“Soon Be Getting Darker at Night!*”

 

Just a week ago I was at RAF Cosford with my wife, my mother, youngest daughter and her partner. A fabulous day out! Today, up on the plot I am reminded of it because, hearing the sound of an aircraft I look up. To see the Lancaster bomber (there are only two left flying in the world – over here with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and one in Canada) overhead.  A stunning sight!

It is Father’s Day today. I am on the plot to do some strimming I meant to do yesterday, but believed, wrongly, that it would rain. But, for a few wonderful moments I am re-living last Sunday: this year the annual spectacular was celebrating one hundred years of the Royal Air Force. And every plane clearly and easily visible under hot, blue skies. Six thousand tickets sold (plus children going free) and we got a first class viewing parking space near to the crowd line. Plenty of space, great displays both in the air and on the ground made it a wonderful display. From the moment the RAF Falcons parachute display team stepped out of their Loadmaster plane we had an inspiring, relaxing day. The static displays were well spread out, cars not crammed together, people friendly and the fast, fly-by-wire jets (that Polish Mig Fulcrum, the French Dassault Mirage and the science fiction perfection of the Typhoon Eurofighter complimented the heritage aircraft (the superbly graceful and magnificent Spitfire, the steady work-horse reliability of the Hawker Hurricane, the now-stately, but once-upon-a-time state of the art World war One planes. And that moment of pride when the Red Arrows aerobatic team turn up and fill the skies with shape, power and precision.

And, avoiding the traffic jams on the way back by following a smart phone generated course down back lanes between fields of oil-seed rape and greeny-blue stalks of wheat.

Interestingly, mentioning this to Jim, he tells me he once worked for a major Black Country engineering firm that made and supplied parts for the prototype Concorde and Hawker harrier jump jets. When they were still top-secret in-development aircraft. Now Jim is a good talker and, doubtless adds a pinch or two of romance to his reminiscences, but there is likely to be at least a grain of truth in what he is telling me.

The parts and pieces of these experimental planes must have been actually made somewhere. The Black Country was, and still is, the cradle of a lot of such engineering. So why not?

Jim does tell me the name of the firm, saying they were paid (and, deservedly) above average wages, but, this being me, I forget.  He was, he tells me,  a union convener. Nosey with it. The metals and drawings arrived, he tells me with “AGRICULURAL MACHINERY” stamped on them. But, being smart and a little suspicious he noticed that the tolerances in the design specifications were amazingly specific.

“Hello,” I says to meself, “tractor parts don’t need such narrow tolerances. Where are these going?”

“When they told me, the bosses,” he goes on, “I said “hang on a minute; they don’t make agricultural stuff there!”

The armoured military vehicles we now know as tanks, developed during World War One (but now evolved beyond recognition) are so called because the original components were ferried about in boxes labelled “TANKS” (as in containers of liquid) to mislead spies and avoid detection by enemies. Until they were unleashed.

Incidentally British tanks were developed from, you guessed it, agricultural machinery.

I pick a carrier bag full of strawberries, add one or two raspberries from the wildflower area/beetle bank we have mid plot.

The runner beans have now started to grasp the bamboo canes, and the seeds I planted, belatedly to make up the row are emerging from the ground.

We had a discussion about how well the potatoes would crop this year. The consensus is perhaps not very well; they were late going in, the weather has been poor and, though it is not conclusive, top growth is well back this year. One fierce storm, while we were away in sunny Jersey, took all of the hoed up soil and levelled it out, exposing tubers and upsetting growth.

Our potatoes are flowering already. Little Dave shares a tip with me: take off the flowers, it’ll maybe add a bit more to the tubers below ground. Otherwise, the plant puts all of its energy into the little green “potato apples that appear after the flowers fall off. This is when it is easier to realise potatoes are members of the tomato family: those little green spheres are, to all intents and purposes tiny tomatoes. And, like tomatoes, will be filled with seed. It is a short cut way to grow potatoes from tubers, new plants will eventually grow from the seeds carried inside the green fruit.

DSC_0195

I decide to give it a go and, stroll along the row decapitating the haulms.

Across the path the newbies have made a brilliant job of clearing the annual weeds that were threatening to spread their profligate seeds far and wide. Not only that he has built some finely levelled raised beds and is there, as I start to strim, digging over soil to pop some courgettes in.

“By the way,” I drop in, “you annoyed me,” I tell him. You have to don’t you. Early on in a relationship: get things straight, let people know where they stand, not beating about the bush.

“Ooooh,” he says “what’s that then mate?”

“See those raised beds you’ve put in?” I say, raising my chin in the general direction.

He nods.

“Well,” I say, they’re rather perfectly level. It upset me because I just nail mine together. I can never get ‘em like that!”

We both smile. But later he tells me he actually had upset another neighbour; pulling up carpet and digging out bindweed he believed were growing in a raised bed that belonged to his plot. Turned out they actually belonged to the Jag driver. Apologies were made, he said, but the jag driver didn’t look too impressed.

Heading for home for a planned late-lunch barbecue meal with my two daughters I am met by Gaffer. Gaffer usually has something negative to add to any conversation. He’s a supporter of local club Wolverhampton Wanderers who have just been promoted to the Premier League.

“They won’t stay there,” he predicts, “soon be back down again!”

“And, another thing,” there’s no stopping him, “after this Thursday it’ll be getting darker again.”

Happy Father’s Day!

 

*There’s always one, isn’t there?**

** If you can’t name the one, then it’s probably you!

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