Planes represent fear faced and overcome to me. They also trigger a depth of longing I cannot quite pin down logically.
I live just down the road from Bristol Airport and one of my walks with Jumble, Felton Common, has magnificent views of the runway, the planes, landing lights and buildings. I seek solace, beauty, inspiration, hope and catharsis there.
Yet, years ago, when I first lived in this area, the sight and sound of planes overhead used to terrify me. I would cringe, panic, wish to hide or run away.
The first two or three flights to Crete (between 2010 and 2012) scared me profoundly, though the rugged and stark loveliness of the landscape entranced me immediately.
And then, suddenly, excitement began to percolate through the adrenaline of fear: I realised that I adored take-off and, whilst still made nervous by turbulence, enjoyed flying and found it exhilarating for the most part.
I drove up to the Common this morning through heavy grey cloud. All the approach lights were on, and shone eerily in amongst the bright green grass. I could see a Ryanair plane taxiing into position far up on the right, nose pointing in my direction, and knew it was waiting for permission to turn right and then onto the runway itself.
The sky darkened ever-more rapidly. The lights – yellow, red and green – seemed more and more like beacons of old, both warning and welcoming. A wail rose in my throat. An absolute physical longing to be on that plane, to be headed for somewhere lovely. Those who know me best will understand the deeper story beneath these words.
The plane got closer, turned into the approach path, the engines louder. Rain began to fall, in time with my tears – so that, after a while, I could not tell the source of the moisture running down my face.
Pausing for a bright yellow helicopter, the Ryanair finally moved into position – and that wonderful throaty roar of the turbo-jet-engage filled the sky. The rain was now lashing down. I had no coat, just a tee-shirt and a long-sleever over jeans. This does not bother me. I love getting wet, find it liberating. The loud weeping – I was alone; it did not matter – made the whole thing oddly elemental, as if I were part of the downpour (as, in a sense, I was).
The plane took to the skies, getting smaller and smaller. I hugged my stomach and rocked. Sometimes self-comfort is all that is available – and is a powerful tool anyway.
The pet hate (all puns chosen with care)? I saw, as I so often do, a woman walking her dog – and, the whole time she was near me, she was jabbering away on her mobile phone. This is a worrying sign in our technological age, I feel. Regularly, I pass walkers (with children and dogs) attached to phone or ipod – and I feel a great fear and sadness. How can you be completely present for your beloved animal or your precious child if your ears are attuned to the tinny voice of someone else either chatting or singing? How can you enjoy the beauty of your surroundings under such circumstances? Are we so socially hungry, or emotionally desperate, that we cannot love nature alone, without the outside world having to be invited? Is the act of taking our dogs out such a chore that we have to have endless distraction courtesy of the mobile?
Jumble ‘talks’ to me constantly on our walks, with his eyes and ears, his waggy tail, his sweet rolling in wet grass, his waiting to ensure that I am still part of the flock – and, if I were surgically attached to a phone, I would miss all that lovely communication between us, wouldn’t I? And would, I feel, be infinitely the poorer for it.
Perhaps I am being unfair. Perhaps this unknown woman was sad, as I was, and needed to express that with a friend (though her tone was more gossip than grief). Perhaps this is how normal people conduct their communicative lives, and I am an anomaly, an odd one out.
But the deep need to cry does not always require an audience or a running commentary – and sometimes just being in the maelström of a powerful emotion and enduring it alone allows a tiny plane of hope and healing to take off from the inner runway.
When did we, as a species, become so divorced from the land under our feet? So lackadaisical about the living moment that the past intrigues of our friends and family claim, and get, more of our attention?