Notes on Life and Letters HTML version

9. Flight—1917
To begin at the end, I will say that the "landing" surprised me by a slight and very
characteristically "dead" sort of shock.
I may fairly call myself an amphibious creature. A good half of my active
existence has been passed in familiar contact with salt water, and I was aware,
theoretically, that water is not an elastic body: but it was only then that I acquired
the absolute conviction of the fact. I remember distinctly the thought flashing
through my head: "By Jove! it isn't elastic!" Such is the illuminating force of a
particular experience.
This landing (on the water of the North Sea) was effected in a Short biplane after
one hour and twenty minutes in the air. I reckon every minute like a miser
counting his hoard, for, if what I've got is mine, I am not likely now to increase the
tale. That feeling is the effect of age. It strikes me as I write that, when next time I
leave the surface of this globe, it won't be to soar bodily above it in the air. Quite
the contrary. And I am not thinking of a submarine either. . . .
But let us drop this dismal strain and go back logically to the beginning. I must
confess that I started on that flight in a state--I won't say of fury, but of a most
intense irritation. I don't remember ever feeling so annoyed in my life.
It came about in this way. Two or three days before, I had been invited to lunch
at an R.N.A.S. station, and was made to feel very much at home by the nicest lot
of quietly interesting young men it had ever been my good fortune to meet. Then
I was taken into the sheds. I walked respectfully round and round a lot of
machines of all kinds, and the more I looked at them the more I felt somehow
that for all the effect they produced on me they might have been so many land-
vehicles of an eccentric design. So I said to Commander O., who very kindly was
conducting me: "This is all very fine, but to realise what one is looking at, one
must have been up."
He said at once: "I'll give you a flight to-morrow if you like."
I postulated that it should be none of those "ten minutes in the air" affairs. I
wanted a real business flight. Commander O. assured me that I would get
"awfully bored," but I declared that I was willing to take that risk. "Very well," he
said. "Eleven o'clock to-morrow. Don't be late."
I am sorry to say I was about two minutes late, which was enough, however, for
Commander O. to greet me with a shout from a great distance: "Oh! You are
coming, then!"
"Of course I am coming," I yelled indignantly.
He hurried up to me. "All right. There's your machine, and here's your pilot. Come
A lot of officers closed round me, rushed me into a hut: two of them began to
button me into the coat, two more were ramming a cap on my head, others stood
around with goggles, with binoculars. . . I couldn't understand the necessity of
such haste. We weren't going to chase Fritz. There was no sign of Fritz
anywhere in the blue. Those dear boys did not seem to notice my age--fifty-eight,
if a day--nor my infirmities--a gouty subject for years. This disregard was very