University runs kite-flying course: Matthew Brace finds lessons in an ancient aerodynamic art are taking off in Ealing

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Indy Lifestyle Online
The exhortation to 'Go fly a kite]' might normally carry somewhat insulting overtones.

But when this phrase passes the lips of George Webster, wise listeners might do well to follow his advice. There could be a useful academic qualification in it for them.

Such is Mr Webster's devotion to the 'heavier-than-air soaring contrivance' (as the encyclopedia defines it), that he has set up what is believed to be Britain's first further education course designed specifically for kite enthusiasts.

The 10-week programme of instruction, entitled Kites and Kite Flying, will be run at the Ealing-based Thames Valley University, where Mr Webster is the head of the School of Law.

For pounds 45, students will learn the history of the kite, how to construct one and, most importantly, how to get the best out of its aerodynamic properties.

The course is part of the University's drive to offer alternative subjects for those wanting to enter further education.

It is split between evening classes for learning kite theory (Thursday evenings) and practical flying on the open expanse of nearby Ealing Common (Saturday mornings).

Mr Webster first caught the kite-flying bug when his mother bought him a yellow box kite from a war surplus store when he was 11.

'When I first got it, I went to the common near our house and decided I would fly it for 24 hours just to see if I could do it.

'But my mum turned up and told me off because I should have been home hours ago.'

Still, despite the thwarting of this early attempt at an all-day kite marathon, Mr Webster, now 58, has stuck to his hobby and is passing on its pleasures to others.

'Kite-flying is one of the best ways to relax. There's something about being in the fresh air and looking up to the skies. It's very pleasant,' he said.

'It's also very tactile. You get to touch your kite and make sure it will fly well. You can often fly two or three at the same time.'

Mr Webster's course would have benefited Charlie Brown, the cartoon character from the Peanuts comic strip, for whom the kite was a sworn enemy which stayed firmly on the ground or headed straight for the tree tops.

His message to real-life Charlie Browns who spend their weekends desperately trying to launch kites in parks and gardens all over London is to persevere.

'It's really not that difficult to fly them well as long as you have a good kite. A lot of kids have problems when they get kites from toy shops and find they don't work very well. You need one from a proper kite shop.'

But Mr Webster emphasised that his course was not aimed at children.

'It's for adults predominantly, although if a 17-year-old turned up there shouldn't be any problems.'

Since his addiction to these ancient flying symbols began, Mr Webster has built up a collection of more than 300 kites from all over the world.

Among his most treasured models are a series of silk and paper kites from South-east Asia depicting insects and birds, a condor with a 12ft wing span and a shark.

The latest addition to Mr Webster's formidable collection is slightly more risque: he has on order a model in the shape of two pairs of stockinged legs which kick violently when they fill with air.

It is called, unsurprisingly, the Can-Can kite.

(Photograph omitted)