Category Archives: Personal


This entry is part 19 of 19 in the series Beautiful Destroyers

This instalment of ‘Beautiful Destroyers’ is a little different, as I am not showcasing a particular aircraft. Instead, I’m looking at the origins of military aviation and also sharing a lovely piece of music. Enjoy!

As both a military historian and an aviator, I am of course passionately interested in the use of aircraft in military operations – or ‘military aviation’. The history of the military use of aircraft is in itself a fascinating tale of high-end technology (military aircraft have always been at the forefront of technological development), courage, technical skill, determination, tactical development, trial and error, mistakes and success. Of course, warfare is an unforgiving crucible, and because of this it is one of the major motivating factors in the development of technology of all kinds. Military aviation is a prime example of this, if not indeed the pinnacle of modern military technology. It was realised fairly early on in World War I (1914-1918)* that control of the skies was of paramount importance in tactical (and later strategic) warfare. This continues to be axiomatic in modern warfare; he who controls the skies, controls the battle.

But of course it had to start somewhere. The first recorded use of aircraft in military operations was (as far as I know) the use of manned observation kites by the Chinese in the late sixth century – about 594CE. Hot air balloons were first used decisively by the French in 1794; however, although balloons continued to be used for observation purposes for long after, these kites and balloons were of course tethered to the ground and couldn’t really go anywhere. Military aviation therefore really only came into its own during World War I, because with the advent of powered aircraft like aeroplanes and airships, people could actually go more or less where they wanted to go in the skies, rather than having to stay in the same place; this operational flexibility, of course, meant that virtually anything was possible from then onwards. But even then, fully-dirigible (that is, mobile and steerable) aircraft were still in their infancy; airships had been around for only two or three decades, and as for aeroplanes (or ‘flying machines’ as they were often called back then), the first powered aeroplane flight was only in 1903, so the technology was still very much experimental, and flying aeroplanes was very much a hit-and-miss affair (in other words, dangerous) because of this. So it was an historical period quite unlike any other as far as military aviation was concerned.

Having just finished an excellent book on British aerial combat operations in WWI, Fighter Heroes of WWI, by Joshua Levine, I bought the DVDs of the 1970s classic BBC series ‘Wings‘, which for some reason I was completely unaware of at the time (that is, in 1974-76 when it was being shown on TV) – which is a shame as it would have been right up my street. It’s an absolutely superb series with excellent characterisation, engrossing story writing, great acting, historical accuracy and (most importantly to me!) superb and authentic flying sequences. Anyone interested in the early development of military aviation will not fail to be captured by this series; it’s simply brilliant.

And the theme music is gorgeous. In fact, despite my lengthy preamble, this music was actually the main inspiration for this post today – it is simply lovely. It has a nostalgic ‘music-hall’ feel to it, with a beautiful chord structure and bass-line, and above all, a catchy and poignant melody. And I recommend you listen to it on headphones if possible, in order to catch all the lovely nuances.

So, here we are – the theme music from ‘Wings‘, composed by Alexander Faris:

Gorgeous. Hope you liked it!

The inclusion of this blog post in my series ‘Beautiful Destroyers’ was apt, I thought, because it describes the very early origins of military aviation. Without the tireless efforts of those pioneers of the past, our ‘Beautiful Destroyers’ would never have existed.

The aeroplane in the header picture is a flying replica of a Royal Aircraft Factory BE2c, the mainstay of the Royal Flying Corps in 1915, when the series ‘Wings’ is set. A very stable aeroplane, and ideal for its designed purpose of reconnaisance (being a stable camera platform), it was not really designed to fight other aircraft; the idea of aeroplanes fighting each other hadn’t really been thought of when this aeroplane was designed! The image is a direct screenshot from the opening titles of Series 1 of ‘Wings’. I’m not sure there are any replicas still flying nowadays; remember this series was made in the mid-1970s 🙂

*Hostilities in World War I, known at the time as the ‘Great War’, ceased when the Armistice was signed on the 11th November, 1918. The War was formally ended in June, 1919, with the Treaty of Versailles. This explains why the dates on some war memorials say 1914-1919.


We Did So Well!

This entry is part 24 of 24 in the series Fiona

In my last post in this series, The Fight, I described how it was for us during the fight against pancreatic cancer. My lovely wife Fiona went to be with her Father in October 2016 after fighting this dreadful illness for over two and a half years. In that last post, I described how we found the strength to carry on, and how we lived life to the full despite the illness.

Now, I have just recently finished a series of sessions with my volunteer bereavement counsellor. In our final session together, she used a phrase I hadn’t thought of; she said,

“And you did so well!”

It was interesting that she should say that. I had to think about it a little, but she was right, you know. Y’see, when you’re actually going through these shattering events, you don’t notice how well you are doing; it’s only when someone tells you – maybe how ‘brave’ you are – that you take notice and think, ‘Oh yes! I hadn’t noticed that!’.

Not long after Fiona was diagnosed with the cancer, I remember chatting to someone about our approach to the illness. I said that if Fiona was supernaturally healed, or cured medically, great – and we’d all celebrate and have a well-woman party and say “well done, everyone!” because it would have been a team effort. Everyone would have done their very best and we would express our gratitude for that, and for its fruits – Fiona being well once again.

And the other scenario was that we would lose her to the illness, and we would of course mourn her, but the underlying principle would be the same: We could reassure ourselves in the knowledge that we did our best; we tried our hardest. And that is indeed what happened. Virtually everyone who knew and loved Fiona rallied round us in some way. They provided meals; they sent flowers; they came round for a chat; they shopped for us; they abided by our house’s infection control policy*. Some of Fiona’s close friends set up a charity to raise money for a special medical procedure which I consider gave Fiona an extra year of life; moreover, it was a year free of pain and other symptoms of the cancer. It cost £14,000 to do that, and they raised the money for it. We will always be grateful to these amazing ladies for doing their best too, and working so hard for Fiona. Wow!

And then there’s the courage, the hope, the lessons learned, the bearing up under pressure. How we respond to our tribulations is just as important as the tribulations themselves. Gaining these benefits and life-skills means that the suffering was not all wasted; it was not all in vain. And the same can be said for members of my family: in going through this furnace, this crucible, they have all emerged as better people for it. And our friends were with us on this walk, in that furnace, and on this learning curve, too. All of those who walk through the fire in this way are changed by the experience, and it’s our choice, as we walk through that fire, whether to let it change us for the better, or for the worse.

As you will have read in the other posts in this series, I have learned so much, been so much closer to God, had so much insight (which has already been a tremendous help to others in similar situations), that I would not have had if I hadn’t gone through the dark times. So, rather than moping about and complaining, we just got on with the everyday business of living life to the full. And that meant that all the darkness, all the pain, all the loss, it all had a benefit in the end. We packed so much fun and life into that time, in the midst of the horror and despair. And then we carried on with that attitude once we had lost her. In this way,  the life-lessons learned and the insight and wisdom gained have not been lost; this means that Fiona’s loss does in many ways still carry meaning. And that these lessons have not been wasted would have been just what Fiona would have wanted for us. Of course, I’d still rather not have lost her, but making the best of the situation is a great way of not letting it defeat you.

Not that I believe God throws these things at us; not for one minute. He’s fully aware that terrible things happen in life; shit happens, and it’s how we cope with it that counts. Nobody is exempt from having tribulation in their lives at some point; its how we cope with it that counts, and God promises to be there for us in those hard times. Never will I leave you or forsake you (Heb 13:5, Dt 31:6) says God, and He means it. The most famous of the Psalms, the 23rd Psalm, says this:

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” (Ps 23:4 KJV).

David, the guy who wrote that Psalm, went through some pretty horrific stuff in his life, yet still he wrote that verse and likely meant what he wrote, and it was evidently true from his words that he’d had the same experience as I and many others who pass through the valley of the shadow of death. God is with us in that valley. He’s had personal experience there Himself. He knows His stuff, and He leads us too into knowing that stuff. Indeed, we walk through the valley, but He is with us.

So, yes.  We did so well! Thanks to the Grace of God, His unearned favour, we are coming through that valley, and we are reaping the rewards of our faith. We did our best – for Fiona – and we are still doing our best. It doesn’t stop once the mourning and the grief are lessening. There is no other person’s hand I’d rather be holding than that of Jesus, because He holds on tight, and healing flows through that Hand just like it did two thousand years ago.

Be blessed!

*Because, as I described in The Fight, chemotherapy patients are usually immunosuppressed as a side-effect of the treatment, and are therefore highly susceptible to infections – and these can easily be fatal. Because of this, I put in place an ‘infection control’ system in our house where anyone who had an infection – a cold or whatever – was respectfully asked not to come in to the house. In addition, we had a hand disinfectant bottle just inside the door, and anyone who did come in was asked to sanitise their hands as they came in, thus minimising the risk of Fiona getting a potentially lethal infection.

Header picture shows me, Fiona and Ellie at breakfast on our ‘House of Anubis Road Trip’; a week-long tour that we did in September 2014, in between doses of Fiona’s chemotherapy. (We called it that because one of the purposes of the trip was to visit the filming locations for the teen mystery drama series House of Anubis‘). We did not let the illness defeat us; we took it on the nose and carried on enjoying life to the full. Look how radiant Fiona is!

The bandage on Fiona’s arm is the covering for the PICC line, which is described in the article The Fight.


Thoughts and Prayers…

Yet another tragic shooting in the United States. And it has of course brought out the usual plethora of one group of people saying, ‘Our thoughts and prayers are with you…’ and, predictably, the other group of people who rant on about how valueless ‘thoughts and prayers’ are.

In the very same Facebook group (that I am a part of), I saw two consecutive posts, one saying how useless ‘thoughts and prayers’ are, and the very next post saying that this person appreciated the ‘thoughts and prayers’ that had been expressed for his situation.

Make your minds up, folks.

I know that some politicians and other professional apathists use ‘thoughts and prayers’ as a platitude. And I know that it’s sickening. I know, right?

But I also know that there are many millions of others who, appalled at the violence and suffering, do indeed hold up the victims of these crimes, and their families, in their ‘thoughts and prayers’.

Sometimes, when you live thousands of miles away, ‘thoughts and prayers’ is the best you can do. I’m not trying to be insensitive, but everyone has their own problems and worries and, while we do all we can to help – maybe send money and whatnot – the sheer fallacy of condemning those who ‘have thoughts and prayers but do nothing’ is fallacy indeed. What, do they want us to drop all our responsibilities and fly over to the disaster zone to help personally? What a ridiculous notion. I sometimes think that, in their rage, these people don’t even know what they are talking about; they don’t know what it is they actually want.

And let me tell you something. I have personal experience of the power of prayer. Here’s an example. I know someone who was having an extramarital affair. One night, Fiona and I decided that enough was enough, and we engaged in a thorough prayer battle about that situation, we kicked the enemy’s ass good and proper, and the very next morning the person in question called their spouse and asked to meet up to talk it over. That couple is now back together again and have been so for 25 years or more. The person having the affair ‘suddenly realised’ (at exacty the time we were praying) that this was not the person they wanted to be. Call it coincidence if you like, but it is my firm belief that this person changed their mind because we prayed. I have other examples too but that one will have to do for now. I want to get on with my rant.

My point is that prayer can change things. It is also especially galling that those who decry ‘thoughts and prayers’ are often themselves Christians who profess to believe in the power of prayer. Sorry, but yeah, right. I have actually stopped following one particular person’s Christian blog (and removed it from my recommended blogs/links page) because every third post or so he would continually rant about the worthlessness of ‘thoughts and prayers’.

Listen: Prayer is God’s way of empowering the powerless.

Who are we to say that ‘thoughts and prayers’ are useless?

How dare these people insult the beliefs and caring practices of countless millions of compassionate people, of all faiths and belief systems, all across the world who care enough to think and pray deeply and sympathetically about these poor people who have suffered so? For some of these compassionate people, ‘thoughts’ are the only thing they know how to give. For others, they can think but they can also pray – using the Godly gift that can move mountains. For most, indeed ‘thoughts and prayers’ are all they can give.

So do not belittle the care and compassion of the countless millions who are ‘thinking and praying’ right now for these victims and their circumstances.

You have absolutely no idea how ungrateful you sound.

And you have absolutely no idea what things God is prompting millions of unsung heroes, behind the scenes, to do right now.

Including ‘thoughts and prayers’.

Rant over.

[Edit]: And I must also add that my friend Darren has only today posted on Facebook this very thing:

“Of all the ‘actions’ that you can perform to influence and change another person’s life for the best, secret prayer is the greatest and most effective!”

Thanks Darren! 🙂


A Magical Evening’s Flying

Well, after the wonderful night flight I did back in November, I went ahead and trained for my Night Rating to add to my Private Pilot’s Licence. I’ve already been flying on my new Rating, with my daughter Ellie – who absolutely loved the night flying – but I also wanted to go up again for some practice flying in order to consolidate my night training. Plus, I just love it!

I’ve tried to do more night flying since just after Christmas, especially wanting to take up my son David (who is also a Pilot), to let him have his first night flight, but the weather has been completely unsuitable for any kind of flying lately, let alone Night Flying, which needs a certain set of weather conditions in order to be viable*. But this week I was fortunate to have picked an evening where there was a ‘window’ of perfect flying weather, so off I went.

Here’s the aeroplane I fly, Piper PA-38 Tomahawk G-RVRL (“Romeo – Lima”), on the South Apron at Exeter International Airport, Devon, UK, which is where I fly from:

(Note: All the photographs in this post are fully zoomable; just click them to get the larger image)

I got there deliberately early so I could preflight the aeroplane in the daylight. I had her booked for a three-hour slot but that was fine – I wasn’t ‘hogging’ the aeroplane – as nobody else seems to want to do night flying at the moment. I don’t think they know what they’re missing… Anyway, ‘official night’ in the aviation world begins 30mins after local sunset, so I had plenty of time to inspect the aircraft and get her ready. For instance, in the above picture, the wing flaps have been lowered so that I can examine their condition, the hinges and control linkages, and check them for correct and symmetrical operation. You don’t just jump into an aeroplane and go flying! I have seen many Pilots – some of whom should have known better – simply check the oil and fuel and then off they go. But not me. I have a reputation for being an extremely safe Pilot and I want to keep it that way. I always perform a full (what’s called a) ‘Check Alpha’ on every aeroplane I fly. Every detail is checked, from the flaps to the fuel to the fire extinguisher to the first aid kit; my life depends on that aeroplane working properly and I leave nothing to chance, especially at night.

So, after preflighting the aeroplane, I started her up and ran the engine for a few minutes to warm it up a bit. As dusk fell and ‘official night’ drew closer, I performed all my power checks and pre-takeoff vital actions at my parking spot, so I’d be ready to go on time. This is the view from the Captain’s seat (the left hand seat) across the South Apron, just after sunset. Perfect for flying: good visibility, high cloudbase, and virtually no wind.

So, performing a night take-off, I climbed away from the airport and set course for Torbay, one of the most beautiful and scenic parts of the local area. All these pictures were taken with my phone’s camera, and the light was pretty dim; the phone has made the pictures make it look lighter than it actually was. But then that’s better, because then you can see what’s there…

Here’s the view from over Dawlish, looking south with Teignmouth in the foreground and Torbay in the distance. The dusk sky was absolutely beautiful, as you can see:

Looking over to the north-northeast, the lights of Exeter are visible in the growing twilight. The Exe estuary is just visible as a lighter blue patch to the right of the picture.

A few minutes later, coming up on Torquay. Torquay is the ‘capital’ town of Torbay, in the area known as the ‘English Riviera’. You can see the Marina and harbour bottom centre, with the lights of all the boats lined up at their moorings. The next town around the Bay is Paignton, and the pier is easily visible, all lit up over the water.

Directly ahead, and on the opposite side of the Bay, is the fishing port of Brixham. Paignton Pier is visible to the right, and if you know where to look (on the zoomed photo) you can just see the beginnings of the flash of the lighthouse at Start Point. As you can see, despite it being dark, the visibility is tremendous, being able to see all the way to Start Point, the southeastern tip of Devon.

A bit of a different view, now; looking out to the east and over the English Channel. Each of those small white lights shows the position of a ship or boat on the water. And of course it’s darker in that direction.

A couple of minutes after I took this photo, I inadvertently flew into cloud. At night, it’s so dark up there that you can’t always see the clouds before you’re into them. Suddenly, you can’t see the ground anymore, and you are surrounded by a silver-grey flickering, billowing mist, illuminated by the flashing wingtip strobe lights on the aeroplane. But this is easily remedied in that you go straight on to instruments (which, at night, you’re doing for much of the time anyway) and do a gentle, level 180-degree turn out of the cloud. After only 90 degrees of turn, I was clear of the cloud anyway – it must have been only a small one – but in order to prevent any further cloud incursion, I descended 300ft or so in order to be sure I was completely clear of the cloudbase. This illustrates the sort of quick decision-making, forward thinking and real-time tactical planning that is essential in all flying, but particularly at night.

Over the middle of Paignton, now, this slightly blurry photo is of the main crossroads on Torbay Ring Road, known as ‘Tweenaway Cross’. The famous tourist attraction, Paignton Zoo, is just below the orange area at the bottom of the picture (the orange area is a supermarket car park (Morrisons)). Note how the little remaining light from the sky reflects off the aeroplane’s wing…

The night was completely dark not long after that shot. Although the moon was up, it was only just over half-full and didn’t really illuminate all that much on the ground, if anything.

Thoroughly enjoying myself, I was struck once again by the wonder of flight, and night flying in particular. This was the sort of flight where I simply didn’t want to come down!

It’s almost surreal, and, if you think about it, almost counterintuitive. Here we are, tanking along at what amounts to nearly a hundred miles an hour, over half a mile above the ground, and I can’t really see where I’m going, and yet it all works. Incredible! I suppose there’s nothing to actually run into up here; even other aeroplanes are easy to spot because, like mine, they have lights on them and also I have a radar service from Exeter Radar – kind of like an extra pair of eyes, if you like. But tonight, apart from a few airliners being directed in to Exeter, I’m the only aeroplane up here. It’s all very quiet and quite beautiful.

Heading back up towards Exeter from Torbay, I flew over Newton Abbot, and took this picture of the Penn Inn flyover, part of the South Devon Expressway. This is a long-awaited road that has transformed the transport links in this area, and it has been open for just over two years. Prior to the opening of the Expressway (also known as the Kingskerswell bypass), road users from Torbay and all the areas beyond had to queue through the town of Kingskerswell, adding at least half an hour to their journeys. This road has opened up the area like nothing else. And here’s what it looks like at night:

Finally, here’s a photo of the final approach into Exeter’s Runway 26, with all the lights and whatnot. This photo was taken back in December by my daughter; because I was by myself on my latest flight, I couldn’t have taken a photo myself at this point, having my hands full with the landing and all. Features to note are the approach lights (the yellow lights laid out like a Christmas tree) which help the Pilot line up properly with the runway, the green threshold lights, showing the start of the runway, the main flarepath lights which show the runway itself, and the short row of four lights to the left of the runway. These are what’s known as ‘PAPI lights’ (Precision Approach Path Indicator) and they show you if you are on the correct glideslope. Two white and two red means you are on slope, like in the picture. If you are too high, more of the lights turn white; if you are too low, they turn red. So four reds is way too low, four whites is way too high. Part of the night rating training is to learn how to land without the approach lights, and/or without the PAPIs, to help the trainee learn how to land at night in the event of failure of those particular lights, and also to learn how to land at aerodromes that do not have those kinds of lights (not all do). However, if the main runway lights are unserviceable, you’re talking diverting to another aerodrome because those lights really are essential for a safe landing. The others are just trim; they make things easier but they are not essential.

So, there we have it. An absolutely magical flight for me, some lovely photos (although flying at night does make it harder for the Pilot to do photos; better if he has a camera-armed passenger!) and a safe landing at the end. In fact, it was one of the best landings I have ever done, and in the dark as well! I think it’s going to take me at least a week to lose these euphoric feelings that happen when I fly, and especially at night. Walking back across the airfield from the aeroplane to the flying club, I was actually laughing out loud with the sheer joy of it all. Thankfully it is a huge, dark airfield, and there was no-one nearby to hear 😉

Once the nights get lighter, and night flying falls off the end of the airport’s opening times, I will be daylight flying again right up until the autumn. I will really miss night flying at that time; I really love it and to be honest there’s nothing quite like it. So I am going to get in as much night flying as I can before the cutoff around Easter!

Love it!

Header picture shows the Teign estuary all the way from Teignmouth to Newton Abbot, and the glorious sky beyond.

*Ok, I will explain: in night flying, I still have to fly under what’s called ‘visual flight rules’ or VFR. This means I still can’t fly in cloud (although sometimes I might inadvertently enter a cloud – like in this story – because you just can’t see them at night). For that reason, not only does the weather at Exeter have to be good enough for VFR flying, but also the weather forecasts at my planned diversion airfields, and the en-route weather to those airfields. Why is this more exacting at night than it is in daylight? Well, it’s because, in daylight, if you have a problem at your home aerodrome (say someone’s pranged an airliner and blocked the runway, or there’s a terrorist incident or something that closes the airport), in a pinch you can just land in a field if necessary; it’s called a precautionary landing. At night, you can’t even see the fields. As you can see from the photos in this piece, even when it’s still twilight, everything that isn’t a town or road is simply black and you can’t see what’s actually there. And so, in case such an aerodrome closure event occurs, you have to plan to be able to fly to another major airport that has runway lighting; in my case that would be Bristol, Bournemouth, Cardiff or Newquay-Cornwall. Or, if Dunkeswell are doing night flying, I could go there (it’s only ten miles away). So you see the planning and weather briefing has to be much more detailed for night flying. Of course, that’s all part of the training…

Talking of precautionary landings, one wag once told me that if you have to do one at night, you switch on your landing light (it’s like a small car headlight) and take a look. If you don’t like what you see, you switch it back off again… 😉



The Fight

This entry is part 23 of 24 in the series Fiona

It’s fifteen months ago today since my lovely wife Fiona left us to go to her Heavenly reward. A year and a quarter. My goodness.

I have to say that I feel like I personally died, figuratively, several times over the time leading up to her loss. By nature, I am an ideas man; a fixer, a problem-solver. I can fix anything. But I couldn’t fix Fiona. When you can’t fix something; you can fix everything else but not the thing that’s most important, it leaves you thinking you can’t fix anything else. Here’s a quote from a chap on the Channel 4 series ‘Escape’, who had lost his daughter at the age of one month old – “When you come up against a challenge you can’t win; you just physically can’t fix – I couldn’t fix her – no-one could – and that’s the thing that makes you wonder if you can do anything ever again.” I can so identify with that. This was something I couldn’t fix, and that’s hard for me to accept. In this post, I would like to try to describe what it’s like to engage in that terrible fight with cancer, and how I coped with it. I’m sorry to share this even at all, but I figured the message of hope it contains more than makes up for the darkness!

The Fight

Over the three and a half years of Fiona’s illness, my heart was battered so many times by so many colossal blows, like standing in the sea and being smashed by a series of huge waves: Fiona’s early pains in mid-2013, where, being a professional in the medical field, I had a pretty good idea of what was going on; the shocking diagnosis itself in early 2014 and feeling the ice water of terror running through my bloodstream (an experience I would not recommend); seeing Fiona waste away under the terrible effects of the chemotherapy; not knowing from one day to another what was going to happen; how long we had left. The uncertainty. The worry. The anguish. Seeing the girl whom I love beyond any other mortal person fighting the fear, the pain, the symptoms. Seeing her weaken and not be able to do the things she wanted. Living for all that time under the death sentence that is pancreatic cancer, not knowing whether or not she would be healed, knowing that the only human chance for her to be made well would be to have a brutal operation that could well remove the tumour, but an operation in which one patient in twenty dies on the operating table. An operation which she could not have, in any event, because the tumour was wrapped around too many important blood vessels thus making the tumour inoperable. An operation which, even after all that, gives only a 50% chance that the cancer will not return (I had a friend who actually did have the operation, and he died last year despite it). Living each day knowing that her condition could (and eventually would) suddenly deteriorate and that each day could be her last. Living with this constant companion of horror, of fear, of – as I said – the death sentence. It’s like being on death row together.*

Can you imagine the kind of psychological and emotional pressure that this creates for the patient, for her family, and for someone like me who was her prime carer? The weight of the constant vigilance for certain signs and symptoms that might indicate a serious infection (due to the chemotherapy suppressing the immune system), and the responsibility for making sure she gets the proper care in that event? In my lifetime, I have personally saved several people’s lives, from that of a girl I was going out with (before I met Fiona) in early 1982, whom I saved from being hit by a truck, to a friend in my car when I was driving and we were nearly forced off the road by a rogue trucker, to my own father in whom I diagnosed a serious, acute, life-threatening illness and got him to hospital just in time. But Fiona’s life I saved several times, particularly on one especially memorable occasion when my daughter Ellie called me home from work because her Mum was really ill, and I got home and took one look at her and knew exactly what was going on. Without our intervention right there and then she would have died within a couple of hours, that was how serious it was – a condition called ‘neutropenic sepsis’ – a systemic infection which simply runs rampage because the immune system can no longer fight that infection effectively. It just goes to show how amazing our (working) immune system is; every couple of hours there are infective threats like this dealt with silently and unobtrusively by our body’s defences, and we don’t even notice it! But when someone is immunosuppressed – that is, the immune system is degraded for whatever reason (in this case, the chemotherapy) – the chances of a lethal infection are quite high.

Another time, she was on a new chemotherapy regime and she had what’s known as an ‘adverse drug reaction’, a name that speaks for itself. Her heart rate went tachycardic (very, very fast, in this case getting on for 190-200 beats per minute) and if I had not called it, she would have died there and then. And this kind of thing takes its toll. What this stuff does emotionally and psychologically to a person, to a family, is beyond description. Unless you have personally lived through this sort of thing, you have no way of knowing what it will be like – it’s different for everyone – or how you will cope.

(Warning: This next section contains a couple of mildly medical pictures. If you’re squeamish, you might want to be careful 🙂 )

Well, each of us copes in different ways, and one of the ways in which many carers, partners and relatives care is by doing things to help. So long as the help is welcome (remember that the patient may not want to feel dependent on others, so there needs to be sensitivity here) then this is a good way to feel you are doing something positive. Helping with shopping, transport, cleaning, cooking, washing, writing to officialdom, and of course just being there when needed. I have the useful ability to be able to come instantly, fully awake at any time during the night, and that was really useful if Fiona had bad chemo side effects at night, so I could check her signs and symptoms with a clear head, and decide whether or not medical intervention was needed.

Also, although I am not medically-trained, I am, as I said, a professional in the medical field. For 12 years, I was in medical research, and I have now worked in pharmaceuticals for over twenty years, and for all my adult life I have been a trained First-Aider. For that reason, the nursing staff in the chemo ward were happy to train me to service Fe’s PICC line, which is a simply amazing bit of kit.

Allow me to explain. A PICC line is a ‘peripherally-inserted central catheter’ and is simply a plastic tube that goes into a vein in the patient’s arm just above the elbow…

…and continues right inside into the chest cavity, exiting in the superior vena cava, which feeds directly into the heart.

This allows us to administer things to the patient easily, like antibiotics, saline drips, fluids, and of course chemotherapy, all of which can be administered via the same route and without having to make any extra holes in the patient, which is of course painful, uncomfortable and not without risk, especially when administering chemotherapy. The PICC line also allows us to take blood samples directly as required, again without causing pain or discomfort to the patient. It’s all very clever and very useful, improving patient comfort no end.

But the PICC line needs to be ‘serviced’, and that means flushing it with saline and anticoagulant once per week; also the skin around the insertion site needs to be cleaned and the dressing changed weekly. Normally, this would mean a visit to hospital, or at least staying at home so that the District Nurse can come in and do the honours. But being able to service the PICC line ourselves, without ‘outside’ help, meant that we were free to go off on holiday (or even just service the PICC line at home when we wanted to, rather than wait in for the Nurses), and simply take the PICC line servicing kit with us – dressings, saline, syringes, sterile wipes, blood sampling tubes and what have you. I would say that, for us, this was the main specialised way in which I could help and free up a lot more time simply for us to be together. I have no doubt that others reading this may be able to use their specialist skills to help their loved one in a similar way.

Another part of the fight, though, was the pain of seeing my lovely lady wasting away. Fiona always had all the right curves in all the right places, but chemotherapy plays havoc with the body in so many ways, and one of these ways is the loss of appetite, and sometimes the inability to keep food down.  And so, Fiona lost a lot of weight over those years, as well as having much of her hair fall out. Notably, though, in many ways this allowed Fiona’s inner light to shine out all the more strongly. So far on my blog, I have posted pictures only of the healthy Fiona. I have not posted pictures of her as she was during her illness, because seeing those pictures brought back the memory of the horror and pain of those times. But now, thanks to talking these things over with my grief counsellor, I can look at those pictures more easily.

So today I have posted pictures of her, radiant, even with little hair and sometimes much thinner than she was.

So, why am I writing all this? Why all this talk about the literally life-changing illness that cancer is? Why describe all the horror, the adjustments, the changes?

Because in all this, in all the despair and hopelessness, I want to testify to the closeness and comforting Presence of Jesus. In all this stuff, all this horror, He was constantly there, letting us feel His Presence, letting us feel His peace, such that people commented on how ‘brave’ we all were. But this was the ‘peace that passes understanding’; the supernatural peace that comes when you know God has got everything under control, even if the eventual outcome is probably not the one you would have wanted. It’s not so much that God necessarily changes our circumstances; it’s more that He helps us get through them. Some would say, ‘Why use God as a prop? Most people cope without him!’ Well, I am not sure they do. How do we know that God is not the One Who provides the strength for people to cope even when they do not acknowledge Him? God causes the sun to shine on the righteous and unrighteous alike (Mt 5:45); why not also His Grace, albeit unasked, to cope with our circumstances as they happen? Surely God draws near to the broken-hearted, no matter what their faith background, because that’s just what He’s like. Christians by no means have a monopoly on God’s favour; they are simply more aware of it than others.

As I have said before, I have a steady confidence that death is no longer the end**. I believe that I will see Fiona again. I also believe in God’s healing power and His ability to work miracles. I tried on two occasions to raise her after she had died, on the proviso that if God did choose to raise her, He had to do it without bringing the cancer back with her. But it was not to be; she has gone to be with Him and I am content with that. As I’ve said before, I would not now, even if I could raise Fiona from the dead from her ashes – which is something that I have not the slightest doubt that God could do – I would not want to bring her back. Although my heart was broken over and over again over the three years fighting the cancer, and in finally losing her, I would not ever want to pull her away from what she has now.

You see, God’s hand has been in this all along. In the midst of the suffering, terror, anguish, pain, horror and death, One has walked beside me Who has been through all that Himself. Jesus is no stranger to human suffering. But after all He went through, He was raised back to life. I believe that not because the Bible says it, but because I personally have experienced Him walking with me in everyday life. And if that’s true, then He is simply the forerunner, the downpayment, of the life after death – a new kind of life which is unimaginable to us now – and the demonstration and guarantee that death is indeed not the end. Knowing this changes a person’s entire outlook on life and death, and everything that goes in between.

It also gives us hope, which I believe is absolutely vital when fighting an illness like this. Hope is what keeps you going; hope is what you can hold on to even when the future looks impossible.

When you are first given the diagnosis, and there is little medical hope, still there is the chance – however slight – that something medical might be possible. New research is always coming up with new ideas and treatments, sometimes even actual cures. I should know; I was a professional in the field of  medical research for 12 years. This is not wishful thinking; this is what medical science does. We are always coming up with new things.

When medical science gives us no hope, still there is the hope that God might well perform a miracle. My readers know that I believe in this sort of thing; I have been supernaturally healed of things in the past, and I have been involved in others’ healings too. I have seen and experienced these things at first hand. That guarantee that death is not the end, that I mentioned above? The same Power that raised Jesus from the dead is alive and living right now in my heart and in yours (Rom 8:11). For God, all things are possible, even healing incurable conditions. Remember that for something to be a miracle, you have to have something that’s impossible for us to do ourselves. And that is in itself a real hope.

But sometimes the answers to your prayer are not the answers you hoped for. In this case, Fiona died. But still I have that hope – that I will see her again – because of the supernatural assurance I have in my heart of the Love that will not let me go; nor will He let go of Fiona. Again, this is not wishful thinking. This hope is founded on my own real experience of a real Jesus, in real life.

Finally, I want to share also this stunning testimony, which again reinforces my claim to my supernatural hope. I have a friend in America called Steve. Steve has been praying for Fiona and our family since hearing of her diagnosis in early 2014. Here’s what he wrote to me in response to my email informing him of Fiona’s passing on that day fifteen months ago:

“God woke me up this morning at 5:35am my time (about 11:30am your time), which is unusual. I felt He wanted me to pray, so I got ready and went for a walk. I felt an unusual burden to pray for Fiona this morning from 6:15 until 7:15 this morning. I felt led to pray for God to anoint her with His grace, and to help her finish her race well, to wrap her in His presence, and to strengthen her spirit – and yours.

 “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints. He is so wonderfully present, so kind, so engaged.

“I grieve with you, my brother. I am grateful for the times and the words and the faith that has passed between us over these last years.

 “I celebrate with Fiona, my sister, who receives her reward today.”

Steve didn’t know it at the time, but 7:15am his time was 1:15pm our time; the precise moment when Fiona died. Even at times like that, God’s hand is so obviously present.

Even though we can’t see it at the time, God’s hand is indeed on everything that we do. He takes a minutely detailed, utterly fascinated and absolutely loving interest in every detail of our lives, not in a creepy way, but in a getting-involved sort of way. I want to encourage you today in that I want you to know that nothing that you are going through, nothing you are doing, have done or is happening to you, nothing can separate you from the Love of God in Christ.

This has been my experience:

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” – Romans 8:37-39

 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” – Ps 46:1 (KJV)

If you are going through a fight like this right now, be encouraged. God is so much closer than you think. He cares, and He holds you in His arms. And nothing and no-one can change that.

Header picture shows a radiant Fiona at Godshill, Isle of Wight, in July 2015.

*I know that my family, Fiona’s family, and our friends and colleagues all suffered too, each in their own way. And it is not my intention here to downplay that suffering in any way. But I am writing this only from my point of view, which is the only point of view that I can report on accurately. We each take these things, and process them, in our own way. I do not feel it is either my prerogative or my duty to make assumptions on what others were and are feeling. That is their story.

**That death is no longer the end has profound ramifications. Absolutely profound. Rather than spoon-feed you, I’ll just let you think about it for yourself. Ask yourself this question: “What attitudes would change in my life if death is no longer the end?” If you think about this in any great depth, the results will change your life. It did for me.


Thirty-Four Years

This entry is part 22 of 24 in the series Fiona

Today would have been Fiona’s and my 34th wedding anniversary. Half a lifetime ago, I married the most beautiful girl in the world, and for me it had been love at first sight. I can’t adequately express how blessed I am to have been married to this magnificent lady for nearly 33 years, before I lost her to cancer in October 2016.

We had a particular song, which was a lovely little number called ‘Where you go, I will go’, which we thought of as ‘our song’, and I featured it on my blog this time last year to celebrate what would have been our 33rd wedding anniversary. I want to feature it again today, because I still believe it. And it’s still Our Song.

Where you go, I will go.

Where she’s gone, I will go, eventually.

And there we will meet again.

Where you go, I will go
Where you lodge, I will lodge
Do not ask me to turn away, for I will follow you
We’ll serve the Lord together, and praise Him day to day
For He brought us together, to love Him and serve Him always


Header photo shows Ellie, Fiona and I with our gorgeous German Shepherd, Zeus, at Meadow Lakes Holiday Park, St. Austell, Cornwall, August 2013, where we were staying in our caravan. This was where we were holidaying when we first noticed the symptoms of the cancer.

Zeusy was a huge dog, but he wasn’t as big as the camera angle makes him look in this picture!



Fourteen Months

This entry is part 21 of 24 in the series Fiona

I had a huge article written up for today, but now is not the time to share it*.

Fourteen months after losing Fiona, I am spending my second Christmas without her.

It’s hard. But life goes on. It’s not hard because it’s Christmas, as happens for some people. I actually don’t like Christmas, especially the commercialism. No it’s just hard because I feel like, I dunno, as if one of my legs is missing or something. Part of me that was extremely important to me has gone, at least for now. The light of her presence is no longer in my house.

And that’s what’s hard.

Just  for once, I have nothing else in particular to share. But wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, I pray God’s blessing on you today. It’s a privilege for me to share even these little posts with you 🙂

*[Edit]: The article I had planned to publish today is actually here



This entry is part 20 of 24 in the series Fiona

I can’t believe it’s thirteen months since we lost my precious wife, Fiona. Time seems to have flown by.

And as part of my grieving process, I have been meeting with a bereavement volunteer; she’s a very wise lady who works as part of my local Hospice’s Bereavement Service.

One of the many interesting things that I have learned from my helper is that the way that the grieving process is viewed, by people who study this sort of thing, has changed over the last few decades.

In the past, it was usually considered ‘normal’ that, eventually, bereaved people ‘just get over it’, and esentially just pull their socks up and get on with life. Maybe that’s part of the British ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality; more likely it was simply a lack of understanding of the processes involved. And in any case, research should – by its very nature – change the way we view, and do, things, especially in the broader field of medicine. You find things out, so you modify your systems accordingly. That’s how progress works.

And so, the current thinking is that when we lose someone who was close to us, someone we had a deep relationship with; when that happens, we don’t actually lose that relationship – it’s just that it changes.

I must say that I can identify with that.

In so many ways, the relationship goes on.

Now, ok, I realise that this might sound like wishful thinking, like ‘she’s not really dead’, all that sort of thing. But no, it’s not that; of course, part of the grieving process is accepting that she really has gone. And, even bearing in mind my firm belief in Heaven, I have fully accepted that, for this life at least, she’s not here*.

But the relationship does indeed go on. You see, everything that Fiona built into my life just by being herself and being my wife, with her gentle wisdom and loving nature, everything is still there. Of course I miss not having her here to discuss things with, especially decisions and that sort of thing. I miss her knowledge, wisdom, her ways, her presence, her voice, her smell, her touch, and at this point it’s getting too personal 😉 . But in so many ways, what she was to me still exists even though she is not physically present. I find this difficult to put into words, so I hope it’s coming across.

One way in which this happens is that I  – mainly unconsciously – respond and do things the way that Fiona would have done. Some Christians use the concept of ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ (WWJD) as a guiding principle for life, and I like that. It’s a good idea, and if it works for you, go for it 🙂 Some people even have the logo ‘WWJD’ as a tattoo, hopefully the right way up so they can read it as a reminder… 😉

Well, in a similar vein, I suppose it’s as if I have the letters ‘WWFD’ tattooed on my personality, or that I wear a ‘WWFD’ wristband like this one here 🙂  What would Fiona do? Well, I could obviously never be a ‘replacement’ for her in the lives of people whom she blessed on a daily basis just by knowing them. But still I have found that I have taken over just some of the roles she had, and I have done this in exactly the same serving spirit that she would have had. And that’s because she made me into the person I am, just by being herself and transferring her attitudes to me, albeit unconsciously. And I’m sure it worked both ways; I know that she had attitudes and principles that were a result of her knowing me. We all ‘rub off’ on each other our whole lives, but this is especially true for people who are close.

There’s more. This is very personal, but about two or three times a week, I dream about Fiona in my sleep. Not just in the sense that I described earlier in this series, but now it’s different. In the dreams, I know she’s dead, but it’s like she’s just sitting there beside me, without necessarily saying anything, but just being there. She’s very solid, very real, and the really solid thing about her is her presence. Again, this is difficult to describe, but the take-home feeling and impression I get is that she is always there, and always will be, even though she’s not really here any more. Or is she? To be honest, the mechanics of this are quite mind-wrenching, even for a mind like mine, so I just let it be without trying to go too deeply into how it all works. But the solidity of her presence in those dreams, I am certain, is either my subconscious mind showing me that all Fiona’s influence is still solid in my life, or maybe it’s even something far deeper than that, but which I will leave to my readers to interpret in their own ways. And this whole thing provides me with yet another assurance that the person she was, and is, is still present with me in my life. In a very real way, that old adage of ‘as long as we remember them, they are not really dead’ is apparently true for Fiona in my life.

You see, Fiona and I had been together for 34 years, and married for just short of 33 years, and for all of that time we were inseparable. We had such a close relationship, it was almost like we could read each other’s thoughts. And a relationship like that is not broken by death. Sure, our marriage service included the words ’till death do us part’. And I believe that’s true, at least on a temporary basis, dreams notwithstanding. But, you know, there is a deeper truth here. As well as the ‘ongoing relationship’, there is also something even greater that the future holds. As I have said before, death is no longer the big deal it once was. Because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have seen a foretaste of life after death. Jesus put it like this, ‘Because I live, you too will live’ (Jn 14:19), and ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die’ (Jn 11:25). Because of the Resurrection, death has been given notice that it will no longer hold the tyranny of fear over humankind that it has held for countless centuries.

What we believe is this: If we get included in Christ’s sin-conquering death, we also get included in his life-saving resurrection. We know that when Jesus was raised from the dead it was a signal of the end of death-as-the-end. Never again will death have the last word. (Romans 6:8-10 Message)

On this mountain he will destroy
    the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
(Isaiah 25:7-8)

Do you see what this is saying? I am not using these as proof-texts; I don’t like using Scripture like that! What I am saying is that, because of the grieving process I have been undergoing, I have come to realise that the truth of the presence of Jesus in my life, the reality of His Spirit in my heart, the reality of His life-changing power at work within me, all point to the genuineness (is that even a word??) of the story of Jesus that we all know so well, but which is so often read like it’s still bound up in a dusty old book. No. This is real! And so, I give these texts as examples of things that I already know to be happening in my own life, and to show what the future has in store, not only for me, but for all humanity. Death indeed does not have the final say. Death is no longer separation from our loved ones for ever. Heaven awaits, and in that place we will indeed see again those whom we cherished so dearly in this life.

And on the other side of the veil waits my Fiona. Fe and I had ‘our song’, ‘Where you go, I will go‘. And when I die on this Earth, that’s what will have happened; I will have gone to be with her where she is. So I would hope that, when that time comes, people will be able bring themselves to grieve with joy, knowing that we are together again, forever, in the incredible place where we lived our entire lives longing to go to.

And the relationship goes on.

*I also believe in miracles, including that of raising the dead. I believe God can do that. But, as I have said before (I think, anyway; my mind is such a fizzing whirl of ideas that I have difficulty remembering things sometimes!), I do think that it was Fiona’s time, and there’s going to be no raising of Fiona before the Great Resurrection. Crazy talk? Well, this is my faith; I have no doubts as to God’s abilities in this regard, but He’s not going to do it. Plus there is no way in which I could ever selfishly ask for her to be whisked away from her heavenly reward. No way in the world.

Header picture shows Fiona at our beloved holiday retreat at Bolton Abbey, Yorkshire, in 2011


Night Flying

A couple of evenings ago, I had an awe-inspiring flight that was a major first in my flying career.

I went for my first ever flight at night. With an instructor, of course.

At the moment, my licence only allows me to fly in daylight. In order to fly at night, I would need to add a Night Rating to my licence, which simply involves a short theoretical and practical flying training course and then five solo takeoffs and full-stop landings at night.

I have been thinking about going for my night rating for a good while now, shall I/shan’t I, will I like it, what if it’s really hard, what if I get all disorientated? The inspiration for the night flying came from one of those moments where I was standing in my garden at home and looking up at the brightly moonlit clouds above, and thinking, “I would love to fly up there in that sky!” And so was born the idea of training for my first additional rating in all my 20+ years of flying.

So I decided to go for a short hop with an Instructor and see how I liked it. As it was an instructional flight, I planned on flying the aeroplane for the entire flight, right from moving off from the apron to the final shutdown, as far as it was possible given that I had never flown at night before.

So, first, we had a little bit of a briefing, where Ollie (my Instructor) gave me some important points about the differences involved in flying at night as compared to daylight flying, and I asked a few questions. Then it’s engine startup and off we go.

The first thing I noticed was that it is really hard to read my checklist in the pitch black. I had brought my torch and used it, but I made a mental note that next time I would put a red filter on my torch so as to avoid loss of night vision.

So, engine start as normal, call the Tower, and then taxy the aeroplane to the holding point just short of the runway for the power and pre-takeoff ‘vital actions’ checks. The taxiways are lit with blue lights at the edges and green lights down the centreline, and there are two bright yellow flashing lights to mark the holding point. This wasn’t all that difficult although I did notice a tendency to overcontrol on the steering because of the lack of visual references. But essentially it was no harder than driving a car at night. Lining up on the runway, though, was a bit different because there were no cues at all apart from the white lines on the ground. All the lights on aerodrome surfaces are carefully aligned to cause minimum inconvenience by dazzle and maximum benefit for the different stages of flight. To be honest I don’t remember if I could see the main runway edge lights (the flarepath), but we were quickly cleared for takeoff so it’s off we go.

The takeoff itself was easy, not all that different from a daylight takeoff, but I think I would have found it hard in a crosswind, again because of the lack of visual cues. These visual cues are something that I have taken for granted in daylight flying, because everything is visible all around me and I don’t even think about it. At night, though, the default setting is that everything is black, everywhere, unless it’s a city or a road. But the wind was calm; a nice fine and quiet night weather-wise, just perfect for a night air experience flight.

In fact, the feeling is quite surreal as the aeroplane lifts off and I begin the climbout, just like I would in daylight, but relying on the instruments to maintain the correct airspeed and attitude. Everything is black, except for the bright lights of Exeter and its surrounding towns, and the bright car lights on the nearby M5 motorway, one stream of red tail lights, the other of white headlights. It’s rush hour so the roads are busy and easily visible even where there are no street lights, and the feeling is like climbing up into a huge black velvet coal sack but with all these islands and rivers of coloured lights (mainly orange, red and white) lighting up patches on the ground. Fortunately I know the geography of the local area really well so I am not fazed at all by thinking, like, ‘Where am I?’. That’s one major thing I don’t need to worry about.

The City of Exeter at night, seen from above Dawlish Warren at 2,500ft

I notice also that large water features, like the two major estuaries of the Exe and the Teign, actually reflect light from the sky that I didn’t even know was there; the Moon has not yet risen so the sky is lit mainly by starlight and a little bit of city glow, though not all that much as Devon is really very rural. In fact, I have read many times that water features are one of the best aids to night navigation, and now I can see why. Yeadon, my old home town near Leeds, has a lake near it that they had to drain during the War, because it is only a mile from a factory where they used to build Lancaster bombers. The lake would have been a major landmark that would have enabled German night bombers to attack the factory with some fair degree of accuracy. And the sea, of course, is a major feature around my current area, although it appears much darker than the rivers for some reason…but again it’s easily found because the coastal towns define the coastline really well. And there are all these little white lights dotted around that show where boats are located. You can see one just below the middle of this photo of Exmouth, taken from over Dawlish Warren at 2,500ft (photo is clickable for full-size image):

But the most striking feature, again, is the blackness. Everything is black apart from the towns and roads, and the rivers. In fact the feeling is like that of everything being almost abstract; it’s like I’m not really flying but instead I’m using a flight simulator or something. Because the aeroplane, once trimmed up, basically flies herself, all I need to do is to look out at the view and occasionally check the instruments for height, heading and speed. I know I’m above the MSA (minimum safe altitude) so I’m not going to run into anything. Other aircraft are easy to spot as they have flashing lights on them. In a lot of ways, despite the lack of a visual horizon reference, this is much easier than flying in the daylight. Quite a paradox.

And I can see. Although most of the ground is dark, I notice that there is actually enough light to see by due to the starlight, now that my eyes are becoming accustomed to the dark.

Straight away I notice that I am flying the aeroplane much more precisely and carefully, being careful not to risk disorientation by abrupt attitude changes, and paying much more attention to the instruments and what the aeroplane is doing. When flying, it’s really important to keep ahead of the aircraft at all times; to be proactive rather than reactive, so I am concentrating hard and thinking well ahead because at night it is so much more vital to be ahead of your game. Any tendency of the aeroplane to drift off course or change its attitude has to be seen and acted on early so that it does not ‘develop’. This is probably the most precise flying I have done in a long while.

Coming back to the airport, Ollie points out landmarks that will be useful for me when trying to find the aerodrome by myself. How does one lose a huge field with a 2,064-metre runway? Quite easily, actually 🙂 But the airport does indeed appear as advertised, and I position for a left-hand downwind join for Runway 26. Doing everything slowly, carefully and precisely, I fly a very nice downwind in all this blackness; several landmarks are available to help me in this regard but I also need to make sure that I am well clear of high ground to the east of the airport and below the place where I am going to do the base turn. Downwind checks complete, and turning base, then, at about 1,100ft, the runway approach lights gradually become more visible as a dim string of yellow dots as I prepare the aeroplane for landing. Turning for final approach, the runway is lit up gloriously – I have done dusk flarepath landings before, so the sight is familiar – but in between the flarepath lights, the runway surface itself is totally black.

Photo (not mine, credit goes to ‘Golfcharlie’ as signed on the picture) of the approach lights at Exeter as seen from a Beechcraft Duchess twin-engined training aeroplane. The main runway lights are actually white, not red as they appear in this photo.

I’ve been briefed by Ollie on when to ‘flare’ (the point where you arrest the descent); apparently it’s when the runway lights appear to be coming up around my ears. So I flare and prepare to hold off, but the aeroplane touches down straight away for a real greaser of a landing; almost perfect – except that it was pure fluke. I didn’t expect the aircraft to land so soon; normally she needs to be held off the runway until she stalls gently on from about 8-12 inches above the runway. Again, the lack of visual cues is something I’m going to have to learn to deal with.

I was surprised in that I actually flew the entire flight myself, with the exception of a minute or two where Ollie took over so I could take the two photos featured in this blog post, and the whole flight was easy, if a little surreal. But the precision flying I will have to perform will do nothing but good for my flying technique.

And so my training starts on Monday, weather permitting. For the first time in 20 years, I will be undergoing a flying training programme. I did have a lesson or two a couple of years ago, where I learned things like radio navigation and such, but this will be the first really new formal flying training program that I have done since completing my PPL in 1997. Once again, I will have to summon all my courage, discipline and determination to make this work. The courage to face new and potentially dangerous situations, the discipline of concentration and excluding all extraneous thoughts from my fizzing Aspie mind; and the determination to overcome all the obstacles to learning that I will likely encounter, and come through with my shiny new Night Rating. It will be really freeing to be able to not worry about whether or not I am down before sunset. And I love the flarepath landings; it’s all very pretty.

Outside the local supermarket yesterday evening, I looked up into the black sky and thought, “Crumbs, I flew in that last night!” Well, hopefully I’m going to be doing a lot more of it over the winter months.

Wish me luck!


Fly to Jesus

This entry is part 19 of 24 in the series Fiona

Today it’s a year since I lost my wonderful wife, Fiona.

How does one mark a whole year since we lost such an incredible lady?

Well, I can think of no better way to honour her memory than to post a number sung by our beautiful and supremely talented daughter, Ellie Rosie (that’s her stage-name).

Here’s a picture of Ellie singing at Fiona’s and my ‘wedding’, in December 2014, when we renewed our vows:

Fiona had an astonishing singing voice, and Ellie’s is equally astonishing. Here Ellie covers a beautiful song – Come to Jesus, by Chris Rice – which Ellie discovered on Hillary Scott’s album ‘Love Remains‘. I think this song sums up Fiona’s life perfectly, from her initial salvation, through all she experienced in her life, and right up to where she is now – ‘On Glory’s Side’. Fiona has indeed flown to Jesus and rests in His arms. And she would have loved this song.


Take it away, Ellie:


Weak and wounded sinner
Lost and left to die
Raise your head, for love is passing by
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus
Come to Jesus and live!
Now your burden’s lifted
Carried far away
Precious blood has washed away the stain,
Sing to Jesus
Sing to Jesus
Sing to Jesus and live!
And like a newborn baby
Don’t be afraid to crawl
And remember when we walk
Sometimes we fall, so
Fall on Jesus
Fall on Jesus
Fall on Jesus and live!
Sometimes the way is lonely
And steep and filled with pain
So if your sky is dark and coursed with rain,
Cry to Jesus
Cry to Jesus
Cry to Jesus and live!
When the love spills over
And music fills the night
And when you can’t contain your joy inside,
Dance for Jesus
Dance for Jesus
Dance for Jesus and live!
With your final heartbeat
Kiss the world goodbye
Go in peace, and laugh on Glory’s side,
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus and live!
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus
Fly to Jesus and live!


– ‘Come to Jesus’, by Chris Rice


Vocals, piano and keyboards by Ellie Rosie


Header picture is of Fiona in 1987, at the age of 23, not long after our first child, David, was born.