Saturday, 5 September 2015

Release the Jets of September

CF18, RCAF
I live in a big city, beside a big lake. At the end of every summer there is a huge party called the Exhibition which goes on for weeks, and ends with a three-day airshow.

The airshow started about 10 minutes ago.

I know this because my house rocked and shook like a ragdoll as a mighty engine roared past, the Doppler effect making the roar sound exactly, and hilariously, like a movie. I ducked. I covered my ears. I thought of Top Gun. Apocalypse Now. Every WWII movie I've ever seen. You think a few things at once when a plane like that roars overhead. Your rational mind says, "Oh, the airshow." Your animal mind says, "RUN". Your rational mind kicks in again saying, "My, but that IS loud." Your animal mind says, "WHY AREN'T YOU RUNNING?" and so on.

Your body quakes, and you once again thank God that you've never been in a war zone, and that you live in a relatively peaceful and secure country.

It was likely a CF-18, the Canadian Air Forces plane of choice. A powerful noisemaker for a nation of peacekeepers. Wow. Definitely not a noise that says, "Be calm. We mean you no harm," regardless of your good intentions.

One September day a few years ago, the airshow planes started up. I was walking along a main street, most other city dwellers around me also doing the "Oh, the airshow" thought bubble as the massive engines roared overhead. A few of us even stopped to look up, but we all knew what it was. Well, not everyone. One family I walked past was quaking and cowering in terror. I stopped to try to help. They looked at me for answers which I couldn't deliver in their own tongue. Definitely newcomers to the country, there was a grandfather, a father and mother and three little kids, all clinging together in the busy downtown street in the middle of the sidewalk. The children were sobbing, the adults clearly traumatized and not understanding what was going on. They looked at me with real pain and fear on their faces.

I felt so awful for them. I stopped and tried to help, saying, "It's really okay. It's just the airshow. Everything is alright. It's supposed to be fun." I think my tone helped a little, but we didn't understand each other so I couldn't be sure. I said a few times, "It's okay. You're safe," but not one of them looked at me like they believed me. I'm not sure where they were from ... Vietnam perhaps, maybe Cambodia or Laos. That part of the world I'd guess. Somewhere where planes that sound like that meant, "RUNRUNRUN".

Sir Hugh Dowding
My family comes from a long line of military types. If you are a WWII buff, you might recognize my last name. It is the same as Sir Hugh Dowding, who was Winston Churchill's Commander of the RAF from 1939-1942. A crusty wartime hero, and also a relative of mine, he was my grandfather's cousin (they hated each other apparently). My father built Spitfire gun turrets from 1943-1945, and was only 16 when the war ended. All of my mother's brothers were also in the RAF during the Second World War, one a Lancaster bomber pilot, one a plane engineer in Egypt, and one a decorated Spitfire pilot who survived the Battle of Britain.

That last uncle was also the uncle who died in a Battle of Britain airshow in England in 1952.

I recognize the tremendous bravery it takes to fight on after exhaustion sets in and all odds are against you. I appreciate the sacrifice my father made as a teenager, and how clever and talented my uncle must have been to fly 52 times during the Battle of Britain and not die until he was playing at war, a few years later.

I also know that airshows terrify some people, especially newcomers to the country. And only someone who has never been terrorized by war, someone like me, could call it fun.

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