Menonautical [men-oh-knot-ickul]; the condition of messing about with wings and sails


Bit of a tomboy, I was.  My younger sister, Mac1, also tended that way.  Our parents had no barriers about what girls should be playing at.  This meant one of those childhoods of adventure and interest, many a scraped knee and damaged elbow and lots of useful things learned early.

One day, dad decided it was time to buy a dinghy.   Mirror, I think was the name - about nine or ten feet in length, manageable for solo sailing (mum was never quite so keen) - or for training the kids.  Mac1 and I were often in it.  We could both swim well by this time.  Younger sister Mac2 would come occasionally, but was really rather young and preferred mother's company and being with baby brother, Mac3.  Mostly it was Mac1 and me donning the buoyancy vests and helping sort the sails. 

There are many happy memories of dotting about on the River Orwell, dodging the motor launches and watching for tidal treachery.  At about this time Mac1 and I had read Swallows and Amazons and this of course added to the fun.

I did not have the opportunity for any greater water adventure until I went to Australia.  There, of course, life is not being lived unless you use the sea in some way.  I happily fell in with a crowd that did twilight racing within Sydney Harbour and for about two years managed to get crew spots on one or other of the yachts.  It was here, too, that I discovered a strong ability to row - kayaks or 'tinnies' I didn't care.  I just loved rowing - particularly early morning along the shoreline, finding many a creature of interest and enjoying Nature at its best.

Despite many, many, many attempts though, and in spite of owning a wet suit so as to look like I belonged, I never managed to surf!  Body-surf yes.  No worries.  But stand on that board?  You gotta be kidding me.

At least I have had more involvement with that love than with my original desire.  I wanted to fly aeroplanes.  Specifically, Harrier Jump Jets!  WHAT? 

Yes.  Due to dad's work, we were based in Suffolk throughout my school years and this is a place of many an airfield.  American and British.  This meant lots of air shows.  My father had wanted to be in the Air Force, but had failed the fitness test due to being blind in his left eye.  Even their engineers need to be fully functional.  He never lost his love of 'planes though and that love passed on to me.  I think I was about 10 when we went to my first open day. 

How to explain the thrill I can still feel of seeing all those different machines with wheels and wings?  When I got to sit in the cockpit of a Supermarine Spitfire I was almost breathless with excitement.  Dad saw my genuine interest, so for my 11th birthday I got my very first model kit - a Hawker Hunter!  There was a kit for each birthday and Christmas after that. He also ensured we got to every available air show for the next five years.  That was a lot. 

By the time I was 14 I had pretty much made up my mind I wanted to try for pilot training in the Air Force.  I devoured every book I could find on flying and pilots of note - particularly female pilots.  They were few, but left their mark! For my 10th grade History exam, I submitted a history of flying. When I was 16 too, the school had a careers day.  Naturally, all the services were represented.  Of course I talked with the officers present and took the application forms, but I met with something that was new for me.  Sexual discrimination.  I was being actively discouraged from applying for flying and instead pointed towards the administrative and catering branches.

Undeterred, I eventually got along to the forces recruitment office in town.  Here again, though, I was being dissuaded.  There was one - and one only - reason given that I couldn't argue against.  I fell half an inch below minimum height of 4'11".  This requirement was wavered for the admin section.

I left the office deflated.  When I got home I declared that if I couldn't fly, what was the point of being in the Air Force?! 

Life took an entirely different direction as a result and I think matters were being 'looked after' by the Great Plan.  But I never lost my love or interest in aircraft so, again in Australia, when opportunities came my way to fly in seaplanes, or single-engine Cessnas or Douglas 'Dakota' DC-3s, they were never passed up!

Now I see that lad Branson is getting a space plane up and going….

(I would like to acknowledge blogging pal, Goldenoldenlady, for having prompted this 'menory'… she put up a real purrtty plane piccie the other day!)


5 comments:

  1. I remember Mirror dinghies from my days in the boating newspaper industry.
    In Australia, I was aboard Gretel, the first Australian challenger to the America's Cup yacht race. Because it was her first day out on day charter, a member of the original crew was aboard, so I got a lovely story for my former employer.
    When I was young, my family had a 14-foot clinkerbuilt rowboat named "The MacD" but she was rather bottom-heavy for us kids to row. When my father and grandfather got an outboard motor, however, we were happy to take the tiller.
    I've always enjoyed flying, and thought I might like to be a pilot but when I was a young woman, pilots had to have 20/20 vision, which I never had.
    So, I'd have made the height part (being 5'4") but couldn't qualify because I wore glasses.
    I love the name of your blogging pal "Goldenoldenlady"!
    Ship ahoy, and the sky's the limit!
    Luv, K

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  2. Hari OM
    See Kay, we really are kindred spirits!! ...and even the sky cannot limit us &>> YAM xx

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  3. My family had a Mirror dinghy too. And later an Enterprise. So many happy memories associated with both craft. Such as Dad taking me, aged six, out onto the Solent and the boat capsizing when we miscalculated a gust of wind. Me confident and drilled by Dad in what to do, thrilled by the experience. Brother sat on the beach with binoculars, calmly telling mother "Oh look, they've capsized".

    I once had a female colleague who had also been rejected by the RAF on height grounds. After two years as a geophysicist with an oil company she left to train as a commercial pilot with BA. Apparently you don't need long legs to fly a 747!

    Cheers,
    Gail.
    PS Am enjoying your comments on Bertie's Blog - many thanks.

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  4. Oh! 4' 11" is serious short-arse territory. GGGRRRR! Did you not think to put manure in your boots?

    That must come across horribly flippant, but please undertand in our family we have the opposite (bean)pole; the girls come out above average (I am the shortest at 5'6") or well above average (my next up in age sister at 5' 11", and two others at 5' 8") and then the next generation has two young women at 5' 10" and 6' 1", now in their 30s. In the midst of this The Daughter, my one and only, slides in under the wire at 5' 2". Her paternal grandmother was as small as a bird.

    Did the 1960s RAF want to keep petite girls out of the cockpit or small men? I guess we will never know for sure.

    Certainly to fly at Mach1+ nowadays takes physical strength and prodigious fitness. Maybe it is time to let go of the idea that it was your gender that disqualified you. A 4' 11" boy would have been shown the door to flying a desk as well.

    And if we are happy and contented now, how can we regret anything that led up to this moment? That is my main driving philosophy, everything I am now is the sum of all I was before.

    From where I am reading you are brill as you are!

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  5. Hari OM
    Bertie and Gail - how delightful to have you drop by!!! Ah yes the Mirror dinghy. sigh. I'd get into a boat this minute if there were the chance!

    Actually, a few years later in Africa, I was offered the chance of flying lessons, but my parents had cooled on the idea by then and the offer, to be honest, was probably a bit 'dodgy'... never mind. I fly in spirit!!! To think I used to trudge monros like the pair of you also. Memories.

    GOL - look everyone in the world is taller than YAM! It's not hard... If memory serves (and that's a debatable issue round here as you'll gather), the height requirements for the Harrier and Phantom jets which would have been the options at the time of my application, were a range between 4'11" min to 5'6" max. So they actually req'd small to medium build. The cockpits are that claustrophobic! Like racing cars. You don't see too many Formula 1 drivers over 5'8" - or the rebuild the cars around them. Can't do that with multimillabux planes!

    Your new wee green machine will be snugglesome too, methinks. Safe driving. &*>

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