Back in the early nineties, my mate Moose wanted to be a pilot.
I suppose every kid wants to be a pilot at some point or another, but Moose was the kind of lad who did something about it. He didn’t just build Airfix kits in his bedroom to wank over and and stand up at Leeds Bradford Airport with the other tragic no-hopers, gawping at cattle class Queasy Jet crates bumbling in from Benidorm every five minutes.
No, when Moose decided he wanted to fly, he took flying lessons. He flew.
It was Saturday. The phone rang. It was Moose.
“Morning Moose. Long time no see. How’s the flying going?”
“Sweet! I’ve finished all my flying with instructors and shit, now I’m racking up solo hours to gain my private pilot license.”
“Sounds great. Solo hours, you say? So you just get in a plane and fly about, yeah?”
“That’s about right, Lucy. Gotta get as many hours in the sky as I can. That’s what I’m phoning about. Thing is, I’ve spent every last bean on lessons and now I’m pretty skint. So I got this idea. Why don’t I see if my mates fancied flying about with me? We split the cost fifty fifty.”
“Sounds like a good idea, Moose. How much would I need to chip in?”
“Cool. When are you flying?”
“In an hour.”
“I’m in. Can you pick me up?”
I’ll be there in ten.”
“Great. Oh, and Moose? I’ve never flown before.”
“Even better. Nothing to compare my shit flying with. Hahaha!!!” *click*
“What? Moose? Moose? Hello?”
He’d hung up.
An hour later we were walking towards the plane. It was a Cessna, basically a Robin Reliant with wings. Moose was laughing and excited, flicking his long hair out of his eyes, Converse All Stars slapping on the hot concrete. I was pretty nervous.
We climbed in. It was cramped in the cockpit, and I could smell Moose.
“Moose, have you been smoking this morning? Please tell me you’re not all fucked up. Please.”
“Nah, don’t worry mate. Just had a couple of little toots to take the edge of. Worry not. It’s all cool.”
He fired up the engine. The Cessna vibrated. Moose burbled happily into a headset about where he intended to fly, then he steered the little plane onto the runway.
“Hold onto your bollocks, Lucy!” He giggled, then the Cessna whirred along the tarmac and wobbled into the air.
The engine whined. The plane climbed and dipped, buffeted by the slightest breeze, but soon we leveled out.
“Where you wanna go then, Lucy?”
“What do you mean, Moose? I thought you had a flight plan or something, you know, so you didn’t crash into a 747 or something?”
“Ah, fuck that! We’re flying! All we gotta do is radio to the controller where we’re going and he gives us the go ahead! Now, where you wanna go?”
“Erm… over there looks nice.”
Moose didn’t radio in. He pushed the stick and the plane flipped sideways, pushing my guts up into my mouth as the countryside filled the window on my right.
Moose was laughing like a loon. I’ve got to admit it was pretty exciting, but it was shit scary at the same time.
“Here, Lucy. Check this out. Did you know you could steer a plane with your door?”
“Sorry mate, it sounded like you said you could steer a plane with your door. What did you say?”
Moose grinned, and opened his door.
Wind blasted into the cockpit. Moose pushed hard on the door and the plane protested, the engine changing pitch as we banked around to the left. Looking past him I was looking straight down onto the ground drifting by a few thousand feet below, and the only thing stopping me from plummeting towards it was the seat belt.
He slammed the door. We levelled out. I didn’t say anything.
“Now try your door, Lucy!”
Fuck know’s why, but I did.
I turned the handle and pushed the door. Wind hit us again, same as before, only straight into my face this time. The plane tipped and I felt the seat belt take my weight as I slipped along the seat towards the open door. Fields flew by, houses and roads. The cold high air roared around into the cabin and I was laughing and screaming, Moose was laughing and screaming, and I pulled the door closed and the cold was gone but not the laughter.
“Flying is fucking ace, isn’t it, Lucy? Shits all over driving!”
“I don’t drive, Moose, but I can already tell flying shits on it. This is fucking incredible!”
“You’ll love this shit then!”
Moose shoved a clipboard with the fictional flight plans onto my lap. He piled pens, lighters, fag packets, chewing gum, coins, anything he could find, onto the clipboard.
“Hold it steady!” He yelled.
Then he shoved the stick forward.
The plane went into a sickening dive.
All the crap piled on the clipboard floated into the air, gently bumping off the perspex windshield and my sweating, screaming face. Moose’s hippy hair drifted weirdly around his head and he reached up to catch a tin ashtray that had floated loose. The plane howled and tinny popping noises came from the wings. I felt my arse lifting from the seat, saved again by my friend the seatbelt.
“Flying’s the shit, isn’t it, Lucy?”
“YES YES YES JUST DON’T FUCKING KILL ME!!!”
Moose leveled out again, then climbed back up to altitude. He let me calm down a bit.
“Yeah, I suppose. We’re not dead and that’s good.”
“That’s the spirit, Lucy. Now, do me a favour and hold the stick there.”
I don’t know if it’s the same for all planes, but there’s identical controls for both people in the cockpit. I took hold of the stick in front of me, and Moose immediately let go of his.
“Ok, mate! You’re flying the plane!”
The plane dipped and bucked, thumping clumsily into pockets of air and updraughts.
“Keep it steady, Lucy! Keep this little plane on the dial level with the horizon and we’ll be fine!”
I stared intently at the dial, grinding my teeth.
“I don’t like this, Moose. Take the stick back.”
“No.” Moose calmly lit a Marlboro.
“What do you mean, no?? You’re the fucking pilot! You fly the fucking plane! I can’t even drive a fucking car never mind steer this thing through the fucking sky!! Take the stick!
“No way, mate,” he said, puffing lazily on the cig. “You paid half, you get to do half the flying.”
“No no no no!! I don’t want to! The little plane hasn’t stayed on the horizon once! We’re either above it or below it and It’s not been level once! WE MIGHT DIE!”
“Nah. You’d be amazed how few people die in planes. Less than cars, at any rate.”
“OF COURSE THERE’S LESS DEATHS IN PLANES! WE’RE THE ONLY PEOPLE UP HERE!! Take the fucking stick, Moose! Please!”
“Oh, give it here, you big pussy!” Moose took the stick and I slipped back into my seat, sweat trickling down my shirt.
“You rotten cunt, Moose. Don’t you ever do that to me again.”
Moose was still grinning. “Time to go back now, anyway.”
He turned the little plane around and we whirred back to the airstrip, skimming under the clouds. He chatted to the controller over the radio, telling him our angle of approach and airspeed. The tiny houses below got bigger. I suddenly realised we were traveling pretty bloody fast.
“Erm, do we need to slow down or anything, mate?”
“Nah, Lucy. Thing with planes is, if you slow down too much you fall out of the sky.”
We were coming down pretty quickly as it was. The airstrip was just beyond a sleepy looking housing estate. Our plane buzzed towards it at an alarming rate, weaving all over the place.
“Mate, seriously, this doesn’t look right. We’re going to land on that house.”
Moose pulled up hard, the engine screaming and buzzing like a sewing machine on amphetamines. I pushed back into the seat, like that would help if we plowed through the loft of a suburban semi at one hundred miles an hour.
We cleared the house. But only just.
the plane hit the tarmac like a chucked rock, juddering and skipping to a halt.
Moose lit another Marlboro.
“When do you want to fly again, Lucy?”
“Never, Moose. I never want to fly again.”
I unclipped the belt and fell from the cockpit. On shaky legs I walked away.
“Hey, wait up, Lucy! Don’t you want a lift home?”
“I’ll get the fucking bus, if it’s all the same.”