Sunday, 7 August 2011

"Jim'll Fix It" (Part II)

For the third time this year, I find myself dedicating a blog, this time to someone I barely knew but for whom I had tremendous respect - known on PD Junction as "Pauli", of which he was a much loved and well-respected member. Even though I never had the opportunity to meet Paul in person, we had chatted a few times on-line and he very generously sponsored the 86 walk I did along the Kennet & Avon Canal during the Easter Holidays as well as providing me with some extremely sound advice. His wit and wisdom are missed by all on PDJ and our thoughts are with his family.

On reflection, I think the title of this post should be "Dawn Fixed It for us" - for reasons which will become obvious.

At last, the day had finally arrived when the Collinge family were going on an adventure which had been postponed from last September. Not only that I was to realise a dream that I had been harbouring since I was a child. It came about as a result of being in the right place at the right time last July - something which doesn't usually happen to me. Normally I'm either in the wrong place at the wrong time, in the wrong place at the right time, or the right place at the wrong time. (Elise will be more than happy to testify when I tried my best to drop her off at a birthday party 24 hours too early a couple of years ago!)

It had all come about when I had the good fortune to meet Dawn, who at the time was visiting her relatives who lived in my village. She had taken her children to the village hall playing field to run off steam before they went home. During our conversation I told her about living with Parkinson's Disease, and how my husband in particular and our children had struggled at times to come to terms with the "life" sentence that had been handed down to our family unit through no fault of our own. At this point she mentioned that she works for a charity called "Fly2Help" where she and her colleague arrange a day to remember for children and their parents/carers who had similar experiences to ours, for a multitude of reasons. The aim of the charity is to provide a day like no other so as to promote a sense of well being and confidence whilst encouraging children to think outside the box. Its done by arranging with private owners of light aircraft or helicopters who are willing to volunteer to take the family out on a trip where they, quite literally, reach for the skies and see a world which they know from a totally different angle so leaving their troubles, quite literally, behind.

A date was set for a few months later for a helicopter ride and lunch courtesy of Fly2Help, shortly after the start of the new term in September. However, on hearing that I had been ill during the summer holidays, where I had walked the precarious tightrope between this world and the next, Dawn decided  to postpone the outing to Spring/Summer 2011. The illness had quite literally knocked the stuffing out of me, my weight had gone down to just below 8st, and it took me 5 to 6 months to properly recouperate.  To say I was disappointed at having to postpone the day is an understatement, but thankfully Tim and the girls weren't, as they were blissfully unaware of the surprise that had been organised for them.

So, at last, the day arrived - a year late, but very definitely well worth the wait. Dawn had phoned me the previous evening to confirm that the weather reports looked favourable, and that she also arranged for us to be taken out for a spin in a vintage Austin Healy. Having told Tim a few weeks before about the surprise (so that he could take a day off) I finally spilt the beans to the girls after Dawn's phone call, during a conversation where I asked Elise and Antonia what they would like to do the next day. Back came the usual responses - swimming, a walk in the woods, picnic lunch at the village hall playing field and so on. I started to suggest more "outlandish" ideas, and eventually told them what was in store. They were surprisingly subdued, but I think they thought I was joking to start with. Antonia, bless her, on being asked where she would like to go to in the helicopter, suggested Stockholm!

On our arrival at the airfield where the charity has its base (we were late - as usual) we met Dawn and her colleague Jonathan. Whilst filling out the required paperwork and listening to a safety briefing about the "Do's and Dont's", the owner of the Austin Healy arrived - and without further ado Dawn, Jonathan, Ian (the photographer) and I waved Tim and the girls off. Before too long though disaster struck as the car had got, quite literally, stuck on a speed ramp, with the result that the exhaust had come off bringing that part of the day to an abrupt end!

The helicopter arrived shortly after this, piloted by John and David. In a whirlwind of activity, we were soon strapped in, headphones on and take off cleared by the control tower. Up, up and away we went, waving frantically to Dawn, Jonathan, Ian and John who were left earthbound, and before too long the fields and lakes of the surrounding area looked more like pieces of patchwork, interspersed with villages looking like toy towns. Antonia, true to form, was busy chattering and giggling at how strange it all looked, whilst Elise and Tim took some really fantastic pictures for us to remember our flight. Travelling at 120 mhp (how fast) David flew us to familiar territory and pretty soon we were hovering over our house, where my poor ancient and battered car (aka "Harry") looked more like a forgotten remnant from Antonia's toy car collection, abandoned and left outside rather than put back in the box with the others. Over Antonia's school we flew, and onwards to the secondary school that Elise will be starting at in a few weeks time. It all looked so familiar, yet so strange, as we looked out at tiny people going about their daily lives whilst we flew over without a care in the world.

Back over the lakes and fields we flew, looking down at the marquees and staging erected, ready to receive the thousands due that weekend at the Womad festival (World of Music and Dance). Back to the airfield and before too long we were landing - back to reality, where the tiny world we had glimpsed at from the skies returned to normal, and we were back on terra firma, full of smiles and excitement, with a tinge of sorrow that the hour we had in the skies above had come to an end.

The day wasn't over though, and after a hearty lunch we were taken up to the control tower, from where we waved a sad farewell to John and David, whilst Antonia donned earphones ready to talk to other pilots who were calling in (and yes, given half a chance, she would have as well!). All too soon the day was coming to an end after we visited the airfield fire station and we were reluctantly saying goodbye to Dawn, Jonathan and Ian, whilst the girls were given one last surprise - a goody bag full of treats. Reluctantly we made our way back home, not wanting such a wonderful day to end whilst armed with stories to tell and photographs to show. It was, truly, a day that will live on forever in our memories.

The Collinge family would like to take this opportunity to thank Fly 2 Help and in particular Dawn, Jonathan and Ian, for arranging such a magical day for us. A huge thank you goes to the owner of the Austin Healy - with an apology from me as I have forgotten your name, sorry! We hope you got home in one piece.

And last, but by no means least, a tremendous thank you to John and David - without whom the day would not have happened! It was and will always be, a day like no other.

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