I used to live in Kent and I went to university in Lincoln. Now I understand that for everyone reading, those are, in themselves, Earth shattering facts but stay with me. These two locations have something very important in common.
Due to their locations on the east of the UK, during the Second World War they were vital in both defence and attack. The Spitfires and their fighter brethren swarmed from airfields famously during the Battle of Britain and the mighty Lancasters and the other ‘heavies’ left on their missions to drop their bombs all over Europe.
Now I’m not going to start banging on about the war nor am I trying to make any sort of comment about any possible political view point, so again, stay with me.
I can remember air shows as a child where the planes had to travel over where we lived on their way to the airfield and it was one of these in particular that just blew my mind.
It was the early 80’s and the Falklands War was not long over so when my dad explained that, for the first time, the local air show would be welcoming a Vulcan Bomber, the carrier of the UK nuclear deterrent during the Cold War and recently retired from active service, he impressed upon me with his own excitement, that this plane was important. He knew that it was going to have to fly over our house on its way so we were all dragged into the garden, just waiting for the barest glimpse of it.
We could hear the engines approaching and my dad was buzzing around in anticipation. I stood in the middle of the garden and just looked straight up and when she passed overhead, I swear the sun went out.
That Vulcan’s gargantuan Delta-Wing just blotted out everything and in my mind, everything slowed to the point of leaving that plane suspended just above me. It was one of the most beautiful sights my young eyes had ever seen and as you can probably tell from the way I’m writing this, it still gets me.
Now the three planes that I’ve named so far, the Spitfire, the Lancaster and the Vulcan, all had a massive role to play in the national eye and each of these machines seems to have taken on a greater significance that just being aircraft.
There are 54 airworthy Spitfires left on the planet.
Only 2 airworthy Lancasters.
And most painfully for me, there are no remaining Vulcans in the sky.
And finally, we get to the point.
The send off is a vital thing for people as a part of a grieving process. The funeral of friends and family is something that we can see as a way of recognising the life of the person in question but that same need is often bestowed on ‘things’ as well.
I used the idea of an organised memorial in my first novel, The Circle of Fire, where everyone involved was able to remember those who weren’t with them anymore but we see in so much of life, that we as a race of people seem to need to recognise and celebrate a passing, be it a person or a thing.
When I traded in my last car, I couldn’t help but remember all the journeys we’d shared. When my parents moved to Wales it meant that the home I’d grown up in was leaving the family. I walked into every room and all round the garden before I drove back to Wales, just saying goodbye.
What drives us to do it? Do we regret that we never said enough to show that we saw the service that was being given for us? Do we just not like change so lament the arrival of the new? Do we just miss the good times so need to spend a last time there with the rose tinted glasses on?
A few years ago, Jo and I were visiting her mum in Lincolnshire when I heard an amazing sound. I almost fell over myself to get a good look out of the correct window but I made it in time to see a mighty Lancaster thunder overhead on her way to an air show, which was very soon followed by the last Vulcan. I was just as excited as I’d been all those years ago and just being able to catch a glimpse of those ladies as they headed off as part of their on-going send off was amazing.
I watched them come home that evening and just stood in awe, recognising that we all need a send off. I think it just boils down to appreciating what the person / object has been, has done but also the silent hope that one day, someone will look out and think of us with the same feelings.