Still I cling on to familiarity like the bigot who fears and persecutes difference.
As we drove back home along the motorway that warm aestival evening, I glanced into the sky and noticed a small 'plane nearly silhouetted against the reddish sunset. I thought back to the couple of times at Reigate when, because I went along to weekly RAF meetings in order to humiliate Incompetent Chris and experience the promised laughs, I was allowed to go up in one of those aircraft myself. I recollected the sensations brought about when flying in one of these machines.
The cockpits were so open yet the actual 'plane was so small. You could see everywhere. In all directions, curvaceous and verdant hills rolled out to the horizon. Birds would fly alongside the wing struggling to keep up and I stared downwards, open-eyed in awe. Over the brow of every voluptuous green eminence seemed to be a local village church or droves of mottled and marbled cows. At the time, all I wrote was ravings about the thrilling aerobatics and unnatural G-forces.
I liked flying. It was one of the best things I've done. If I can ever afford it, one thing I really want to do is train to become a pilot so I can have my own light aircraft and fly around on Sunday afternoons. But I didn't like flying just because I could do loop-the-loops and almost shit out my own stomach. For that, I might as well contract Ebola and take a trip to the nearest crappy sanitised theme park. I realised that the appeal of flying is much more than that.
Cool stunts and headaches may be fun but the complete liberation flying gave me was sensational. I could have gone anywhere. I was free to go to everything mapped out below. In a sterilized world full of safety restrictions, padding and overprotection, it felt great to have this much superb freedom. I have to wait to be told when it's safe to cross the road; I need a helmet to ride my bike, an airbag in my car and deep bark at the playground; I can't smoke cannabis because it's bad for me; and my house has central heating, a lightning conductor, chlorinated water and a burglar alarm. But here, in a fucking RAF air base, I'm plucked right out of lessons and sat in control of an aeroplane and told to fly it. Completly devoid of any experience or qualification, I'm entrusted with god-knows-how-many horsepower at my adolescent fingertips. The only safety device was an ill-fitting parachute I probably couldn't work (even if we did bail and I found the ripcord, it wouldn't have enough time to inflate at such a low altitude) and a bog-standard motorcycle helmet to protect me from a rather huge fall.
Perhaps more importantly though, was the unbridled feeling of power that was surging through my veins.
Inherent in everyone seems to be some sort of intrinsic yearning for a form of power no matter how weak or how the power is manifested. Human greed fuels the want for increased power. In that cockpit, not only did I have power over this immensely mighty and puissant flying machine, but also, I had true control over someone else's life.
The colossally powerful 'plane was under my control and I felt its power in my arms. When we took off, the acceleration was phenomenal. Such a great power:mass ratio effortlessly cleared the asphalt straightaway, far before we'd even marked a quarter of the runway, and made a beeline for the clouds at some stupidly acute angle. But here I was, not even old enough to learn to drive a scooter, and I was flying. The instructor leaned back, took his hands off the controls and let me steer around. It wasn't just the aeroplane I was controlling – I also was steering the course of someone's life. I only knew the first name of the man sitting next to me, yet, at any time, I could have caused us both to plummet towards the earth and deadly death. If I wanted, at any time I could overpower him, perhaps with a concealed weapon, shut down ground control communications and force the joystick forwards bringing us to certain doom. Hell, maybe I could aim at something...
Of course I thought about these things while I was up there. But I didn't think about them for long, nor did they ever trouble me. Up there, it's just you and the instructor. There's no-one else to make you stop for a second or help you out. Soon, it'll just be me by myself in Canterbury. There will be the option of plunging in freefall to explode in a violent fireball of buckled and gnarled metal and seared earth. However, alternatively, I could fly away into the sunset, my opportunities only limited by the depth of my petrol tank.
Sorry, I didn't really know where this was headed.