Monday, August 23, 2004

Zen and the art of being a test pilot

I used to be a test pilot at one time. Not the dashing, devil may take me type, pushing X-15's to their limits hurtling through the stratosphere at a mind boggling speed. No I was more the four and five year old in awe of his older brother and too young to have lost trust in him. My big brother was always making things and of course when he'd made something it had to be tested and as I was the smallest and lightest it fell to me to be the test pilot. One day he had the great idea that we should have a garden swing. With that in mind he found a small plank of wood and a load of telephone cable left behind by and engineer. He lashed it all together, climbed the biggest tree in our garden and tied it up. I was thrilled. At last a swing and my big brother had sorted it all out by himself.
"You can have first go Mikel." he said, giving me the honour.
"Thanks Chris." I said proud that for once I wasn't last in line being the youngest.
So I got on the swing. The cable was a bit thin to hold onto but never mind, my big brother had made it so that was alright. He gave me a push. I swang. He gave me another push and I swang again. It was great. Higher and higher I went, the wind whistling through my hair and up the legs of my short grey, silk lined, school trousers. But then disaster, just as Chris had pushed me to the bumps, (Remember them?) the cable snapped. With nothing to bring my safely backwards I sailed through the air. landing heavily on my back. I couldn't speak. If I'd have been old enough to know the appropriate words I'd have let loose, but I didn't. I just looked at him in disbelief. How could he do this to me?
We went for a walk down to the stream. "let's build a bridge." he said and he started throwing stuff into the stream. Huge clumps of earth and grass he'd ripped out of the ground. God he was strong was my brother and I was only four so I just threw sticks onto the bridge. Eventually he said "You go first." So Master gullible stepped onto the bridge, little suspecting that the bridge was not as solid as it looked and was in fact floating. I went straight down into the water. It was freezing and I had to walk home my little grey silk lined shorts soaking wet and ruined.
Later on he had a tricycle and it was too big for me, I couldn't reach the pedals, and I would stand by the side of the road watching him tear up and down. Eventually he saw my jealousy and decided he would build a seat for me on the back of his trike so I could go with him as he tore up and down the road. Another plank of wood and the same telephone cable.
Again I was full of admiration, my big brother loved me so much he was going to take me riding on his trike. Eventually it was finished and he got on the saddle and directed me to sit on the plank of wood. We set off down the road, slow at first then gaining speed, alright you can see it coming can't you? You're not stupid. You can already see a pattern building up here. You'd be right too. The plank of wood came away from the back of the bike I fell off into the middle of the road with a car heading toward me. That was another pair of short grey silk lined school trousers ruined. And grazes on my hands and bum. Meanwhile big bro was head down tearing up the road. Half a mile later he noticed I wasn't on the back anymore and the special seat was gone too. He came back for me. "I'll put it back on" he said.
"I don't want to ride on that anymore. " I cried.
So Chris decided we would do something more sedate for his next trick. We were going to dig a hole to Australia. So we got trowels out of the shed and started digging. All morning and half the afternoon we dug down and across until we had a tunnel. Chris said "You go first."
"Can I?"
"Oh yes!" he said.
I went first and the tunnel collapsed on me. He dragged me out, coughing and spluttering by the feet.
"I'm not playing with you anymore." I said when he'd wiped the mud from my face and out my mouth.
"I'll make it up to you." he said. And he did on the way to school next day he bought black jack bubble gum for himself and some for me. Normally I wasn't allowed bubble gum, but big brother said it would be alright as long as we didn't tell mother. So that was OK. In the school playground he ceremoniously handed me my black jack. "See I told you I'd make it up to you."
"Thanks Chris."
"Yeah and you can blow bubbles too." He shows me. He's so cool, he's like a professional, blowing big bubbles then sucking them back into his mouth with a pop. I wanted to do that. I tried. He showed me how to do it. He showed me how to stick my tongue in the middle to start it off. Then I was blowing bubbles like the rest of them. Of course we had to have a competition to see who could blow the biggest bubble. I won, but mine popped and splattered all over my face just as the morning bell rang. I walked into class, my face covered in black jack. The teacher looked at me and sent for my brother. "Get him cleaned up."
Big brother took me to the toilets and started to wash my face, it wouldn't come off. Then he started scrubbing, it still wouldn't come off and by now I'm screaming, my face red raw from his scrubbing with harsh paper towels. He was desperate to clean me up before mother found out he'd given me bubble gum.
"if you don't shut up I wont let you be my chief test pilot anymore." he warned me.
"I don't want to be a test pilot for you anymore." It was at that moment I realised that associating with my brother was becoming a liability. A danger to my health and safety.
Now don't think my sister was any better. She was the oldest and presumably the most sensible. I could trust her surely, if no one else, my big sister would look out for me......... wouldn't she?
No chance. We played blind mans bluff. She tied a scarf round my head then to make it more exciting tied my feet up as well, of course I fell over, smashing my head on the coffee table. blood everywhere, I still have the scars a fraction of an inch from my right eye. Big sister is now a nurse. Hmmmm?
I didn't play with my brother and sister much after that. And when little brother was born, well that was the most glorious day ever. I was no longer the youngest and they all ignored me. They left me alone and turned their sadistic attentions to little bro. But he was the devils spawn. Satan would have been proud to have called him his son. Everyone was scared of little bro. But that's another story...............

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