. In other words: expand, expand, EXPAND! Or, if you are going to be brief, at least be succinct and choose your words carefully.

 

Early in the morning before I left home for the interview I found a little inspiration thinking about Richard Armitage and his fear of water. If he can stand to be water-boarded, filmed under water in a sinking submersible craft, or stuck in a barrel on a fast-moving river then I too can face my fears.

 

My situation may not have been life-threatening but if you’ve ever had a panic attack you will no doubt know that it can feel as if it is. My biggest achievement was learning to control my panic and finding the courage not to let it consume me.

 
These quotes seem especially apt for me:

 

Our doubts are traitors,
And make us lose the good we oft might win
By fearing to attempt.”

William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, Act 1, Sc. 4.

Nothing will come of nothing.”

William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act 1, Sc. 1.


 

On Wednesday we had the very great honour and privilege of being present at the screening of a documentary called “Finding the Pathfinders” at The Kinema in the Woods at Woodhall Spa.  The film charts the search by Douglas Percy Cannings DFM for his wartime crewmates. Percy, as he prefers to be known, is the father of a friend of mine and on 11th September, the day of the screening, he celebrated his 90th birthday.

 

Percy Cannings on his 90th birthday.
Source: The Kinema in the Woods.

 

Percy served in the RAF during World War II as a mid-upper gunner in Lancaster bombers. He completed two tours: the first with 100 squadron and the second with 97 squadron, the latter being part of the Pathfinder Force. The Pathfinders’ job was to locate and mark targets using flares at which the main bomber force could then aim so increasing the accuracy of their bombing.

 

Before the screening of the film Sean Taylor gave a talk about “A day in the life of a Bomber Command Lancaster Crew”. Sean is the Safety Officer and guide at the Aviation Heritage Centre in East Kirkby, Lincolnshire. Listening to the talk gave us a better understanding of just how remarkable it is that Percy survived the war especially when you consider that he flew 47 missions!

 

 

The film was made by Percy’s family and was poignant and moving. As each of his crewmates were researched and traced more and more moving stories were told, families were brought together, and the departed remembered. Their stories, along with the stories of all who served, must not be forgotten and I’m so proud to have been able to share in what was a truly wonderful day.

 

After the film had been screened one of only two Lancasters still flying (the other is in Canada) flew over the Kinema. The RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight very kindly agreed to the flypast and performed three passes each at a height of approximately 200 metres. The noise was incredible and she was so low she unexpectedly set off several car alarms. It was a very fitting tribute to a quite remarkable man.

 

If questioned about his bravery and courage Percy will undoubtedly shrug his shoulders and say something about just doing his job. But to me and to all who have had the privilege of meeting him he is a hero; someone who put his life on the line 47 times so that we might be free.

 

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Winston Churchill, House of Commons, 20 Aug 1940.

A trailer for the documentary can be viewed here:

 

Sandy blogged about her dad back in 2010:

I’m so proud of my Dad

and you can read more about Finding the Pathfinders by visiting Ermine Street Project’s blog here.

 
I think the following quote is true of so many people, especially those who were prepared to give the ultimate sacrifice.

 

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.”

William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Act 2, Sc. 5.

 


 

The Oxford English Dictionary cites courage as “the ability to do something that frightens one; bravery.” Courage is something that can desert the best of us and at the most inconvenient moments. It’s not a tangible thing; there’s no tablet you can swallow to take away your fear. Courage is something you have to find for yourself.

 

If I’ve learned one thing this week it’s that I have courage and that I can screw that courage to a sticking place and know that it won’t fail me. I can think of all those other people who’ve screwed their own courage to a sticking place and faced their fears and I can take strength from that.

 

I know that my fears pale in comparison to the others I’ve mentioned here but they are no less real. I know I can now breathe steadily and still my shaking hands and do what needs to be done. And, I will remember

 

But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we’ll not fail.”

William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 1, Sc. 7.

 

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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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Life in the Bus Lane by Amanda

My lovely friend Amanda has started a blog charting a month’s worth of bus travel while she waits for a part for her car. This may not sound very interesting but trust me when I say you will laugh. In fact, I defy you not to laugh. Amanda is a talented writer and, in my opinion, a comedy genius. She has an amazing talent for making the minutiae and mundane drudge of everyday life hilarious although she doesn’t believe me when I tell her that. She’s currently on day 3 so get yourself over there, have a laugh and leave her a comment.

 

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This is my attempt to rediscover my writing mojo. I suppose I have good enough reasons for having lost it but recently I was asked if I’d like to participate in something and immediately knew I couldn’t do it. Not because I wouldn’t like to, but because I’ve lost all confidence in my ability to write. I’ve never been much of a blogger but I’ve loved writing. The saddest thing about not writing is that I have a story in progress…my first attempt at original fiction and after posting one chapter several months ago I’ve singularly failed to post anymore. I’m actually ashamed of myself! So I’ve had some personal issues to sort through…but in the grand scheme of things, they are nothing compared to what others deal with everyday and still manage to carry on.

 

So…I’ve decided to list some of my reasons for being cheerful to serve as a reminder that no matter how bad it seems, there is always something to smile about.

 

My friends – I have some pretty amazing friends. Friends who are always there, who understand me, who don’t judge me and who love me. I hope they know how much they mean to me.

 

My family – I might have moments where I whinge or complain about them, but let’s face it, like my friends, they’re always there. They support me, worry about me and accept me no matter what.

 

My home – It might only be rented and it might shake quite violently every time a train passes but I have a lovely, comfortable home. I’m surrounded by nice things, and it’s warm and dry and safe. Given what’s been going on in the world of late that’s something to give thanks for every day.

 

My car – This might seem an odd choice but just over 4 years ago I’d never driven a car. The thought of driving terrified me but I decided to put aside my fear and embarked on 12 months of lessons. My nerves nearly got the better of me when it came to taking the test, but I passed on my third attempt and have never looked back. Over 3 years on, I still occasionally have to pinch myself to prove that yes, I really am doing this! Driving…I love it.

 

Richard Armitage – Sorry, but I had to squeeze him in here! This is not an RA blog but you all know that I’m a huge admirer of his and if looking for reasons to be cheerful, he has to be way up there. If it hadn’t been for him I would never have met a lot of those friends I hold so dear and even though he’ll never know, I will always be grateful to him for that.

 

Twitter – Again, much like Mr A, without Twitter I would never have found a lot of the friends that are now so important to me. As I’ve mentioned before, it changed my life.

 

My musicality – I was going to put music as a reason but it occurs to me that it’s not so much the music as my ability to appreciate it and lose myself in it. I love the fact that I can sit down at a piano and play it competently (or at least I could…bit out of practice now!), that I can pick up a guitar and have it make a pleasing sound, or that I can open my mouth and hold a tune. I’m not a great musician by any stretch but I love being able to feel music and not just hear it.

 

My country – Say what you like about it, I am proud to be British. I never thought I would put this on the list but actually, after having watched the Olympics in the summer and the pageantry of the Queen’s Jubilee, I will be forever in awe of my country’s ability to put on a show, to smile in the face of the doubters and say, “look at us… aren’t we amazing!”

 

My ancestors – As part of my attempt to rediscover the things that make me happy I have recently immersed myself back into my family tree after a two year absence. For many years I’ve been researching the minutiae of all those people that have helped to make me who I am today. I’m lucky to have found some fantastic family stories and tantalising connections. But it’s not the links to the famous or infamous that I find the most exciting or that make me the most happy, it’s the ability to know so much about the lives of the ordinary people. I spent yesterday studying Merchant Navy records and crew lists (all online) to find out more about some cousins of my great-grandmother. Nothing spectacular, but I have to admit to being totally in awe of one man when I read an account of a voyage he took that ended with the words “Crew all saved”. Now there’s definitely a reason to be cheerful!

 

So there you have it.  Not an especially long list and by no means exhaustive. I’m actually really pleased that I’ve managed to write this. Maybe, I can start to think about continuing with my story…but baby steps…baby steps!

 

I’d love to hear what makes you happy if you’d like to share…

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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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