Alex James: A bumpy landing... and then calm

Rural Notebook
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The Independent Online

The top field, the biggest one on the farm, had all been mown for hay and most of the bales had been collected – leaving just a great big snooker table. I called Tony, "It's fine to land up there, grass has been cut. You could get the space shuttle in!" Earlier in the week he'd made a low pass and a couple of approaches, but had decided against it, inches from the ground.

"Ok we'll pop in tomorrow in the Maule," he said. Well, there are just one or two old ditches and lumps in that field, so with the whippet-chasing behind, I went straight up there on the quad to find him a nice flat bit with no rabbit holes.

Not all the hay had been collected and the bit right next to where it was all still lying on the field seemed reasonably flat. The change in colour where it went from grass to hay-strewn made quite a good marker, easy to spot a visual cue like that from the air and line upon it. It smelled really good, too, honeyish.

Taking it gingerly at first, I ran along the flat green strip next to the hay on the bike. It seemed fine, no divots or drains and I came back in the other direction at flying speed with no problems, noting that the whippet was easily fast enough to fly if he had some wings.

I was talking about septic tanks with Paddy when Tony flew over the shed the next day, shaking the thing to its foundations. We dropped our pencils and were out of the door and on the quad bike before he'd turned for his final approach. I stood at the top of the patch I'd selected, madly waving my arms, marshalling him to land there.

I was close enough to see the look of total absorption on his face as he touched down. It was a perfect landing. He bumped along to a halt, and suddenly it was all very still and quiet again.

A natural high

We'd bundled Paddy into the front of the aeroplane and taken off before he knew what was happening. Other people's amazement is about the best thing about flying. As we zoomed around the valley, I watched his head turn from left to right, and back again. He was only a bit green afterwards. Cheaper than horses, more expensive than drugs, but better.

Pleasure strip

We're going to plough the top field for corn shortly but, after the success of the day, I've decided to leave an airstrip 600 metres by 20 in the middle. We found some old fence posts and marked it out. It will cost £150 (to fill the holes in) and will be certified organic by the Soil Association, too. From now on I'm only travelling by plane. Cheaper than the train.

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