Why you should read the Cookham Parish Magazine

Reading (as in the printed word, not the town) is a challenge for me these days.  My brain has atrophied to such a degree that I can only read 140 characters of text, and even then, only if it has a photograph of a puppy alongside it.  I last read an actual book whilst on a sun lounger underneath a palm tree.  It was in Sardinia in 2014 and I, along with the entire female population of the planet had bought Fifty Shades of Grey at the airport.  50SofG was laughable - although strangely, I managed to finish it 😉  
However, there is a local publication that I still can read, and do so from cover to cover.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you...The Cookham Parish Magazine.  OK, OK, you’re right.  I skip over the Ministry in the Cookhams page and I don't need to read Children, Young People and the Church either.  But I always read Father Nick the Vics intro, and in fact it was him that got me hooked.  Some years ago when the huge fuss first started about same sex marriage, Father Nick chose to address it in the parish rag.  Quite brave I thought.  He basically said that he believed in love – end of – which also scored brownie points with me.  I was so impressed that I decided to pay more attention to the parish mag and that’s how come I became a fan.  The fact of the matter is, it has lots of useful stuff in it.  Want to find someone to re-upholster your sofa?  Then there’s an ad from Graham Blake (who incidentally, I have used three times now – he’s extremely good).  Want to know what’s going on at the community allotments (oh believe me, you’d be surprised!)?  It’s all in there.  Need a divorce lawyer?  You’ll get that too.  And in the November issue, I came across such a charming tale that I asked if it would be possible to share it with you all.
I have promised John Church, the star of the show, that I won’t share his age but let’s just say that he is a grown up.  He lives on the other side of the river in Bourne End but attends church at Holy Trinity. “A Flight Beyond Compare” is written in his own words about a Spitfire flight from Biggin Hill. I don’t need to say much more than that because his story, reproduced here with his permission, will transport you to the excitement of the day with him.  The photo is him upon landing, where Mrs. Church (who he referred to as his “beloved wife” – and let me tell you, THAT gave me leaky eye borls) was his welcoming committee.  When I asked him why he did the trip he told me: his children have flown planes, including his daughter who was in the RAF.  And he flew Cessnas in Kenya, with the Flying Doctor Service in the 1960’s.  And there was me thinking it might have been a Red Letter Day birthday present….
So when the December issue of the Parish Magazine drops through your letter box - do give it a look before it makes the recycling box.  It is absolutely worth it.

A Flight Beyond Compare

or a Spitfire flight sans pareil!

It is effectively impossible to describe, in mere words, all that happened this last Thursday 31st August 2017.  From the moment that I was first introduced to the Spitfire flights offered by Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar, by a good friend who had only recently had such a flight, I was quite determined that, given the right prerequisites, I must also go for it!!
The prerequisites were formidable, from those who were opposed to the idea, to those who were enthusiastic.  My own attitude remained throughout that it could be done, and I was prepared for extremes of emotional and physiological interaction!  I had a calm assurance that all would go well, but this was tempered by the whole gamut of hazards, dangers, and challenges inherent in such a venture!
But the plans were made, and a date and time fixed.  Rhoda and I were driven there by Susannah and David, to arrive in good time. 
The day was perfect in every way.  Weather-wise there were scattered showers, but plenty of sunshine, and a stunning sunset.  My flight was the last of the day, and was delayed, but this was a bonus, as we had the best of the evening light, and the sunset.
The details of the flight became acutely focussed when I had to view a video explaining it all, containing very precise and concise instructions on what to do in the eventuality of certain potentially fatal ‘hazards’.  For this I had the very necessary help of Jonathan, who took me back through the essential steps for each of the main scenarios.  I was supposed by then to be able to recite them all, and know exactly which button to push, or ring to pull, in the event of sudden threatened disaster or death.  But I, at that moment, was super-hyped-up with adrenalin, working on all my ancient physique, enhancing excitement, apprehension, disconnection from ordinary life, all with very short-term memory loss, to a frantic degree!  Jonathan was a splendidly steadying influence, but would not have been at my side, up there in the clouds!
Richard, my Commander [I was described as the 2nd Pilot] was a supreme example of everything I could associate with the RAF, and Spitfires in particular.  He inspired confidence, and outlined what we would do in the course of the flight, which was to be to the South-East of London, mostly over Kent.  We discussed aerobatics, and decided that he would do a Victory Barrel Roll . . .
Once we were at sufficient altitude Richard let me take the control of the ‘stick’.  This was the magic moment.  It was all that I had imagined it to be, and more, because no amount of imagination, or simulation, or whatever, can come anywhere near doing it for real.  That fighter plane is gloriously fantastic, responsive to the slightest touch, inspiring confidence from the word ‘Go!’  I could fly it for hours!
Then I handed full control back to Richard who did a Victory Roll.  I let out some sort of enthusiastic exclamation, which encouraged him to do a second Roll!  But this caused my semi-circular canals, in my ears, over which I have no conscious control, to take over, and I immediately felt ‘queezy’.  I didn’t tell Richard, but I did make it clear that I wanted him to have full control from then on.  This released me from the business of flying to the business of navigation and alertness to other aircraft, and the whole range of other environmental cues.  During the flight I saw no other small aeroplanes, [this doesn’t mean there were none!] but I did see a few big jets coming out of London Heathrow, or Gatwick.  I had thought that I would readily recognise certain towns or roads, particularly motorways.  But one rural town looks very much like the next, and motorways, at least short stretches of them, are identical!  And this was in good visability!  I thought I would recognise Biggin Hill aerodrome, but even that was hidden from view, at least for me because of the limited view immediately forward of the cockpit, particularly from the rear one.  But I spotted The Shard, iridescent in the evening light! 
The landing was exemplary.  That world-famous roar of the engine died down . . . to a whisper.  The welcome on return was overwhelming!  The photography went on and on.  And I was given my Framed Flight Certificate, confirming that I flown SPITFIRE MJ627, which in 1943 had ‘destroyed a Messerschmitt Me109 over Arnhem’.
This whole ‘once-in-a-life-time’ event has given me a much wider perspective on all sorts of aspects of ‘flying-with-a-mission’, if we could call it that.  My respect, pride and gratitude, going out to the countless young men and women who flew these War Machines, knows no bounds.  It is from a ‘time-warp’ that was unique in its day, and will never be - could not ever be ­­- repeated, where individuals might play such a crucial role in combat, or equivalent scenarios, in this our ultra-electronic new world . . . !!
John Church - safely landed at Biggin Hill
The editor of The Cookhams Parish Magazine can be contacted at: editor@cookhamdeanchurch.org.uk and for avertising contact: magads@cookhamdeanchurch.org.uk


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