The Fly Over: The Excursionist V

[Photo of a page of the Guardian newspaper]

I like fly overs.  The jets roar over a stadium during halftime…or more interestingly, the  Italian Air Force planes that swept over the church in Italy the moment when Pavarotti’s coffin was brought out of the church.  But deep down in my conscience, I see fly overs as a glorification of the military and by extension, a glorification of war.

So while they’re sometimes thrilling…they often send a message that I do not agree with.

Then I ran across a short article in a British newspaper yesterday.  After reading it, I felt quite moved…very moved.

The old fellow you see in the photo is eighty-two.  His name is Tony Foulds.  In 1944, he was eight years old.  He and his mates were playing in a park.  A B-17 Flying Fortress was having problems.  They needed a place to crash-land.  The pilot, an American along with nine other Yanks aboard, intended to land in the field.  The pilot spotted the children running around the field.  He purposely avoided the playing area and ended up crashing into the trees nearby. All ten Americans on the plane were killed.

Tony watched in horror.  And this horror is still with him today.  Years after the tragedy, the county council erected a memorial stone.

Every year since then, Tony has tended the memorial…planting flowers…and remembering.

A few days ago, a combined UK and US teams of pilots did a fly over.

Tony will be there.  Tony will probably cry.  Tony somehow feels responsible for the ten deaths.

He was just playing a game with his mates.

Fate is…it just is.  Isn’t it?

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Arriving, Departing or Just Passing Through

I stood hard against the tiled wall and made room for the rush of human traffic trying to pass me.  I was thinking about insanity and the blindness of powerful people to hold sacred something that once had beauty and class.

Beauty and class are rare commodities these days.

I was in the bowels of Penn Station, somewhere between 7th Ave. and 8th Ave.  Somewhere between 34th St. and 31st St. Somewhere below the giant oval that is Madison Square Garden.

Somewhere, somehow something was missing.

I was waiting for the Adirondack, the train that would take us to Albany where our car was parked.  I looked around for the great wooden benches.  All were gone.  I had to wait inside an enclosed “waiting room” filled with plastic and metal seats.  The fast food outlets all sold the same wraps and bags of chips.  Somewhere, I’m sure, was a bar.  The small kiosk that sold the several daily newspapers were now Hudson News stores where I could get a hundred copies of Elle, Glamour and Men’s Health. I’m sure there was a shoe-shine, but I wouldn’t know where to look.

OldPennStation

I thought of the thousands of GI’s who kissed their Bronx girlfriends good-bye during WWII.  Some of them came home.  I thought of the many others, soldiers, men and women, who went off to conflicts.  Some came home.

I thought of an out of work salesman heading for Chicago…there was a possible job waiting for him.  Sometimes he came home to get his wife and head back to the Windy City to start life over.

There were the thousands of runaway girls (and boys) who could afford a train ticket from Wichita or St. Paul who came to the City in search of fame or fortune, or just wanting to disappear into the masses.  A few made a new life.  Most didn’t.  But at least they were solvent enough to afford a coach seat.  The ones who couldn’t save enough from the waitressing job in Akron, had to arrive at Port Authority Bus Terminal.  So many ended up on 8th Ave. selling themselves for a bottle or a vial.

PennStationSign

I looked for the Grand Staircase.  I found only escalators.  Where were the places where people stood and embraced?  Saying “Good-bye” or “Thank God you’re home”.  There was no place to stand and embrace.  Everyone was hurrying to somewhere.

Pulling rolling luggage, everyone stood looking at the big black board for the next LIRR departure or the next Amtrak arrival.

There was no place to stand and think.  So, I stayed pressed against the tiled wall.

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I’ve looked at the archives of Old Pennsylvania Station.  Things looked better in Black & White.  That’s the insanity.  The City razed the old station and built the place where I was now standing.

TimeTableatPennStation

I saw my wife through the glass partition.  She was waving at me to hurry over because the Red Cap was going to help us get to Platform 7.  The northbound Amtrak, the Adirondack was on time.

The small bottle of water (water used to be free) cost about $3.00.  A bag of peanuts made me $3.25 poorer.  I looked over the turkey and cheese wraps.  More bread than turkey and cheese combined.  I thought about Ptomaine.  I passed on the wrap.

I slipped on my backpack, walked past four National Guard soldiers with AK-47’s on their shoulders and met my wife.

Before we boarded, I swallowed the diuretic I was taking.  Try dealing with that forty-five minutes later in a small bathroom on a train that swayed like sailboat in a gale.

 

 

Passports 8: Losing My Way Near Shaftsbury

All of you know Shaftesbury, in Dorset.  In the town center, just off High Street is Gold Hill.  This is arguably one of the most photographed views in England.  It’s on all the England calendars, Beautiful Britain books and travel brochures.  It was featured in the movie “Far From the Madding Crowd”, when Terrance Stamp (young and dashing in his red officers tunic) rode down Gold Hill, passing a drop-dead beautiful Julie Christie (but galloping full speed into her heart.)  I don’t know whether she was more stunning in “Madding Crowd” or as Lara, in “Dr. Zhivago”.  I mean, those locks of hair the color of chestnuts (a dark blonde) that cascaded over her shoulders.  Her lips? Forget about it.  Full and sensual with a hint of a pout.

But I digress.

My wife and I decided to do our first longish walk near Shaftesbury.  I paid 3 pounds 60 pence for a thin guide to local walks.  The maps were hand drawn and the directions had passages like “the minor road near Ludwell”.  Minor road?  The booklet also said that they, the authors, thought it would be impossible to get lost with this guide.

Wait till they hear from my lawyer.

We drove out toward Ludwell but couldn’t find the “minor road” so I stopped at a pub to ask directions.  (Yes, I, a man, stopped for directions).  The bartender looked, from the back, like a guy dressed in a bizarre wig for Halloween.  She turned around and I saw that it was her real hair, dyed the color of…of a mix of purple, pink, red, orange and toxic neon maroon.  But, she gave me perfect directions to the parking area where we would start our walk. This is in contrast with the bartender/server, back in Shaftesbury where we had lunch.  She was a sweet and heartbreakingly beautiful blonde.  The only problem was that bartender didn’t know the name of the street that her pub was on…or how to get to the A30, which was only yards away.

So, we start our hike into a place called Ashcombe Park.  Ashcombe House, was once the home of Madonna when she was married to Guy Ritchie (he still lives there).  The countryside was beautiful and fragrant.  I stopped to touch a Queen Anne’s Lace flower and I brushed against a small thorn.  It pricked my thumb which began to throb and itch.  Some small amount of toxic substance was telling me: Don’t Touch The Flowers.  When I looked at the tiny thorn, I recalled Early Madonna and the perfectly conical, and razor tipped “bra” that she wore.  I got the message big time.  You can look but you can’t touch.

Part way along the walk, I walked past a tree that had been sawed.  I backed up to get a look at the tree rings.  I love counting tree rings and I do so whenever I can.  I made a rough estimate that the tree was about 150 years old.  I tried to put a little green leaf on the rings that would mark the time of WWII.  How many young men, field hands and farmers’ sons and husbands and lovers walked past that tree?  The tree was a mere sapling in the year 1860 +/- , which was about 25 years after Queen Victoria ascended the throne.

History was staring at me from the flat surface of a sawn tree.  Like the dates on a tombstone, each ring marked an event in the life of the people who walked that little vale in Ashcombe Park.

The guidebook mentioned going through several “kissing gates” but they were nowhere to be found.  I noticed new fencing along the pastures.  Again, the guidebook failed us.  We took the wrong turn, sort of, and began a long slog to the top of the hill where the car park was located.  The walk was said to be 4.5 miles, but I calculated that we did over 5 miles by the time we saw the adorable little Fiat sitting near a pasture and near a small but growing herd of cows.  I hoped they didn’t think I was there to milk them.  But they looked at me with those big, vacant bovine eyes.  I recalled my grandmother’s cow and the name she gave it.  I said: “Not now, Nellie.”

I would bet my last quid that phrase wasn’t heard too often in the fields and copses, when brave young soldiers walked home through the fields.  Or when a farmer’s son, finished his chores and skipped along the hedgerow to meet his girl.

His girl, Nellie.

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The valley of Ashcombe Park, Dorset.

 

 

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The wavy grey line to the left of center marks the 1940’s.  The center, the 1860’s.

 

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Shaftsbury in the distance.

 

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Gold Hill, Shaftsbury.