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Posts Tagged ‘Red Arrows’


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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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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