British Flapways


Pic from

The toy owls are lined up on the bed, a motley bunch of various-sized cuddly bird-alikes arranged on the duvet either side of a hastily-created aisle.

Maddie prefaces play with a suitably banal bing-bang-bong airplane chime. Her voice becomes syrupy. “Welcome,” she announces, “to British Flapways: the airline which does the flapping for you.”

There is a pause, and then she continues. “In the event of a forced landing, please shout ‘Mummy’ and desperately try to flap your wings. This will not help many of you, as you are still at owl school and have not learnt to fly yet. You may also text HELP on your mobiles. The exits are here; and here.”

Before  long the owls are texting each other in flagrant disregard of the flight-mode mobile phone regulations.

The children have just taken their first flight, and it has left a lasting impression. There is something about that moment when the plane leaves the tarmac; when speed conquers the unlikely bulk that is a plane full of hundreds of passengers, and the great hunk of metal leaps into the air with the agility of Rudolf Nureyev.

I flew a plane myself, once. Young journalists have the power of print behind them, and so many a free-publicity-seeker woos even the humble local hack with the most lavish of feature opportunities.

I found myself driving towards a tiny local flying strip, ready to soar over the fields of Maidenhead and Windsor. The journos were given a swift theory lesson and then lined up with their instructors ready to fly duo.

The put-put of the tiny engines filled the air. I sat in front, my instructor behind, and I took the plane along a runway and lifted the wheel. That little ground-breaking miracle lifted my Pegasus off its hooves and into the updraft, that land where lift balances weight and thrust exceeds drag.

This was an undiscovered country, a kingdom without kerbs, a joyous rule-free piece of abandon. I adored flying at first soar. The country below became a patchwork quilt at my behest, that sunny afternoon long ago.

Cut to the Shrewsday clan stanging in the middle of Euro Disney: lolling, lobster-red, through the heat of a Paris afternoon. We trod the pink tarmac of wonderland. We had sampled so much of what this plastic paradise, Euro Disney, had to offer.

Except ‘Star Tours”.Walt and Lucas, together at last.

After a space-time eternity we were lined up outside the doors to the ship. We were allocated door quatre. and after our industrious British queing techniques, we were first at the doors.

A slick screen appeared above our heads with a space-air hostess who welcomed us to our flight and read safety instructions. And with a whirr and all the doors opened to let passengers on.

Except for door quatre. Door quatre remained stubbornly closed. An operative dressed fetchingly Han Solo-style spoke to someone on the space phone and told everyone to get off. We would need to use another spacecraft, Han said as I listened, starry-eyed. Go back to your door quatre.

At which there was an unholy Euro-scramble to get the best place in the next ship. Stay with the door number you were last time, they told us in broken English; and still a stolid German family stood where we had been, styling incomprehension for all they were worth.

We took door cinq.

Don’t sit on any of the grey seats, the operatives told us. They’re ejector seats.

We minced past these and sat in two pairs: me and Felix, and Phil and Maddie a little distance away. And then it began: the space flight of my dreams. It incorporated speed, aggression, wormholes and ice tunnels, death-defying plummets and breathtaking soaring. I needed to be flying this thing, and cursed the designer for failing to give me a control panel.

We landed; the lights went up. The doors slid slickly open. I observed a slightly green husband sloping out. I bounded, Tigger-like, up to him.

“Wasn’t that great?” I enthused.

My husband did not answer. He was looking for a solid piece of brickwork on which to sit down, and a bottle of water. He needed a little time to gain his equilibrium.

One must always look on the bright side of these matters.

At least he wasn’t about to fly home on British Flapways.


Yes, it’s a repost from long, long ago. But we still fly British Flapways.


38 thoughts on “British Flapways

  1. Just the best piece, Kate. I was glued to the screen from the first bing – bong. Even my hatred of airports and all things with crowds, like Euro Disney, was forgotten as I soared in a bi – plane and a screamed through space aboard a rocket. Excellent.

  2. Sounds like the sort of ride that I don’t enjoy either – I never did like roller-coasters 😉

    I took a workmate flying once. He was a keen motorcyclist and so I assumed that he was used to leaning into corners. I was surprised when he expressed a little trepidation when I did a standard 15 degree bank on climbout – I guess that looking down the wing at rapidly receding fields is a bit different to checking how close your knee is to the tarmac 😉

    1. It is, Martin. The view was the thing I loved about the little flying I have done: but I felt sick as a parrot when I got back to the ground. I think my body had no point of reference, somehow. But I’d do it again like a shot. There is no feeling quite like it, is there?

      1. It’s very enjoyable – especially when the conditions make you work at it. But then it’s also great cruising slowly above the vale of Aylesbury on a late summer evening looking down at the lengthening shadows and evening cricket matches taking place below 🙂

    1. Good gracious, Steven, what a time to be in the air heading for the USA. Truly awful day that none of us will ever forget. I am very glad you got home safe and sound.

  3. I loved Star Tours back at MGM-Orlando. Glad they have it on your side of the pond. But why take a plane when you can take the train?

  4. A friend with a single engine plane let me fly it with him in the pilot seat once, really fun and I brought it in to land and he took over just before touchdown.
    Love amusement park rides and wild roller coasters, used to go at least annually up until the last couple of years. Too busy and not enough vacation days for the Lovely Miss TK with all of our Rotary jaunts.

  5. How I envy your once getting to fly. If I’d had the chance when I was young, I might have pursued my childhood dream of becoming a pilot (but that was before women’s lib when, with few exceptions, the only women in planes were stewardesses. I’ve always loved flying, or did before the TSA took all the fun out of it.

  6. Hilarious 🙂 Children come up with the best play scenarios. I can also appreciate the green husband, as I have come out a bit green on watching some 3d ‘movies’ at theme parks.

  7. What a fun memory! I’ve been on that ride and loved it myself, although I’m not nearly as adventurous as you are about real flight! Not a fan! 🙂 I actually have started to think of Maddie when I see the variety of owls that are now very, very popular. My baby niece has been given several and it seems that all of a sudden I’m noticing owls everywhere. I hope our little Grace develops as much imaginative enjoyment with her owls as Maddie. I know this was a repost, but it felt current in many ways. I’m sure you continue to talk about that wonderful family trip even now.

    1. We do: though we are always planning new adventures, Debra. Phil works for BA now, and a trip somewhere really long haul is on the cards. Current possiblities include Canada, but negotiations are afoot.

  8. Not having read this one when first posted, I have to tell you what a joy you gave me today. Every time I read about your children, I fall more and more in love with them. I made this little “poster” for Maddie – I know she is probably much too old for this sort of thing now, but I hope it brings her some happy memories. You can see it here:

    If you can’t view this here, I’ll get it to you another way!

      1. So glad she liked it, and didn’t find it too childish for such a grown up girl! I put this together way too fast, and would have had better owls, and an open door on the plane, but. . . .you know about time and all!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s