Thursday, April 19, 2007

It was so low that...

How the mind works on a day like today ...

Apart from a ten year sojourn in the north east I've lived in this north Leeds suburb all of my life, its a pleasant place, perched on the highest hill in the city on the fringe of Wharfedale, it overlooks the airport which is on the opposite hilltop two miles away.

For most of my life I have lived at the bottom of the hill but this recent house move to a place right at the top of the hill has opened my eyes.

Its effing windy up here.

Today its effing windy and as I left home this morning, over on the opposite hill a Boeing 737 was turning at the end of the runway and even after 50 years of living within sight of an airport I still stood and watched as it completed its turn, straightened up and then rolled slowly down the runway, it never ceases to fascinate me.

No, I am not a geek.

And then the mind starts wandering, as I watch the 737 climb off the runway I think "sooner them than me today" and I imagine the passengers gripping the edge of their seats and asking for the drinks trolley at 8am in the morning as their chosen mode of transport bounces around in the wild wind we have this morning.

And a few minutes later as I drive down the road I notice a neighbours bungalow has sustained some damage to a rooflight through the wild night and instantly the mind drags out a memory from 40 years ago, linked as it is by aircraft and rooflights - how wierd is the human memory ?

Its the mid sixties and our airport has yet to see the advent of jet aircraft, instead we have a fleet of Vickers Viscount twin and four prop planes operating out of there and we are almost blase about their regular droning climbs and descents above our houses.

We're in the back garden on a sunny sunday afternoon, the whole family, playing cricket, and I've bent to pick up a ball when I hear my mother scream out the words "oh Frank !" and as I look up I see the object of her suprise - its a Vickers Viscount about to land on our bungalow roof.

When I say that it just missed our chimney pot then I do not exagerate, it just missed our chimney pot and as ours was a bungalow I'm not sure how it then went on to miss the chimney pot of the two storey house behind us, suffice to say it was low.

The whole scene is frozen in my mind, I'm 10 years old, I'm bent down picking a ball up, I look up and there is a fekking great big passenger aircraft less than 30 feet above my head, its banking to its right and the propellor on my side is slowly turning in the wind while the boomin, deafening noise from the other side of the plane is proof that the pilots are struggling to keep the aircraft aloft on one engine - it shouldn't be over our house at all as the take off and landing flight path is one mile in front of us, we rarely get to see aircraft over this side of the valley and its obvious in that split second that they've suffered an engine failure and are circling to get back to the airport.

Its gone in two seconds and we wait for the crash which must now surely happen just a couple of streets away but it never comes, instead the pilots manage to keep the aircraft in the air long enough to reach the airport again and it lands on the short reserve runway according to our newspaper the following evening.

All of that dragged out of memory by two unrelated sights this morning - fascinating.

And the funny thing about that incident is that the following evening our local ice cream salesman came around in his Mr Whippy van and he told my mother, in all seriousness, and she related the story many times in all seriousness, that he was parked in the next street when the Viscount flew over and as he saw it approach his van it was so low that he closed the orange rooflight on his van in panic so that it didn't smash it off - now thats low.

I don't think for one minute that it was that low, but me and Ned repeated that story with much hilarity for a long time afterwards, in fact I'm still repeating it today...

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