Tuesday, 29 April 2014


Soon it was time for my first solo land-away. 
Dunkeswell is a little airfield on the Somerset levels - very easy to find for someone who disliked navigation as much as I did.  Take off from Bristol, turn out over Cheddar lake, head for the M5 motorway and follow it down until you spot the Wellington Monument, turn left, and look out for the airfield.  The only likely mistake would be getting the wrong airstrip - there were two disused ones close by.   Not even an idiot like me could mistake the correct one, though - look for other little aircraft and a clubhouse. 
There's something incredibly peaceful about flying alone.  Apart from the radio, relayed through your headset, there is no sound but the gentle hum of the engine and the occasional buffeting of the wind.  And for most of the time out there over open countryside the radio is quiet - it's only when you need to talk to Air Traffic Control or they need to talk to you that it crackles into life.  (Of course, if you have a passenger you hear them through the headset too, but on a solo flight nothing much interrupts the silence.  And when I flew in Florida, they didn't use headsets at all, which I found most disconcerting, but that's another story)
Flying alone also really concentrates the mind.  Quite apart from keeping a sharp eye out to make sure you're on course, and that there is no microlight - or jet plane! - in your sights, you have to remember to check the pitot heat every 10-15 mins to ensure the pitot tube doesn't freeze up - something else that was totally different in Florida, where it is rarely cold enough to have to worry about such things.  At the same time as the peace, I felt truly alive. 
Anyway, I made Dunkeswell safely, landed, locked up the plane and went into the clubhouse for a much needed coffee before flying back to Bristol.  First land-away safely accomplished - but a bigger challenge still to come - a triangular land-away, .  But for today I wasn't going to worry about that.  I'd taken a plane away from the airfield on my own and brought it safely back. 
Result!  And another important step towards getting my licence!

Wednesday, 26 February 2014



From the exhilaration of that first trial lesson the hard work began - but it was so exciting. I learned to read what had looked like a mesmerising array of dials, how to put on flaps and keep the plane 'in trim' and so much more. We did 'steep turns' with the wing at seventy degrees angle to the ground, we did the drill for emergency landings - look for a suitable field, check wind direction by observing smoke from chimneys etc, don't forget to put in a radio call to alert air traffic control, and so on. We did stalling practice, which was really scary. 'Stall' is wing stall, not engine stall, and is usually caused by climbing too steeply, so of course, I had to do just that. We'd climb to 3000 ft and then lift the nose again, more, more, more until we stalled - those minutes (or seconds, most probably!) I found really nerve wracking. Once I was able to do something to correct that horrible plunge downward I felt much better!

And then of course there were the take-offs and landings. 'Touch and goes' we called them. I'd take off, fly a circuit of the airfield, land, and immediately put on power to take off again. We'd do five or six of these circuits in succession. Sometimes we'd pop over to the BAe runway at Filton, cheaper and less busy than Bristol Airport, sometimes we'd fly down to the grass strip at Compton Abbas in Dorset and practise there. But I have to confess I liked Bristol Airport best, with its lovely long runway and familiar surroundings. And it was there that I did my first solo.

I knew the time for it was approaching fast, and tried to prepare myself. But my tummy churned all the same when, after three or four 'touch-and-goes' one afternoon, my instructor asked: 'OK, do you want to go round on your own?' My first thought was No! No! I don't! Once I'd taken off there could be no going back - I'd just have to land all by myself. But I knew if I showed the slightest hesitation he would think I wasn't ready and I'd have to wait for another day. Terry had done his first solo a few days before - I couldn't get left behind
! 'Yes, all right,' I said. 'Pull over then,' he said. I duly pulled over to the nearest holding point. My instructor spoke to the control tower, telling them he was sending a pupil on first solo, and got out, leaving me alone in the plane. And the funny thing was I was suddenly quite calm and confident, as if I was in my car. Take-off came easily to me now. I flew a perfect circuit, turned and called in 'Finals' and concentrated on the heavy workload that is landing. I came in at just the right height and speed over the A38 and touched down with only the smallest of bounces. I'd done it! Been in the air all alone and got back in one piece to tell the tale! It was one of the most exhilarating moments of my life - and the certificate I was given to prove I'd done it became one of my most prized possessions.

But of course there was still a long way to go to get my licence. In reality, the adventure had only just begun ....

Thursday, 9 January 2014


First, an apology - I have been very busy finishing a new book, a family saga - and so haven't blogged for a while. More exciting news about this later, on my home page.

But at last, here I am again. I'm taking a break from my stories of life as a real-life Heartbeat Wife to tell how I came to learn to fly and gain my Private Pilot's licence. I'm calling it:

Me in the left-hand seat.

I'd always wanted to learn to fly. I'd gone on a 'Pleasure Flight' as they used to be called when on holiday in Scarborough with my sister when I was in my late teens and absolutely loved it. Before going I was pretty nervous, especially when we got to the airfield and I saw the size of the plane - so tiny! with the wings just about the height of my chest. But the moment we took off I was hooked, loving the sensation of freedom and the fields cartwheeling under that little tilted wing.

It was an unfulfilled ambition, though. Until my 50th birthday. Terry, my husband, kept me in suspense about a "surprise present" until the day came. We were 'going somewhere', and perhaps he'd better explain as I might want 'to wear something suitable'. When he told me he had booked me a trial flying lesson at Bristol airport I was so excited, and even wondered briefly if the 'something suitable' should be a leather helmet and long scarf ... well, it was late November ... I settled, however, for trousers and flatties.

At Bristol & Wessex Flying Club I was shown the plane I would be flying - a PA28 - and then given a briefing in a very official looking office. I must confess I was quite bemused by all the technical terms, explanations of how a plane actually flies, and so much more. Then my breezy and cheerful instructor took me on a 'walk round', checking fuselage, flaps, etc, and installed me in the 'left-hand seat' - in a plane the captain sits on the left hand side of the cockpit. He climbed in beside me. Terry, I should mention, was already installed in one of the two seats behind us. And then we were on the runway and taking off, the ground gently dropping away beneath us, looking down on treetops, bouncing a little in the turbulence over the wooded area, then turning towards the Somerset levels with Cheddar lake sparkling in the bright sunlight and Glastonbury Tor rising ahead.

My instructor, Mike, took off, of course, but once we were over open countryside he invited me to take over. All he wanted me to do was fly 'straight and level' - which is easier said than done when you've never flown before. The most magical and scariest words I'd ever heard were 'You have control' .... I had control! Jeepers! (Of course, his helping hand was never far away, otherwise I doubt I'd be here to tell the tale).

It lasted a bit less than an hour, that first flight, but I was hooked. And so was my passenger, Terry .... He'd recently retired from the police force, and so we made the momentous decision .. we were both going to take the lessons we needed to get our private pilot's licences. And what a decision that was! It took over our lives, cost us a lot of money, meant we had to spend hours and hours poring over the manuals that taught us about everything from air technical to meteorology, navigation and air law and the etiquette and jargon needed to use the radio to talk to air traffic control, and know it all well enough to pass seven written exams. There were plenty of times when I wondered what on earth I was doing - such as when I had to set off for my first solo land-away, or when I thought I was lost over the wilds of Wales (I wasn't). But we never for one moment regretted it. And I think gaining my licence is the achievement I am most proud of. Often I was scared to death, but I did it. (Conversely, Terry relished every moment). And there were so many adventures along the way!

I'll tell you about some of them soon ....

Wednesday, 25 September 2013


Latest instalment of

A huge assortment of callers came to our door when we lived in the Police Station in Nailsea. There were the routine matters - people coming to produce their driving documents and the like, people with queries, people wanting to report a loss - a dog, a watch, a wallet, people wanting to complain about their neighbours or some unseemly going-on.

And there were the phone calls too - one afternoon when Terry was off duty I answered the telephone to be greeted by the words: 'There's a pigeon in my garden and it seems exhausted. What should I do?' Feeling unqualified to give her advice, I went out to Terry, who was mowing the lawn, and repeated the conversation. 'Tell her to put the oven on,' was his typically black-humoured reply. Of course, he was joking - Terry could never be cruel to any living creature - he wouldn't destroy a spider's web or kill a wasp, let alone a pigeon. On his further instructions, I went back to advise the lady caller that she should put out water and food for it, and leave it alone, and after a rest it would probably go on its way.

Perhaps the most bizarre incident happened, as it so often seemed to, on a Saturday evening. Terry was out 'on his beat' (or motor cycle, to be more precise) and I had just finished giving my youngest daughter her 10 o'clock feed when there was a ring at the doorbell. I went to answer it with her in my arms. And saw the letter box open and a pair of eyes staring at me through it.

Now this is perhaps the most difficult bit of my blog. How to describe the two sisters who lived a few doors from us in Station Road, without being dreadfully un-PC. I'll try to be kind. The one was what my mother would have called 'not quite all there', though in retrospect the other was not much better! It was she who was at our door, and because she was 'vertically challenged' her eyes were level with our letter box. With some trepidation, I opened the door - bear in mind, it was close on 11 pm. The little lady wasted no time in telling me why she was calling for help.

'There are Martians in the school playing field. They're directing lazers into my bedroom and they're burning me up!' (Our houses backed onto what was then Nailsea Comprehensive School grounds)

Well, what would you have said? I tried, without success, to suggest it might be youngsters with torches. She wouldn't have it. Definitely Martians. I tried to convince her they meant her no harm. She was adamant. They were trying to kill her. She could feel the lazer rays scorching her skin, getting right inside her. This idiotic conversation went on for far too long. It was cold, dark, and I had a young baby in my arms. Eventually I assured her I would get my husband to investigate and closed the door but for a long while she continued to knock, ring, and shout through the letterbox that she couldn't go home or she would be either exterminated or 'beamed up'. I had a look through our bedroom window when I went upstairs to put Suzie back to bed - it overlooked the self-same playing fields - and could see nothing whatever. No car headlights, no torch beams ... nothing.

Eventually the little lady gave up and went away. I fully expected her to make a complaint to Terry's senior officers that she had received no help whatever in her hour of need, but to my knowledge that never happened. Unless of course it did, and was binned ...

As I'd like to say to the writers of Heartbeat .... You couldn't make it up!