Thursday, October 23, 2003

Watty's been thinking...

I was in Chertsey today, looking at photocopiers - the excitement in my life knows no bounds - and on the way home, I thought I might make a short detour around Heathrow and see if there was any Concorde activity on the penultimate day of service. I'm not sure what I was expecting to see, but it seemed like something worth checking out. I battled with the perimeter road and the crowds - even though the last flight's not uintil tomorrow, people were out in numbers, looking for something or other. Maybe they were camping out. At any rate, I battled through the traffic round to the Concorde hangar on the east side, and there was Alpha Foxtrot, looking as sleek and modern as ever she did. As I meandered along, I wondered why I was there at all.

Concorde first flew when I was 7. I remember the excitement and sense of occasion as clearly as I remember the Moon landing later that same year. If I close my eyes, I can still conjure up Raymond Baxter, clearly as thrilled as anyone there, yelling above that deep roar as she took to the skies above Toulouse. I had a Corgi model Concorde, which must have been a very early one, since it was in BOAC colours, with the 'working droop snoot' in a rather unlikely royal blue. I knew that the wing shape was an Ogive delta, even though I had no idea what one of those was. I had Concorde pictures in my scrapbook; I knew about Brian Trubshaw and Olympus engines and Filton; in some unspecified way, Concorde was my areoplane. I don't remember the first time I saw one, although you'd think I would - probably I was a cynical teenager by then. I do know that every time I saw one, I was somehow uplifted; my day brightened a little however good or bad it had been up to then. I know all about the problems and setbacks, and I am aware that this has hardly been the most environmentally friendly project in the history of engineering, but I also know that none of that really matters now - it happened, and now it's over, and I'm far from being the only person to be not a little sorry about it.

I descended the West Ramp to head back to the M4 and home, and I was glad to see that the scale model on the 'Concorde roundabout' is still there. As far as I can see, it's going to be there for a while yet, work is being done on the plinth in preparation for tomorrow, and I can exclusively reveal that after tomorrow, the plinth will read 'Concorde. Timeless.'

Which says it all, really.

I fought my way back on to the M4, and took the high level bridge to join the traffic jam on the M25. Just as I came over the highest part of the bend, I looked out to my left, and there, in the setting sun, was that unmistakable, unforgettable sihouette. I wish I could have stopped. I wish I had had a camera. I wish a hundred other things, but I'm glad I saw her coming in to land today. As I say, I don't remember the first time I saw one fly; I imagine, however, that today was the last time I'll see one in action, in her element, and I'm glad I did. The memories of Concorde from my childhood are inextricably bound up with those of the Apollo missions, and somehow the two conflated in my mind this evening:

"Goodbye Concorde, and thank you."

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