Thursday, 19 November 2015


When I was a boy I liked to watch the sky; I'd stand still with my binoculars on a hill and imagine a spitfire coming into view rather than a Boeing 747. A few times I've been lucky enough to hear the supersonic rumble of a Concorde, but its pointed nose and angular wings usually stayed hidden behind a solid mass of white cloud, and it's been over a decade since its flying days were numbered, and still, it never quite had that imaginary thrill of spotting military aircraft.
The dog-fights I envisioned overhead, reaching back beyond my years to when my father and my grandfather were boys, when such sights would have been less rare, a part of life, and not as prized if they were in the skies now. A terrifying, an awing sight. For Britain was at war, a real war being fought on the ground, in the skies and on the seas. A war that's become rose-tinged for all its loss. A longing to revive that life, to see some kind of action. Peace offers boys no adventures; the horrors of combat not confronted until the moment is made real – those camera images stretching away on the unsighted side of the horizon for each boy thinks they are made of stronger stuff, they are inviolable.
Wars are fought differently now. It's still about territory, there's still operations and peace-keeping manoeuvres, but the enemy somehow seems more concealed with the advancement of technology, and the reports on the news are unlike the experiences older generations recount. But then perhaps some of their memories have mellowed with time; a little yellowed with age, their corners peeling. Perhaps some of it doesn't seem real any longer, impossible to believe it was lived through.
I never had to test the unique quality that all boys, and girls for that matter, think they have as nothing I would go through would come even marginally close to a world war. No risking of life or limb. No sheltering from bombs or cowering from gun fire. I grew up in a time where people lived under the cloud of war, a storm cloud that threatened to rain fire and hung daringly low overhead, and with it, there came a unremitting tension, a crowding round the radio and television, a making do, but a relaxation whilst trying to return to old or improved ways. And yet, this life that I led was mundane: an idyll childhood, allowed to roam and play where I wanted; a whimsical education, leaving school at fifteen and apprenticing myself to a car factory; a terraced house and a tolerable marriage with two daughters, both of whom are now married. The quiet events of my life mapped out like any other working beast put on this earth.
I'm a man of few words. I'm not impolite, just succinct; reserved but solid. I listen, I consider when I unblinkingly gaze into a pint at the working men's club surrounded by a haze of smoke. It's the only time I can morosely chase my unfulfilled dreams or indulge in my childhood, as when the dregs are drained home beckons and a wife who rarely leaves me undisturbed. A good wife, but she does like to talk, through dinner, over the evening news, and as she goes between the kitchen and the sitting room; her voice varying in pitch like a mosquito that you swat away only for it to come back in a few moments later. She means no harm, it's just her way, but sometimes I come mighty close to losing my temper and have to fight my irritation. Don't women realise that what sounds like conversation to them, to men sounds like nagging?
Children like us, born in the aftermath of war, were not encouraged to follow our hearts in times of austerity, in a era where nations were trying to rebuild, to reconstruct a more normal, peaceful mode of life. I could dream, but realising that dream of becoming a fighter, bomber, cargo, transport or commercial air pilot was for other more educated boys. I was supposed to hope that war would never reach these shores again, yet I longed for that Hollywood movie exhilaration; to be grazed, to thank God I was alive.

Picture Credit: Gliding, Roland Vivian Pitchforth (CEMA)