Friday, March 09, 2007

Mirth and Woe: Rubbery

By the power vested in me*, I bring you...

Mirth and Woe: Rubbery

There's no point my denying it. I was a teenage saddo. A geek and a saddo who liked nothing better than sitting at home building model airplanes out of bits of wood and plastic. The only problem being that I was not particularly good at it.

Airfix kits tended to be the kind with heavily steamed-up windows caused by gluey finger-prints, while the paint job tended -for reasons of budget - not to come in the regulation colours. My only success on this front came when I won a small prize in the Air Cadets, disguising a couple of my less successful projects as the end result of a plane crash.

Some of my projects even flew, after a fashion. A round-the-pole aircraft actually managed to fly round a pole, but only in the same way that half a brick will fly if you strap a powerful enough engine to it. My enormously ambitious radio-controlled glider was more successful, but only insofar as its unerring knack of crashing into peoples' bumholes when they least expected it.

Random quote: "BAAAAAAAAAAAAAARN - WOOOMPH - MWAAAAAAAARGH!", three words that have followed me in any project I have undertaken, ever.

So, what boyish stupidity led me to build by my ambitious and utterly pointless project of them all - a balsa-and-tissue paper aircraft powered by elastic power? Elastic. Like out of your knickers. This would, I hoped, lead me to a future career flying fighter jets, several years before the realisation that flying upside down makes me puke rich brown vomit all over the back of the pilot's helmet. This is not good, not in any circumstances.

Superbly crafted out of balsa wood and tissue paper and finely painted with dope - no it’s not what you think, but sniffing it had a very similar effect - for lightness of weight and strength, my elastic-powered plane soon took shape. Like a great white albatross it was, with a wing span of four feet, and of a similar length, but such were the materials used in this triumph of teenage nerd engineering, it weighed only a few ounces.

However, this would not be strength enough against its number one enemy: Dog Attack. I arrived home from school one evening to the gravest of news. My plane was in several dozen pieces across my bedroom, and what we couldn't find was assumed to be inside Snoopy. I didn't care if it was his birthday. He was in HUGE trouble. If he didn't already lack two in the bollock department, I might have personally cut them off with my modelling knife.

It was only a minor setback. A couple of weeks later, and the purchase of several yards of elastic later, the beast was ready to fly. It was a brisk winter's afternoon, snow on the ground, that we went out for a test flight. It was at this precise moment that we realised the number one disadvantage of this kind of model aircraft. You needed to wind the bloody thing up to make it go.

What I didn't realise was that most hobbyists in this genre often adapt an electric drill for this very purpose. Attaching it to a hook on the propeller, at 900 rpm, the winding is the job of seconds. I wasn't allowed a drill as I could not be trusted with power tools, so it was about ten minutes in the mind-numbing cold, finding brand new swears every time my finger slipped and taking a whack from a high-speed propeller.

Eventually, a small crowd had gathered in the school field, and we were ready for the launch. There was a solemn countdown, and I heaved it into the air with a wooden 'Thrumm!' and off it went, rather impressively and majestically if I may say so.


So impressively and majestically it went, that my joy turned to despair as it became clear that the aircraft would actually go about three times further than expected, and would clear the fence at the north end of the school field. The fence that separated the field from the school's open air swimming pool.


I took consolation on the fact that there was no audible splash. And so it proved. The plane was not in the water. Of course it wasn't. It had been so utterly sub-Arctic that week, it was ON the water, with the pool frozen solid.

Despite punching Squaggy hard on the arm, there was absolutely no way he was going to crawl across the ice and rescue my plane for me. It was either a waiting game, wait for the eventual thaw and fish it out several weeks later; or find something very, very, very long and poke it a few times.

Alternatively, we just threw stones at it until it got knocked back to the opposite edge of the pool. A triumph, which led to the school having to pay a small fortune to drain the thing and clean it out mere days before opening day in the spring.

Sadly, the plane was not long for this world. Moving away from the dangers of swimming pools and plane-eating trees, we thought the best place to test the thing further might be the street outside my house. We lived in a fairly quiet cul-de-sac, and the snow on the ground meant that we had plenty of warning in the unlikely event that a car should come down the hill and round the bend.

So, after another ten minutes of knuckle-rapping winding of the knicker elastic, we were ready for the off once again.

"Thrumm!" went the propeller.

"BAAAAAAAAAAAAARN!" went the plane.

Straight as a die, right up the road, and heading for a perfect landing at the bottom of the hill.


It was at that exact moment that something large and red hove into view. It was my father and his Renault Fuego sports hatchback. And possessing the Duck Driving gene which gives us all a heavier than average right foot, he was really carving up the snow, rally style.

The two would meet. Low flying model plane versus world's authority on bottom diseases in a big red sports car.

Bottom diseases won.

BAAAAAAAAAAAARN - WOOOMPH - and, of course, the groan of despair: MWAAAARGH!!

"That'll teach you", he said, handing back my plane.

Well, it certainly looked like my plane, if I had built it to be four feet across and six inches long.

"You're lucky it didn't hurt my car. Next time, build it stronger."

Thanks Dad. Thank you so much.

My enthusiasm for aero-modelling now as flat as my plane, we amused ourselves throwing snowballs at his car until he told us to stop.

Old skool ending: And then I was sick in a hedge.


No comments: