Monday, 29 July 2013

I think I'm offended by that

Humour is a funny thing. What's one man's roll on the floor, hilarity ensued, stop stop I can't breathe is another's puzzlement and disgust, offence and head shaking. Some people get it, some people don't. Some people like it, others don't. Some humour relies on you having to think about what's being said, the context, the intention, the target, some just needs you to laugh at someone slipping on a banana skin. Point is, it's all subjective, innit?


The reason I raise this is because subjectivity isn’t something that social media does very well. Figuring out the subtext in a tweet isn’t always easy. Sometimes, when the person who's talking isn't standing in front of you but is instead just writing stuff down, you have to think a little harder about things. The usual clues aren’t there: the body language, the tone, the reaction of others. So you need to fill in the blanks yourself. Sometimes you read things which in isolation appear to be terrible, but when read in context aren’t. Sometimes, you have to think about it. 


Context is all, but it counts for about 3/8ths of fuck all on Twitter, where it recently appears to have gone for an extended holiday. If you've managed to navigate your way through the Ninja Cat videos and the Daily Fail Sidebar of Shame to get to this blog then I suspect you're savvy enough to know all about the sexism/rape brouhaha on Twitter over the last few days. Caroline Criado-Perez campaigned successfully for Jane Austen’s picture to be on the face of the new £10 note. A good thing, and Caroline understandably used twitter to express her delight at her success. Then, as often happens, someone said something, someone else said something else, then others said other stuff and by the end of it you had what could comfortably be called a polarisation of opinion; rape threats on one side, feminist indignation on the other, shouts, brickbats, waggling of fingers, apoplexy. There was the odd slightly ineffectual call for freedom of speech, some leftist ‘hang on eine minute, bitte’ attempts to reintroduce some sense, but mostly just lots of shouting and gnashing of teeth.


Much of what was said was distinctly offensive, there’s no getting away from that. It was nasty, and it was unpleasant. And some of it seemed to be more than that; some people seemed to be making proper, bona fide threats, and if so it was illegal and deserving of prosecution, and one chap today has been arrested. That is good. But. There seems to have been a bit of a rush to conflate 'offensive' with 'illegal'. 


Anyone who’s either (a) ever studied Philosophy or (b) watched QI will know about syllogism. For the rest of you, a syllogism isn’t, as you might expect, a stupid sperm, but instead is a logical premise in three parts with a major premise, a minor premise and a conclusion. For example –


Major premise: all lawyers are humans.

Minor premise: all humans die.

Conclusion: yippee, all lawyers will end up at the bottom of the ocean, har har.


Syllogism is good. We like syllogism. Syllogism is logical, and we like logic. But some people, particularly those who in a fit of red-mist offence are in a rush to condemn, can occasionally be guilty of a syllogistic fallacy, or just 'not getting it quite right'. For example:


1. All men are humans.

2. Mary is a human.

3. Therefore, Mary is a man.


And this has what to do with twitter and the great sexism brouhaha? You may well ask. Well, sit back, relax, kick off your high heels, dear, unpin your hair, have a sip of tea and let me explain. A frighteningly large number of tweeters, all otherwise seemingly sensible people, appeared to be saying that:


1. All these tweets are offensive and unpleasant.

2. Some of these tweets contained threats.

3. Therefore all these tweets are bad and should be reported.


If you happen to agree with the premise that ‘being offended’ is the same as ‘fearing for my safety’, then yes, it’s a valid syllogism. Aristotle would be proud. Otherwise, you might in fact feel that we’re straying a little too far towards giving people a right not to be offended, and there is, of course, no such right. You can’t cry foul just because you don’t like something. If someone is actually threatening you then it’s an assault, it’s a crime, and would you believe it, there’s a law against that. But if there’s no threat, if you just happen to be ‘offended’, well… whoopee do. In the words of national treasure Mr Stephen Fry:


“It’s now very common to hear people say ‘I’m rather offended by that’, as if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually no more than a whine. ‘I find that offensive’. It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I’m offended by that’, well so fucking what?”


At this point I should say that free debate is a cornerstone of a pluralistic and democratic society, but I’d be stealing the fine words of whoever it is that writes the unfebuckinglievable blog over at, so instead I’ll say simply that there is nothing – nothing – that stifles discussion and debate more effectively than people taking offence. So please, don’t.


Lest I should be accused of somehow condoning something I don’t wish to (and it pains me no end to actually have to spell this out, as if it weren’t obvious already), I’d like to make two things completely clear:


1. actually threatening to rape someone is horrible, nasty, and criminal. If you do it then you can and should be arrested and prosecuted. A large number of the tweets sent to Caroline Criado-Perez must have been unpleasant in the extreme to receive and I confess it’s hard to see how they can have been intended to achieve anything other than intimidation. Frankly, if you actually threaten any sort of violence then you should be arrested and prosecuted. Any violence against anyone should be stamped on, and I say that without a hint of irony; and


2. sexism should be educated out of society. Any prejudice is wrong and, frankly, pointless, but it’s a huge issue and it needs more than the waggling of society’s finger at the odd mindless thug. The way toys are marketed to children, the way childhood is stereotyped, the way the media use sex to sell seemingly everything, the way journalists harp on incessantly about the female figure, all these are things that need to change, and it’s a slow and difficult process. We’re all guilty to some extent.

If you happen to have any views on what I’ve just said, positive, negative or just ‘meh’ then please comment. Tell me. Let’s talk about it. I’m always willing to be proved wrong, to be convinced of the opposite view, to have my horizons broadened.


If you’re just offended, well... whoopee do.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Poke me, prod me

So, yes.


Been a lovely day, and I've spent it working from home. Or, as it is also known, sitting in the garden soaking up some rays, and I 'ave been mostly lying with my eyes skyward, watching the vapour trays cross cross above my head as aircraft do their thang. And so, a post about flying today: to wit, Sense and Insanity, or The Inherent Madness of Trying to Prove You’re Not Going to Cark it Mid-Flight.


If you want to learn to fly in the UK, at some point you’re going to have to go solo. At some stage during your training, after maybe 15 or 20 hours, and after a few take offs and landings on the day just to get you warmed up, your instructor will suddenly say something like ‘I need to pop to the loo, carry on without me,’ and then promptly walk off, leaving you entirely surprised and, more worryingly, in sole charge and possession of a marvellous flying machine.


At the risk of getting side tracked, there ain’t no feeling like it. These aren’t very large aircraft, or particularly complex ones. For the most part you learn to fly in a winged wheelbarrow to which someone’s attached a rather pathetic lawnmower engine, and they don’t weigh much. That first time rolling down the runway all on your toddle you’re so paranoid about getting something wrong, and you're concentrating so hard at flipping the right switches, carrying out the right checks, making the right radio calls, watching the right instruments, pulling back on the yoke at the right time and just flying that you don’t pause to think about what effect having only half the weight as usual inside the aircraft might have.


Until, of course, you take off. As the wheels leap from the ground (much earlier than you expected) you rocket into the air like a, well, rocket. You realise that what your instructor has been patiently telling you for the past 15 or 20 hours is true – the aircraft wants to fly. As you climb you run through everything you’ve been taught; gain speed, raise the flaps, attitude for 70 knots, trim, left turn at 800 feet, check your temperatures and pressures, left turn on to downwind at 1,200 feet, level off, find 85 knots, trim, call downwind… and look around. No one to your right. Nothing but an empty seat. You're entirely, completely, wonderfully, alone. You are officially flying the plane. You. Little old you. Licence or not, you’re a pilot now. Biggest. Brightest. Cheesiest. Grin. Ever.


But. Before your instructor is ever likely to allow you anywhere near an aircraft on your own, you need to get yourself a medical certificate. For private flying, it’s a class 2 certificate. Relatively simple to get, relatively cheap. A basic (ish) examination designed simply to ensure that you’re not going to keel over from a stroke the first time you’re let loose alone in an aircraft above a populated area. If you ever want to get a commercial pilot’s licence, however, it’s a coveted class 1 medical certificate that you need, and that one is not as cheap, nor quite so simple to get.


I may have mentioned before that I’ve been wanting to get myself a commercial licence for years, and so you won't be surprised that I'm no stranger to the class 1 medical exam. I’ve made the trek to Aviation House at Gatwick, a rather austere, modern office block where the CAA's special men in white coats live, twice now, and both times I've spent the best part of a day being poked, prodded and punctured for the greater good. I've had my blood taken, I've had my brain waves scanned, I've had monitors strapped to my chest to test my heart, I've filled a number of specimen pots ('what, from over here? Har har. Please put that needle down'), I've had my eyesight and hearing examined. And in both cases I've passed every test, leapt lightly over every hurdle, except one: I have a condition, see. An 'issue' with my eyesight. I have anisometropia, which is a very difficult word to say, and an even harder one to spell, but which simply means that the sight in one of my eyes is different to the sight in the other. I'm very slightly short sighted in my left eye (-1.25 diopters), and quite a bit more short sighted in the other (-3.75 diopters). The limit for anisometropia (the difference between the two eyes) for an initial class 1 medical certificate is 2.00 diopters. 

Oops. No class 1 certificate for me, then. I'm the proud, if somewhat disappointed, owner of a class 2 certificate instead. Well, a lapsed one. One that expired in 2006. 

Except that now things might - might - be about to change. The CAA's own guidance notes now suggest that a failure to satisfy this particular, if I may say slightly odd, requirement (particularly when you bear in mind that the limit leaps to 3.00 diopters on any renewal of the certificate) isn't necessarily the end of the road. Instead, the CAA can now refer you to an ophthalmologist who has the ability to say to the CAA "don't be so silly, he's fine." So on Monday I'm going to book an appointment with my friendly local CAA man-in-a-white-coat at Gatwick and pay an extortionate sum to submit myself to yet another round of poking, prodding and puncturing. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Time for a rethink

I came across a wonderful blog the other day by @JudithKingston over at Clean Slate ( If you're at all interested in education, and in how we might improve it, please please please go and take a look. As regular readers will know, I have a bit of bee in my bonnet about education, and am particularly taken by the idea of self organised learning. Judith's ideas chime perfectly in tune with my own. 

I don't think anyone still believes our existing educational system is a good one. Whether, like SuperGove, you're a fan of the rote learning of the fifties (in which case all this touchy feely context based learning nonsense needs to go) or you have a belief, as I do, that creativity and interest need to be stimulated and encouraged in a way that the national curriculum simply does not allow, I do think that we need to re-imagine the way we teach our children. 

Quite apart from anything else, the world has changed (and is continuing to change) in ways that our education system struggles to keep up with. 20 years ago a Calvin and Hobbes strip made the point that a cheap calculator could provide answers to more complex mathematical problems than the average school leaver could do if his life depended on it. 


20 years on we have access to more information more quickly than we can make use of. Google is your friend; it can tell me the name of the sixth wife of Henry VIII in less than a sixth of a second. It can list every King of England, it can tell me whether Alfred was in fact the first or not, it can teach me double entry book keeping and how to play bass guitar. I don't even have to be at a desk to ask a question; an iPhone and a half decent 3G signal will do.

Having taken La Child out of mainstream education we've been keen to see what support there may be for home schooling, and the weekend before last we visited a small school in Hampshire called The Heartwood Project. It started out life as an 'educational cooperative', a support group for home schooling, and as its initial cohort has grown so has its aspirations and the services it provides. Please do take a look at their website here:

The school adopts the self organised learning principle, allowing its children free reign in terms of what they want to learn and how. As they are all officially home schooled, there is no need for (and certainly no pressure on) the children to study towards or take any exams, but for those who do want to study towards exams tutors are brought in for specific subjects. Generally speaking, freedom and flexibility is the order of the day, and it seems to lead to a child led environment that the children themselves love.

And it works. The children are all either (at worst) on a level with those in mainstream education or (more frequently) well ahead of it. The idea that if left to their own devices children will veer off into some Lord of the Flies subculture and learn nothing is demonstrably nonsense. If anything, better results are achieved by a less pressured, less structured environment. But somewhere like the Heartwood Project wouldn't work without parental involvement. Being home schooled, the children are all from homes where the parents have, very obviously, taken a more active role in their child's education, so there is a question mark over how well this might work in more mainstream schooling where parents have less time to devote. But I don't think it would make a huge difference. The Clean Slate blog suggests that all learning is really down to three motivating factors:

1. survival - we learn to communicate our need for food early on, for example;

2. goals - how do I reach those tasty shoes? I have to learn to crawl. How do I become a pilot? I have to learn to fly; and

3. interest - I like this, I don't like that, I learn to avoid what I dislike, and learn how to do the things that I find enjoyable.

The point being made, of course, is that children will, almost out of necessity, be drawn to learning irrespective of whether they're formally taught. Children need less teaching and more guidance; less being told, more being asked. 

I'd love to hear from anyone who is either involved with, or has come across, real life examples of self organised learning in the UK, so please do get in touch by leaving a comment below or on twitter (@marcosbranza). 

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Arise, Lucifer

Hmm. When do little girls hit puberty, again?

As I sit here on holiday, feet up, half drunk San Miguel on the go beside me, La Child is in the pool using a pair of goggles to beat the shit out of a rubber ring whilst delighting us with a rousing rendition of Let's Go Fly a Kite. Nothing unusual to see here, move along, move along. 

Increasingly, however, La Child has been demonstrating certain...traits. Behaviours. Habits. Acts which when taken in the round would appear to suggest that perhaps certain hormonal changes may be taking place earlier than we would all have liked. To whit: 

'I didn't ask to be born!' 

'I have to do everything around here!'

'It's so unfair!'

Now don't get me wrong, La Child has never been a model of perfection and propriety. Saying please and thank you has always been a challenge. Empathy is not, and has never been, her strongest skill. La Child has always been, well, a bit feisty. She has her opinions and has never been afraid to share them. She has, for some time, been entirely happy to be considered every bit as grown up as the grown ups and I confess that, for as long as she's been capable of communicating with us as one, we've been happy to treat her like a point. But something subtle has changed over the past few weeks. The moods have deepened, the tempers become more frequent. Communication is increasingly a series of grunts, and patience wears quickly thin (two minutes ago I overheard her ranting at her DS, shouting 'you wretched thing!' for apparently not reacting as quickly as it clearly should). An attitude has surfaced that wasn't there before. Every request is met with a 'no,' every question with a shrug of the shoulders, every refusal results in meltdown and accusations of bad parenting. A telling off sees her issuing a threat to call in the authorities. And suddenly she is her own worst critic. Each thing she does is 'rubbish', every attempt at anything is pointless. Life, it seems, has overnight become really quite difficult for poor old Child.

In other words she has, it seems, become a teenager. There are even slight physical changes, breasts seem to be budding, she has an obsession with body hair, mood swings come and go, an apparently constant need to readjust herself, but... But. She's eight. Surely it can't be? Not yet? 

I'm sure someone vaguely old and wifey told me many years ago that children develop in one of two ways: either they're angelic pre-pubescents and go on to be evil teenagers, or they're horrific pre-pubescents and become easy teenagers. Ha ha har har de har. To date we've had feisty pre-pubescent with notes of Right Cow followed by an escalation to Hint of Lucifer. If this carries on we'll soon be at Full Sauron and the fall of civilisation as we know it.

Home schooling, you say? Yes. Hmm. Well.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Politician, redeem thyself

The ECHR decided today that the whole life tariff without possibility of parole breached Human Rights legislation. Some people don't agree.

Well, either we believe in the possibility of redemption, or we don't. 

If we don't then whether someone has stolen a sweet from the pick and mix at the 99p shop or they've stabbed their mother to death with a toothpick, we should remove them from society forthwith and for good. After all, they'll never learn their lesson. They will never realise that what they did was wrong. If released, the sweet thief will go to bigger and more audacious crimes (an apple from a fruit stall, 5 litres of unleaded from an unguarded pump, the odd bout of brutal serial killing) while the Toothpick Stabber of Tatenham Corner will carry out a bloody coup of Brussels and instigate World War III. 

If we do, however, believe in redemption, then the opportunity surely must apply to all. The punishment may differ, the length of time before someone will be believed, the hoops through which we'll expect them to jump, may change depending on the perceived severity of the crime, but how can we say that any one crime is so severe, so beyond the pale, so depraved, abhorrent or evil that there is no possibility whatsoever of coming back from it?

The justice system has never been simply about punishment. The justice system has always served multiple purposes, and has always had three important limbs. The first is punishment, certainly. Society needs retribution, a feeling that justice has been exacted, a way for victims to feel that in some way the balance has been redressed. And we also need the second limb, protection. Sometimes punishing the Slasher of Southampton isn't enough, we need to remove him from society until he ceases to pose a danger. And then there's the third limb, redemption, a way to help those who commit crimes to see the error of their ways and to show them how to become useful members of society again. A justice system that only does one or two of these things is a system that will do nothing but fill our prisons with rotting meat.

Chris Grayling, our esteemed Justice Secretary, believes that some people are inherently evil. That they are so evil, that the justice system need only be used for two of the three limbs: punishment and protection. The third, redemption, is unnecessary. Otiose, if you like, pointless. The Toothpick Stabber is so very bad that he can't possibly ever be genuinely sorry for what he's done. And frankly, even of he is, well...tough. What the Toothpick Stabber did was so very bad that he should never be given the opportunity. See this key? Chuck it in the sea, it won't be needed again.

If you happen to believe in absolute good and absolute evil then perhaps this view makes sense to you. But even the most violent and unpleasant religions (I'm looking at you Catholicism) preach the redemptive power of forgiveness. The eye for an eye contempt for which Chris Grayling appears to hold his fellow man is Old Testament rhetoric, swept away - if you believe in this sort of thing - by the rather more hippy like anni domini. 

Now, alright, we all know that Mr Grayling has an eye on the politics here. He is, after all, a politician whose first love is re-election. If that means toadying up to the Daily Mail harbingers of hate, then so be it. The 'really evil' comment, seen in that light, is nothing more than an attempt at hogging the limelight for a few precious seconds, a soundbite to ensure mention on the 10 o'clock news. His desire to see the ECHR relieved of its powers - as likely as Chris Grayling getting any further with his political career - a call to arms to the rightwing press, irrespective of whether he actually believes the nonsense he spouts. 

But. But, but, but. What's wrong with our political system that talking such crap is seen as a necessary part of it? Why do so few of us vote? Well, let's start with Chris Grayling and go from there.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Elbows out

To be fair, it was only a matter of time. 

Easyjet's not unusual. It's no longer a case of having the option of checking in online, the benefit of an additional service, something to make your life easier. Now you have to check in online, and after the failed experiment of forcing people to elbow their way to a good seat on an aircraft, a sort of blue rinse survival of the fittest, now seats are allocated to you. But no longer at the airport, where you might be able to speak to a human and suggest that, as you're travelling with a child, perhaps a couple of seats together might be a good idea. No, now seats are allocated online, when you check in online, because checking in at the airport is no longer an option. 

So here we are, in an aircraft full of families split up by an algorithm that clearly doesn't work. I'm sat in row 26 while my wife and child are in row 25. But they're not together: one is one side of the aisle, the other on the other. We're the lucky ones. We're within touching distance of each other. I've seen one mother have to tell her 9 year old son that she'll see him when they get there, leaving him sandwiched between two strangers ten rows behind his mother. Safe enough, I grant you. Where's he going to go? Perhaps it's all a wonderful adventure to him, a taste of independence. But perhaps he'd rather be at next to his mother for the next two hours, rather than two grown up strangers? And perhaps his mother might prefer to not entrust his safety to two complete strangers in the - admittedly highly unlikely - event of an accident?

Asking cabin crew whether this happened a lot, the splitting of families on flights, they said it was relatively unusual, but that 'well, they probably didn't book their seats early enough.' So this is a deliberate policy then, to force people to prebook seats? A shrug: 'it would avoid the problem.' 

The frustration is that pre-booking is of course a money spinner for the airliners. Choose your own seat online and that's a premium service which comes at a cost. Fair enough, you get to see a plan of the aircraft, you get to choose your favourite seat. But I no longer have the option not to. It's no longer a human eye that roves above the melee, allocating spaces on the basis of common sense. It's an algorithm that cares not a jot for relationship or age or need. And yes, of course some passengers will offer to swap seats, but many don't, and why should they have to? 

In short? It's bollocks. Much, frankly, like these headphones I just bought for the flight. You gets what you pay for, but at least the headphones were cheap.


Yes, there's a but. Having sat here for the past two hours, I've come to realise something quite marvellous about all this. A quite unintended consequence of the money grabbing. Most families have been split up over two or three rows, which has seen them lean across those sitting between them, speaking over the aisle, carrying on conversations over a distance. And wonderfully this has meant those surrounding them have been brought into the conversation. Suddenly, and for the first time in my entire flying experience (and I've been doing this a few years), we're all talking to one another. People are standing in the aisles laughing and talking and interacting. I'm loathe to give Easyjet credit for this, they've hardly set up their online booking policy on the basis that it might encourage people to be friendly to one another, but I'm suddenly equally loathe to condemn the policy outright. Sometimes good comes from bad.

Friday, 5 July 2013

New beginnings start here

So, La Child walked out of school today knowing that it was quite possibly the last day she'd ever have to set foot in one. 'How do you feel?' we asked her. 

A shrug of the shoulders. 'Meh,' she replied, 'don't care. Spain tomorrow!'

So much for the tears, the wails and the much gnashing of teeth of everyone else. To be fair to her, leaving this school and not going to another hasn't ever been likely to be an issue for her. Leaving one place for another has never been an issue, whether it's been a case of moving school or house (and we've done plenty of both). La Child isn't someone who finds it hard to tear herself away from things. Well, other than perhaps books. 

So this is it. The start of a whole new journey. An adventure of frighteningly large proportions. To a certain extent there's a cushion, a safety net provided by her age and abilities: if it doesn't work out, then it's easy enough to put her back in the system in a year or two without any real harm to her education, and if anything it'll give her an experience that few children have the chance to enjoy. 

No ties, free from high fees, no longer being restricted to term dates, or a particular area or country... I honestly don't think we've even begun to truly understand the freedom this is likely to give us all, or the opportunities that this is in fact going to give La Child. And I have to say, I am so ridiculously jealous of her.

My last post was all about missed opportunities and, deep down, the weight of expectation. If we achieve nothing else, then I want to ensure that La Child feels no weight whatsoever. Whatever choices she eventually makes, whatever she ends up doing, I want there to be no possibility at all that she may be swayed by what she thinks we want for her. 

I've made a thing, ever since my very first post, of not really knowing what we're going to end up doing, or where we'll end up, but that's only half true. I know where I want to end up. I know what I want to do. I want to fly. I want to make flying my life. I've always wanted to make flying my life, but the weight of expectation has always intruded. When I was 17 it was the hopes and aspiration of my parents that stopped me. I don't mean to say that they would have been anything less than 100% supportive if I had chosen flying over university, they would have been wonderfully supportive, but I knew that deep down they'd be a little bit disappointed and I didn't want them to be. Then when I started working it became an overwhelming feeling that I had to make a go of the law, that I had a career, that I've come so far with it that of course I should continue. Flying could be a hobby, a weekend diversion, it needn't be serious. Then La Child was born and the pressures shifted slightly to a need to support her, to pay the bills and the school fees. A need to give her time, something that a flying career (and the training needed to get there) would prevent me from giving her. 

Now, though... Now life has taken an entirely new path. La Child is no longer at school. La Child is a little bit older, and I can afford to spend some time doing other things. La Child no longer requires an expensive private education, so we've no longer a need to live in an expensive area near an expensive school within commuting distance of a well paying job.... We've been through all this before. Now suddenly the opportunity to finally have a go at actually achieving a long standing dream presents itself. 

There are barriers, of course. I'm older than your average newbie pilot. My eyesight's not the best. I need to sit the exams again and pass flight tests. I need to pass medicals. Houses need to be sold, lifestyles need to change. But today marks the start of what could be the very beginnings of the process, and I have to say I'm really quite excited about it, even if La Child seems entirely nonchalant. 

We're off for a two week break to Spain tomorrow. Time to talk, and plan, and look forward with a ruddy great big smile on all our faces.

Fly me to the moon...

Can't keep my eyes from the circling skies
Tongue-tied and twisted; just an earthbound misfit, I

Last Sunday I strapped one of these to my back and, for the first time since 2004, finally (if temporarily) became a little less earthbound.

I ought to warn you that there's a danger that I might come across a little evangelical here. It's hard to explain quite what it feels like for me to leave the ground. The feeling of release and relaxation as soon as the wheels lift up. There's a peace up at 2,000 feet that I've never quite managed to find on the surface. The closest I've come to it is up in a high building, that feeling you get when you look out over a city through heavily insulated glass, surrounded by silence and with a true horizon for your eyes to relax to. A feeling of quiet, of release, of escape. But that's still nothing like being truly free of the earth.

It's almost like a weight being lifted. Breathing is easier. Calm descends. The muscles relax. Whatever problems lurk down there, they can't get to you up here. It's a feeling I've yearned for ever since I can remember - certainly, I'm sure, since I first looked up and saw an aircraft fly overhead.

I can heartily recommend it. Even for those of you who might be a tad phobic about the whole thing, it’s surprising how much more relaxed about flying you become after you’ve tried it in something smaller than a 737. If you’ve only ever seen the world from a tiny little window at row 27, believe me when I tell you that it all looks rather different from the front end.

I don't have a pilot's licence, not yet. I got close, back in 2004. Very very close. Some 60 hours under my belt, 10 of them solo, I'd done the qualifying cross country (during which I got utterly lost, an entire other story), I'd sat and passed five of the required seven written exams. Two more, and the flight test, that's all I needed to get my licence.... and then life got in the way. La Child was born, money became tight, time ever more precious. And I choked. Faced with the possibility of finally achieving a dream I'd held for as long as I could remember, I stepped back inexplicably from the glorious abyss.

Maybe it was a fear that I wasn't quite ready. I'd been flying nearly 10 years on and off, sometimes once a month, sometimes once a week, an hour here, two there. Two hours to get to the airfield, two to get back, a lovely instructor who operated from a portacabin on an unlicensed airfield borrowed from a farmer, sometimes he was there on time, sometimes he wasn't, sometimes we flew, sometimes we spent the afternoon discussing his tea chart. It was relaxed, but chaotic, and took up a lot of time. And while I'd learned enough to be able to get in an aircraft and happily fly it somewhere, there were gaps. I didn't feel at all comfortable taking the test. So there, in the back of my mind, was the seed of my downfall. Yes, money was tight, yes time was precious, but really? I hit a wall I couldn’t get past. I choked.

Of course I've hated myself for it ever since. This isn't just a nice hobby, something I'd like to do, something to tell friends about. Something to get me out of the house at the weekend. Flying is an obsession. Flying is the all. If breathing is my yin, then flying is my yang. So why wait so ridiculously long before doing something about it then? I waited 23 years for my first flight, to wait 8 more until my flight last Sunday was a ridiculous torture, all the more so since it was entirely self inflicted. Partly money, I suppose; flying's an expensive business. Partly fear, what if it doesn't all work out? But all sloth, laziness, lack of oomph. Every day I look up and imagine myself up there. Every day I watch those puddle jumpers pass by and think 'why am I down here?'. Every day I hear the roar of jets overhead as they climb out of Gatwick or descend towards Heathrow and quietly curse the bastards whose office is up at the front end. And yet for 8 years that’s all I did, I just looked up.

I've justified it all these years on the basis that it was the right thing to do; I needed to earn a good wage to put La Child through school, I needed to pay the mortgage, make sure that the cars were taxed, our trips out to nice restaurants protected. Going slightly mad sitting behind my desk watching aircraft bank over the Thames and head into Heathrow or City and knowing I was doing absolutely nothing about it. But even my wife now tells me that getting my licence is something I need to do. And I do. I should have done years ago.

When I was 17 I had a choice. I could go to university, or I could sign up to British Airways’ cadetship scheme: go and live at Heathrow for 18 months, be taught to fly by BA, get a commercial licence and a guaranteed five year contract with BA flying 757s between Heathrow and Edinburgh. Of course you needed to be accepted on to the scheme, but I tell everyone that I would have had no chance; my eyesight would have failed me. That's utter nonsense, of course. I didn't even apply. I chickened out. It wasn't the sensible thing to do. University was sensible. Getting a degree was sensible. Getting a good job in the City earning lots was sensible. I could always satisfy the flying urge afterwards, couldn’t I? My parents didn't force me down the university route, it was always my 'choice', but I knew the rules well enough. Sensible was right, sensible was good, a degree was expected. The alternative would have been supported, but disappointing. So I went and did a law degree, got a good job, rose up through a glorious career, and became a miserable, grumpy sod.

Follow your dreams, kiddies, or it all ends up getting a little bit black and unpleasant.

Time to finish what I started. New life starts here.