Any airport in a storm

Baxter and I are at it again, puttering southwards above the clouds. No. Above the fog. We can see it a thousand feet below us, in the Channel; a tanker is tiptoeing through the Straits of Dover but all we can see is the funnel and superstructure, silently breasting the fog like a man parting the hair fallen over his lover's face.

Mid-Channel, right along an arbitrary line dividing the London and Paris Flight Information Regions, the fog clears. It's always the way. It's always the way back, too: you can tell when you're entering British airspace: a sudden thump of updraft and you're in thick cloud and drizzle. Right along the line. Of course Britain is Great; God himself drew our boundaries, and marks them with a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of cloud by night, fire being frowned upon these days for environmental reasons.

The sky is full of Germans, being given short shrift by a harassed controller. Callsign, position, height, ETA ... but these people want to chat. "Ve are inbount." "Ve hev Dover in sight." "Ve are in a formatzione of tsree." "Ve are approadjing tse coast." "Times have changed," says Baxter. "Fifty- five years ago, they wouldn't have mentioned it. Good thing too. I wish they'd keep schtum now, let the white chaps get a word in."

The clouds clear and we change frequency to Calais, running up the coast to Ostend. It's a pleasant hour's run, delivering a new autopilot computer for one of Baxter's old cargo 707s, hunkered down on the ramp there while Captain Insh'Allah and his Sudanese crew snooze in their downtown hotel. They need their rest; they hand-flew the old beast all the way up from Africa in turbulence and storms. Even the Loadmaster took a turn at flying. The Loadmaster can't fly, but you do what you can when George is on the blink, sulking in his rack down by the nosewheel, out of action, on the fritz, inop. I know how George felt. I get like that. Inop. Inop. Do Not Use.

Little big airports are fun. We land at Ostend behind a pretty red Virgin 737 full of holidaymakers. Ostend? I don't know. But there's a good brothel there, and a tram, and seafood, and the Kite Festival starts tomorrow. There must be something about Kite People because the arrivals hall is packed with young women in punitive shorts, all legs and wren-bone wrists.

Nobody takes any notice of us. None of your British bollocks, your immigration bollocks, your customs bollocks, your fine-thing-if-everyone-did-it, how- do-we-know-you're-not-wogs? bollocks. Nobody cares. We left our little Piper parked next to the 707, dwarfed, like a roller-skate in a lorry park, the new auto- pilot computer snug in the luggage compartment. If you didn't know what it was, you'd think it was a bomb, part of a bomb, part of an atomic bomb. Nobody cares. Why would we bring a bomb to Ostend? Little big airports are fun.

At the crew hotel, a Belgian woman of a certain age is waiting in the lobby, dressed to the nines, with her poodle and husband. You can see her nipple-rings through her lurid blouse. "Versace," I say to Baxter. "Eurotrash, Grade III." Four thousand miles away, a flat-eyed whore is looking at his street map and loading his gun.

The crew are getting ready for their night-flight to Khartoum, in and out of each other's rooms. Like all Arabic men, they instinctively form a huddle wherever they are. It's like a little tribe, reassuring and safe, and I drift into a doze, surrounded by beaming and shouting and the comforting smells of toothpaste and duty-free cologne, waking only when Baxter tries to steal my beer.

Back at the airfield, the engineer fits the new George and pronounces it fine. We load the old one into our little roller-skate, along with what appears to be a munitions-box. Nobody takes any notice. It's my turn to be in command. We drift off into the evening haze, saying goodbye to the crew over the radio as we turn away for England, transients, men of the air.

The fog-banks are building over the Channel, worse then before. We ask for the forecast for Southend. "Not too good, I'm afraid," says the controller, "visibility 100 metres in fog, ceiling 100 feet, borderline sky obscured." The sun is drifting down behind the fog-banks. I start thinking of places to divert to, places where I know people, women who will be pleased to see me, but Baxter vetoes them all. "We'll go to Southend and have a look," he says.

We are perfectly comfortable. It's warm in the cabin, the air a soft hazy purple, the thick fog wrapped over the south and east coasts; England has been obliterated but here we are, safe. But you can't stay above the fog for ever. Sooner or later, the fuel runs out.

Baxter calls Southend. All we can see is an 800ft chimney, poking through the fog like a watchtower or an eyrie for wicked monks, but he calls Southend anyway. "I can't see my car," says the controller there. "What about Biggin Hill?" I say. Baxter calls for the weather. The controller says it's fine there. "But be advised Biggin Hill closed half an hour ago." We come up with a few more notions: fogged in, closed, closed, fog. "Bloody ridiculous," says Baxter. "What's he want us to do? Stay up here till morning? We're going to Stansted."

Ten miles out from Stansted, the weather clears. I turn in to final approach, reduce power, descend towards the runway. The lights, designed for big jets, are dazzling in our little roller-skate. We park miles away from the terminal; a little bus comes for us, our details go into the computer. That'll be pounds 157. Baxter yowls in horror. Not fair. Won't pay. pounds 157 for the fog? Hah.

But we're safe. We'll argue later. You can't stay above the fog for ever. Sooner or later the fuel runs out. Can't live with her, can't live without her? Hate the job but need the money? Boss persecuting you, wife hates you, husband beats you, children on heroin, taxman on your tail, dying of sadness in a suburb by the sea, in love and out of hope? You can't stay above the fog for ever. Sooner or later the fuel runs out. Land where you can, and argue about the bill later. !

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star