Monday, 21 April 2008

Sky Prince: Something in the Air

First off, a very sincere welcome to anyone who has arrived here courtesy of my essay in today's Guardian. It's about how some people find my blog, usually people who aren't looking for it, but for something a bit more, um, interesting. Like most people with web pages I have a little bit of software that shows me how many people are visiting. (I use one called StatCounter but there are others. [Any recommendations on a better one?]) Rest assured that it doesn't tell me who you are. Your identity is safe.

Now to Britain's royal family. I confess that I have trouble keeping England's princes separate. Which one is the heir to the throne? William? Henry? Wait, there isn't a Henry. It's Harry. Harry?

Both brothers have something to do with the Army, in a stage-managed, Potemkin-village sort of way. But one turns out to also be in the Air Force, or at least to have gotten his wings from the RAF.

That would be William, who recently earned his pilot's wings after some sort of crash course in flying ("crash course"; that's probably not the best choice of words). And now Prince William has been criticized for using his newfound ability to fly a helicopter to his cousin's bachelor party. Training, said the RAF. A waste of 15,000 pounds, said critics.

The episode made me think of my own dodgy flights courtesy of the Air Force. Well, not totally dodgy. My dad was in the U.S. Air Force and as a dependent I was able to fly "space A": space available. Sometimes when I went from one divorced parent to the other it was on an Air Force passenger plane. (The best flight was when Dad did an exchange tour with the Royal Air Force and I jetted from England to the U.S. on an RAF VC-10.)

Then there was the time after college when my dad was the commander of a U.S. base in Germany. I had just graduated from college and was kicking around Europe, planning on being the next Hemingway or Fitzgerald. (I must look into why that never happened.) I went from Germany to France and then to England, where I pitched up at the Camberwell flat of my friend Adrian. It was there that I ran out of money and decided I had to go back home and start my adult life. The problem was, half my luggage was back in Germany. How would we be reunited?

As there was a USAF jet flying from Germany to RAF Alconbury, Dad had my suitcase put aboard. He said it was an F-4. Can that really have been true? My Samsonite in a Phantom, the workhorse of the Vietnam War? I like to think of it nestled in the nose or strapped to a wing. In any event, Adrian and I went to pick it up. We think of tight security as a post-9/11 artifact, but bases were guarded just as strictly then. I had my Air Force dependent ID card with me and pulled it out as we drove up to the gate. Oddly, the guards were in combat uniforms, with machine guns slung over their shoulders. A yellow flag hung from a stanchion on the gate house. There was some sort of war game exercise going on, explaining the extreme readiness.

The guard ordered us to stop and I handed over my ID. Just then, a phone rang. The guard answered it. "Uh-huh. Yes. Yes. Okay," he said. He took the yellow flag out of its holder and replaced it with a red flag. "Did we just die?" Adrian asked as the guard returned my ID and waved us through. Perhaps on some war planner's graph paper a Soviet bomb had just obliterated Alconbury.

We drove to a little office attached to a hanger and there was my suitcase, specially delivered by the U.S. Air Force, faster even than Fed Ex could have brought it. I think because of that, I don't begrudge William his little helicopter trip.

16 comments:

Ruth said...

Well, since I *do* begrudge William his little helicopter trip, I'd like to point out that in none of your cases was the plane/helicopter/phantom jet put in the air just for you; in all cases, your use of the vehicle actually made it *more* efficient - filling up otherwise unused space. Unlike the princes, whose unused space may be between their ears. What were their handlers thinking?

Katie said...

We use Statcounter over at Shiny Media (http://www.shinymedia.com). But we also use Google Analytics, which tends to give you slightly lower results because it's better at filtering out things like spider bots and all that stuff.

It can do some very clever things, but Statcounter is more useful for instant feedback on where people are visiting from.

Enjoyed the Guardian piece - thanks!

Ken said...

Now look what you've done - you've defended Royalty to an audience of Guardian readers - stand by for incoming...

Naomi Klein said...

Charles is the heir to the throne. And before you ask, no I am not THAT Naomi Klein. I got there first with the name, she got there first with the book.

Jo said...

As another AF dependent, sometimes flying units have a requirement to burn X number of hours or X amount of fuel per month, and I've seen some mighty creative ways of using those resources. It may be stupid from an environmental/financial standpoint, but it makes sense in the crazy world of bureaucracy.

Ruth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ruth said...

Jo - Hmph. I see your point, but I disapprove of stag parties in general as well (yes, I'm loads of fun at a party!), and so I *still* don't approve of what the princes did. And aren't these the same two that may or may not have killed an endangered bird while hunting? They seem to have no sense of what plays in the papers, as well as no sense of ethics and/or sense.

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Candadai Tirumalai said...

Prince William's parties are reliable British tabloid fodder, as are Prince Charles's unusual doings, such as his self-confessed habit of talking to plants in the belief that they will grow better.

MARY said...

Well, SOMEBODY is certainly hot under the collar. Lighten up! Personally, my first reaction was to laugh out loud when I read it.

Can you imagine just how romantic it must have been for a young woman to look out of her window and see her very own Prince Charming alighting upon her lawn!

Ah, love is definitely in bloom.

Henry said...

I'm on Ruth's side. The boys are clearly idiots. On the plus side, at least it wasn't a fancy dress stag party, or they'd have landed in their Nazi costumes...

CURIOUS OBSERVER said...

Goodness me, Henry. What strongly worded sentiments, especially coming from a man(?)!

I can think of far worse "pranks" the royal offspring could have pulled.

By and by, John, very much enjoyed your latest article in the Guardian.

David Godman said...

Hi,

I read your Guardian article and came here for the first time a few hours ago. I see we share a common passion for weird newspaper trivia. Thanks for a pleasant evening's entertainment. I like your style and your choice of subject matter, but not your predilection for the Daily Mail.

I never bothered installing traffic counters on my own site because I didn't really care how many people were checking it out, but I love the idea of being able to find out which Google searches send business my way. I'm signing up immediately, and I anticipate wasting many hours trawling through the bizarre results. Thanks for the information.

John Kelly said...

@david: I look at the Daily Mail as an entomologist looks at an insect, as a subject of study, impressed by the eons of evolution that have created its carapace and mandibles. I buy the Guardian but am amazed by the Mail, so perfect is it at pushing its readers' buttons.

@katie: Does Google Analytics give you neat charts and graphs? I don't think much of the StatCounter charts and graphs, but I'm for anything that gives me the illusion of more visitors.

@naomi: Ah yes, Prince Charles. Does anyone really think he'll ever be king? I feel sorry for the poor guy. It's like that Kinks song: "I'm so tired, tired of waiting, tired of waiting for you...."

@jo: Yes, I'm sure that flight was part of some TDY that was going to take place whether my suitcase was on there or not.

mark from alexandria said...

Jeez, Harry's Afghan service didn't buy those two much slack. John why do you think Charles won't become King of the UK? Is there talk of another revolution? He may be an very old man, but if he outlives Her Majesty, I suspect he will be King. I wish I could remember more of the details on Baggott's treatise on the crown and the monarchy. I read in a college Poli Sci class a million years ago, but it was quite well argued.

Katie said...

Yep, it gives you all the fancy pie charts, graphs and maps you could hope for in life!