The task begins of sorting through all of my Dad’s books. It will be a long and slow process because each one is interesting, each one demands perusal. If I find the copy of En Route, the sorting will cease altogether.
Dad’s copy of En Route was an out of date edition that Dad had brought home from the Royal Naval air station at Yeovilton at which he worked. It was a handbook of airports and aerodromes and airfields and airstrips; a comprehensive directory of all the places where it might be possible to land an aircraft. It had details of the lengths and directions of runways, of the landing surfaces, of what lights there were, of what radio facilities there were.
When, like me, you were an awkward teenager with limited social skills, the book was a treasure trove. It was possible to imagine being a pilot in some part of the country having to make an emergency landing and taking out his faithful copy of En Route to decide where best to attempt to put the plane down.
It was not as though I had ever been in an aeroplane. I would be twenty-three years old before I ever flew anywhere, and that was a British Midland flight from Belfast to Heathrow, hardly the stuff of adventures. The nearest I ever got to a cockpit was sitting in the front row of a KLM flight to Amsterdam back in the days when the cabin door could be left open and it was possible to see the crew at work. Yet, if there were a copy of En Route around, I would still leaf through its pages, searching for those old wartime stations where the wind still carries the sound of returning Lancasters and for those remote windswept locations where Cold War V bombers waited silently for the orders to scramble and carry their nuclear payloads toward some Soviet bloc target.
The book is probably no longer published; most of the places it featured are probably now under the tarmac of new roads or the gardens of new houses. Maybe it’s all on computer now, maybe as you fly along you can get details of where you can land nearby. It would be nice to think so – nice to think the captain doesn’t have to say, “does anyone know where I put the book? We’re in a spot of bother.”
En Route would be a journey to a different world.