Friday, 17 March 2017

Archaeo-terrors (no. 1): a fear of landing

Moments before I got into the plane I remembered just how just much I disliked landing. Flying, as I think I've noted before, is actually alright (once you get past the stomach-churning, underwear-soiling terror of taking off). Yes, flying is ok; it's the hurtling back down to earth at high speed with no clear evidence that your flimsy plane can fool gravity sufficiently long enough to allow you to land safely that can be officially classed as mega squeaky-bum-time. 

As I sat in Old Sarum Airfield cafe, patiently waiting for the plane to be made ready, I was reminded of Douglas Adam's description of the Vogon Constructor Fleet: a series of alien vessels which hung in the sky above Earth "in much the same way that bricks don't".

I finished my ploughman's lunch, took a deep breath and visited the loo one last time just to be on the safe side. 

Today I was going to be travelling across the air-space of Wiltshire and Dorset in order to peer down at some rather impressive ancient monuments. The route (and, indeed, entire journey) was completely my fault, having been asked by a TV company to describe which prehistoric earthworks best reflected the Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age of southern England. Having provided a lengthy list, and assuming we might be visiting, at least of few of them on foot, I was now facing a 3 hour flight in order to get them all in.

This time, aside from the fear of landing, there were added feelings of claustrophobia to contend with for I was crammed into the back seat of a (very) small plane with the sound recordist (and all of his kit), whilst the documentary director sat in the front leaning across the pilot, buttocks pressed firmly against the windscreen, camera pointing up my nostrils. "Remember, don't look directly at the lens" he said, though I confess my line of sight was more than slightly restricted as it was. Eventually I settled on an uncomfortable position, head turned 90 degrees to my body, nose touching the side window. With a set of headphones now encasing much of my face, I could no longer see the pilot (which was probably just as well as I suspected that, what with the camera, sound kit, director's backside, sound-recorder and myself, he actually had very little room to do any serious flying). 

Hod Hill appeared below us and it was time to discuss the Roman Invasion of Britain

Swooping over the hillfort (several times) I began to wonder how much easier the Roman invasion of Britain would have been had the legions of Claudius been in possession of a Stuka dive-bomber. Certainly our current flight over the hill seemed to have a dramatic effect on those engaged in walking / picnicking / dog-walking / romancing across the upper slopes, sending many of them scurrying for cover.

After 20 minutes we were ready to move on.

Oh look Maiden Castle. We strafed the hillfort whilst I tried to enthuse about the excavations of Tessa and Mortimer Wheeler. This was beginning to feel a bit like trying to read a book, sing and remember all the lines to the poetry of William Wordsworth whilst sitting on a rollercoaster.

Next up Avebury.

Then Silbury Hill

By now I was starting to feel decidedly ill. I've never really experienced air-sickness before, but I was learning quick. "Keep talking", the director enthused "you're doing great", but I was now uncomfortably aware of a major disconnect between brain (which was urging the contents of my stomach to say exactly where they were) and my mouth (which was gibbering incoherently).

Then, as we lurched suddenly downwards and to the left without warning, I glimpsed the earthworks of Old Sarum, whizzing by at high speed, and I knew, with some satisfaction, that we would soon be coming in to land.

All the terror that normally surrounded the act of landing had evaporated (together with my appetite); now I was only too glad to see the ground rearing up at us like a half-starved lion about to devour a particularly plump wildebeest. 

We were home.

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