Life Is Landing Safely I Think.

During my visit to Den Hague last month a few of us shared a cab to get to dinner. We were talking about books we had read, found influential, and enjoyed. One of the party mentioned a book by the Harvard President, Professor Faust, on ‘death in the American Civil War’. I decided it sounded worth reading and ordered it from our local library. It took only a matter of a very few days before I got the email informing me the book had arrived and I should collect it. The reason for the speed: Norfolk has a strong link with the American air force, during the Second World War the county was the base for Americans bombers, indeed there are disused airfields dotting the countryside. I think there were two main reasons for this: first it is quite close to the continent; second the county is mostly flat so it was easy to lay the concrete and there are no mountains to fly into. To commemorate this link, the 2nd Air Division Association set up a Memorial Library in part of main Norfolk library. The book was one of their donations. It is indeed remarkably interesting and it is one of the books I review at the end of this post.

Time to read has been fantastic and I have written to a number of the authors whose work I have been impressed by. Faust wrote a gracious response to my gush of praise. Also reviewed is a Canadian detective writer Louise Penny whose book I thoroughly enjoyed, until page 395 where she described how one of the characters had been host on TV on a cookery programme on “Radio Canada”. In my view you listen to radio and watch television so I was disappointed by the apparent inaccuracy. I sent Penny an email saying I thought this was odd. She wrote back and explained that in Quebec this is accepted term for the national broadcaster – you watch Radio Canada. As an aside a British detective writer, Stuart Pawson, had a Swazi prince as a character in one of his books, but he did the man and the country justice. I wrote and asked him how he had managed this and he told me his sister had lived there in the 1970s so we exchanged a few emails.

The events of the past few weeks: landings; articles; and dogs. Let me do this in reverse order. We had one planned and one unplanned house guest a few weekends ago. Ailsa fetched her mother from Yorkshire on Thursday and she stayed until Monday. She is 84 and was good company, an easy guest. There is a ‘theory of relativity’ that says the further away and the less you see of relatives the better you get on. This may be true in some families, or even for some relations in all families. (As I write this I realize that it may be impossible to do write about events in my day life and not offend someone. That is assuming it is read! So if you are offended then first let me thank you for reading this).

The unplanned house guest was a young little white West Highland terrier called Daisy. Her owners had gone to the (second) wedding of a brother. Ailsa offered to look after the dog although they had expected the father-in-law to do this, at least at night. It seems when he heard they had a dog sitter he decided that he could abdicate all responsibility, we had Daisy for most of the weekend. On Friday she arrived. Initially our dog, Deedee, thought it quite fun and they chased around the garden. As the weekend went on Deedee found it harder and harder to be nice! The growling and lip curling increased in frequency and duration. It was funny to see her slinking off upstairs to her bed as soon as she could get away. This is, of course, something I tend to do as well. She was not impressed at all by a quintessentially doggy dog. Daisy chewed Deedee’s food bowl; yapped for no reason; and farted the most pungent doggy farts.

Of course it was not just Deedee who found this difficult; the cat stayed well clear, coming in only to eat and sleep in the back room. Unfortunately we also had some of the heaviest rain of the year, so I suspect she was a rather wet cat. I managed to step in dog shit three times in one day! No one was impressed by this, especially since I did not realize until I had walked round the house. There are no comparisons with Granny who was more than welcome, appreciated the food, helped clear up, talked to Douglas and Rowan, and, I think, enjoyed her visit.

This is the last week of my sabbatical and I have been doing some reflection on what I have actually achieved, both in terms of what I wanted and what was possible: these are not necessarily the same. It has been an excellent period for writing articles. A number came out of the ‘Is AIDS exceptional?’ paper I prepared for the aids2031 project in March and April. This was serious research and thinking, and it means I am clear what my position is on the issue. The original work is available at . My co-authors on the papers are Julia Smith, who was at HEARD as part of Rotary Peace Fellowship, and Khaled Ahmed the ODI Fellow. They have helped me turn my paper into articles and we hope we will get three published. When I actually sat down and worked out what I have produced and done I was very pleased! On the other hand I have not gotten as far as I wanted with either the ‘Political Economy of Swaziland’ or the novel.

Sabbaticals are a chance to read, think, and do things which one would otherwise not have time for. Learning to fly definitely falls into the last category, and I have moved ahead on this. About two weeks ago I was called up by the owner of the school: the weather was unexpectedly good, did I want to go and do my stalling lesson – which is something you have to do before you are allowed to learn to land. My reply was, “Of course”. The advantage of going up with Brian is he likes flying to the south of Norwich, David always goes north, apart from anything, else I got to see a different part of the county.

As I had the stalls done, we were ready to begin the circuits. This means learning to land, which is, of course, how every flight should end, ideally with the gentle kiss of tyres on the concrete. So the procedure, which has four stages, (if this is too much technical detail skip to the next paragraph)is: take off with full power, nose up, climb to 500 feet, turn right (in Norwich it is a right hand circuit) while climbing to 1000 feet; get the attitude of the nose right, bring back the power, trim the plane so it stays level and turn onto the downwind leg; call air traffic control and get clearance to land; when you have gone far enough turn back towards the runway, reduce power, trim wheel back four turns, first stage of flap, carb heat on, turn for final approach, second stage of flap; and then, gulp, the fun begins, you land. At this point the runway is in front of you and the goal is to bring the plane in at a 3 degree angle. Just above the runway you are meant to lift the nose and cut the power and keep the plane flying until it gently touches down in what is called ‘a flare’. If you are too high you bounce, if you are too low you break the airplane. Better bounce than break!

I have now landed five times by myself, four times with some help, and once the instructor said, “I have control”, and took us round again. So you are travelling at about 90 kph (which does not sound very much), and you have to put the plane onto hard concrete. Fortunately the Piper is a slow, stable plane and Norwich airport has a runway that is wide and long enough to land jets, I am very grateful for this. I have found landing to be really challenging. The next bit though is great: flaps up, full power, and off into the air again – this is called ‘touch and go’ or ‘circuit and bumps’.

The instructor said, “I can teach you how to fly but no one can teach you how to land. This is something that you only learn with practice.” He is right, and this is what I will be doing for the next little while until I have mastered the entire process including radio call and clearances. Apart from fear, my biggest challenge is to remember to keep my hand on the throttle, during both take off and landing. It seems counterintuitive to take one hand off the ‘wheel’.

On Monday 19th October I leave to return to Durban via a conference in Brussels. The plan is to spend about four weeks in Southern Africa and then head for Vancouver for an International AIDS Society governing council retreat, then to the UK until early January. Once I am back in Durban in the new year then I will be there for a concerted period.

Books and website:

Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War, Alfred A. Knopf, New York 2008 364 pages. The Civil War lased from 1861 to 1865 and tore America apart. The author tells of how the country and people dealt with death on a massive scale. As she says Americans had never and still have not experienced anything like the losses. Two percent of the US population died in uniform, 620,000 men, from both the Union and the Confederate sides. This is roughly the same number as those lost in all of America’s other wars from the Revolution to Korea. The equivalent death toll in a war today would see six million deaths. Faust argues that this sacrifice was to have lasting but little-understood impact. “Death created the modern American union,” she writes, “not just by ensuring national survival, but by shaping enduring national structures and commitments.”

While I found the description and thought put into this book to be extraordinarily moving and thought provoking, there was one thing which really surprised me. She describes the lengths the US government went to, gathering the Union dead and ensuring they were buried and commemorated after the conclusion of hostilities. To the victor the spoils, and the respect it seems. The same thing was not done for the Confederate fallen, this was left to private initiatives in the south. How much would more quickly would the wound have healed if it been done, would it have speeded reconciliation if this. I wonder which was the first war when the dead of both sides were treated with respected by both sides. This is book is well worth reading content 10, style 8.

Alan and Barbara Pease, Why Men Want Sex and Women Need Love: Unravelling the Simple Truth: Understanding What He Wants and What She Wants from a Relationship, Orion 2009 288 pages. The strap line is ‘Sex is like air: it’s not important unless you aren’t getting any’. I found their book, Body language, to be perceptive and useful. This is disappointing; it is trite and probably inaccurate. It is true that there are differences between men and women but the interpretation they put forward are way too simplistic and even offensive at times.

Louise Penny, Murder stone, Headline 2009 416 pages My escape genre of literature is detective fiction and Penny has developed a delightful Québécoise Chief Inspector called Gamache. Her first few books were set in an idyllic village in rural Quebec called Three Pines. In this book she moves the action and some of the characters to a hotel in the same area. This is a good move, after all how many murders can you have in a small village. She continues to develop the chief characters and the dénouement is quite unexpected. The family at the centre of the book is mostly odious. The Chief Inspector supposedly on holiday suddenly finds himself in the middle of a murder enquiry. Well worth reading also she has an excellent website.a