THE WILLOW AEROPLANE
It is a lovely early spring afternoon. I have just had my fifty-eighth birthday. Now, here I am somewhere on the Sussex downs; my willow aeroplane has landed me in a south facing field. Sheep have been here, but are not anymore. I can see the English Channel and Newhaven in the far distance. There is a saying that fact is stranger than fiction, and what I am about to say is, well, you will have to make up your own mind. I did mention that my willow aeroplane has landed me here. You might think I should have said “I have just landed my willow aeroplane,” but you see, I have no control over my flying machine, if you can call it a machine at all. You could describe it as a flying phenomenon. To say I have no control is not entirely correct, I have some control, but not all control; a bit like life really.
To explain, I will take you back to 1998. The doctor at a hospital in London has diagnosed my illness as “dementia.” “What is dementia?” you might well ask. What is it, indeed? It’s all to do with one’s brain, where the cells die and are not replaced. One becomes forgetful and confused. In the end I will not know anything but will still be alive, that, of course, is if I don’t die before.
Well, this is how it is with me. I was married with two children. I am still married with two children. My wife’s name is Lynda, my son James is six, my daughter Chloe is ten. I live in Hawkhurst. The garden is overlooking the main road with the house situated slightly further back.
Now I shall begin to tell my story of my garden, for it was in the garden that my willow aeroplane began it’s life. We moved as a family to the house and garden which I am speaking of in 2001. We moved from another rented house nearby. Both properties are owned by High Weald Housing Association. It’s a three bedroom house with a small kitchen, a long lounge and dining area, bathroom and toilet, and outside a small brick shed and toilet. The garden is approximately 25 metres wide and about the same length. The biggest area is the area that can be seen from the road. When we moved here there was nothing but rough grass in the garden. Little by little I cleared it. I had a lot of eight foot canes, with which I made structures. I planted willow branches which I had cut from a neighbour’s tree, with their permission, of course, and these grew quickly. I made two bamboo aeroplane shapes, one was right at the front of the garden, visible from the road. In time a creeper grew over it. The other one was further back. The willow grew over the structure. Local people gave me bits and pieces, like bicycle wheels, ceiling fans, pieces of concrete, bed frames and mirrors just to mention a few items. I painted them and made shapes. I put sellotape on the spokes of the wheels so that they went round with the wind. So over the years things changed. This caused an interest from the passing public and from time to time I have coaches stop or slow right down and passing motorists stop and look at my garden. I quite often invite them in for a closer look. I sing to them, accompanied by the balalaika. The song is called ‘Willow Aeroplane.’ Depending on how confused I am, due to my illness, I invite them to have a look at the art in the house and ask if they would like to write in the visitor’s book. The common thing all the comments say is that it is a phenomenon they have not experienced before. There is a lot more I could say, but it is sufficient to say I was a local phenomenon. But I don’t tell them about my trips in my willow aeroplane. As you read further I am sure you will understand why. But I am not any nearer to finding out the science behind it. Maybe I shall never know this side of Heaven. Now that is something to look forward to, enough said. You must make your own journey and explore the mystery of the eternal. I will have to stop for the moment and come back to the present. Some walkers have caught sight of the aeroplane. How am I going to explain away what their eyes have most definitely caught sight of?
“Hallo,” I said, nervously, hoping that they might go on walking by. But no such luck.
“What is this?” said a man, not much younger than me. The others are a woman who looked a well seasoned walker and a man in his late teens/early twenties who was possibly an overseas student. He is busy with his digital camera. Anyway, I tell them to move away from the aeroplane. There is a hum coming from it and the ground is vibrating. I said “I have to leave.” The propeller is speeding round. I hear the student shout “Where’s the engine?” But I am up, and a good hundred feet up. I am relieved that I do not have to explain. How can I? I am not sure how the phenomenon works anyway. I continue flying at a very slow speed. If this was an ordinary aeroplane it would stall and crash. The strangest thing is though, I am not visible above a certain height. I don’t know what that height is as I have no way of telling; I notice that a man on a tractor is not taking any notice and nor is someone in a Landrover, herding sheep taking any notice. The sheep are not scattering, either.
I have said I have some control but not all control. I can tell the aeroplane where to go but sometimes it just decides to land without me wanting it to. At this point, this is only the second time this phenomenon has happened to me. The first time I flew off from my garden, where I created this aeroplane. It was about sunset, the ground underneath me vibrated, the propeller was turning, but there was no wind. The aeroplane was growing out of the ground where I had planted a willow branch, which I have cut from a neighbouring tree. I trained it over a bamboo sculpture that I had made. The propeller was an old ceiling fan my neighbour gave me. It was something like four year’s growth, but now the whole willow structure pulled away from the main stem. It raised itself up about twelve feet. I just wanted to climb on to it and go wherever it would go. I did not believe in magic and would not want to be part of any witchcraft, but I had a peaceful feeling about this and I was at the frontier of an unexplained science, an energy of electricity, where gravity was neutralised and a new time zone was happening.
I pulled myself up in the branches and was carried up, just missing the overhead telephone wires. I slowly went over the trees and the top of the house, Was I dreaming? I heard the church bells ring, it was Friday bell practice. The aeroplane turned right at the church tower, I was following the Sedlescombe road. I went over the fish farm, then turning back in the direction I had come, I returned to the garden. The aeroplane attached itself to it’s stem again. I climbed down. At that moment Lynda, my wife, came out and asked if I would put the rabbit to bed. She knew nothing about what had happened. I did not tell her, not then anyway.
As I was soaking in the bath I was thinking about what had happened to me. I remembered there was no traffic on the road, nobody was walking about. It was as if everyone was asleep, but it was not completely dark. This was my first trip in my willow aeroplane. It would not be my last.
So back to where I am now, over the downs. I am still going, and here I will have to guess, it seems to me about running speed, that would be about ten miles an hour. The strangest thing is time is different. Though I seem to be going slow, I suddently arrive somewhere miles away. Now I am finding myself over the tide mills and going east over Seaford Head, and over the Cuckmere. I get the feeling that the willow is going to land. I do hope it will be somewhere that there are no people. I am coming down, it looks like by the winding catchments, that is where the River Cuckmere used to go before it was made straight. I do not know the details of it’s history, never mind, I am certainly making history now. I’m down. My watch says four pm. I have been noticed so I will walk away from the willow. There are people coming over. I shall wait and watch to see what happens, and maybe go over to join the crowd and listen to hear what they say. Yes, that’s what I’ll do, but before I do I’m going to walk to the restaurant at the visitor centre to buy a drink.
I have been away from the willow aeroplane for an hour, and now I am walking back, expecting to see a crowd looking on, but there is nobody. I am relieved really. I do not have to explain what I really cannot, at least explain the wider implications of this willow aeroplane phenomenon of mine. So, I climb astride the willow and off I go, home to Hawkhurst.
By now you will be having questions going round your head, questions like how does the willow fly? Who is in control? Not to mention insurance and a certificate from the board of trade! Well, maybe I will answer these questions later on in my account of my willow aeroplane adventure. For now, I will describe my return flight home. As I said I only have part control over how the willow performs. Remember, this is only the second flight, I am still learning, although I don’t know whether I will ever fully understand what is going on. As I have said already, I do not believe in magic, psychic or the supernatural. This is to say to seek out such things, that would be in direct conflict with my religious beliefs. But I do believe that this phenomenon is to do with rotation of the earth and the magnetic field, regulated by the light of the sun. Well, enough of that. Let me describe the romantic and poetical flight home.
After taking off I go towards the old coastguard cottages at the mouth of the Cuckmere river. There is a soft south wind. The leaves on the willow are, wait a minute, making no noise at all. In fact there is no rush of air as one would expect from a conventional open air craft. The feel of the south wind is only as if I am still on the ground. There is an aura around the propeller and the willow feels warm, the leaves and branches are becoming transparent. In fact, I too, am becoming like the willow, it is as if the willow and I are one. This explains why above a certain height we are invisible from the ground. The willow knows where it is going; which, if you think about it, if the willow and I are one entity it’s not too difficult to think it knows my mind. The willow turns now and is going the way we had come. But when we pass Seaford Head we turn N.E and the sunset is on my left. As I have no instruments I have no accurate way of telling how high I am, or what the air speed is or exactly what is my position in the sky. The whole experience is one of mood and feeling. You must realize that this seems like a dream experience, but I have not gone to bed yet. I am not even in the garden nodding off in the sunshine. So far as I am concerned it is a real daytime awake happening. I am now approaching Robertsbridge, I am going straight back to the garden and as before there are no cars or people about. I look at my watch which says 1 o’clock but it cannot be. It seems like I’ve been away for hours and it should be about 9 o’clock but my watch still says 1 o’clock, which is about the time that I left. The willow is attached to it’s stem again and then suddenly the light changes, the front door opens and Lynda says “lunch is ready.” I keep these things to myself, but I get the feeling she is keeping something from me too.
Today is another fine, mild spring day. It is a Sunday, our routine, as a family, is that we attend an old fashioned Baptist chapel in Cranbrook. We don’t stop for the whole service because of my dementia and Chloe’s M.E illness. She doesn’t attend full time school either, but she is a very good student. She writes poems and stories and has had one or two works published but no money as yet! Anyway, what will be my adventure today? Well, it will not be flying. It is the LORD’S day, as the Bible says, but who cares about that any more? What I will say is that one speaks as one finds and Jesus Christ found me and He’s been dear to me these forty years. The reader must understand I am writing this as the flow comes. Some might say I am a creator of myth and legend. To separate truth from fiction is not an easy thing to do. My illness is one of confusion. What is consciousness? What is time? The questions have all been asked before, and once more, for some will always be asked. For in the mind of the novelist the facts have already taken place, all be it in an idea, and the leap from the idea to the performing of that idea is not such a great one. It is only time that links the two. Tomorrow I will explain some more of the fact and fiction going on with me, or will I? Maybe today will be my last day on earth.
Now, how did all this bring me to flying the willow aeroplane? Well, I shall try to explain. The way my dementia affects me is the memory, of course, but other things happen, or don’t happen. My words don’t come as easy, I can’t follow the printed word. Of course, I have good days and bad days (I know very little on those days) and days where it seems as if I am in a parallel universe. I have become occupied with being able to walk in the sky. I have done this often in my dreams but I wanted to do this in the daytime. The funny thing is I do not want to fly, but to walk. To my mind flying is to do with witchcraft, walking is with God’s direction. Levitation is an interesting subject but for reasons I have explained I cannot do any research on the subject. But someone is always the first on the frontiers of science and others follow. If one can reverse the effect of gravity by tweaking the electro-magnetism of the atoms that all matter consists of, eureka, you can walk in the sky. I have not reached that position yet but I am able to get in my willow aeroplane and go places without known science being involved.
Once more I find myself sitting among the things I have created, thinking, musing over the same old things, life and my relationship to it. I am not wondering what is the purpose of life? I have that one done and dusted; no, what I want to know is, how the laws of cause and effect work. If I was a youth and had the brain to do so I would want to be involved with every type of scientific experiment. I would keep away from embryos, let others do that if they must. I would want to explore atomical physics, the dark matter of space, the string theory, dare I say it? the D.N.A of God. By D.N.A I’m not referring to the nature and character of God which is, as I understand it, based upon the revelation of the Holy Spirit revealed in Scripture and received by faith. No, what I mean is the laws of cause and effect which life as we know it depends upon, and since the beginning of time the human race has been discovering and experimenting with. There is a lot more to know, but with the knowledge comes the inability of mankind to use that knowledge aright. The scientist might be able to discover the D.N.A. of life, but without the D.N.A. of morality the only outcome for discovery and invention is a very short term gain but a very long term curse. Isn’t the track record of our existence proof of my assumption? I have gone a little further into this matter in the footnote on the full version of my writings but not in this one. Why do so many have problems with the concept of one creator God? Maybe it’s more to do with the thought of being accountable than the intellectual credibility of Scripture records. Anyway, it’s not a problem to me. I might ask ‘why?’ or ‘how?’ but with my current mind set the answer will never be ‘No, it is not possible.’
So I am still wondering what is the energy source of the willow. I am going to take a closer look, comparing the leaves and wood with the other willows in the garden. I said that the leaves and branches go transparent above a certain height; transparent but not invisible, something like a dragonfly’s wings. There is something I notice, the vein in the slender leaf shows a blue spot. The other trees, where they have veins, have black spots, just that, black. This may be due to the effect of the electricity during the process of flight.
I am going for a ride. It is a still day, 10am. The clouds though, are traveling quite fast in the sky. It is as if there are at least two weather fronts, one at ground level, the other at a higher altitude. I am standing by the side of the willow, with my left hand holding the branch framework. I want to go. I want to do it now. I stare up to the sky; the clouds are going faster, there is a brightness behind the grey-white. The silver lining, as it is known, has become an electric blue. The air remains still, but the propeller is moving. The anticipation accelerating, there is a tingling feeling in my feet. The leaves are turning the colour of a luminous watch. The willow is straining at the stem. I push myself, but I am not pulling, I am lifted. I am astride. The willow is free. I am free with the willow. The take off speed is faster than the other times. The willow has taken a sharp right turn. I have passed Batemans. I think I am over Burwash. My watch said 10.15 when I lifted off. Only one minute has gone and I am over Heathfield, but still no rush of air, just the sound of the lark, which had landed on my wing. It is late for the lark to sing, they usually sing early, that is. Why should this be happening to me? I want every mortal soul to experience what I am experiencing now. My body, along with the willow, has become transparent. I have decided to go over the South Downs again. The clouds have changed direction. The willow is going in the same direction. The lark is gone, other birds have shown an interest but it was not the same as that one lark in full song. My watch now says eighteen minutes past ten, I am approaching Firle Beacon from Ringmer and Berwick. I want to land where I did last Saturday. I can see the place, there are sheep in the field now. There are people about and as I get lower the willow and I are not transparent. I have been noticed. The sheep have noticed too. I hope the walkers don’t come over, they don’t, the sheep are not bothered either. Good, I am left on my own. I have noticed that temperature is a comfortable one. It is as though I am in a climate controlled cabin when, in fact, I am in the open. Now I am on the ground I am exposed to the weather of the day. To be honest, I feel a bit chilled. I want to return home. I stand by the willow, waiting for a response, but this time nothing is happening. The propeller is going round, but this time blown by the prevailing wind. I looked up, the clouds are still. Where is this mysterious energy now? It’s starting to rain; I have no protection. What am I to do? Now just when I am feeling so very alone a voice said “Can I help?” I turn. There is what I can only describe as a very international face, dressed in a blue linen suit, with eyes to match, but his, or her eyes (I was not sure at this point whether the voice belonged to a man or a woman) did not match the rest of their appearance. This person answers their own question. “Don’t be scared, I will help you,” and with these very reassuring words they lift the willow above their head and throw it into the sky, like someone would throw a paper aeroplane. The willow circles and returns to where I am. The stranger just says “You know what to do now,” and with that walks away. I am soon on my way home. I cannot but notice that the sheep in the field are following the stranger. I give great thought to this, and before I have noticed the landscape below and the direction I am going, I am back in the garden. I look at my watch, the whole phenomenon has not been more than fifteen minutes. Lynda, my wife, asks if I would like scrambled egg and beans on toast with my coffee. I say “Yes, please.” She says “How has the morning been so far?” I say “I think I have fallen asleep while I was lying in the sunshine.” She says “I did not see you in the garden. I thought you had gone for a walk.” I know I did not do that.
THE END. (or is it?)