When I first heard of Eyjafjallajökull, I was of the same opinion as Richard Normington, in that it seemed more like a keyboard malfunction than anything else. But things started to look sinister when continent-sized areas in the course of the volcanic cloud, containing putative glass fragments that could cause high-flying jet engines to close down, were declared no-fly areas on the basis of computer models that are as diconnected from reality as the politicians who made decisions solely on their predictions, without reference to reality.
Thankfully, we can fly again. As it happens, I don't fly that often, but even in the circumference of the world I inhabit the no-fly orders had consequences, from a colleague who couldn't make it to work, through a fellow worshipper whose presence had been required to validate church accounts, to a friend who had been badly injured abroad and whose family was deprived even longer of her presence.
I thought that I'd like to dedicate this month's Top Ten to the theme of flying, because the cooling of Eyjafjallajökull's ire coincides with a crucial time in our country's history, when we decide which political parties will suppress the innate instinct to fly as high as we can, and which will not only nurture it but ensure that we lift up our peers in so doing.
10 - Would you like to fly?
The 5th Dimension, who were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2002, are famous for taking the song Age of Aquarius from Hair to the top spot. My favourite song of theirs is Jimmy Webb's Up, Up and Away which, whenever I hear it, brings memories of childhood awakenings to the song being played on the ever-present radio.
9 - Wild Swan
In my opinion, Tony Clarkin - the bearded guitarist in the video - deserves to be hailed alongside Pete Townshend as arranger par excellence of his own lyrics with insight and sensitivity worthy of Berlioz. The video, telling the story of a son who simultaneously hero-worships his crusading father and feels the overarching need for his presence beside him, comes to mind because of a wild swan that's been making the news in Cambridge. Called Mr Asbo, he's been accused of harassing and even overturning boats on Cambridge's river Cam. A recent film aired on BBC 1's The One Show displayed the swan at his most aggressive - but the BBC has been accused - in a video that I recommend you watch - of goading the swan's mate into leaving her nest in order to see off a canoe that was ordered to go dangerously close to it for the sake of "car-crach TV". Given that Asbo, according to vet and Telegraph blogger Pete Wedderburn, has actually had his cygnets killed by "passers by", I'm not surprised he's mardy. The state hasn't killed my children, but arrogates to itself ever greater powers to brainwash them according to abusive agendas that seem to have no other purpose than to "rub the Right's nose in diversity". I feel as angry as Mr Asbo.
8 - Volare
In February 1991, I had an interview in London and arranged to stay with a friend in Brixton. The interview went well but later in the day came the news that 10 Downing Street had been attacked by an IRA mortar. Mobile phones being as rare as they were huge in those days, I found myself having to wait in one of the lines that trailed from every phone box. My friend explained, "I think everybody's phoning home to say they're ok". That evening, he. I and another friend went to his flat in the middle of Brixton High Street, kicking up the snow that had emptied the thoroughfare of cars. Since all of us had lived for some time in Italy, this is the song we sung:
7 - Flying machines in pieces
This is such a video of James Taylor's Fire and Rain, which is about, in part, the suicide of his fried Suzanne Schnerr, whom he'd met while both of them were hospitalised for addiction to heroin. "Flying Machine" was the name of his first band; but the line "flying machines in pieces on the ground" is about more than the breakup of a musical unit, but I wonder if. when Taylor sings "Susanne the plans they made put an end to you" (my italics) he's running from the couple's co-dependency. But. counterintuitively, I can see a better case for the use of prescribed pharmaceutical diamorphine (heroin) under strictly controlled than for legalisation of cannabis, because we cannot halt supply of heroin within our own borders. The thing is, cannabis-legalisation site UKCIA (offline at the moment) has made a case for legalisation of weed as a gateway to legalisation of just about every illegal drug. Having been a drugs-worker, I hope this never happens; I'd hate the misery I saw in the needle-exchange to become commonplace.
6 - So much owed by so many to so few
In 2002, Nick Clegg, now leader of the Liberal Democrats, wrote an article about a school trip to Germany:
A boy called Adrian started it. He shouted from the back of the coach, "we own your country, we won the war". Other boys tittered. One put a finger to his upper lip - the traditional British schoolyard designation for Hitler's moustache - threw his arm out in a Nazi salute, and goose-stepped down the bus aisle. Soon there was a cascade of sneering jokes, most delivered in 'Allo 'Allo German accents.I was shocked by his ignorance. Britain was indeed on the winning side of WWII and was a major and heroic player, but to baldly assert that "Britain won the war" is as disingenuous as is baldly asserting that Germany lost it. We must never forget the key role that Britain played in defeating the Nazis (who were by no means synonymous with Germany), but it is salutary to remember that, on the eve of the Pearl Harbour attacks on December 7, 1941, Britain was losing, and Winston Churchill had authorised the distribution of bayonets with a poster campaign saying "at least you can take one with you".
As it happens, historian Colin Heaton concluded in Night Fighters that had Britain been conquered, America would have eventually had confront Hitler's contagious monomania - but Britain would have been a much changed place. Thank God that never happened.
Rector Pellegrina wasn't quite convinced when I confessed a guilty pleasure in heavy metal. I hope this video about the Battle of Britain - by an RAF composed of 10% Polish pilotry - will give both her and you cause to reconsider.
5 - Flying Sorcery
Al Stewart merged his twin loves of flying and history for this song from his classic Year of the Cat album. An article on his website explains the context of the lyrics, from Amy Johnson, to the biplanes called Faith, Hope and Charity which defended the George Cross island of Malta and the double meaning of the Flying Circus. Enjoy this footage of him singing in Cambridge's namesake town in Massachussetts.
4 - Flying for me
John Denver was a founder of the "citizen in space" project and was even considered for the honour, but was pipped at the post by Christa McAuliffe, a secondary/high school teacher who had worked in Washington DC before moving to Concord in New Hampshire. Denver recollected that on the morning of January 28 1986 his adopted son Zac phoned him and told him to put the TV on, any station: there was the Challenger disaster, inspiring him to write:
She was flying for me
She was flying for every one
She was flying to see a brighter day for each and every one
She gave us her light
She gave us her spirit and all she can be
She was flying for me
3 - Abide in His shadow for life
We had a discussion on hymns at our annual church meeting recently - you know the sort, that can quickly degenerate into an "old=Good" vs "New=Better" argument all too quickly. It was left to our venerable and classically-trained organist to point out that while traditions need maintaining, some new hymns are beautiful. One of these, I think, is Fr Michael Joncas' On Eagles' Wings, based on Psalm 91 and Isaiah 40:31. Given that John Smeaton, director of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, has been correcting misleading Government advice on sexual education and abortion, I think it's appropriate that this video of the song performed by Angela Birkhead-Flight is dedicated to "all babies who have died prematurely due to abortion, miscarriage or other means".
2 - Icarus
Although Kansas sung a song specifically about Icarus, another one - Carry On my Wayward son - seems to be a more meditative take on the sublime fall of the son of Daedalus, the craftsman who gave a ball of yarn to Ariadne so she could guide herself and Theseus out of the Minotaur's labyrinth, although there appear to be elements of Plato's allegory of the cave threaded through. Father and son, of course, strapped on wings of wax and feathers in order to escape the wrath of King Minos of Crete, but Icarus ignored a warning from Daedalus not to fly too high, and plunged into the sea when the heat melted the wax. It's often taken as a cautionary tale warning those who are over-ambitious of the danger of flying too high on constructions that should have been kept closer to earth. Just so, blogger Benedict White tells us that Gordon Brown was warned when Labour took power in 1997 that his proposed financial reforms would lead to a systemic banking failure. But he flew too high...
1 - The final attack
In the film The Dambusters we see a disconsolate crew looking back at the Möhne Dam on the Ruhr, feeling they have failed: then, suddenly, under the attacks that have been visited upon it, the dam's wall collapses and water floods out.
In reality, the crew pulling away was the fourth wave: a fifth Lancaster dropped its bouncing bomb upon the already-disintegrating wall to consolidate the damage.
This election has been a long, unpredictable slog. The Conservative party's first wave of attacks upon Gordon Brown, who is damming up the British people in a politically-correct prison where the silent majority of law-abiding people are punished the most, might be said to have happened shortly after his unelected accession to the Labour throne in June 2007, when he bottled out of an election he might have won when the David Cameron and George Osborne announced that only millionaires would pay inheritance tax. The second wave was a tsunami of activism, fuelled by both shoe-leather and blogs, cat-herding organised by the long-suffering Eric Pickles, the third a series of defeats inflicted upon the Prime Minister,Chancellor of the Exchequer and miscellaneous Ministers by David Cameron, George Osbourne and the Shadow front-bench team. The fourth is happening now, as candidates, activists and supporters work like Trojans to bring about change necessary for national survival.
The fifth wave is coming shortly, even as the dam walls crumble - illustrated by Gordon Brown's disastrous labelling of his own supporter, Gillian Duffy, as a "bigot" because she challenged the prevailing orthodoxy on immigration, imposed on people like her by rich ideologues who do not have to live in areas like hers. The fifth wave of attacks upon Labour's walls of infamy will come on May 6 and be inflicted by the voters, and I pray that the power-houses of willful negligence are swept away by the resulting inundation.