Gliding to Hell and Back

Do you remember when you were young, setting yourselves goals or targets?  I certainly do.

One goal was the first car that I would ever own would be a Land Rover and sure enough a long wheelbase Series I truck cab, sans hoops and rear cover, was duly purchased.

A second major target was that I’d get married at the age of 28, which I also accomplished, but I hadn’t forecast that I’d also be divorced by my 30th birthday!  Charles Ablett, a good buddy of mine in Squad 29, Corps Training Platoon, Intelligence Corps was the unknowing instigator of my wedlock and eventual marital downfall back in 1987.

glider2 1
Charles A – since this holiday he’s felt so guilty he’s relocated to Barcelona to escape my wrath!

Despite knowing from my performance on the the assault course that I was terrified of heights, this vindictive (sorry perceptive) friend suggested we should go on a week’s gliding holiday to overcome this fear & that he’d book us two places at the Kent gliding club in Challock.

What I hadn’t prepared for though was the sheer terror of a winch launch across a small field, diagonally corner to corner & rising at an extreme angle of 45 degrees.  Contrast this with the slow and graceful ascent for those rich enough to be able to afford it of a real powered aircraft as tug.

The safety training had seemed threadbare to me, they attached a parachute to my “bum” that was in fact my seat cushion in the front seat of the 2 man glider, the metal frame being hollow.  I was less than reassured by the ancient (to me) flying instructor climbing into the seat just to my rear saying, “doing worry about the parachute, we won’t get high enough to use it anyway”!

My instructor’s foreboding smile

Two or three days in, hardly sleeping (with extreme nightmares every night) in primitive bunks on the airfield, I knew that any moment  I was “going for a burton” using RAF terminology that Biggles would have been proud of.

My diagnosis is that I had started post traumatic stress syndrome early.  Frankly I knew my number was up and all I could see the grim reaper beckoning towards me.  Manfully I decided to go to the Glen Miller evening being held in the hangar one evening as I was “In the Mood” to get drunk before it was too late!

This is when Charles’ master plan came to fruition and I found myself inebriated at the bar trying to focus on ordering yet more drinks from what would be the first Mrs Shores, a Miss Donna Pentin….

Knowing I only had a few hours to live and establishing over the noise of “Little Brown Jug” that her Mark III Escort was parked just outside the hanger, I took the plunge (literally) and about a year later found myself on honeymoon in Tunisia…

Needless to say I have never forgiven Charles who now lives in Spain and I also have developed a lifelong distaste of flying, that has only been temporarily overcome through imbibing huge amounts of sparkling wine and Bloody Mary before embarkation.

It is true to say that this gliding experience has only hastened my recent early-retirement, also I will never go back to Tunisia on a point of principle, although I would like to visit Arnhem one day to pay my respects to all those brave glider pilots before me!

Gliding to Hell and Back

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