I recently visited my elderly Mother in the sleepy West Sussex town that I grew up in. She still lives in the same house, which, despite being redocorated several times, still seems familiar to me in a way that is almost impossible to describe.
I am a frequent visitor, but I still get catapulted back to my youth when I arrive.
I carried my lightly-packed wheelie bag up the stairs to “my” bedroom.
I can remember when we moved to the house back in 1971, my parents offering me the choice of bedrooms, as I was the eldest child, at the ripe old age of 10…(Seniority rules!). I did a quick recce of the rooms, and promptly chose the room with a northerly aspect.
Mum was surprised about this, as the room was quite a bit smaller thatn the room facing south. She pointed out that I may prefer the larger room as I would need to do homework there.
I stuck to my guns – I wanted the northerly view, as this gave me a fantastic view of the aircraft descending on the glideslope into Gatwick airport, some eight miles to the west.
I smiled as I dumped my bag on the old wooden chair in the corner. I stood by the window, adopting almost the same position as my former boyhood self did fifty years ago.
A flash over the spire of St. Mary’s Church caught my attention. Even with my age-inhibited eyesight, I could still make out the colour and shape; a Norweigian Boeing 787, respendent in it’s red and white livery.
Back then I used to spend hours in my bedroom, armed with pair of Prinzflex 10 x 50 binoculars – a 10th birthday present from my Grandma. I am pleased to say, that despite several housemoves and a number of foreign holidays I still have these in my posession, and they still function perfectly.
I was also the proud owner of a Vantone Airband Radio, My dear old Dad got it for me up Tottenham Court Road. I was thrilled to get this. It had Police, Public Service Broadcasts, Air Band, Sea Band and VHF so after a lot of trial and error I was able to tune the Gatwick Approach frequency and the Tower, and monitor the aircraft arrivals. God, I wish I still had that old set now. The hours I used to sit there, transfixed, listening to the exchanges between crew and air traffic control.
No 787s then. My regulars were Air France Caravelles, British Island AIrways 748s, Tradewinds CL-44s, and the Braniff 747 – The Big Orange.
Tradewinds Canadair CL-44 at Gatwick Airport
All the registrations that I saw and heard were dutifully recorded in a battered notebook, together with scrawled notes of times and dates.
I have to face it. At that time in my life I was a certifiable addict. I needed my aeroplane fix every day,
Going to school was just an inconvenient interruption to my passion, and I spent many lessons just gazing into the sky. Sorry Mister Clifford. It’s not that you didn’t make Physics interesting, its just that my mind was always elsewhere.
Mr Woolcock, you tried so hard to fire my imagination up with chemistry, but moles and millimoles weren’t my thing. 707s and 747s were my thing.
I was so fired up with this disease called aviation that I even cycled the 9 miles each way to London Gatwick Airport every day of my school holidays to watch aircraft.
It was all so innocent by todays standards. I would park my bike by the simple chainlink fence, and climb up the steel emergency steps on the side of the gate building. Once up on the roof, I could walk all the way down the building and set up shop at the end of the pier.
From my vantage point I could actually look down at the BIA Herald aircraft sitting on the ramp below – not something that could be done now.
So – visiting my dear old Mum caused a bit of a time slip – and I momentarily dropped through the temporal rift back to 1971.
Getting back on track then…
Knowing that my Mum is a regular church-goer, I took her to the Sunday morning service today. The church has been thoroughly modernised, but the congregation and the format of the service has not.
I recognised a good few of them. Many were the then young parents of my contemporaries back in the day. Now old, stooped and struggling, but still happy to belt out the hymns, most of which were unfamiliar to me. I nodded to some, and exchanged a few words with others.
It was when I visited the loo to wash my hands that I discovered what is probably the most unusual cultural exchange.
Let me explain…
After World War Two ended, the Council of European Municipalities (as it was then) promoted the twinning of communities from different member states as a way of bonding the fissures created by the war – a war which effectively ripped mainland Europe apart.
From the Town Twinning website, I found this descriptive quote on “Twinning”
“A twinning is the coming together of two communities seeking, in this way, to take action with a European perspective and with the aim of facing their problems and developing between themselves closer and closer ties of friendship”.
The medium sized community of East Grinstead in West Sussex covers just under ten square miles and has a population of just under 26,500. The town has been here since the 1300s, and lies on the Greenwich Meridian – so stand in the right place, and you can have a foot in either hemisphere.
It is twinned with Bourg-de-Péage in France, and has other twins in Germany, Austria, Italy and Spain. This is heralded on the signs at the boundaries of the town.
This is all a very lofty ideal, and I have been to various events in the past including a French Market, and a German Beer Festival hosted by the town twinning association.
What I saw in the Church toilet though made me laugh out loud.
There, on the wall hung a framed photograph of a very basic toilet facility somewhere in Tanzania. Apparently, this toilet was twinned with the clean facility here in the Trinity Methodist Church.
Stifling my laughter, I decided to check the other lavatory in the foyer, and sure enough, that one had been twinned with a latrine in South Sudan.
I decided that I needed to check this out, and I visited the Toilet Twinning website, and it turns out that this, whilst initially amusing, has a serious aspect to it.
According to the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, about 2 billion people on this planet have no access to a safe and hygeinic lavatory.
Furthermore, almost 1,000 children die every day from preventable diseases that are linked to dirty water and unsafe lavatories.
From the website, it seems that anyone can twin their toilet with a latrine somewhere in the developing world, and the money raised goes to the International Relief and Development Agency’s “Tearfund”.
The money is used to provide clean water, hygeine education and basic sanitation.
I know which Twinning Association I prefer…
Have a good day…