Category Archives: Personal

The Daymark

I’ve been sharing a lot of teaching debunking the doctrines of ‘Hell-fire’ recently, so I thought I’d intersperse all that dark stuff with something of a more tangible beauty. I mean, working against bad and harmful theology is a good thing, but sometimes it gets a bit too much; unfortunately, it’s unavoidable that sometimes we need to focus on the bad stuff in order to trash it.

So I thought we’d come up for some air for a little while. It won’t hurt if the last instalment in Lee’s series of talks waits until next time πŸ™‚

I am extremely fortunate to live in what is probably the most beautiful part of England. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Yorkshire Dales, of course, having been raised within just a few miles of the edge of the National Park. I love the Lake District; Wasdale Head being one of my favourite places on Earth.

But South Devon, where I live, is an amazing place of breathtaking beauty; a place which does bear some similarities to other, more remote, parts of the country. It’s a place where rural and urban are mixed in a delightful manner, but to cap it all we have the sea close by too. Devon is not as remote as, say, Pembrokeshire or Cornwall, but it does have the advantages of any peninsular environment in that the roads are not as busy as they are in other parts of the country (because they don’t really lead anywhere else apart from further into the peninsula!), and it’s generally not industrialised. Out on a peninsula, we tend to find that we get forgotten by central Government, which is not always a bad thing.

One area near where I live is called the ‘South Hams‘, and it is classified as an AONB or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. And nowhere is this more the case than in the area around Dartmouth and Kingswear, a kind of ‘peninsula within a peninsula’. Flying over this beautiful landscape is always a delight, of course, but I do like to get out into the area on foot too as often as possible.

Being very much an early morning person, last week I went out before dawn to an area near Dartmouth called Froward Point, where also is found the Brownstone battery, a wartime coastal defence site. This is a remote National Trust property very close to Coleton Fishacre, where I used to volunteer for the Trust, playing their beautiful Bluthner Grand piano for a couple of hours every other Saturday.

Near Froward Point is a structure known as the Daymark, or Day Marker. It’s a tall stone tower which was built in 1864 as a prominent and easily-recognisable landmark to help sailors find the mouth of the River Dart estuary from seaward.

The Daymark walk is one of my favourite early morning walks because when you stop the car engine and get out, it is completely silent out there. If it’s before dawn, even the birds are reasonably quiet, but it is of course easier to filter out their sound even if they are going at it.

I got there not long before sunrise on a crisp, frosty winter morning, with very few clouds in the sky, and those that there were were over the sea to the east/southeast where the dawn light was growing.

As I continued along the track towards the Daymark,Β  I realised that because I could see the actual horizon – there is a panoramic sea view from here from Start Point all the way round to the tops of the hills of East Devon just poking out of the sea across Lyme Bay on a clear day (excellent evidence for the Globe Earth as decried by the Flattards*) –Β  then I would actually be able to see the Sun come up out of the sea. Having reached the Daymark footpath, then – the Daymark is off to one side of the main track – I watched and waited.

The field that the Daymark was built in was today full of sheep. All standing around minding their own business but still keeping a wary eye on me, the interloper in their silent world.

And suddenly, there it was: the first sliver of the Sun was visible. Just like that. One second it was just horizon; the next there was this impossibly bright fragment of gold sitting there on the sea, and getting larger by the second. And I was looking straight at it as it magicked into view. It felt like there should have been a fanfare of trumpets or something to acknowledge the miracle, but, no, the silence was just as profound as ever.

Trillions of tons of superheated hydrogen and helium climb suddenly and miraculously above the horizon, just like it’s done on every day before, and so of course the sheep aren’t bothered. Well, I was lost in the sheer wonder of it all. I think it’s simply fantastic.

After standing there watching until the Sun was showing its complete disc, I set off back to the car park with bright spots before my eyes πŸ™‚ But there was one more wonder. Like I said, the Froward Point area has panoramic sea views, but there is equally a wonderful view inland over the beautiful South Hams. In this instance, the sunlight angle was of course so low that shadows were cast in the valleys from my angle with the Sun behind me…

…and yet lighting the tops of the hills of Dartmoor with that unique golden dawn light (it’s a different colour entirely from that seen at sunset). Only the evening before, I had seen the Dartmoor hills from 7,000ft up, in my aeroplane, but this time lit by the westering, setting Sun and throwing the moors into sharp relief. The contrasts of colour, location and view were sharp and unique.

So, there we are. A stunning set of pictures taken in a beautiful area, in which I am so privileged to live. Despite being Yorkshire born and bred, and I love Yorkshire dearly, I am sorry to say that I would not move back. Not when I live in a place like this!

Hope the photos blessed you πŸ™‚


*A ‘Flattard’ is a definitely derogatory term for someone who believes in a Flat Earth, and who tells everyone about it whether they want to hear or not. The term was of course pirated by these people, who are incapable of any original thought beyond making up new excuses for their pet beliefs, and used as the basis of their attempt at the derogatory term of ‘Globetards’, used by them to describe the vast majority of civilization who believe in a globe Earth.

00

Autumn

As I said in a previous post, my supremely talented daughter Ellie had prereleased her first EP, the four-track album ‘Autumn’.

Recently, the album became available for download on Amazon for the very reasonable price of Β£2.36, so as her dutiful and very proud Dad I really had to post a link.

If you’re interested in getting hold of a copy of ‘Autumn’, just click the image below to go to its Amazon UK sales page. It will also be available on your own country’s Amazon page. All proceeds go to our local Hospice, Rowcroft Hospice, where Ellie’s Mum was looked after for her last few days on this earth.

 

10

This is it…

Well, today is an historic day for Star Wars fans.

Today, the movie Star Wars Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker is released here in the UK; I understand other countries might have to wait until tomorrow, but don’t worry, you will find no spoilers in this article.

The Rise of Skywalker is the final instalment of the third Skywalker Trilogy, completing the sequence of nine movies depicting the saga of the Skywalker family and their fortunes in the ongoing Galactic Civil War that took place “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away”.

I have my ticket for today’s 10:05 performance of the movie at my local cinema, and have to say that I am going with some trepidation as well as a quiet hope.

My trepidation comes from a complex story of complete cock-ups by Disney, who own the Star Wars franchise.

The first episode of the final Trilogy, Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens – was written and directed by the legendary J. J. Abrams, and what a superb movie it was. Released in 2015, it left loads of unanswered questions and cliff-hangers, as well as many subtle hints at what was to come. The Force Awakens culminated in the final scene, known as The Jedi Steps, in which not a word was spoken but which, through a combination of masterful music, stunning scenery and wonderful acting, finished the movie on such a moving note and a brilliant cliff-hanger, simultaneously leaving the fans satisfied and still hungry for more, what with all the unanswered questions.

Fast-forward two years to the end of 2017, and the release of the second movie in the Trilogy: Star Wars Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. Written and directed by Rian Johnson, the movie had a very polarised reception with reactions from both extremes, from absolute hatred on the one hand to total joy on the other. Personally, I didn’t like the movie at all – in fact, I consider it one of the most rubbish movies I have ever seen, Star Wars sacrilege notwithstanding – and I was especially incensed by the cavalier treatment of the cliff-hanger from The Force Awakens’s final scene –Β The Jedi Steps, where that incredibly moving masterpiece was ridden over roughshod by Johnson’s storyline. Added to that, many other bad story choices – I won’t go into details – meant that The Last Jedi, for me, and for many other life-long Star Wars fans, was a complete flop. Indeed, so unpopular was the movie that when the DVD came out, it sold so badly that my local supermarket was giving it away for free with a mere Β£10 grocery purchase. To me, that’s an objective indication of just how bad a movie it was.

In fact it was so bad that the next Star Wars movie – Solo – A Star Wars Story, released at the end of 2018, and not directly a part of the Skywalker saga – did not do at all well in the cinemas mainly (in my opinion) because The Last Jedi had been such a terrible movie. Disney blamed Solo for its own poor reception, but in my opinion it was a simply excellent movie with so much potential for follow-up stories, with, again, all its unanswered questions, dangling threads, and intriguing little plot twists. But we will never know, now, where those story threads would have gone, because Disney announced that they were not going to do any more movies of the A Star Wars Story’ type, supposedly as a result ofΒ Solo‘s poor showing.

Anyway, back to the Trilogy. I remember thinking, during the months leading up to the release of The Last Jedi, that having three different writers (Abrams, Johnson and then an (at the time) unnamed writer for Episode IX) construct separately the story arc for a full trilogy over the space of five or six years of writing, filming and post-production, was a bit of a daft idea.

I likened it to that children’s game where one child draws a person’s head on one end of a piece of paper, then folds their handiwork under so that it cannot be seen by the next child. The next player then draws a torso and arms, and folds the paper so that neither the head nor torso are visible. Finally, another child draws the hips and legs, after which the paper is unfolded and their combined monstrosity is revealed in all its silliness, to the accompaniment, of course, of gales of laughter.

And that’s what The Last Jedi came across to me as being like. It was almost like a different story; parts of the characters had been changed, and huge swathes of the story from The Force Awakens were ignored. In fact, Mark Hamill, who played the legendary character Luke Skywalker, was reported to have asked writer/director Rian Johnson, “What have you done with my character?” Few of the actors who played parts in The Last Jedi were pleased with the story and the twisting of their character profiles, some being more vocal than others about their opinions. Of course, Disney are very tightly controlling about the way their people are allowed to express opinions, and a lot of the stuff that was said had to be ‘retracted’. Of course, all of this obfuscation is completely transparent to those who have seen, over the years, how Disney work. They know they made a mistake with The Last Jedi, but there’s no way they’ll admit it.

Fortunately (I hope), the final part of the Trilogy, The Rise of Skywalker, was given back to J. J. Abrams to complete the story. This means that the person who drew the head, in our illustrative children’s game, will get to draw the hips and legs, notwithstanding the efforts of Johnson to mess things up with an abysmal torso and arms. I understand there was some reluctance on Abrams’ part to take up the reins again, but I am hoping he will have done it well. But there’s always the overarching shadow of the possibility of Disney causing yet another dog’s dinner of it, despite J. J. Abrams. He will, after all, have to do as they tell him.

So, it all boils down to today. I will go to see Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, as I said, at the 10:05 performance today. I am hopeful that the genius of J. J. Abrams will recover something beautiful from the catastrophic mess left by Rian Johnson – a mess which even included the pointless death of Luke Skywalker at the end of The Last Jedi. I am wondering quite how Abrams is going to achieve that feat. I am wondering how he’s going to bring together all the story threads from his masterpiece that was The Force Awakens: how he’s going to bring in the obvious Force-sensitivity of Finn; if Kylo Ren will turn to the Light Side of the Force; how he’s going to explain Rey’s parentage and her Force-sensitivity; how he’s going to explain why the Skywalker lightsaber called out to Rey in a Force dream in The Force Awakens. How (and even if) he’s going to incorporate any of the canonical back-story from books likeΒ Star Wars: Before the Awakening which included many important attributes for the characters Finn, Rey and Poe. And will Luke reappear as a Force-ghost? How is he going to incorporate the much-touted reappearance of Emperor Palpatine, who supposedly died at the end of Episode VI – The Return of the Jedi, without rendering the story arc of all six of the original movies pointless?* All these questions and more, I am hopeful, will be answered by Abrams’ story today, because he wrote the original story that introduced the new characters (Finn, Rey, Poe and Kylo), and he knows what he had in mind for them in the first place.

Well, we shall see. The trepidation of being able to sort out the balls-up that was The Last Jedi. The hope that Abrams will successfully work his genius to make everything right again.

I’m sure there’s a spiritual parallel there somewhere πŸ˜‰

But I do hope that I will emerge from that cinema this afternoon with a sense of closure. Star Wars is an extremely important part of my life; I have so much invested in the characters and the stories, and I really don’t want to be disappointed. But I’m hopeful that J. J. will do a good job.

The Force will be with you. Always πŸ™‚


*The original movies were Star Wars – A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, The Return of the Jedi. These were then succeeded by the ‘Prequel Trilogy’ consisting of The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith. The whole overarching theme of these stories was the fall and subsequent redemption of Anakin Skywalker (later Darth Vader) and his destruction of the Dark Side powers known as the Sith when he destroys Emperor Palpatine, thus turning back to the Light after his long sojourn under the Dark Side of the Force.

00

Three Years

This entry is part 37 of 37 in the series Fiona

Today, it is three years since my love and soul-mate Fiona passed into the Presence of her Lord.

I so miss the feisty, spirited, funny, gentle, talented, generous, gorgeous, wise and above all deeply loving lady that she was.

We have kept her memory very much alive, in so many ways, the chief of which is that we recall the things that she did that were kind, funny and generous, when we are reminded of her by doing those things ourselves. And that’s significant because it means that in a lot of ways we are continuing to be Fiona to ourselves and to others.

We will say things like, ‘Mum would have found that hilarious’, or ‘I think Mum would have done it like this’. And then we laugh about it. And we are sure that ‘that was what Mum would have wanted’ πŸ˜€ Because she was that kind of person.

I still dream about her often. I still see little signs of her around the house: pictures, of course, but also little things that she made or set up that had her figurative ‘fingerprints’ all over them. Processes she set in place that we still use. I still see myself doing things that I learned from her, either directly or by ‘absorption’. I still see her attitudes in things I do.

What a privilege! What an intimate, close-up way of remembering a life so precious! So much of what she was to us is still with us…but the house still lacks the light of her presence. The gap she has left is still immense. And yet, I know beyond a shadow of doubt that I will see her again. Even though I may have to wait some decades, and of course I am not ‘wishing my life away’, still I know that she is there ready to welcome me, alongside Jesus, into that glorious Place where she now is. What a day that will be! πŸ˜€

On the first anniversary of Fe’s loss, I posted on here a track of my talented daughter Ellie singing the lovely song ‘Fly to Jesus. Fe would have been so proud of her. Well this year she would have been even more proud of her, because just a couple of weeks ago, Ellie put on prerelease her first ever EP, Autumn. Ellie has created this EP in the face of a debilitating illness, putting in work on it whenever she has been able, and now the finished product is out there and soon to become available. I am so proud of her and, like I said, I know her Mum would have been too!

The album is due to be released on 9th November, and all profits from sales will be going to Rowcroft Hospice, the place where Fiona was looked after in her final days on this earth. Rowcroft do such incredible work with cancer patients during their illnesses, with their families, and with end-of-life care.

Here is the link, then, to Ellie’s EP album – Autumn, on Amazon (and it’s also available on places like Spotify and iTunes too). And there are preview clips too.

Four songs written and performed by one of the most talented young musicians I have ever known – and that’s not just parental bias, you know! πŸ˜‰ But yes, again, Fiona would have been so proud of her! Click the album cover graphic below to go to the Amazon UK prerelease page (on 9th November, it will become the sales page):

She has also released one of the songs, 365, later today as a single. If you listen to this, you will need a big box of tissues…

Here’s the YouTube video:

…and it too can be purchased on Amazon, as a single:

Fiona, you would have been sooooo proud of our Ellie! πŸ˜€


Edit: I have just looked at the previous post in the series, ‘In So Many Ways…‘. It’s almost identical in content to this one (apart from the plug for Ellie’s EP!). I find that interesting because to me it suggests that what we have left, after losing Fiona, is reasonably constant in its occurrence and its quality. In other words, these little habits I describe in this piece, I also noted in the previous one. So to me that means that our lasting legacy from Fiona is already in place and established. And that’s good news.

20

We Will Magnify

On this, the 39th anniversary of my ‘birthday’*, I’m sharing this as a memory of yet another of the supernatural events that happened to me when I was a young believer.

One morning in 1982, I awoke with a song on my heart. It was a bit odd because I couldn’t remember where I’d heard it, but eventually I worked out that it’d been playing a couple of days before, on a tape I’d got; a compilation tape from the Christian youth gossip magazine ‘Buzz’ (they’d never have admitted it, but that’s what it was). The song was ‘We Will Magnify’, by Phil Lawson Johnston.

I played the tape track once, then picked up my guitar and played the song perfectly, along with the tape, and had it learned after only twice through, such is my gifting.

Since I was Director of Music at our new church at the time, I was in a position to introduce the song the very next Sunday, and so I did, and it went an absolute bomb (for those who don’t know the colloquialism, that means it was very popular πŸ˜€ ). The song as heard on the original track is a majestic declaration of the glory of God, set in a rich orchestration of sound and performed with beautiful dynamics (that is, it’s done with different emphases, created with different volume levels and breadth of instrumentation) and in heartfelt worship. What a glorious song! And we managed to do it very well on that Sunday.

But unbeknownst to me, it seemed that God had also inspired other worship leaders with that song at more or less the same time, because it became a real hit in Charismatic circles. (No-one ever said (at least, not on my blog) that Evangelical Christians can’t hear the voice of God every now and then πŸ˜‰ )

And I have loved the song ever since. Not for me the ‘flash in the pan’ style of popularity of worship songs, here one minute and gone the next. No, when these songs build into me the things of God, they become a part of me; a part of what made me the person I am. And so they will always carry meaning for me. This is a song from my formative years as a believer, and it played a great part in demonstrating to me the prophetic nature of my calling as a worship leader. Despite my having moved on, so to speak, from those times and the beliefs I held (actually it’s probably more accurate to say I matured), still those times were what made me who I am today. The foundations of those times are still very much a part of me.

So, as you can imagine, great was my rejoicing when I managed to get hold of a copy of the vinyl record that We WillΒ Magnify was on: the album ‘Hallowed Ground’, recorded by ‘Cloud’, who I think were the worship group at Holy Trinity, Brompton. Here, then, is the track itself, complete with vinyl pops and crackles!

Enjoy!

 

Oh Lord our God, how majestic is Your Name!
The Earth is filled with Your glory
Oh Lord our God, You are robed in majesty
You’ve set Your glory above the heavens

Chorus
We will magnify, we will magnify the Lord enthroned in Zion
We will magnify, we will magnify the Lord enthroned in Zion

Oh Lord our God, You have established a throne
You reign in righteousness and splendour
Oh Lord our God, the skies are ringing with Your praise
Soon those on Earth will come to worship

Chorus

Oh Lord our God, the world was made at Your command
In You all things now hold together
Now to Him Who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
Be praise and glory and power forever

Chorus ad nauseam and fade


Here’s the album artwork too:

Interestingly, the Amazon graphics (the song is still for sale on Amazon!) describe these tracks as ‘[songs that] shaped a generation’.

And I was part of that generation.


*The day when my life changed forever as I ‘asked Jesus into my heart‘. For real.

10

‘In Company With…’

“Exeter Radar, good morning; Golf Charlie Delta Delta Golf for basic service”

“Golf Charlie Delta Delta Golf , Exeter Radar, good morning; pass your message”

“Golf Charlie Delta Delta Golf, PA-28 out of Dunkeswell, in company with Golf Charlie Delta Echo Oscar, two thousand five hundred feet on one-zero-two-four, VFR navex and, er, basic service please”

“Golf Delta Golf, basic service, squawk five-zero-seven-one, Exeter QNH one-zero-two-three; will you be returning to Exeter?”

“Golf Delta Golf, squawking five-zero-seven-one, basic service, one-zero-two-three, and affirm returning to Exeter”

So yes, I had bogged up my ‘pass your message’ response, which should have been a concise and accurate summary of my flying intentions.

What I should have said was, “Golf Charlie Delta Delta Golf, PA-28 out of Dunkeswell in company with Golf Charlie Delta Echo Oscar, returning to Exeter after navex, heading one-eight-zero degrees at two thousand five hundred feet on one-zero-two-four, planned turning points at Sidmouth and Tavistock, VFR and requesting basic service”. * Quite a mouthful, but getting it right is important to me. And sadly I never get that bit right.

You’d have thought after over 20 years of flying, I’d have known better, wouldn’t you? But this time I had an excuse, or at least a reason πŸ™‚

You see, the phrase, ‘In company with’ meant that on that day, a couple of weeks ago, I was flying with another aeroplane, this one being flown by my son David, who is a much better pilot than I am. His aeroplane, a PA-28 Archer, a variant of the PA-28 Warrior II I am flying but slightly more powerful, is based at Perranporth Airfield in Cornwall, not far from where he lives, whereas ‘my’ aeroplane is based at Exeter. ‘In company with…’ also lets the operator know that we are aware of each other’s proximity and he doesn’t need to warn us about each other.

And this flying ‘in company’ was one of the hardest things I have ever done in my entire flying career.

I will explain why it was so hard later. But the reason my radio message was somewhat patchy was due to the intense mental and physical workload involved in flying in fairly close proximity to another aeroplane. Our priority is this: “Aviate – Navigate – Communicate” and the ‘Aviate’ part was occupying my whole attention, with hardly any mental space for ‘Navigate’ and ‘Communicate’ was coming in a very poor third.

I mean it’s not as if it’s even anywhere near proper formation flying, like within a few yards of the other aeroplane. We stayed at least a hundred yards away, usually more like two hundred plus. But remember that a huge part of Pilot training is about the avoidance of other aircraft, and the idea of staying as far away from other users of the sky as possible. So to deliberately fly within a couple of hundred yards of another aeroplane is really, really counterintuitive for us. And remember that it’s the first occasion on which we have really done anything like this, at least for an extended length of time. And such concentration leaves very little mental capacity for other tasks.

Anyway, less of the words. Let’s have some pictures. Most of these shots, the flying ones at least, were taken by just pointing a crappy camera in the general direction of the target, and hoping for the best. The light was too bright (it was a really sunny day) to be able to see the cameras’ screens properly. But still they came out pretty well, I think.

Beginning with some of David’s photos, then, here’s the view from his Archer as he flies past Camelford in Cornwall, en route to Dunkeswell where we’d arranged to meet up.

On this particular day, there was a ‘ridge’ of high pressure over the southern part of the UK, bringing with it a little bit of murkiness under the cloud, and also a broken cloud layer consisting of huge towers of cumulus. To use David’s words, “…some of [the cloud] can be flown over…”

…and other bits that you just have to go around!”

Meanwhile, on the ground at Dunkeswell, I have already landed after my short flight from Exeter, and I am chatting with a young man who’s about to do his first sky-dive. Trying to encourage him, you know πŸ˜‰ So here’s Delta-Golf on the grass at Dunkeswell. I’d hoped to get a photo of the two aircraft together, but David was asked to park in a place about fifty yards away from my aeroplane, so I didn’t get chance.

I had my airband receiver with me, so I heard David arrive on the Exeter Radar frequency, then followed him as he switched to Dunkeswell’s air-to-ground radio frequency. A greaser of a landing later (yes, that’s a good thing!), he taxied over to the parking area and we met up. Over a picnic lunch, we planned our upcoming sortie in great detail. Positions we would fly in, radio frequency plans including loss-of-contact planning, procedures for changing ‘formation’, who would lead, who would trail, how we would do our taxying, power checks and takeoffs, the works. No stone was left unturned; planning is vitally important when considering a venture like we were going to do. Given that neither of us had previously really flown in any kind of proximity to another aeroplane for any appreciable length of time**, this was all new to us and therefore we had to thrash it all out on the ground, before setting off. Plan was this: David had the lead, sequential trailing takeoffs, fly out to Sidmouth, then turn for Tavistock on the other side of Dartmoor. Stick with Exeter Radar until we get to Bovey Tracey, then switch to SAFETYCOM frequency on 135.475 so that we can talk plane-to-plane.

So we started up and taxied across the airfield using the taxiways…

…moving slightly across to let another aircraft with a rude pilot come past (he’s off-camera to the right)…

…and then it was time to stop and conduct our power checks and pre-takeoff vital actions:

The strange, downwards-curved wingtips on Echo-Oscar are a modification kit that improves the efficiency of the wings and gives a better fuel economy – of the order of an impressive ten percent. It looks weird, but she flies well.

Since Dunkeswell is not a commercial aerodrome, where only one aeroplane would be allowed on the runway at a time, we lined up on the runway together and David set off first. The very second he lifted off, I opened my throttle and commenced my takeoff roll. Lifting into the air very quickly and not too far behind him, I managed to keep David’s aircraft in sight, although with a white aeroplane against a white/grey background, it was extremely difficult and I lost sight of him a couple of times.

Given that we were climbing, we were both at full power, and it was difficult for me to keep up; I finally caught up with him about ten miles out when we were nearly at Sidmouth. The first photo opportunity came when we had turned over Sidmouth and were over Exmouth; this gorgeous photo shows David over Exmouth with the mouth of the Exe estuary in the background, showing Dawlish Warren to good effect.

Although David knew I was ‘around’, he wasn’t sure whether or not I was actually in visual contact with him as we couldn’t talk to each other – we were on Exeter Radar’s frequency where we can only really talk to the radar operator. But he carried on with the navigation plan as we’d arranged, and just had to assume I was there. The position I am in in the above photo, in David’s five o’clock high, is a near-blind spot where he would not have been able to see me unless he knew where to look.

At this point, I began to overtake David to his right, so he’d be able to see me if he looked in the right place. Which he did, and happened to take what is probably the best photo in this entire set. I’d drawn alongside to the right but was slightly high, and as he passed under my left wing I realised I couldn’t see him, and so began a gentle, climbing turn away:

…and continued the turn for good separation, before I felt comfortable enough to turn back parallel to him again:

Job done. Note that if you can’t see the pilot’s face (or even the window), then he can’t see you. So because you can’t see my cockpit window in the above photo, it means that David’s aeroplane was invisible to me at that point. And at only a couple of hundred yards away, that’s pretty scary.

You see, it’s all very well when the aircraft are pootling along in the same direction, with little relative motion. Everything is moving in the same direction at the same speed, so it all looks like everything is standing still. But the moment you take any other heading apart from dead parallel, your velocity difference becomes immediately and frighteningly apparent. Because you’re doing about 100kt, which is about 114mph, you’re actually going very fast indeed. So convergence or divergence of your headings can happen very quickly. And if you were to turn at 90 degrees across the other aeroplane’s track, that would mean that your relative velocities would be in excess of that 100kt; you turn 90 degrees behind him and then it is immediately obvious that his aeroplane is moving away from you at high speed. Or, if you should cross in front at that speed and angle, that is going to be very dangerous indeed. At those sorts of speeds, things happen blindingly fast; faster even than my really lightning-fast reactions can cope with. So it’s important to use slight heading changes rather than drastic ones, hence my gentle turns in the photos above. This flight was in fact a safe if salutary lesson in how fast things can ‘develop’ (read: go pear-shaped) up there in the sky.

So, we got as far as Bovey Tracey, terminated the radar service and switched to SAFETYCOM. Now, we were able to talk ship-to-ship and that made things much, much easier. No need to second guess each other’s intentions; now we could just tell each other straight.

Somewhere over south Dartmoor, David took this photo of me formated on him in echelon port, about 200 yards away. Although this doesn’t look or sound all that close, in real life the other aeroplane looks frighteningly large, and you are painfully aware of your mutual proximity. The aircraft looks a lot bigger at this distance, in real life, than the photos suggest. You may even have some personal experience of this yourself; you’ll probably have taken photos of aircraft at airshows; when you took the photo the aeroplane was like right there and looking really big, but when you look at the photo later, the aeroplane is like a small dot. That’s what this is like.

And here’s a similar shot, but just not as zoomed in. That’s me in that tiny dot in the distance. Again, it looks miles away but in reality it wasn’t:

So, why is flying ‘in company’ so hard? Well, I’ve already talked about how things can change really quickly when flying this close to another aeroplane. At the kinds of ranges we are looking at here, just a couple of seconds’ inattention can result in a velocity change (speed or, more likely, direction) that can result either in getting too close or in losing visual contact with the other aircraft altogether, which is worse in some ways because he might be right there and you don’t know about it. Therefore, as well as having briefed preflight on breakaway procedures, as the trailing aircraft you’ve also got to keep your gaze more or less locked on the other aircraft – we call it being ‘padlocked’ – and there’s no time really to do much else. That’s mainly applicable for the trailing aircraft because the lead aircraft is simply flying straight and level and on course. Things like checks of fuel pressure, changing fuel tanks, oil temperature/pressure, compass synchronisation, carburettor icing checks and all the other routine chores involved in flying a plane; all these things become subservient to the overarching concerns of a) not hitting the other plane, and b) not losing him either. I have read anecdotes from fighter pilots where they say that in one moment the sky is full of planes; in the very next second there’s not a plane to be seen. I can see how that is possible. Think about it like this: from directly astern (behind), the cabin and fuselage cross-section of a PA-28 is something of the order of a five-foot square. Out of this five-foot square poke two wings which are almost invisible from astern at any kind of distance, because they are not much thicker than about eight inches or so. Added to that, the plane is painted mainly white and it’s glossy, all of which means it’s very difficult to see against a cloud backdrop, in haze, or against a hazy underlay. So unless you keep your eyes fixed on him all the time, it’s just so easy to lose sight even when you know exactly where to look. That’s the main thing that makes it so hard. I have absolutely no doubt that it becomes easier with practice and training, but for us, on that day, it being our first time, it was unbelievably difficult. But huge respect to people like the Red Arrows and The Blades, who routinely fly with only feet separating them from their neighbours. And that’s with more than just two aircraft in the formation, too. I would imagine that greater aircraft numbers will really complicate things way beyond what it’s like with a two-ship formation. Formation flying is hard enough with two aeroplanes straight and level. With four, or nine, aircraft and doing aerobatics too (which are also difficult), it’s just insane. Seriously, respect to these guys…it’s only when mere mortals like us do what we have done so tentatively, that we can really appreciate what these guys do. Amazing.

Now we were in radio contact, David also got a chance to formate on my aeroplane, as I took the lead for a spell:

And then, at 5,000ft and coming up on Tavistock, our scheduled separation point, I got this lovely shot of Echo-Oscar:

The Devon town of Tavistock is visible below the cloud there, and nearly a mile of vertical distance below us, and I think this shot captures as well as any other the glaringly obvious point that there is nothing holding us up. Just the wings, using the marvellous natural effect that happens when you change airflow over a curved surface and generate lift. It really is quite remarkable that literally thin air can lift (in the case of a PA-28) the best part of a ton of metal, fuel and flesh up into the sky, where it really has no business being. And of course that’s just a light aircraft; there are of course many, much bigger, aeroplanes, all of which fly because of the same principle. I find that amazing.

But eventually we had to part and go our separate ways. From just west of Tavistock, David continued on course for Perranporth, and I turned for my return flight to Exeter. Here’s David’s Echo-Golf just before I broke away:

Even then, things were complicated slightly in that my intention was to break away high and left, and perform a 180-degree turn onto heading for Exeter. But directly to my left was a towering cumulus cloud that stretched a good couple of thousand feet above my level and there wasn’t space to get round without going into cloud. So I had to make an on-the-spot decision – such a common occurrence in flying that I am well used to it – but basically I turned away only some 30 degrees in a climbing turn to the left, towards the cloud but not all the way towards it, and then reversed my turn and turned right and away from the cloud, still climbing, and crossed David’s wake about half a mile behind him and three hundred feet higher. We’d said our farewells before I began the turn, maybe we should have waited to do that until we were heading away from each other. Well, we’ll know for next time.

My flight back to Exeter was uneventful; David took a couple of photos, though, including his first ever airborne selfie:

(see how he’s got the same kind of headset as mine; we got him it for his 30th birthday πŸ™‚ )

…but he also got some spectacular views like the claypits (china clay quarries) at Indian Queens near Newquay:

So, there we go. An awesome flight where we learned so much***, and had so much fun. Things to learn from this flight, just off the top of my head: I would probably have wanted direct radio contact much earlier in the flight to maintain situational awareness and mutual location; better briefing on how to find each other; maybe do more aeroplane checks but again in radio contact, so we can warn the lead aircraft to keep it straight, maybe setting a slightly divergent heading while doing the checks. Also, carry a photographer rather than doing it myself πŸ˜‰

But all in all a great experience. Still buzzing from it, over a week later!

Peace and Grace πŸ™‚


*English translation:

‘Golf Charlie Delta Delta Golf’ is my aircraft callsign; it’s the phonetic alphabet rendition of the registration letters on the side of the aircraft. It’s usually shortened to ‘Golf-Delta-Golf’ by controllers, or just ‘Delta-Golf’ by flying school staff and pilots. ‘Which plane are you taking today?’ ‘Delta-Golf’.

‘PA-28 out of Dunkeswell in company with Golf Charlie Delta Echo Oscar’ – Aircraft type is a PA-28, and we’d taken off from Dunkeswell, an airfield near Exeter Airport, where it’s cheaper for David to land. And I fancied a landaway anyway.

‘Returning to Exeter after navex’ – that’s my destination airfield, and a ‘navex’is a ‘navigation exercise’.

‘Heading one-eight-zero degrees at two thousand five hundred feet on one-zero-two-four’ – refers to the direction in which my aircraft is pointing, so the radar operator can see which aircraft I am. One-zero-two-four refers to the pressure settingΒ  – the ‘QNH’ – on my aircraft’s altimeter, so the operator knows what pressure setting I am working from in order to determine my altitude. This needs to be the same for all the aircraft he is working with, so that all their altitudes are reported from the same reference point.

‘Planned turning points at Sidmouth and Tavistock, VFR and requesting basic service’ – tells him our intentions, that we are flying under ‘Visual Flight Rules‘, that is, decent weather flying where we can see where we’re going, and that we just want him to help us look out for other aircraft on his radar screen. Giving us an extra pair of eyes, as it were.


**The only previous time when we had done anything like this was once over Cornwall in 2013, where we had met up in the air by chance – we knew each other was up and around, but not exactly where – and David came up about fifty yards off my port wingtip. An awesome sight, but we each had our flights to do (he was doing a navex and I was training my daughter for an upcoming charity flight), so we didn’t stay like that for long.


***In addition to the lessons learned, there was something else too. David and I are both military historians. This flight gave us both a really strong appreciation of what it must have been like in air combat in World War II – or indeed any war – but especially WWII because of the ubiquitous use of air-to-air gunnery. Imagine a swirling sky filled with fast, small aeroplanes that are going at speeds in excess of 350mph and in a small volume of space, trying to keep formation with your wingman, trying to avoid collisions with aircraft friend or foe, and most of all trying to shoot down other aeroplanes. Given that the most effective range for using guns against other aircraft was of the order of no more than about 100 yards, and often much closer, we got a really good appreciation of how huge an enemy aircraft would appear when it is in firing range. Because of that, it’s also no surprise that many pilots opened fire at ineffectual ranges, like say 400-500 yards because, although the range was too great for effective fire, still the aircraft would look like a great big barn door target and therefore would look close enough. You had to get really, stupidly close in order to score any hits. Added to that things like deflection shooting (where you aim ahead of the target so that it flies into your bullet stream, like in clay pigeon shooting), bullet drop and other advanced ballistics, and that you had to actually point your aeroplane into a collision course with the target in order to shoot it – I mean it’s just insane! Pointing your aeroplane at another aeroplane at very high relative speeds, getting really close, and somehow not colliding with him…. it’s incredible to imagine how they did that, given the things we experienced on our ‘in company’ sortie. These were brave people indeed.

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‘Execute Order 66’

I don’t expect people who are not Star Wars fans to get this – but when the sales assistant at the chip shop shouts out ‘Order 66!’ then it’s time for Jedi everywhere to be worried… πŸ˜‰

For the benefit of the uninitiated, Order 66 was the order given by Emperor Palpatine in the movie ‘Star Wars Episode III – Revenge of the Sith‘. The order meant that the Emperor’s soldiers were to wipe out the Jedi – the warrior/monk class that had been the guardians of peace and justice in the Galaxy for thousands of years.

Here’s the moment when Palpatine issues the order:

So there it is.

You can imagine, then, how it makes a Star Wars diehard like me feel when someone calls out ‘Order 66!’

Life is full of laughs. Take ’em when you can πŸ™‚

 

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Small Universe…

This is a card from the boardgame ‘Terraforming Mars‘. It enables the player to set up ‘Mars University’ and score some points.

I don’t know if the game designer knew (he probably did), but the picture on the card is in fact a building in a real-life University; it shows the Roger Stevens Building at the University of Leeds.

Fiona and I used to meet here for lunch in the mid-80’s, when Fe was a student at the University and I was working there. Holds some very pleasant memories for me. Plus I used to fall asleep in lectures in that building when I was an undergraduate student at Leeds in 1980-1983

Small universe, eh?Β 

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Happy Birthday to Me!

Thirty-nine years ago today was my last day at school – July 12th, 1980.

On the evening of that day, I went to the Good News Crusade in Horsforth, the town of my birth. In that big tent, in the middle of Horsforth’s Hall Park, I began to follow the One Who has never let me go. For thirty-nine years, I have followed Jesus Christ of Nazareth, beginning at that precise moment in time. I was sitting between two of my erstwhile school friends, and it was as if God just hoicked me to my feet and propelled me into my response to His love, and it was at exactly the right time. It was as if I had experienced a completely new birth (no coincidence that it was also in the town in which I was born!), an introduction into a completely different life from the one I had been used to.

Sure, I didn’t really say the ‘sinner’s prayer’ until 9th September, 1980. But the 12th July was the defining moment; that was when I decided to follow Jesus. And that was 39 years ago today.

Thirty-nine years ago. And what a life it’s been. πŸ˜€

Some of it I have described in this blog. Some of it is too amazing and/or too deep to share. But I walk around with the constant sense of the Presence of God in my heart. Somehow it feels like it’s always been like that. Sometimes I haven’t felt that Presence as strongly, on some occasions I haven’t felt it at all. But those times when His presence is there, solid and assuring; this times carry me through in the knowledge that God is real, He loves me and indeed He’s extremely fond of me.

And I will continue this walk. For me, there is simply no other way to live.

Praise God!


Header picture shows Horsforth Hall Park, West Yorkshire, where the big tent was set up for the crusade where my life-defining event happened. A real place, and a real encounter with Jesus Christ. Wow!

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Tim

It is with tremendous sadness that I acknowledge the passing of my friend, brother and fellow blogger Tim Chastain, owner/writer of the blog ‘Jesus Without Baggage‘. Tim was called home on 9th June and he now stands in that place where all suffering, pain and tears are but dim memories.

It was about four years ago that I discovered Tim’s blog, at about the time that I started writing mine. So much of what I found on Tim’s blog I found to be so refreshing, and so similar to aspects of my own faith walk, and yet so different as all our walks are different. I immediately ‘followed’ the blog and have been blessed by it ever since.

I contacted Tim via his website, and we began our friendship by email, reinforced by mutual blog comments and reblogs. This was at around the time when myself and my family were in the process of fighting my wife Fiona’s terminal cancer, and Tim was very gentle, understanding and supporting towards me, having himself faced into a similar situation.

Tim’s gentle wisdom and scholarship always shone through in his thoughtful and yet easy-to-read blog articles, and he gathered a devoted following of commenters who always brought different facets of insight into the discussions, which Tim moderated with openness and fairness. Tim’s writing brought immeasurable freedom, healing and Grace to countless lives, many of which of course we will never know about until we stand before the King.

I always received a warm glow in my heart whenever Tim commented on one of my blog posts; he was always encouraging, always positive (even if he didn’t agree!), and we learned so much from each other. Examples of Tim’s comments can be found scattered througout my blog posts, and I would encourage you to read some for yourself.

This tribute to Tim would not be complete without acknowledging his tremendous, uplifting support after I lost Fiona. Tim’s words were always gentle, edifying and encouraging, and played a great part in my working through of my grief.

Tim, although we never met face to face, I will miss you terribly. I will miss your gentle humour, your kindness and your unpretentious wisdom. Thank you for being you, and thank you for all you have done – most of it without even realising you were doing anything.

Heaven is a better place now because you are there.

I wonder if there’s a blog post in that idea, somewhere? πŸ˜‰

Rest well, my friend πŸ™‚


Here is the link to Tim’s obituary

…and to the farewell post on JWOB

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