Sale starts today

I’ve had a huge amount on my plate recently, particularly in sprucing up the house and garden as we have put our property up for sale, but thought I would pop in today to say “Hello, hope you are all well and happy,” and to announce that from today, Saturday 29th June, for the next five days my latest book is available for free download from your local Amazon.

It has already collected 16 spiffing reviews since it was published last month.

If you would like to take advantage of this promotional offer, just skip along to Amazon and help yourself, and I hope you’ll enjoy the read.

Reviews so far on Amazon.co.uk

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The back story

The story behind the story.

Once back in England, we were recounting our experiences to some friends.

“You were lucky,” remarked one of them. “You could have been shot down.”

We laughed. The likelihood that the French Air Force would blow a tiny private aircraft out of the air was remote. We could hardly have been seen as a threat to their national security.

“Ah yes, but what about your predecessor?”

“Predecessor?”

“You know, the Civil Servant.”

We looked blank.

Well, here’s the story, which I am relating now as I remember it being told, and which I believe was true.

Somebody at a Kent airfield had advertised his light aircraft for sale, and had an enquiry from another somebody, a retired Civil Servant. The two arranged to meet at the airfield, and the Civil Servant said he would bring cash with him to purchase the plane if he was satisfied with it.

I’m going to call him CS from now on. It’s quicker to type, and in its context is generally an irritating oxymoron.

Before going to the airfield, CS went to a local BMW salesroom and asked for a test drive in their top of the range model. Once he’d finished the test drive, he asked the salesman if he could take the car for a short drive, alone, as he felt inhibited with the salesman sitting next to him, possibly critical of his driving ability. The salesman agreed, and off drove the CS.

At the airfield, the Aircraft Seller (AS) is waiting for the CS, who duly arrives in a brand spanking new shiny top-of-the-range BMW. He shows the AS a briefcase stuffed with used notes.

They have a test flight, and CS says that he loves the aircraft, and is prepared to buy it immediately. They land. CS goes to the car and collects the briefcase full of money, and hands it to the AS.

“While you’re counting it, I’ll just go and refuel,” he says.

AS hops jumps and skips to the clubhouse to count the money.

CS taxies the plane onto the runway, but instead of turning towards the fuel pumps, he lines up for take-off. AS opens the briefcase and begins counting the money. Beneath the top layer of notes, the case is stuffed with Monopoly money and chopped up newspaper. As AS rushes out to chase after CS, he sees his plane flying up into the sky.

There is a taxi on the airfield, and AS jumps into it and orders it to “follow that plane,” which they do until it turns over the Channel and disappears from sight. An alarm is raised, and an RAF helicopter takes off in pursuit, but is unable to keep up with the speed of the aircraft.

Across the Channel in la belle France, their radar picks up a small unidentified aircraft heading for Paris. The plane’s radio is switched off and they are unable to make contact with the pilot. The French Air Force are informed, and the order is given. Make the aircraft land. Failing that, if it penetrates Paris air space, shoot it down.

Two French fighter planes are scrambled and target the stolen plane, coming alongside. One on each side, they indicate to the CS that he must land, otherwise rattatat, boom!

As reality takes over, CS recognises that he is in something of a pickle, and it would be sensible at this stage to obey the suggestion of the fighter planes. They steer him towards an airfield where he lands and prepares to face the music.

That is as far as the story went, so I’ve no idea what happened to him. Probably living in a peaceful old manor house with spacious lawns and a pond, wearing a shirt with sleeves that fasten at the back.

But the airfield at which his adventure ended was Creil, 30 miles or so north of central Paris.

By a strange coincidence, that is the same airfield at which we had accidentally landed just a fortnight later. Little wonder that our arrival had sent alarm bells ringing. 😀

Another fine mess – Part 2

At the time my French was basic school, and TOH’s was limited to “bonjour” “s’il vous plait” “merci” “vin” and “fromage.”

One of the soldiers spoke a little English. He enquired what we were doing on a military airfield. With vague gestures and a few words of Franglais we explained about the storm. All eyes swivelled upwards to a sky devoid of any hint of cloud.

A large car swept along the tarmac and came to a halt beside us. From the back out stepped a man in mess dress, looking as irritable and and arrogant as only a French Air Force officer who has had his dinner interrupted can. There is a code of cameraderie amongst pilots, but the officer seemed unaware of it. He ignored us completely and snapped at one of the soldiers.

“This officer is going to taxi your aircraft into a hangar,” explained the English-speaking soldier.

“He is not,” said TOH. “He is not to touch my plane.”

“But he is an officer of the French Air Force,” stuttered the English-speaker.

“I don’t care who or what he is. This is a British aircraft, and he is not to touch it.”

The English-speaker translated to the officer who stalked back to his car, slammed the door, and was driven away.

A van arrived with two gendarmes, who invited us into it. They drove to a large sinister building with lots of doors and gates and telephones and red lights and machines making pinging noises.

An officer who spoke a little English questioned us, we gave our explanation, he shook his head and picked up a telephone. After a brief conversation, he told us that we were being handed over to the police.

Back we climbed into the gendarmes’ van, and were driven at terrifying speed through a small town to a police station. There we were taken into an office and introduced to an exasperated policeman who spoke no English. He put his head in his hands, took a deep breath and summoned another policeman and spoke rapidly, jerking a finger at us. The only word I could recognise was “Anglais”. The second policeman disappeared and returned five minutes later with an interpreter – one of the prisoners, a smiling gentleman from Senegal wearing a pale mauve and white shell suit.

With a line of communication established, the policeman asked yet again why we were on a French military airfield. Once again we related the facts of our arrival – an ominous storm which we had landed in order to avoid but which had vanished as if by magic.

The policeman took out from his drawer a large book with cartoon-like drawings in it.

An old lady falling under a bus.

A bicycle in a ditch.

A car on its back.

A burglar climbing out of a window.

He flicked through the pages searching for a drawing of a British aircraft landing on a French military airfield, and drew a blank.

He took a notebook and a pencil and began writing.

He noted our passport numbers, our address in England, and the registration letters of the aircraft.

“What is your aero club?” he asked via the interpreter.

TOH was just about to give the name and telephone number of his club, when he recalled that it was Saturday evening. On Saturday evenings the club members, who, even on quiet weekdays were as mad as a box of frogs, would be smashed out of their heads. We could visualise the scene in the clubhouse, people smacking each other around the head with barstools, and knickers hanging from the propeller above the bar. The telephone would ring. A French voice would ask, in French, whether we were club members. Entering into the spirit of the thing, whoever answered the phone would adopt a Peter Sellers accent and say that yes, yes, we were well-known drug smugglers, dangerous and likely to be carrying concealed firearms.

“The Royal Aero Club,” he replied.

“Who is the President of your club?”

“Prince Andrew.”

“Who is he?”

“He is the son of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, who is the patron of the club.”

He put down his pencil with a sigh.

“We will take you to a hotel for tonight,” he said. “How much money do you have?”

Enough to sustain us modestly for a week. Not enough to stay in the George V.

“Very little,” we replied.

Back we went into the police van. They took us to a strange building, a kind of ricketty shed at the back of a railway line. Inside were about two dozen French people sitting at trestle tables, singing merrily. They gave us a friendly wave and invited us to join them. We sat at the table smiling foolishly. The beaming patronne planted two gigantic plates of charcuterie in front of us. We shook our heads and tried to explain that we didn’t eat meat. Back she came 10 minutes later with some chicken and rice. “Volaille,” she smiled. We shook our heads. The singers had stopped and were watching curiously and murmuring among themselves. “Omelette?” asked the patronne. When we nodded there was a collective and audible sigh of relief . They were the biggest – I estimate a dozen eggs in each – and very best omelettes we have ever tasted. The singers seemed to be performing an Edith Piaf tribute, and although they were all patently drunk as skunks, they sang beautifully. It was one of the strangest places we have eaten, but also one of the most charming.

Because of our abrupt transfer from the plane to the interrogation unit at the airfield, we had nothing with us apart from TOH’s wallet. No change of clothes, no toothpaste, nothing.

Our hostess led us to a bedroom, which lived behind the urinals and seemed to be constructed out of compacted cardboard. There were three double beds, all made up with winceyette sheets that had obviously been slept in many times before. One had a large coffee stain all over it. The winceyette sheets had gone bobbly, and each bobble had a small black dot in it, like an embryonic tadpole in frogspawn. The aroma from the urinals was overpowering. There was no toilet in the bedroom, only a bidet. No loo paper, no soap, no towels. Just the dirty beds. We selected the least dirty bed, used our arms as pillows, and fell asleep to the noise of the singing people.

Next morning we were up at daybreak, keen to breathe clean air, have a wee and wash our hands. There was a lively market and we wandered around enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of our first full day in France. We bought a kilo of cherries, and a large punnet of strawberries. In a dark little café we found a loo and somewhere to wash, and then sat munching croissants, sipping grands crèmes and wondering what would happen next. In the distance we noticed two gendarmes frantically rushing around. We waved to them and they galloped over, oozing relief that we had not escaped.

After we had settled the tiny bill for our dinner and bed, the gendarmes hurtled us back to the airfield, where a friendly French Air Force officer shook hands. He was also a private pilot, and spoke perfect English. He had come from Beauvais, and recalled that a band of bad weather had swept quickly through the area the previous evening. We were vindicated! We could leave.

But we could not! The aircraft still had a broken wheel.

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The wheel is broken!

That was no problem. With a metaphorical click of his fingers, he summoned a fleet of French Air Force engineers, who removed the wheel, took it away and returned it repaired a couple of hours later. There was no charge.

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No problem – we will fix it!

From being suspected enemies of State the previous day, we were now cherished friends. As we prepared to fly away, a crowd gathered. The two policeman from the van; the gendarme and his bicycle from the previous day; the officer from Beauvais and the team of engineers. After they had all shaken hands with TOH and kissed me, we took off and circled overhead their military airfield, and then TOH pointed the nose down and we swooped. From the ground, our new French friends waved and cheered. They seemed to be pointing at something. Glancing through the side window, I could see the exterior step into the plane, and dangling from it the plastic bag of cherries and strawberries just before it slid off and away into space.

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And so it’s time to say goodbye to our French friends.

Tomorrow: The story behind the story

 

 
Lou Messugo

Another fine mess – part 1

In the long distant past, we owned an aircraft. Well, not exactly we, but he. The horse was mine, the plane was his. But as we have always regarded all our personal effects as equally shared, let’s call it our plane.

Once a year we went on a club holiday to France with six aircraft of similar breed (Beagle Pup), setting off in a merry little group to cross the Channel to our favourite country.

The particular year of which I’m writing ‘our’ plane had been resprayed, and she was not quite dry at the appointed mid-morning departure time. We would follow on later in the day, and catch up with our fellow flyers at our first destination, Bordeaux.

It was after 4.00 pm by the time the paint was dry, and off we set into a cloudless blue sky. Loosely speaking I was the navigator, and sat holding a very large crackly plasticised map with chinagraph pencil marks all over. Once we’d crossed the Channel – always a slightly unnerving episode when the engine invariably sounds rough and you wonder how long it will take to clamber out when the plane falls into the water – we were both relaxed and looking forward to a good meal once we reached Bordeaux.

TOH was following a navigational beacon, so I tucked the cumbersome map out of the way and drowsed in the pleasant warmth of the cockpit, until suddenly a great menacing line of black appeared on the horizon. Weather! We were heading directly into a fierce storm.

“I’m not flying into that,” I announced. We’d flown through enough storms for me to know it isn’t much fun unless you are an adrenaline junky, which I am not.

“OK,” TOH replied, “we’ll land at the next airfield. Where are we?”

“I thought you knew.”

“No, I’m following a beacon. You’re meant to be watching the map. Tell me where we are and find the nearest airfield.”

I unfolded the crackly map and stared at it, seeking some resemblance to the ground beneath us. Hm, there was a railway line; a river; a town; a motorway. Calculating the distance we would have covered in the time we’d been flying, it all made sense, even if the terrain didn’t precisely correspond to the map. I don’t remember the name of the town, but I said: “We’re here, and there’s an airfield there,” pointing to the map.

As the black band of weather surged closer, we circled until TOH spotted the airfield, which was not quite where the map put it, but who cared? It was an airfield.

The runway was particularly wide and long, and marked with much white paint. Touching down, the wheels bumped gently onto the tarmac, making a funny noise and giving a little shudder. Once we had rolled to a halt, TOH switched off the engine then climbed out and crouched down to look under the plane.

“We have a problem,” he said, straightening up. “We’ve landed on a military airfield.”

“Is that bad?”

“Yes.”

“Let’s just fly quickly away,” I suggested, as a gendarme cycled towards us and climbed off his bike.

“Hello,” he said, in perfect English. “Why are you here?”

“We made a precautionary landing due to approaching bad weather,” TOH said.

We all gazed up the sky. Crystal clear. Not a wisp of a cloud.

“You should fly quickly away,” said the gendarme, confirming my suggestion, “because otherwise you will be in a lot of trouble. You must go now.”

“We have a damaged wheel,” said TOH. “We can’t take off.”

“Oh, la vache!” exclaimed the gendarme. “If you could get your plane the other side of this fence, it is the aero club. It will be very bad if the military find you here.”

A large camouflaged truck came speeding towards us and parked itself on the nose of the plane. Out sprang half a dozen camouflage-clad soldiers with guns, and a German Shepherd dog wearing a camouflaged muzzle. The soldiers surrounded the plane, pointing their guns at it and us. The dog stood and stared,

The gendarme explained to them what we had said, and then he turned to us. “I am sorry for your problem. It is a military matter now. Good luck.” He climbed on his bike and cycled away.

 

…. to be continued

This post is linked to All About France

Lou Messugo

 

The labyrinth of frustration

There’s a man I don’t know who lives somewhere in Florida. Well, when I say I don’t know him, I’ve never met him, but through a mutual struggle with a particular piece of software, we connected on a forum, and have for a couple of months been exchanging emails on a variety of subjects. Mainly photography with a dash of philosophy thrown in, and a soupçon of literature. He’s a very funny man who has a great way with words, and his emails always make me smile. But this one beats the lot, and made me cry real tears of laughter.
He had recommended Vonnegut to me, and I returned the favour by suggesting David Sedaris, whose book “Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls” is currently producing snorts and chuckles in our household.
Here’s what Mr Florida wrote last night, and it will resonate with anybody who has ever needed to install a piece of software and found themselves lured into a labyrinth of frustration.
“I just had a really crummy two hours and it’s ALL YOUR FAULT!
See, when I read your comment about Sedaris, I thought: “Hmm… I’ve heard that name before and I’ve gotta check that out.”
So I google Sedaris and realize that he’s not who I was thinking of–the Confederacy of Dunces guy–but he sounds really good and he is on NPR and they’re always good, let me just download this segment and give him a listen.
So–right from the taxpayer sponsored NPR website, the one George Romney hates so much it must be good–I click to download one of the Sedaris bits. And thus from such simple, trusting, naive beginnings starts my tale of woe. The Sedaris segment was a .ram file and I don’t have a player for .ram files. So, simple, trusting, naive fool that I am, I click on the “Search the internet for a .ram file-player” button.
Up pops Real Player.com. Now, I’ve had Real Player before and remember ditching it because it was full of malware and ads. But that was a while ago…  a long while ago. I better check it out. And off I go, like Diogenes, searching for an honest review of Real Player. I finally find some stuff that doesn’t seem like it was planted by the Real Player folks to trick me into getting their malware-ridden program. And I was right, it hijacks your homepage and is the very devil to uninstall and just mucks things up in general. I remember now, I had to join a forum to learn how to get rid of the damn thing. And then got kicked off the forum for being insufficiently respectful of the forum-maven watchdogs.
So now I have to find some alternative for this damnable Real Player because I am bound and determined to listen to this Sedaris guy just out of spite! And lookee here, on the CNET site, an alternative to Real Player called, of all things, Real Player Alternative. Ha, problem solved. I’ll just download this and bob’s your uncle. I can listen to Sedaris and not have all the ads and malware infecting my browser and  be the wiser for it.
Wrong again. CNET directs me to another spot to download the alternative and when I do, because I did not scrutinize every damn button click carefully enough, being a simple, trusting, naive sort and never suspecting that CNET, that paragon of probity and honest dealing, would direct me to an adware shill, I end up with something called AVG Secure Search or somesuch. Which is apparently designed to foil any attempts to bypass the real Real Player.
AVG now infects my browser or downloader or some damn thing so that whenever I try to run Real Player Alternative .exe, I get a warning message about corrupted files and do I want to purchase something from AVG Secure Search to de-corrupt them? What a clever scam! Under the pretext of protecting people from scams, you scam them. Why didn’t I think of that.
Well, I finally get rid of the AVG thing and get Real Player Alternative running, but by then I’d forgotten what the hell I went through all this for and had to go back through my history to figure why I wanted this in the first place. Oh, yeah, Sedaris! And you’re right he is good. I listen to a segment about Americans trying to speak French and the gender of French nouns and how he avoids the whole problem by ordering more than two of everything because it’s only the singular article that has to be in gender agreement…  or something.
Well, you’re right, he is funny and it was worth all the effort. And besides, it’s raining now, I couldn’t go out and play anyway and I’ve given my file-management muscles a good workout.”
😀