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.