Category Archives: General

August 14th…2014…or thereabouts in any year…

DSCF0578[1]Great to hear from a couple of A/S students today regarding their results & plans for the year ahead. This coincided with the BBC News Channel interfering with the important business of toast & marmalade consumption earlier in the morning. Watching yet another politician trying to avoid stating the obvious, ie., that thousands of school leavers entering Tertiary Education is one of the neatest fixes of Unemployment figures yet concocted, nearly ruined that all important first cuppa of the day. Not quite. With many degrees devalued, along with the public exam results which underpin the whole edifice, one is prompted to consider the virtue of simply going out to work. A wise person once said that by the time you are 25 your qualities will count, not your qualifications. Given that, ‘pound for pound’, mature students make the most of a University environment why not take the path less taken. Avoid GAP like the plague, earn a living for a while & then take stock. This is pertinent because increasingly the question is being asked as to whether a false God is being chased at c.18 …not to mention the wisdom of building up large debts so early in life. It is doubtful that the supposed increase in earning capacity to be had from acquiring a degree will readily enable the clearing of that debt in any case!

In short, the results gained today will be less important than it seems, be they good or bad. The postcard from a past student who did badly(?) at A-Level & took a pearl of wisdom by going on a sheep farm in Australia for a year is salutary. ’The most important decision I ever made’.

Food, Glorious Food…..

DSCF0040[1]Now this little fellah is called Robin….or rather was, as at the ripe old age of 9 months he was, quite literally, ripe…for the chop! Male goats, aka ‘billy’, are not a lot of use in a herd of goats after they have ‘visited’ a lady or two. To be offered ‘Robin’ and trimmings on Saturday night was rather distressing even if he would have tasted like lamb. Net result was a trip to the local chippie, twixt Gore End & Newbury. Indeed this,’ battering emporium’, stands on the site of The Second Battle of Newbury ( Civil War) –  as indicated by the memorial obelisk adjacent which celebrates Lord Falkland’s contribution. Locals in the queue were bemused by conversation about this & other ephemera but it was Saturday night & the queue was long. Amazing to record that along with pickled eggs, giant gherkins & senior citizen concessions the menu had SCRAPS!! Many have supposed such delicacies have long passed into History, like steam engines under Beeching’s Axe. Not so in the wilds of Berkshire! To the uninitiated scraps are the bits of batter lifted out of the frier at regular intervals by the ‘chef’ to maintain clean oil for the fish/saveloys/sausages et al to swim in. This detritus is usually put into a space at the side of the frier for disposal?! or, as in this case, offered up to customers in a paper pouch to go with, well,  anything. Brilliant, what a treat. Subsequent discussions with my Geordie host & his good lady revealed that in days gone by, considerably north of Watford, it was commonplace to go down to the chippie armed with dessert bowls …’ A penn’th of mixed in each please’ = a bowl of chips/scraps & mushy peas. This was the time when one would only eat half of the Yorkshire Pudding with the roast dinner …the ‘afters’ consisting of jam spread on the remainder. Fashions change in food as with anything else but class is permanent. ‘She who must be obeyed’ talked lovingly of scraps in curry sauce after a night on the Pernod in Penarth while no Post-Grads ‘Day On’ in Aberystwyth was complete without a plate of gammon, egg, chips and scraps. The  numbers who crave such delicacies and indulge whenever possible may be larger than we think. Standing in line at an airfield restaurant in South Yorkshire it was a magical moment to hear an order of, ‘Brie & Bacon Panini with Mushy Peas.

Cold War: V Force…thoughts.



Kate Metcalfe has recently joined Orange Group, a forensic auditing outfit based in Twickenham & Kenilworth. Marketing their prowess in the Construction Industry will be a challenge & hearing some new jargon ‘at home’ prompted the thought that nowhere, arguably, has there been a greater need for an independent toothbrush to be taken to every corner of the Augean Stables than Defence Expenditure. Probably that has always been so, as I am sure Cardwell would agree, but certainly the chequered history of public money frittering since 1945 bears scrutiny. The Public Accounts Committee has battled in vain on behalf of various Governments in this area…to little avail.

The two pictures are reminders of past doings in this area. They happen to be of an aircraft and a place which are linked, not only to the Cold War era but to each other. The airfield was the former RAF Gaydon, the latter an Avro Vulcan…a team of volunteers lovingly cares for this V-bomber such that it manages high speed taxi runs each year. The noise generated considerably dwarfs  that of the Jaguars/Landrovers/Aston Martins which strut their stuff up Gaydon’s old main runway. In former times this RAF station trained Navigators and before that was the home of the Vickers Valiant….another V-bomber.

Indeed there were three such bombers which came out of a MOD requirement specified in the immediate aftermath of WW2. The third was the Handley Page Victor. The need was to provide a delivery system for the UK’s Independent Nuclear Deterrent & three companies with great traditions in the industry provided designs. The fact that improved Soviet air defences made their mission extremely difficult at the altitudes/speeds all three could achieve by the time they came into service is as academic as the switch to a submarine delivery system. ( clearly not ‘academic’ in every sense as Polaris survives…the ‘independence’ one could debate but not here.) The fact is that, despite tests clearly demonstrating relative weaknesses in performance/capability, let alone clear duplication in general terms, the Government of the day in a noble desire to support all.three private companies (& their design teams) placed orders for all three aircraft. One Vulcan still flies, one even made it to the Falklands with the help of a few Victor tankers & one Vulcan still roars up the runway at Wellesbourne. That roar must be audible at Gaydon where the Valiants were axed after a very limited Service life due to structural fatigue issues.

What drove the ordering process? Sentiment? Was this the most efficient allocation of public monies? Hindsight is a wonderful ‘thing’.but it is surely incumbent on responsible Government officials to allocate scarce resources as efficiently as possible. One could cite many other examples in the Defence sector, such as Tanks & even army boots, and it is true the whole area is blighted by inter-Service rivalry. Yet as thoughts turned to Orange Group’s skill sets & the notable ongoing job they are doing at Terminal 5…or is it 6….lost count of how many quarts are being jammed in that pint pot…one wonders how well spending is being monitored in the construction of the nuclear aircraft carriers. Chronic overspending has invariably attended major defence contracts and this really does need ‘independent’ auditing/monitoring on an on-going basis.

Human beings are fallible. Defence procurement will suffer with the best will in the world. Do the errors need to be magnified by inadequate scrutiny of money trails. Someone, like an Orange Group needs to think outside the box and be pro-active…before our newspapers are filled with horror stories surrounding those ‘carriers.


A recent Blog indicated the qualities of a great schoolmaster. One could not find more contrasting contexts than the rolling Hampshire countryside near Cheriton and the sun-baked runways of Fernandina Beach, Florida. Yet it is at the latter that David plies his trade as a teacher of Tailwheel Flying in his Piper J3 Cub.1514316 Piper CubWhen it was put to him that it was time the author learnt how to fly properly the response was totally honest. He knew the capabilities of the student…or lack of them as a very average pilot…when he said,” You will be lucky to get my sign off in under 10 hours.” With great patience & kindness allied to tremendous groundschool, pre- and post- flight, and a week of reconstruction a test was finally granted. The day was unusually, ‘English’; grey, overcast, rain in the air and just enough height to do some airwork. Pre-flight done, tyres kicked & washroom visited David announced that after the handling and regardless of the wind a landing/take-off would have to be completed to each runway…ie., all six. (Plan attached)  An exercise in ‘feeling’ the wind. Or an exercise in displaying how much had been learnt. In the midst of these ‘circuits’ bowels finally gave out and a break was requested….” See that hedge running by the airfield boundary? Land in the grass beside it. I will keep engine ticking over while you hop out, then take off from where we are to carry on.” Eventually, after nearly 12 hours in total, his signature went into the Logbook. The performance was, ‘acceptable’. A signed copy of Wolfgang Langewiesche’s,’Stick & Rudder: An explanation of the art of flying’ was handed over…with the inscription urging the location of this outstanding work to be the loo where it might be referred to often. ( First published in 1944, never bettered & available from McGraw-Hill, New York.) What stood out throughout the week was David’s desire to have the skills understood, his willingness to try different ways of ‘killing the cat’ & endless patience. To those in the know, ranging from South East Aerobatics, St. Augustine, to American pilots in the Red Bull Air Race world, his teaching skills are regarded as peerless. If this article spreads the word in some small way then great. 396

ISBN 0-07-0366240-8.Stick_and_Rudder_(book_cover_art)


Blade Runner: Daylight Arrival…

For the first time in ages cross-country flight beckons…round the Birmingham Zone counter- clockwise in a Grumann AA5. Lunch at Halfpenny Green, Wolverhampton, before returning to EGBW. Wellesbourne to the uninitiated. Of course there are cross-countries and cross-countries…

….c.12 years ago. 6.30am pre-flight of a PA28, 5B-CFZ, at Paphos Airport, Cyprus. Parting wisdom from Augostinos such as the requirement to carry a mix of Dollars/£ Sterling etc.,liquids,ham rolls & toothbrush. Beirut the destination in a single engine aircraft over a lot of water. It was an opportunity to be taken which might never come again even if a touch foolhardy. Lift off c.7am for the short hop to Larnaca for a fuel top off which took 20 minutes and a raft of paperwork which in true Eastern Mediterranean fashion took an hour plus. The weather was gin clear, the climb to 5,500′ and level off in the cruise uneventful. Fond farewell to Larnaca Radar and a ‘speak to you later’ said with just a tad more meaning than usual. Settling down for the flight, chomping on a ham roll washed down with cold coffee, optimism was high. The flight itself need not detain us aside from the onset of ‘dead butt’, need to fly on the AI as sea/sky merge & plenty of leg stretching.Not forgetting adaptation of empty coke bottle. Nearer to two hours than one and a half later…old log book not to hand…thoughts turned to Beirut, contact & descent. By now the sun well up and a thick haze along the shoreline to be expected. Natives had my flight plan & v.helpful re. heights/headings/expectations & yes, haze band would need to be penetrated. On the way down city visible & airport to the south of it.

I well remember  that haze or rather the emergence from it…popping out, with the city laid out below & a little time to reflect. The opening shot of Ridley Scott’s,’Blade Runner’, hit me straight away!! O.K., daylight, but the mix of buildings still standing & blackened ‘holes’ & by now viewing all this from 1,600′ I will never forget. For the first time anxiety just crept on to my radar. However, no time to dwell. An arcing right turn onto an extended final, pre-landing checks to do and thoughts also turning to a washroom.

The landing uneventful, the runway vast. No ground control hand off so if in doubt taxi to the end & hope someone says something by way of instruction along the way! No communication so hauled off at the end, miles from anywhere at the apex of the two main runways. It was bloody hot so popped the door for ventilation. Now what? Ago’s last words came booming back. ‘Peter, my friend, your trick will be to get out of there.’ Engine still running & temp gauge on the move. Try as I might no instruction from any frequency. Even the,’I'm a stranger to these parts, request progressive taxi’, of no help. Stopping short of an indication as to where one might find a spot of tea & a cucumber sandwich I was finally told to stay put as troops on their way! A whole truck load emerged from the shimmering heat, pulled up in front of the aircraft & proceeded to surround the area. A shambolic lot they were too. Shades of Che descending from the Sierra Maestre in Cuba…guns slung over shoulders, ammo belts displayed at random. Officer walked round, mounted the wing and shouted a ‘follow me’ order. Fine, no argument there. Off we went for a trip round the airport which lasted an age. Ended up alongside a squat building near the base of the ‘Tower. Not a plush Terminal in sight…or Loo. Shutdown complete & armed with paperwork, passport & envelopes of currency the next stop was the office of Airport Security. Spartan it was too, large man with much braid & many medals…not to mention gold on his fingers & round his neck….had me sit down in front of his desk. What was point of departure & destination? Mind if we search your aircraft? Passport. This crossed his desk with $50 dollars inside it. He never looked at the detail of the passport, just slipped the money under his blotter. Stamping a form which was clipped into the passport he returned same & said with gold-laced smile,’Customs’. And so it went on via a ‘roach infested loo. Did I wish to visit the City? ‘The Paris of the East’ I could spend one hour in the terminal! Ah, now this appealed with the prospect of grub. Accompanied by a spindly youth toting two sidearms like Clint on a bad day a search of the Terminal began. This revealed one cafeteria selling two items: coke & crisps. I sincerely hope things have changed since then.

It was wise to watch the refuel…credit card accepted & more hard cash for the Manager, if you wanted to be filled up TODAY. By now the focus was on ‘getting out’ as soon as decently possible. Then to the Control Tower for more stamped forms & cash gifts. Here at least there was a steakwich of animal unknown…tasted great…& guest radar show of the afternoon flight of two Syrian Migs along the southern border of their airspace. Timely reminder not to venture north in a PA28 of Cypriot origin. In fairness the Tower crew were kindness personified & pointed out that all other aspects of the airport were controlled by the Army. With progressive taxi now given and winds now favouring a westerly runway the departure was uneventful. Never looking back the climb to 6,000′ over & heading set there was plenty of time to do the Math on just what this flight had cost. Larnaca laboured the paperwork again & light fading fast as Paphos hove into view. Straight in approach, past those two Shackleton wrecks, & there to greet the wanderer the ubiquitous ‘Ago’. More concerned for his old PA28 than the pilot,downloads2Beirut_Airport_aerial_overview_Lim there was at least no hint of a weapon, no need of $/£ or even any sign of a Replicant!!

Blade Runner is a great Movie. Best seen, day or night from the sofa in your own living room…


Friends…hail fellow, well met.


Sir Ralph Hopton & Sir William Waller, who commanded the Royalist and Parliamentary forces respectively in this Civil War action, were old acquaintances. Indeed they had fought side by side as mercenaries in Europe. As men of practical military experience they found themselves in positions of responsibility yet on opposing sides when it came to politics and their consciences. The former had established a reputation for conducting rearguard actions with beaten troops…the latter earned the nickname, ‘night owl’, for his skill in moving troops in the hours of darkness. That there was a battle at Cheriton at all was due to Waller’s ability to move the London Trained Bands overnight from direction East Meon, hoping to take Old Alresford astride Royalist communications between Winchester and Basing House. Hopton’s forces, in the field from Winchester, were nearly caught out but his advanced guard raced into Alresford before Waller’s men could reach it. So that gave the night of 28th March for both to contemplate the ‘morrow and a battle neither much desired and certainly not with a friend. Suffice to say it went badly for the King’s men and Hopton had to fight a rearguard action. Both commanders deployed their respective particular talents…no doubt they recognized and applauded same.

Shuffle on some 350 years and 15 year old boys are in those same fields on a hot June afternoon for a bit of Ordnance Survey assisted re-enactment. Armed with packed lunches and pop rather than pike or musket, two ‘sides’ of c. 30 each were deployed. The Royalists to Alresford the Parliamentarians to Hinton Ampner House. The Author, knowing Waller’s Ridge like the back of his hand & not wishing to get all hot and bothered running round the battle arena. took his men down to the ‘Ridge in good order/time to await the arrival of the Royalists from Alresford. In this I was able to count on the tactical nous/sparkling wit & repartie of a venerable colleague…let us call him Dick. Distributing our ‘men’ in penny packets along the ridge we, as ‘staff’ you understand, settled down in a leafy bower on the left flank with two senior boys to act as runners. It was very hot. About an hour later the ‘Royalists’ hove into view some two miles away. Noisily they came down into the vale below our position & began to advance towards us. ALL accounts agree that the King’s men tried to force a way round our right flank. This was what was expected. We, for Parliament,  had set our strength accordingly. Bear in mind, too, that raising binoculars was about our most strenuous activity of the afternoon thus far.

Shock, Horror!! One of the teachers i/c Royalist forces had decided to advance against our thinly held left. Steadily they came on up a leafy, hedge-lined lane quite contrary to what happened in 1644 & with our ‘men’ in 1994 up to a mile away along the ridge. Outnumbered about five to one it was not looking good. The two senior boys ‘with us Staff’ were decidedly unhinged. Now in this situation, as in life, tight corners are when you find out who your friends are and where real education takes place!! The aforementioned Dick took charge. Enjoining us to keep perfectly still/quiet he said, ‘Leave this to me’. The Royalist ‘men’ were by now on the ridge path and moving along it unhindered. We crouched low as Dick burst forth from our hide and told the teacher and his ‘men’ to stop where they were. ” Dr.C., what do you think you are doing? This is not where you are supposed to be”. Mumbled apologies followed, even an attempt to justify a novel approach march. Dick was having none of it. “You will have to go back the way you came and go up a track on the other side of the vale as per map you were given.” And off they went, mutterings about thirst audible in the ranks. I had to bite on a thick twig to stop laughing, DSCF0087[1]tears ran freely. One of the two senior boys said he could not believe it. We toasted the 2 i/c with Coca-cola as I recall, watched the ‘foe’ struggling down the lane and then set off to witness further Royalist discomfort at the other end of the ridge. Along the way it was pointed out that the Parliamentary waggon train had better be well stocked with alcohol. One of the boys wondered if this was quite ‘cricket’ which was put down with a never to be forgotten,”This is war”.

Either you have character/style/ charisma or you do not. Hopton, Waller & Dick clearly did. The senior boys made of it what they will, the rest of the ‘men’ had their own experiences. My friend that day was ever thus and will always be with me.



One of my students is currently grappling with a mini thesis on Hitler’s Foreign Policy from 1935 to 1939.In particular he is concerned with the role of Nazi Ideology in the determination of that policy. It has been a real journey for the lad, painful at times but progress we make. Not the least of his problems was simply having an idea of the political map of Europe at the time, even where countries are on it! Sooner rather than later we savaged the title of his thesis. For example, and pertinent here, the need to understand that this is about Germany and it’s relationships with other states…not only at this time but as they had evolved over time. Interesting to note here that as a Geography A-Level student he was surprised to discover that where Germany IS in the World may be of critical import rather than the transient tiller touching of a particular leader. As such Adolph Hitler, not even a North German as it were, was operating in this policy area with the same ‘picture’ as Bismarck, Bulow, Bethmann-Hollweg, Stresemann et al who went before him. Much beloved of those embarking on Commercial Pilot Written Exams are the two Navigation Papers & in particular a tricky, even nasty, calculation known as the HOWGOZIT. ( Do Google the Howgozit Curve.) You can as a pilot undertake all the planning pre-flight you like ahead of a trip. You know, Met. Reports, the Winds Aloft, Weight of Aircraft, Fuel Load & Burn Rate, and so on. However, what it is to calculate, say, one third of the way along the route, your actual performance. From there you can give a more accurate ETA or even see that you will need to divert, stop to upload more fuel. My History student had little or no sense of the GERMAN HOWGOZIT at the outset and rectifying that has been key. The German Flight, in a sense, started in 1871 and where it was in 1935 represents a point down the track.

Churchill’s 1939 comment about the tricky business of ‘reading’ Stalin’s or Soviet Foreign Policy has dogged me all week in the wilds of North Warwickshire. A riddle wrapped in an enigma or some such was his opinion. Less well known is his next remark. The key, he felt, perhaps lay in an understanding of Russian National Interest. One can argue that this was lost to view post 1945. Russia’s Geographical position and where it was on it’s journey in time, the Howgozit, was more relevant than Communist Ideology or Stalin’s paranoia. Examining pre-flight plans of the Hitler’s, Stalin’s of the World not very productive let alone ideological templates. My student has been something of a rabbit trapped in the headlights with all this. Not least when asked to teach me,’at the whiteboard’. He grapples well and will continue to do so in his climb to cruising altitude….

The picture is of The rear facing Navigator’DSCF0139[1]s table in a Vulcan. Wonder why his position is looking backwards?

DSCF0343[2]The headstone in the picture  rests at Goodwood Racing Track in Sussex, England. Deciphered it says, ‘Drive it like you stole it’. Relevant to a driver exiting the pit lane with time to make up and laps winding down. Some may say risky advice but at least it is positive and the aim is to win. It is quite clear to me that such strong, simple, clear messages have never been given out to Tom, Zoe, Joe, Hannah & Zach. These represent my students…and various schools in the West Midlands. As ‘drivers’ they are trying to improve their effectiveness as writers of their own language. I have seen enough of what they produce at school, let alone for me, to know that they have never been taught how to construct a paragraph. It can be done in 10-15 minutes and a 4-point plan taken down on an index card as an aide memoire. Something for the writer’s/mechanic’s ‘tool box’. As such this is about building blocks and one can play about with the business of linking paragraphs subsequently. The point is that you cannot get at the FUN of dealing with the flow of continuous prose until you you can make the bricks. They are all bright students. They are all trying NOW to write fluently. It is painful for them but they do see that unless they become more effective at getting their points across they will suffer. Their immediate concerns are Exam Boards and Examiners. I am asking them to look further ahead to Tertiary Education and even the demands of working environments. It matters not one jot whether their words are machine or pen generated.. The advice needs to be as simple as that on the headstone. ‘Write as if someone else is going to read it.’ Fortunately these students are young enough to ‘crash’ a few times with their tutor, walk away, reflect and come again.

The dogs of war.

Well, ‘dog’ actually! And a fearsome prospect, too, is the ‘gate guardian’ at South Warwicks Flying School. Very aggressive if trodden on & protects own space by passing highly toxic ‘wind’. 001