Sinking-in-the-Marsh is in lockdown. But first, how are you? – Tad Higher

That’s the question now, isn’t it? How are you doing? And it is a different question from before. What was a superficial greeting has become something more. Our language hasn’t changed, we have. So how are you? 

I suspect that we here are Lockdown Britain in miniature. We clap our health workers. It doesn’t make up for lousy pay and conditions, but they tell us it’s deeply appreciated. A lot of our pilots own small businesses. Some are thriving, some have battened down the hatches and are riding out the storm. Others have had to turn to Universal Credit, grateful their ancestors didn’t sail to America.

Darth, conscious of the spirit of the lockdown, has made only one trip to the club. He turned over the props of our aircraft and others. A week ago, he had a call from the Police. Panicking, he thought something nasty had happened. But it hadn’t. With so few drivers around, the essential work of ruining people’s month for driving at 32mph wasn’t proving cost-effective. To pass the time, they checked on the security of people’s property.

Stumbling across our airfield entrance, they thought they had found an abandoned fly-tip. Parking outside our club, to do some ‘administration’, they heard voices. Wearing stab vests and armed with the latest crowd suppression weapons, they climbed out of their high-speed pursuit vehicle. Staring through our automatic doors, they saw Walter, holding a dirty mug and wearing matching T-shirt and underpants in thousand- wash grey.

Both sides were surprised by the encounter. Looking like a small boy caught with his hand in the biscuit tin, Walter continued standing just behind the automatic doors. His mouth drooped open. The Police Officer, keenly observing the ‘Automatic Door’ sign, and eager to assert the full weight of his authority, strode purposely toward the door. Walter winced and spilt some of his cold coffee as the officer bounced off the toughed glass. Gathering himself, Walter stepped forward and pulled the door open.

Clutching his concussed nose, the officer could now see Walter in full HD. Wondering if they had discovered a post-armageddon cult, the officer and his colleague entered the building and made enquiries. Darth receiving the call found within the thick fog of modern police jargon that Walter and Quentin had given up self-isolating alone. Escaping well-meaning neighbours and concerned family they had broken into the club, organised a Tesco home delivery and settled in.

The Police discovered them after a fortnight. Tidy, organised men, they cleaned the place up, and Walter had carried out some repairs. Darth wanted to leave them there. The officer argued about residential property laws. Darth countered that they hadn’t been concerned about Randolph, and he had been living on the airfield for over two years.

“Randolph?”, replied the officer, sounding a little less authoritarian.

“Yes, Randolph,” replied Darth, surprised at the question.

“You mean Randolph? As in RANDOLPH?” he said the name with a mixture of reverence and awe.

“Yes. Randolph. He is staying in the wrecked portacabin by the hangar. He probably knows all about the old boys and is watching over them. He’ll sort them out if there is a problem.”

There was a pause for a moment. Then the officer said to his colleague: “They know Randolph.”

Darth heard a muffled exclamation in the background.

Then: “He says Randolph’s got it all sorted.” There came another muffled reply.

Returning to Darth, he said in a humble tone- “We’ll be off then. Sorry if we caused any bother. Could you pass on our regards to,” he paused-“… to, uhh, Randolph.”

“I’ll do that. Thank you, officer.”

Darth frowned at his phone. Then called Quentin’s number and laid down some ground rules. Walter and Quentin are still there.

That’s the club sorted. Now to us contract-less, zero-hours, self-employed adults. Part of the nation’s dynamic ‘Gig’ economy. Those grouped amongst the migrant, seasonal, itinerant workers and hobos. My income from the state and industry is nothing. Universal Credit, designed by the wealthy, processed by the underpaid, hasn’t yet appeared. I assume I may get something. But I am still overweight. My wife is an NHS nurse working on the wards. With no petrol costs and three ‘essential’ renewals postponed we are better off. I even paid £100 towards my Class 4 National Insurance contributions.

Darth is doing well on his pension from the electric company. No rent or fifty-hour checks – the club owes less than it usually does in May. His milk company and wife’s teaching pensions, are keeping Tarquin in beer. We get nothing from the multi-billion pound British aviation industry – its profits went elsewhere.

No flight simulator has soiled my hands, and I haven’t sat down and reread the ATO manual

My self-improvement? It’s going well; I already mentioned the finances. My mental health has improved tremendously. I am not on a diet. I haven’t followed the latest fitness guru — haven’t gone Vegan. I haven’t allowed my wife to make me her project. No flight simulator has soiled my hands, and I haven’t sat down and re-read the ATO manual. I haven’t promised myself I would do these things, nor lied to myself that I could do them. I have not beat myself up for being me.

When circumstances are different, I can afford to pretend that these good things are possible. I may even try to achieve one or two things. But not now. It won’t happen, and it does cost in the long term if we hold on to too many lies. Some people can and will achieve them. Bless you, all strength to your arm. I am very envious of you and sincerely wish you every joy in them.

Self-improvement has occurred in one area-my tech skills. Once, it was like choosing not to be a Vegan. It was my right and only annoyed those who wouldn’t like me anyway. But my lack of tech skills has become annoying to decent folk. I have graduated from quirky individualist to the person who has so many food intolerances that you don’t want to be with them.

Zoom, Skype, nationwide family quizzes, church services – I now do all the basics. Also, advanced stuff, such as catching up with the SE Dons Sunday league football team – never enjoyed watching football before. Pick up the YouTube subscription, swipe some icon on my laptop and pow! It appears on the telly. I’m following the bantaaa (banter) like a Brov (Brother). Late in the day, but I have tried to adapt and be less annoying to others who are trying to earn a living.

One or two people, well maybe not quite as many as that, have requested that I share my thoughts about the future of the aviation industry. Humbly, I will do so.

Be encouraged. There will be a future. It will be an untidy evolution from the present

First, be encouraged. There will be a future. It will be an untidy evolution from the present. Progress is usually a wriggly line proceeding roughly in one direction. However, occasionally, there is an inflexion point, a definite change in direction. Having lived through the Thatcher era, I had seen an inflexion point and watched it’s consequences play out over decades. I think we are at an inflexion point now, and it is a direct consequence of the previous one forty years ago.

We have all seen how big organisations and their leaders have felt safe to ignore the needs of those they are paid to serve. Multinational monopolies, continent-wide trade organisations and authorities have left many feeling exploited and conned. The big feel safe to take advantage of the many. They are often characterised by centralised control and complacency.

Key workers are almost always the lowest paid. NHS workers, delivery drivers, and supermarket shelf stackers. These need food banks too often. ‘Flexible working’ usually means zero-hour contracts and back-to-back shifts. People have become used being able to do nothing about tone-deaf authorities, whether it be in the realm of housing safety, job security, tax fairness or anything else. They are used to the financial aristocracy long being immune to answering for standards of competence well below that of an average household.

Moods have changed, and new technologies developed that lead to new opportunities. I don’t enjoy social media; I am aware of its faults, but also aware it has power for good. Into weak hands has been placed some strength, and they have not always wasted it on the bad and trivial. For example, tax havens, financial home of the untouchable. The European Central Bank has had to exclude them from the list eligible for taxpayers bailouts. Why? They had to bow to tax payers impatience, expressed on social media. A journalist destroyed a charity fundraiser who had raised over a million dollars for hospitals catering for the poor in an American city. Their crime? Two racist tweets when he was only sixteen. ‘In the public interest’, said the newspaper. Some social media jocks went back to when the journalist was sixteen — a couple of racist and homophobic tweets, but nothing since. The journalist got sacked. Social media – never happened before in my lifetime.

There has also been a change, not of values, but expectations. The majority have always believed those lower down in the economic food chain matter. Though forgiving of wartime unpreparedness, people will not tolerate future starvation of the NHS frontline resources for management-led efficiency goals. Our clapping won’t be replaced with total silence.

Our industry? I waited thirteen jobless weeks for a one type rating entry to be added to my licence—another four months for an essential MEIR renewal. No comeback, no financial compensation for me or for the business that needed me. After students lost so much borrowed money during the 2008 economic collapse, the CAA took four years even to produce a report about it. They then lost it when their web site was updated. This says a lot about our industry authority.

Plans for the restart will include those at the top expecting those at the bottom to behave themselves and get in line. Complaints will be treated to the tone-deaf repeat of old excuses.

Our authority has long needed a radical change and has not shown much appetite for it. Expectations have changed. Power has shifted slightly. As the future unravels, can the CAA respond to the feedback from a changed people, different expectations and the resurgence of unions? Training and profits should reflect nurturing structures, caring leadership and an eye on the people doing the work. Evolution or revolution, both mean change. If the CAA chooses not to change, there will continue to be many casualties, but this time it may include those at the top. Stay the same, and the CAA will either go the way of the French aristocracy or just fade into irrelevancy. 

Author: Rob Hall

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