Friday, May 30, 2008

Mirth and Woe: Top Gun

Mirth and Woe: Top Gun

T. Cruise: NOT BUMMY AT ALLI spent far too many of my teenage years building Airfix models of military aircraft.

While the kid down the road was up in his bedroom, sniffing glue out of a plastic bag, I was using the stuff for the intention it was designed. I might as well have been sniffing the stuff as well, for the end results were invariably awful, with the wheels falling off and the plastic parts not quite fitting together.

There had to be more to life than building 1:72 scale model airplanes, and by God there was. Christmas came round with pay-dirt. A 1:24 scale F-14 Tomcat fighter.

Mine wasn't strictly an Airfix - it was by one of the lesser model companies that gathered dust in Reading's Model Shop (where you were served, fascinatingly, by a chap with one leg longer than the other) on which you would never bother wasting pocket money. But this was a present, and after measuring it up, it was clear it was going to be a monster.

My brother, however, got the Airfix 1:24 Harrier - THE holy grail of plastic model-making at the time. It came with all the paints, and an extra-large tube of glue that would have had the kid next door crying out for goblins to come and take him and his plastic bag of Bostik away.

We spent months - MONTHS - building them, obsessively painting the engine parts, remembering to paint the pilot before you glued him in, not getting sticky finger prints all over the windows. Mine even came with removable engine parts, which would come in handy at a later date.

And then they were done. Works of art, each of them.

Apart from the fact that the Harrier's nozzles could be moved, and my F-14 had swing wings, they were - frankly - a tad dull. And, as far as the Tomcat went, it was to be a good five years before Top Gun came out and turned one of the world's most advanced jet fighters ever so slightly bummy.

We had a dog fight.

The dog joined in, but without any of the associated pyrotechnics and no supply of genuine heat-seeking Sidewinder missiles, the only excitement came from Snoopy drawing blood as he sank his fangs into my thigh.

"Wouldn't it be great if they exploded when they crashed?"

"But... but... we spent AGES building these things. AGES. I could have been out having FUN."

"Yeah... but wouldn't it be great if they exploded when they crashed?"

I conceded. Yes. Yes it would. Just as soon as I stopped bleeding.

So, I yanked out the jet engines, packed them with explody stuff of our own devising - involving our family's entire supply of safety matches, causing a bit of household push-and-shove when it came to light the cooker for dinner that night - and shoved them back in.

"Nyaaaaaaar! Budda-budda-budda!" went the dog-fight

"Crump" went the plane as it crash-landed.

"Quick! Light it! Light it!" my co-conspirator urged.

"Floomph" went my beloved Tomcat in a less-than-glorious blaze of glory, and melted everywhere.

Luckily, we were still able to sell the house at a later date with my plane still forming part of the carpet.

The Harrier died a far simpler death. Crashing Harriers, you see, are spared flame. They are not, however, spared the five pound lump hammer. What a waste.

"What a waste!" said my best mate Geoff, as I told him the sorry tale, "I can do better than that."

He ran off to his bedroom and returned with his 1:24 scale Harrier. It was a beauty. Painstakingly assembled and painted, you could have sworn it could fly on its own.

"Now's the time to see if it'll fly on its own," said the winner of the school chemistry prize. "I've made a few adjustments."

He had, too. Gone was much of the back end of the plane. In its place was what appeared to be a large firework, stuffed up the plane's arse.

"I stuck a firework up its arse," he said, by way of explanation, "Nothing can go wrong."

We headed for the orchards around the back of Ruscombe, lest our scientific breakthrough were to be discovered. Geoff was like that - always planning the next leap of human discovery, but it always had to be carried out beyond the prying eyes of a) the law b) parents and c) just about anybody else. Geoff, in his time, set fire to a lot of our village. I'm amazed there's any left.

I was on blue touch paper duties, while the lad himself would take the hefty responsibility of The Launch.

This essentially meant waiting until I had set the thing smouldering with my Acme PG Tips Roll-Up Cigarette, and he would run like buggery and hurl the thing to the skies, where Newton's Laws and rocket power would do the rest.

I lit it. He ran.

With a roar of triumph, he hurled the thing into the air.

Hardly the gracious flight marking the triumph of British engineering know-how. More of an arse-over-tit lob onto a pile of sticks, logs, dead leaves and several years of accumulated rubbish.

"Foooooosh-WOOMP!" went the firework and the rubbish woofed into flames.

"Oh balls," I said, presently.

"Not a huge success," said the king of understatement, as the flames took hold and got well past stamping-out stage remarkably quickly.

"Leg it?"

"Leg it!"

We legged it, not even stopping to be sick inna hedge.

Berkshire Fire Brigade: It was Geoff who called you from a phone box that spring weekend in 1980, reporting a fire with a handkerchief over the mouthpiece. Geoff. He was the one standing at the front of the large crowd watching you dowse the flames. Him. Not me. I was miles away. Hiding under my bed, vowing to take up sniffin' glue as a hobby.

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