Friday, 20 March 2015

Eclipse Trips


Aircraft have been taking off all morning from the Unmitigated England Airship (nicknamed The Duchess by my ground crew) in order to take lucky fee-paying customers above the clouds to witness the moon impertinently blocking out the sun. On each return to the mother ship the brass goggle wearing passengers were treated to a full UE breakfast that included  kedgeree warmed in a silver spirit burner kept at a safe distance from the gas bags. 

Alas, alas. The real reason for this posting is that I'm obsessed by anything to do with airships. My interest was first kindled by seeing tiny snapshots in the family album taken by my father of either the R100 or R101 airships at Cardington. Subsequently the gargantuan hangars were pointed out to me from the train after Bedford, something I tediously do for my children now. Every time. So now a green tinplate airship hangs from my living room light shade and no minutiae is safe from my researches. So imagine my excitement when one of the Library Girls ran down the corridor yesterday, clutching the above that had been unearthed whilst they were looking for a Weetabix Vistascreen 3D Viewer. (I've told them about running in corridors, particularly with trays of gin and tonics.) The Meccano Magazine for February 1926 was published when the future was all airships, very gung-ho copy that talked of a failed experiment with an aeroplane attempting to hook up under the craft when "the releasing gear failing to act at the critical moment, the daring pilots were thrown out of their machine when some 3,000 ft. up, and were dashed to their death." As we now know, there was much more trauma to come, the dreams of big silent airships criss-crossing our skies coming to an end in a muddy field in Beauvais and in flames at Lakehurst New Jersey.

But all was not in vain. Next year sees the launch of a new airship, once again darkening the skies above Cardington. I'd post a picture of it, but fear it may cause concern amongst more sensitive readers. So here's a link to it. Meanwhile I've got to go and help the ground crew moor our airship to a convenient pylon a couple of fields away.
      

13 comments:

TomB said...

Nice, uplifting post Peter.

Knowing you'll be there when the balloon goes up is a great comfort.

Vincent said...

You may be interested in Nevil Shute's memoir Slide Rule in which he recounts his experience of being a senior member of the design team of R100 (the one which didn't crash) and expresses his opinions in favour of private incomes and against civil servants.

See also my review here

PS I recently received a copy of The Cigarette Papers from a supplier in the US. Wonderful nostalgic book, makes me suspect that the best pleasure in smoking was a mental one, delivered through the packet art and the aroma of unburnt tobacco rather than the smoke, though the drug definitely offered something.

See also this post, inspired partly by Simon Gray's quartet of Smoking Diaries

Stephen Barker said...

I have lost count of the number of revivals of airships as a means of transport I have seen in my lifetime.

Philip Wilkinson said...

The link is to something positively callipygous. I am amazed.

Peter Ashley said...

Thank you Vincent for your comment and links. Very interesting.

And Philip, thank you for sending me scurrying to the dictionary shelf. Haven't done that so rewardingly since Meadesy's An Encyclopaedia of Myself.'Callipygous'. I shall use it today somewhere, but probably not in the village post office.

Vincent said...

I confess to having been anxious about Philip’s choice of adjective, and rechecking the links, fearing some malicious tampering.

As my copy of Meades’ book is on Kindle I was able to do an instant check to see if ‘callipygous’ is included in the vocabulary on display therein. Answer: no. (Word-search is one of the few advantages of an e-book.)

Lovely word though, and one I hadn’t before encountered in a metaphorical sense.

Jon Dudley said...

Santos Dumont in the early years of the last century had his own one-man powered dirigible in which he would cruise above the boulevards of Paris. A favourite haunt was Maxims where he would moor his airship to a convenient pillar, throw out a rope ladder and descend in full evening dress to meet his chums in that spectacular restaurant.

Peter Ashley said...

Brilliant Jon, thank you. I love the word 'dirigible".

Philip Wilkinson said...

I do like little-used words, especially when, like 'callipygous', they express something pleasant to contemplate. I like 'dirigible' too. For ages, I thought it had something to do with the word 'rigid', as in, an airship is made, or can be made, of non-rigid material. Of course it means nothing of the sort: it just means that you can steer it. But it's still a good word.

Jon Dudley said...

Oh dear, you've got me going now...here's what an airship has to say re. 'dirigible' -

“Airship” and “dirigible” are synonyms; a dirigible is any lighter-than-air craft that is powered and steerable, as opposed to free floating like a balloon.

The word “dirigible” is often associated with large rigid airships but the term does not come from the word “rigid” but from the French verb diriger (“to steer”).

In other words 'what Philp said...'

Of Santos Dumont, a national hero in his native Brazil it is written -

'Winning the de la Meurthe prize made him an international celebrity. With air traffic control restrictions still decades in the future, he would float along the Paris boulevards at rooftop level in his No. 9 Baladeuse, often landing in front of a fashionable outdoor cafe for lunch. On one occasion, he even flew it early one morning to his own apartment at No. 9, Rue Washington, just off Avenue des Champs-Élysées, not far from the Arc de Triomphe.'

Jon Dudley said...

Sorry...re my last comments...airships cannot speak - at least not in this life....

Jon Dudley said...

Sorry...re my last comments...airships cannot speak - at least not in this life....

Stephen Barker said...

Peter, as part of the defences against Zeppelins in WWI a field down the road from you in Welham was used as a landing strip. After a few months this was abandoned and a landing strip was created in nearby Blaston.

In WWII the field in Welham was used as training drop site by US Paratroopers prior to D-Day.