Monday 14 January 2013

Dry teeth

The thing about doing a loop-the-loop in a wee yellow bi-plane is that it gives you dry teeth. As the view up over the little windshield becomes nothing but blue sky and cloud and then, most startlingly, upside-down river and paddocks and roads, while the straps bite into your hips and shoulders and your stomach gives a bit of a lurch, you either gasp or, er, exclaim, or shriek or grin. Generally all of those, in that order, I would guess: that's how it was for me, anyway. And all that open-mouthed stuff plus the rush of the wind leaves you with dry teeth. And a great feeling of exhilaration.

We were at the Croydon Aircraft Company near Mandeville, where a small team of calm and multi-skilled workers in overalls painstakingly restore old wood-and-fabric aircraft for rich men. We saw all sorts of machines in various stages of repair, many of them just metal frameworks with a few panels of moulded plywood applied, awaiting their turn for attention or, quite often, the next injection of cash from their besotted owners. In a nearby hanger were the finished results, a selection of Moths (did you know that besides Tiger and Gypsy, there are Puss, Fox, Dragon and Leopard?) plus other types, all neat and tight and airworthy.

Then we went outside and Ryan strapped me into the front seat and we took off without ceremony, flying over the lush Waimea Plains with their slashes of windbreaks, and the braided river, before looping up and over and down and up again, and then doing a wing stall with a moment's disconcerting silence from the engine. It was so thrilling, I couldn't stop grinning. So that's how I got dry teeth today at 1000 feet above sea level. And made another connection with my father, who first learned to fly in a Tiger Moth not so very far north of here, the first step in a journey that ended for him in Poland at Stalag Luft III - where, last year, I also followed him.

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