Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines

Posted on August 26, 2011 by


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As the TV ad says (for something or other) that was lucky. The WW II Revival Day at Panshanger North London Flying School was one of those rare, perfect days when nothing went wrong.

To get in the mood, we got kitted out in RAF uniform. Could have done without the proprietor’s ‘That’s no good for you, madam, it’s a size 10’. Thanks a bunch. Mind you, neither am I the size 16 I ended up with bunched up round my belly. Talk about fitting where it touches. Still, eyeing my sack-of-spuds look, Himself offered comfort: ‘Never mind. Rookies had to wear one size fits all’.

For once we did as we said we would and got up at the crack of dawn (8.30. Come on. It was Sunday) to watch Pipers, WACOs, Spartans, Tipsy Trainers, Chipmunks and Tiger Moths from the 30s and 40s coming in to land from airfields all over Britain. It is truly astonishing how many lucky so-and-so’s own planes. There was also (I’m told) a Fokker, a Mustang, the weirdly named Pietenpol Air Camper (the mind boggles!) and a 1928 Curtiss Robin Monoplane (only three left). The pilot seat was a wicker basket chair. True.

Daphne overheard a chap say: ‘Won’t be long, just popping over to Alderney for lunch’. OK for some. Daphne came with us because, well, Daphne’s up for anything but also because she kindly agreed to be photographed scrambling in and out of cars and planes. Thanks Daphne. The first was a Piper piloted by – do hope he was old enough to hold a licence – the charming Sebastian who invited Daphne to take the wheel or whatever it is they do in aeroplanes.

Gawping at The Magnificent Machines, Happy Jazz Band in the background, The Jive Swing Dancers strutting their stuff, we stumbled across Private Joe Walker from Walmington-on-Sea pretending to be a magician called Trevor Quickenden.

By now, our gone-without-breakfast bellies making as much noise as the Pitts Special aerobatics, we are about to join the queue at the Out Of The Box caff when Out Of The Blue, Mavis and David suddenly appeared inviting us to join them for lunch in their not quite vintage but definitely classic Volkswagen Campervan. How did they find us in that crowd? Not difficult. They knew we were in costume (disappointedly few were). That chap’s lunch in Alderney could not have matched ours. As the delectable Kate tinkled the ivories, Mave manually dismembered a chicken Charles Laughton/ King Henry VIII style, served fresh salad and fresh bread, cold Pinot Grigio and strawbs and cream. Delish. Thanks Mave. We laughed when, concerned Dave’s bald pate might burn (forgot to say it was lovely sunny day), Mave origami-d a tea towel and plonked it on his Barnet.

After eating all her food and drinking all her wine I callously abandoned my hostess to go in search for the owner of the Curtiss Robin to see if he would agree to a photo shoot. He was nowhere to be found so instead wangled permission to use a 1936 super-dooper silver Spartan Executive. I was chuffed with my powers of persuasion until Himself pointed out it was less than ideal for photography (teccie stuff like light reflecting off it etc.,) and Daphne pointed out she knew Nigel, the owner. Thanks Nigel.

Deciding to find an owner of a vintage car and twist his arm for permission to shoot I noticed two women looking at Daphne in admiration. Everyone looks at Daphne in admiration. It’s the cheek bones. Do you know who she is?, say I, that’s Daphne Selfe the celebrity model. Yes, they said, we know Daphne. She comes into our shop, SuSu in Welwyn. Taking advantage of the co-incidence I ask if they know anyone here who owns any of the 129 vintage cars. Certainly do, they say, that 1932 Ford belongs to a friend. I’m sure he’ll be OK about it. He was. Thanks David.

As I said, one of those rare, perfect, days when nothing went wrong.

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