It's funny how certain memories never go away, returning with such cyclical certainty that one can even predict under just what circumstances the memory will return. It's a bleak, rainy day here. Cold and forboding. A set of circumstances designed to bring back a specific class of recollections.
I began building model aircraft around the age of 8 or 9, and kept at it well into my teens. A second wave of construction impulses came over me in my late thirties/early forties resulting in this –
Unfortunately my enthusiasm for purchasing the models ran ahead of my actual building capabilities, leading to this!
Nevermind, I am sure I am not the only hobbiest who has gone a little too over the top with his pastime.
What these pictures do demonstrate is just how much pleasure and involvement I have gained from this hobby. So much so that certain powerful memories – such as those that returned today – revolve around these little plastic kits.
One the earliest I attempted was the Airfix model of Baron von Richthofen's Fokker Triplane. I must have been about 10 years old or so, and I was spending the days just after Christmas with my grandparents in their country cottage, Heronwater.
A beautiful house on some beautiful land near Liphook in Hampshire, England. For me – and my sister too – it was an oasis away from what was sometimes a tense and difficult time at home with my parents. How ignorant we become as adults to the emotional undercurrents that dominate a child's life. And how ignorant is a child to the concerns that can dominate his parents'.
But grandparents, somehow, escape this fate. Being older and more experienced, wiser in some things, but always more aware of the role of time in one's life, they can bypass many of the trials that can sabotage a young adult, and leap, unfettered, back into an appreciation of childhood. My grandfather, in particular, was adept at this. Not least because he lost his own mother when he was a boy and thus was prematurely thrust into a harsher world.
So I built my little model, fumbling uncertainly with the three wings and smudging the plastic with glue, in this atmosphere of almost supernatural peacefulness. The progress I made with it marked out the passing time, such that the final day there was the day I painted it bright red and applied the transfer decals.
Perfect, it was not, but it was my best effort thus far, and it gave me enormous pleasure in the making. Still, as the decals dried and I went to bed for the last night, a rising dread from the return home threatened to swamp my joys.
The following day was more than just a return home – it was an early morning journey back to the house and then straight onto school for a new term. I woke up that morning feeling physically sick and gathered up my things in a daze. With me came the model airplane.
We drove back to my parents' house and, in a moment of distraction, I moved too far across the seat and crushed the model. The undercarriage snapped off; one of the wings broke free of its struts. I picked it up, the bottom falling out of my morning. We arrived, I swiftly changed into my school uniform and my dad drove me to school.
Drawing up to the wall that surrounded it, I unbuckled, picked up my satchel, opened the door – and vomited.
Years later, of course, it seems of little import – compared to what Richthofen must have been felt as he prepared to take off once again to do battle, especially in his last days when injury and stress led to periods of nausea. But to a child, even small things are big, perhaps as big.