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That Reminds Me – my wife the pilot


ONE of the Monty Python sketches that I used to find terribly amusing involves Terry Jones’s character Mr Chigger turning up for a flying lesson and finding the instructor Mr Anemone, played by Graham Chapman, dangling from the ceiling by a wire. ‘So, you want to learn to fly?’ he says.

Mr Chigger: Yes.

Mr Anemone: Right, well, up on the table, arms out, fingers together, knees bent . . .

Mr Chigger: No, no, no.

Mr Anemone: (very loudly) Up on the table! (Mr Chigger gets on the table) Arms out, fingers together, knees bent, now, head well forward. Now, flap your arms. Go on, flap, faster . . . faster . . . faster . . . faster, faster, faster, faster – now jump! (Mr Chigger jumps and lands on the floor) Rotten. Rotten. You’re no bloody use at all. You’re an utter bloody washout. You make me sick, you weed!

Mr Chigger: Now look here . . .

Mr Anemone: All right, all right. I’ll give you one more chance, get on the table . . .

Mr Chigger: Look, I came here to learn how to fly an aeroplane.

Mr Anemone: A what?

Mr Chigger: I came here to learn how to fly an aeroplane.

Mr Anemone: (sarcastically) Oh, ‘an aeroplane’. Oh, I say, we are grand, aren’t we? (imitation posh accent) ‘Oh, oh, no more buttered scones for me, mater. I’m off to play the grand piano. Pardon me while I fly my aeroplane.’ Now get on the table!

The full script is available here.

That sketch serves as an unwelcome reminder of the day my wife Margaret flew through the air, but not with the greatest of ease.

We were living in Southend at the time and saw an ad in the paper for flying lessons, beginners welcome. Margaret’s father was in the RAF during the war and she said she had always wanted to try flying,  so I offered to buy her a lesson for her birthday.

I telephoned Southend Airport and was offered a 20-minute introductory lesson for £25, so far as I remember. ‘Oh no,’ I said grandly, ‘we want a full hour.’ Stupid sod.

On the morning of her birthday in June, we woke up late and therefore had no time for breakfast, thankfully as it turned out. We arrived at the airport just in time for the 10am lesson and were introduced to the instructor. He showed us to his light turboprop, barely bigger than an Airfix model, and we climbed in. Margaret sat beside him while I jammed myself into a back seat as he explained the controls.

The instructor announced that he would take off and, when safely in the air, hand over to my lady wife. The engines revved, we were suddenly aloft and I immediately felt sick. One small step for mankind, one giant leap for my insides.

I fought wave after wave of nausea, desperate not to puke. It was a glorious summer day and the cockpit was stifling. The pilot pointed out landmarks thousands of feet below while I sat eyes shut fighting both the vertigo and claustrophobia I mentioned in an earlier column. Margaret briefly took over the controls while I prayed to stay continent and alive.

Finally, after what seemed like three weeks, the hour was up and we landed safely before staggering out on to the tarmac. After we had thanked the instructor and he went on to his next lesson, I asked Margaret how she had enjoyed her birthday treat.

‘Bloody hell, it was terrible,’ she said. ‘I was on the point of throwing up the entire time, from the moment we took off. Don’t ever make me do it again.’

On the way back in the car, our hands were shaking so badly that we had to stop at a pub called the Rusty Bucket for a large brandy. (Incidentally the inn’s original name was the Golden Goblet but everyone called it the Rusty Bucket. When they adopted its nickname officially, it was referred to thereafter as the Golden Goblet).

Definitely the worst birthday present ever given or received.

See Canvey and die

WHILE on the subject of our time in Essex, we were not far from Canvey Island, home of the rock band Dr Feelgood who I wrote about here and here. 

The Evening Echo, which we used to take every night, had a piece about an elderly geezer from London with breathing problems whose doctor said he should go and live by the seaside. He followed that advice, bought a shack on Canvey sight unseen, and moved in.

The following morning he opened the front door and took in a deep draught of what he expected would be health-giving ozone. What he got was noxious fumes which hung in a cloud over the island from its many oil and chemical refineries. Definitely not the Feelgood Factor.

And still in Essex, we had a friend who lived in Westcliff-on-Sea. More than once in our company he stood on the esplanade looking out over the Thames Estuary, with Canvey’s oil flames burning brightly in the distance and beyond that the heavily industrialised Isle of Grain, and said in all seriousness: ‘Best view in the world!’ Eat your heart out, Sydney Harbour!

Old jokes’ home

A man walks into a pub with a roll of tarmac under his arm and says: ‘Pint please, and one for the road.’

A PS from PG

It’s only about once in a lifetime that anything sensational ever happens to one, and when it does, you don’t want people taking all the colour out of it. I remember at school having to read that stuff where that chap, Othello, tells the girl what a hell of a time he’d been having among the cannibals and what not. Well, imagine his feelings if, after he had described some particularly sticky passage with a cannibal chief and was waiting for the awestruck ‘Oh-h! Not really?’, she had said that the whole thing had no doubt been greatly exaggerated and that the man had probably really been a prominent local vegetarian.

PG Wodehouse: Right Ho, Jeeves

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Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth is a former national newspaper journalist now retreated to the Ribble Valley, where he grows cacti and tramps the fells. He and his wife Margaret run a website, A-M Records , which includes their collected TCW columns plus extra features including Tracks of the Day. Requests, queries and comments can be sent to

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