Saturday, July 24, 2004

Don't Look Down

I took my daughter Charlotte over to Le Touquet for the first time yesterday. I had promised her a visit to the aquapark on the sea front but hadn’t expected it to be as busy as it was. Of course the French children are already on their summer holidays and most of them appeared to be queuing for the water slides, absolute bedlam but she enjoyed it and slept all the way home to Kent, missing the view on the way.



In fact, I had considered cancelling the flight in the morning, as Le Touquet were giving four thousand metres and special VFR in mist but hearing one of my past instructors on the radio, mid channel, I asked him what it was like there and he suggested that we could duck under the poor visibility at low-level from Boulogne, which we did, only really seeing the runway once we were joining downwind.



The day eventually cleared into what summer should really be and I wonder how long it will last. Apparently, the jet stream has moved south this year and as a consequence we are collecting all the arctic low fronts, which normally stay away from Europe in summer.

Friday, I went to visit Unisys in Uxbridge and hadn’t realised that Denham airfield was so close, a short taxi ride from the centre of the town. Forty minutes into Denham was much easier than two hours or more by car and of course, the view of the city is rather better from an aircraft which also manages to avoid the congestion charge.

My local council, Thanet, I see has been slated as one of the worst in the country in the comparative league tables rom the Audit Commission. To be honest, I’m hardly surprised; it’s always been the case down here, pretty as the area is. Matters are made worse by poor services and the insistence on the part of the poorer London boroughs that they ‘Dump’ their unwanted problems on Thanet’s doorstep, with the consequence of a rather nasty stabbing incident this week in Cliftonville. The residents are rightly complaining that too many children’s homes, homeless hostels and refugees, crammed into a square mile is a recipe for disaster and disorder and one only has to read the local paper any week to see the unhappy results. With so many young foreign students being mugged by feral gangs in the Margate and Ramsgate area, I’m surprised that any European or Russian parent in their right minds would send their children to learn English in those two areas. I certainly wouldn’t.

Anyway, one of Thanet Council's major failures or excuses appears to be its IT, so next week, I’ll call the head of the council and ask if I can be of help. I couldn’t make matters any worse than they are by all accounts!

Monday, July 19, 2004

Banner Towing with Captain Bob
 
A busy towing 'Airads' banners all day between Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth. The day starts at Maypole with a refuelling stop at Rochester before flying on to Beccles in East Anglia which we used as the base for two tows before wandering home again this evening.
 

 
A lovely view of the North Kent coast from five thousand feet over the Thames estuary as I start a slow 500 fpm descent in Captain Bob's Cessna 172, towards the distant line of Birchington and the field at Maypole, just visible in the evening haze.  I felt very privileged perched up there in the sky between East Anglia and Kent, looking towards the small bend in the coast where my home is. While other people are crammed into the 17:34 from Victoria, I have a very different, even unique, view of the world and challenges that simply can't easily be expressed in words.
 
It's an unusual thing to do but then Bob Shilling's  Airads aircraft appreared on the BBC programme, 'Restoration', last night, so I guess he's a 'celebrity' banner tower now.
 
One thought though. Try drinking a cup of coffee and eating a cornish pasty and a jam donut while flying an aircraft. It isn't easy and the jam is deadly, leaving us both casting round for a 'wet wipe', the remains of a curry disaster from last week's trip to Troon and the Open Golf, which is another story. 
 

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Waach the Ball

Autumn has made a temporary return today. A change on yesterday, which was almost summer-like.

I invented a new type of triathlon yesterday afternoon. Cycle cross country twelve miles past Reculver to Hoath village, fly for thirty minutes, cycle back twelve miles and then kayak across West Bay bay and collapse in a heap. Consequently, I ache this morning.



From my point of view, the sea still demands the comfort of a wetsuit and I very much doubt that the water temperature will now rise sufficiently to risk leaving my neoprene layer at home. July has now been so bad that I would be surprised if August recovers and one of the farmers I know was complaining that his crops have been ruined.

Tomorrow, I’ve been invited to meet Theresa May and Leader of the Opposition, Michael Howard at a round table at Conservative Central Office. This means taking the train up to London, with the normal one in three chance of arriving at Victoria in time.

Friday, I’m taking the day off with a friend and we’ll fly over to France for the day to pick up some wine. There’s an outside chance of good weather and last Sunday, I managed to cram in some very useful and much-needed instrument practise on a Cessna 172 over to Beccles in Norfolk and back. Heads down all the way, to five hundred feet above the runway, both there and back, with no view of the world outside. It’s a desperately tiring exercise, particularly when it’s bumpy, one’s attention riveted on the artificial horizon and never leaving it for more than five seconds to do something else. The strangest thing, I described to my companion on the relatively long flight, is when every sense screams that the aircraft is banking left or right and in fact it’s not. Overcoming the urge to ignore the instruments is very hard but that’s what instrument flying is all about, only believe what the technology is telling you if you wish to stay alive. It’s a pity the same rule doesn’t quite apply to the world of personal computing.

Saturday, July 03, 2004

Eurostar

I had hoped to have been able to fly myself to Brussels yesterday but the 'summer' weather made this impossible.



With a 24-hour PPR (prior permission) required for the flight plan, I had spent £17.00 on a call to the Met Office to speak to a forecaster for a stronger idea of what Friday morning’s weather might be and I have to confess, he was spot on. Heavy showers and high winds, which forced me to take ‘Plan B’, the Eurostar from Ashford, a convenient, more expensive and longer journey than simply hopping in my aircraft and starting the engine.

What surprised me at the Eurostar check-in at Ashford International Station at 08:45 in the morning was that only one person was on duty, with a row of empty positions next to him. People in the lengthening queue, include me, were starting to mutter with annoyance. After all, at this time of the day, one might have thought that Eurostar might be able to organise more than one ticket desk?

When I finally reached the front of the line, I asked the stressed, middle-aged man behind the desk why he was all alone. “The other person is on breakfast”, he told me, and “we’ve been here since two this morning”. “But only two people to manage the Eurostar rush-hour”, I asked incredulously, “Isn’t that ridiculous”? “We’re always understaffed”, he replied, “We just have to cope”.

The train to Brussels was five minutes late; this is England after all, and although it was a very civilised journey with polite service, I had to beg several times for a cup of coffee, which took roughly half the journey before it arrived and I managed to throw it all over my notes and mobile phone. On arrival in Belgium, Brussels station was only ten minutes away from the restaurant, the Portofino, where I was to have my meeting and on the way home, I just managed to squeeze back on the 4’ O’clock train back to Ashford.

One thing I did notice on the train is that at 300km/hr the GPRS signals from my mobile phone have trouble keeping up. More accurately, I think we were moving so quickly between the cellular masts that my Sony P900 phone was having problems finding a consistent signal to pick up my email ‘On the fly’.

Working my way home from Ashford on my motorcycle via Canterbury, I was horrified to see how bad the traffic congestion problem has become in recent years. Canterbury at rush hour is the equal or worse of the infamous Wandsworth ‘one-way’ system in London and the Deputy Prime Minister urgently needs a sanity check, if he believes that he can squeeze a million more homes into the flood-plain between the two towns. He and his planners are completely out of their minds. The infrastructure and the environment simply won’t accommodate such a grand plan without burying what’s left of the Kent countryside under more concrete.

Anyway, today is Saturday and I was supposed to be revalidating my instrument weather (IMC) rating between Lydd and Le Touquet. A kind of blindfold driving exercise, with a friendly but frequently sarcastic examiner in the right seat, as I make attempts to shoot instrument approaches onto a runway on instruments alone. The weather has however struck again and there’s a howling gale outside, so the exercise is cancelled until Tuesday, which is fine by me. The low cloud would be fine but the wind would make it very difficult indeed and I’d probably end up back at Brussels by mistake, so instead, I'll try and pedal my mountain bike along the sea wall to Reculvers against the gale.