Saturday, 29 September 2012

I now know what hell is

 I think I’ve just discovered what hell is - it’s travelling on an airliner with a set of parents who have a new-born baby.

Parents of any new child are bad enough – they seem to think that the whole world sees their new-born as being cute and adorable instead of what is essentially a conversion device that you stuff food in one end and clean the crap out the other – put this into an aircraft and you discover a whole new dimension -  it’s a lung-powered screaming machine with no volume control attached!

There we were, sitting in the departure longue for a flight from London to one of the Greek islands. It was ‘typically British…’ everyone keeping themselves to themselves, talking in muted whispers waiting for the flight to be called, when in they walked – ‘Mummy’ with what appeared to be a twelve week old baby in one of those kangaroo pouches strapped to her front with a bag in each hand, and ‘Daddy’ pushing what looked to be a a two year old infant in one of those collapsible one-handled, three-wheeled chairs festooned in 'baby equipment'.

Now the airlines do not allow you to smoke while on board, or carry knitting needles, nail clippers or have sexual intercourse with other passengers. You are also not allowed to board if you have shoes with explosive soles or if you've had one too many sherbets in the departure lounge bar. And if you make any sort of joke, about anything at all, in earshot of the crew, you will be tied to your seat as if you're in a set of medieval stocks. But you are allowed, indeed welcomed even, on board the aircraft even if you are accompanied by a lung-powered screaming, crapping machine!

I want to make it absolutely plain that I would never take a child on a flight until they were old enough to grasp the concept of reason. It is simply not fair to impose your screaming child on other people in a close confined environment - it’s even worse if you are flying long-haul, for then you are imposing your offspring on people who have paid thousands of pounds for a flat bed and therefore the promise of some sleep.

There has been talk of Paddy Airways introducing aircraft with standing room for economy-class passengers. Imagine the sort of seat you get in a bus shelter nowadays and you'll get the idea. So why can we not have soundproofed overhead lockers into which babies can be stowed for the duration of the flight? Or how about some squeezyJet flights where under-threes are banned?... but i'm digressing somewhat.

The crying began before the Baby Boeing was even airborne, and built to a climax as we reached cruise altitude. And believe me, this was the longest climax in the history of sound.  It was louder than a pair of Avons with full reheat! It went on, at Iron Maiden concert volume until we began the descent over three hours later. At which point, thanks to a change in pressure on the lung's tiny ears, the noise reached new and even more terrifying heights. I honestly thought the aircraft’s windows might break.

And what do you suppose the mother did to calm her infant? Read it a nice soothing story? Feed it some warm milk? No such luck - she had claimed the window seat on boarding and spent the entire flight either looking out the window or pretending to be asleep.

Disastrously, they were sitting in the row in front of us – so I knew she could not be asleep -  firstly, it would have been impossible. Secondly, a mother is biologically programmed NOT to sleep through the cries other own child and thirdly she twice turned to her older child who was sitting in between them idly kicking the seat in from of him for the entire flight and  said ‘Tarquil, don’t do that or I will have to put on my unhappy face’!

I put up with it for nearly two hours – god knows what the people in front of them were suffering -  but not long after we passed Venice, I leaned forward and asked if Tarquil would like to go play outside for a while, for I was sure the Stewardess would be able to arrange it.

It was not appreciated.

So why was she pretending? I know exactly what she said to her husband as they left home that morning – indeed, the whole passenger load knew because of the discussion they had at full volume in the departure lounge before boarding... 'If you're going to play golf while we're on holiday, you can look after these two during the flight. I spend all day every day with those bloody kids. I'm doing nothing.'

This is almost certainly why the lung was so agitated. Because the person it knew and loved was apparently dead, while it was being bounced around on the knee of a strange man it had never seen before. Because he leaves for work before the lung was awake and, doesn't get back until after the lung was asleep and is usually away all weekend playing golf with his boss in order to keep his job.

And that's why he was put in charge of the children and that's why the flight was ruined for nearly two hundred people. – who then had to spend two weeks in Greece, terrified that the lung would be on their night flight back to Britain.

It wasn't. I do not know what happened to it - but if there really is a God, I like to think it and it's mother was eaten by a shark!

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Enquiries for signatures

A number of people have asked me how can they get a copy of any of my books signed - well, we're living in a global village, and mailing books around the world does not make good economic sense. However, that said, one of my publishers have agreed to fund a different idea - if anyone would like my signature, plus a small dedication, please email me the the title of book you want it in, and your mailing address and I will send a card in an envelope out suitable inscribed at no charge.

Please send your emails to

I also promise NOT to pass anyones details on in any way!

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The Northrop Flying Wings

Jack Northrop’s flying wings - or to give them their more corect title, all wing aircraft - were some of the most spectacular, graceful and elegant flying machines ever to grace the skies.
A design as aeronautically pure as a flying wing had huge advantages over conventional aircraft design. This advantage was that drag had been reduced to an absolute minimum. As a result of this minimum drag, the performance of the flying wing became unequaled in speed, range and operating economy.
For many years aeronautical designers realised that by reducing drag - that is the net aerodynamic force acting opposite to the direction of the movement of the solid object caused by the shape or form of an aircraft as it passes through the air - that machine’s performance could be greatly increased. Early steps taken in this direction brought about the changes from biplane to monoplane design; the elimination of external wing struts and flying wires; the incorporation of retractable undercarriages and the general overall ‘smoothing out’ of the shape. However, in spite of all these advancements, the average conventional aircraft of today still has two to four times the drag of a flying wing. So in order to reduce drag to its absolute minimum, a few aircraft designers took the drastic step of eliminating both the fuselage and tail all together and placed the pilot, the engines and the payload completely inside the wing envelope.
These aircraft from Northrop - in particular the incredible eight-engined all-jet YB-49 were the purest form of flying machines - no fuselage, no tail - in fact barely any vertical surfaces at all. They seemed almost a fantasy, something from the realms of science fiction - indeed,  the first time I recall ever seeing one of ‘the wings’ was, as I am sure many others had the same initiation, in  H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds - a 1953 science fiction movie starring Gene Barry and Ann Robinson. It was the first on-screen loose adaptation of the H. G. Wells classic novel of the same name. In a desperate bid to stop the Martian invaders, much emphasis was placed on the use of a United States Air Force YB-49 Flying Wing bomber that was to drop an atomic bomb on three war machines. Unfortunately, the A-Bomb has no effect, due to their protective force fields; the Martians continue their advance and the government orders an immediate evacuation. The movie showed a YB-49 taking off and then lingers on the aircraft cavorting around the sky prior to making it’s attack.
For around forty years the history books recorded all of Northrops all-wing aicraft as little more than an aberration, almost a failure, something that was an interesting dead-end that was investigated and found to be little more than a­­ byway to mainstream conventional aeronautics that suffered a highly publicised fatal crash and became embroiled in American politics.
Then another design surfaced that equally captured the public imagination. It was from Northrop-Grumman, the sucessor company to the original designs and it had exactly the same wingspan - this was the B-2 Spirit.
This then, is the story.

The book should be out late in 2012!


Concorde Conspiracy - the Battle for American Skies 1962-1977 (yes, the title has changed at the last moment with the addition of the years for the American market)