Knights of the Air

Just finished reading Night Raiders of the Air, a Kiwi pilot’s memoir of flying night bombers in WWI for the Commonwealth (or probably more accurately, the Empire). It’s unbelievable what these guys did, going up thousands of feet in the freezing night, sitting unstrapped in wicker armchairs stuffed into these big wooden clothes horses, tied with wire and wrapped in canvas. Machines, beautifully made by piano makers, but as fragile as butterflies and ready to catch fire just for looking at them funny, fires you can’t escape by jumping out when half a mile up and when your own side won’t give you parachutes.

Night after night they went up for hours on end, to drop bombs onto enemy airfields while being hosed from below by ‘glow worms’ of tracer bullets or flaming onions from Archie. The enemy bullets and shells are almost secondary to the hazard of simply crashing on unknown landing strips in the dark – how many times they crash and are thrown out, like they’ve come off a motor bike. They get lost so often and when the finally run out of fuel they have to guess how high they are off the ground and simply hope they don’t get too hurt as they hurtle into whatever’s in the way that they’ll hit at 70 knots, with nothing between them and ‘it’ but a mahogany dashboard to lose your teeth on.

As a memoir it’s written with a light touch, but which is all the more poignant as casualty lists of comrades only ever grow longer and longer, and he writes even of his own nerves building up and up and how the battle becomes as much with one’s self to keep even-keeled as it is to take to the Boche, who are also often noted to be such brave and gallant, but so young, men as well. Young as in 21 or 22 year-old and having had more than a couple of month’s combat experience without dying is an old veteran who’s spent way beyond his quota of good luck.

And the waiting, the waiting, the waiting for orders, for the off, waiting and waiting for the missing planes to come back from a sortie, waiting and waiting for leave that when it comes is a glorious fortnight of partying back in Blighty, compounded by an ever growing dread of returning to pointless carnage and finding out who else has been smashed up, lost their nerve, or gone West.

I’m glad I’ve rediscovered my WWI flying books, McKee’s brilliant The Friendless Sky, then An Airman’s Outings with the RFC, I will re-read them avidly to learn of astounding courage from a century ago.


Normal afternoon doze….sometimes I wake that jolt you can get from a short nap, when a certain thought just appears, it can be quite alarming.

Today was a beautiful day, blue sky, with enough cloud to keep it interesting, big fluffy things at low level that you could watch scoot along on the breeze, but just a shade too fast to watch their shapes mould and morph and warp.

The thought I had was a realisation of sorts, that someone I’d last seen, who I’d actually last been in the company of, not as in talking on the phone, or by email, or Facebook, but there in front of me, I’d last seen them in May 1996 at a bus stop in Manchester. And I was off on my travels, years of them, and they weren’t. And you think you’ll stay in touch, and you don’t. But you catch up sporadically here and there, but you’re moving on, there’s no rhyme or reason really to meet, different lives, cities, circles, nothing in common any more.

And what I realised was not only was that the last time I saw them, it will also be the last time I ever see them. Unless by some freak chance, it’s not going to happen.

And suddenly everything from that time is all as cold and distant and past as it should be after 20 or so years.



Foxtons has an outlet in Brixton, but it seems every time there’s a community event on in the place, Foxtons have to board up the shop. No-one else sees the need to do this, and it surely stinks a bit for these slags to come extol the virtues of Brixton to home buyers and renters at hyper-inflationary prices, but be so desperately paranoid about the locals they have to barricade themselves in. Do the staff get danger money? Honestly, piss off.

Foxtons in Brixton

I went for a job at Foxtons in about 2002, just for a laugh, to see what it would be like. They held a recruitment session in their large open plan office in West London, big fleet of Minis outside, and we had various tests, socialising, schmoozing, an interview. I knew I’d failed when in this one test this woman said this is the deal, what do you think of that? and went around us in a circle as we articulated different ways of saying ‘great’, and I couldn’t think of anything original, and said something shit, whereupon she immediately took my name and wrote it down. They had a large room with banks of phones and 20 year olds hammering at the phones, and this big button in the middle of the room that they would come and press when they’d made a sale. Didn’t get the job, obviously wasn’t sociopathic enough.


Men had hair like this in them days. But not me.

Diary of a Man in Despair

No, not this blog, but a fascinating book, a series of journal entries from 1936 to 1945 by a German writer living under the Nazis and who from the outset is utterly appalled by them, seeing them as utterly mindless thugs who blackmailed their way into office. But he seems almost more offended by their gaucheness and Hitler’s own glaring pettiness in his origins and his outlook. The writer Friedrich Rech has come into social proximity with Hitler on a few occasions, and alikens him to a desperate head-waiter, and it’s full of the kind of overwhelming nose-wrinkling snobbishness you’d somewhat expect of someone of old, conservative Junker who’s become a professional theatre critic, as Rech was. Someone into whom such views are almost carried down from a refined gene pool, and one could probably never even beat him into believing any different. But in terms of where he sees it all going, a i.e. a very big, very violent end is in the offing, Rech is not wrong at all. He also dumps all over the tawdry tackiness of the new order of consumerism and materialism, which Huxley also goes on about in Brave New World (although I think Huxley didn’t think it so bad), and incredible violence arising from base greed and lust for total shit (as we see these days in midnight sales at IKEA). Mass-man ….

VW cornerstone

In August 1936 he writes of his most recent glimpse of Hitler:

I saw Hitler last in Seebruck, slowly gliding by in a car with armour plated sides, while an armed bodyguard of motorcyclists rode in front as further protection: a jelly-like, slag-gray face, a moonface into which two melancholy jet-black eyes had been set like raisins. So sad, so unutterably insignificant, so basically misbegotten in this countenance that only thirty years ago, in the darkest days of Wilhelmism, such a face on an official would have been impossible. Appearing in the chair of a minister, an apparition with a face like this would have been disobeyed as soon as its mouth spoke an order – and not merely by the higher officials in the ministry: no, by the doormen, by the cleaning women! 

And today? I hear that Hitler recently ended a report – by William Keitel, the Army commander – which had given him reason for dissatisfaction, by throwing a bronze vase at the head of the general. Isn’t this the kind of thing that happens when a people is sinking in a cesspool of its own disgrace? ‘And all that they did was as it should have been, because it was God’s will.’ … 

What I saw gliding by there, behind the fence of his mamelukes, like the Prince of Darkness himself, was no human being. That was a figure out of a ghost story. 

A ghostly face, gliding past. Not doing some great speech, not walking tall among tens of thousands of stormtroopers at a rally, not hovering over a map or juxtaposed with images of the Holocaust, the full horror of which had yet to come, but just a ghostly face, amid minions, gliding past