By River and Air

16Feb08

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As an introspective young chap, pretending to be a nocturnal aviation meteorologist meant seeking ways to an easy life. At Southend airport in the late 70s, the RVR therefore became a magic number.

It might have been a night when England’s south-east airfields closed their fences to incoming airliners and freighters to henceforth divert en-masse over our provincial runway fence, a few miles from the Thames mud and cockle boats? Or might the estuary fog close in to totally envelope our intimate airport too, forcing tons of newspapers destined for Charles de Gaule and Belfast to be pulped by the fussy man at Higgs Air Agency. A few hours of quiet loneliness ransacking unwanted crew meals to the buzz of overhead neons was what I inevitably yearned.

For two days last week I again stared out into the mire, this time from Gravesend. I stood timing the Tilbury Dock horns that sent 5-second blasts in every 60 reverberating across an invisible river and along the Thames Gateway, soon to have flood-plain housing laid across the brown fields.

Claustrophobically, the second day’s pea soup took 2 hours longer to clear than the first and I waited for the brief photography-window. Between blue sky appearing overhead and the burned-off mist before me, clearing to reveal eerie, muffled activity and form: The to-and-fro of Ro-Ro container shipping, War of the World tripod cranes and gulls dipping over the rising tide.

Where the Queen Elizabeth Bridge takes the M25 high over the Thames at Dartford, traffic slowed. Approaching the toll, drivers tossed their coins into baskets before accelerating off towards offices, wharves or even airports long-closed to air operations – with RVRs of 100m or less.

Grabbing whiffs of riverside effluent and moments of visual glory, I thought of those airport people I worked with all those years ago: Gonzo, Trev, Cousins, Wuds, Marianne .. all away on the four winds.

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