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.