Day three of our mooching around Lincolnshire while the Cardinal’s bum was being blacked – the Bro and I set off for the Imperial War Museum Duxford. Well, it was a roasting hot day and no sooner had I got the Aston into top gear than the navigator informed me that Duxford was something over a hundred miles away and most of it on the A1(M).
The “A1” is a motorway that I particularly dislike, more so than most other motorways with the exception, possibly, of all of the others with names lying on a scale of M1…M999. This is because the A1 is not really even a “motorway”, it has bends and curves and roundabouts and junctions and even “Pedestrians Crossing” signs and that is why it is nomenclatureded as the A1(M). Think of it as the Great North Road gone wrong, and you won’t be far amiss.
Anyway, given the unpleasantly warm weather and the fact that the Aston’s air-conditioning is, at the moment, operating like something akin to an enthusiastic butterfly flapping its wings over half an ice-cube, we decided on R Soles to Duxford. With the luck of Zeus’s pet cat, Lucky, we spotted instead a nice brown “tourist information” sign emblazoned “Newark Air Museum”. What could I do? Fourteen miles of “B” road versus one hundred and five of pretend-motorway? No contest, we’d have a gander. I swerved, mercilessly cut off two minibuses of pregnant disabled mendicant nuns taking orphaned puppies for a final day’s fun at the seaside before they were to be euthanised, and we made the necessary turn on two squealing wheels.
Arriving a little before ten o’sundial of the ante-meridian we found the car park open, the gates flung open and even the door of the “The Entrance” unlocked, so we went on in. Silly us. Now it should be mentioned here that the tag-line of the museum’s website and literature is “The friendly aviation museum”. This may be thought surprising by some, since we were greeted by an ossified specimen of humanity with a gravelly ‘We don’t open ’til ten, and the same goes for over there’. No eye contact, no smile but just a nod in the direction of the exhibit hangars.
The brother was on the teetering verge of answering with his opinions of her probable business hours (and offices) during the blackouts of the last World War, but I managed to slap a driving-gloved hand over his mouth and we went back outdoors into the blazing heat to idle away the requisit eight minutes. We re-entered, somewhat pedantically albeit in defence-readiness, to the sound of my telephone relaying at full volume the third Greenwich “pip” of 10:00hrs. By this time though a lovely lady had taken over at the counter and till, and Ms Customer-Service-Kiss-My-Arse was busying herself in a dark corner, chewing on some paperwork in much the way a wasp chews on paper prior to making a new nest.
We paid our entrance fees and skipped on in!
What a fantastic place!
The bro wasn’t quite so convinced, finding as we did several examples of aeroplanes that he’d worked on and flown in actually in a museum (flown in while a civilian, but working in photo-reconnaissance and electronickery for the RAF). This one below for example, which I think are an Canberra, and which on some variants was boarded via the nose-cone opening up… once in there was no way out until following a successful landing and some third-party unhinging the nose-cone again.
Now, do stop me and ask questions if I get too technical for any of you out there, because I know that it’s not easy being bombarded with science when you’re hard-of-thinking or clinically stupid or whatever the politically-correct phrase is these days, but we saw grinning aeroplanes…
… and we saw sinister bits of disturbingly sinister aeroplanes…
We saw two of my most very favouritest aeroplanes ever, ever, ever. Firstly, the Hawker Siddely Vulcan enbombinator…
My father worked on the “V-Bombers” in a period of his (civilian) career, so when I was knee-high to an ice-cream van I was very used to the sound of these beasties roaring.
Secondly, the English Electric Lightning…
The Lightning was basically two Rolls-Royce Avon jet engines with a screaming and wholly insane pilot strapped on top. It has a top speed of 186,000 miles per second and can reach an altitude of roughly “Mars orbit”. Well, not quite, but very, very nearly. I would love a ride in one. Seriously, I’d perform a couple of assassinations as payment if someone told me that was the price of a ride in one. Three? OK, I’d do four… anyone, just fax me, I’m flexible…
There are two hangars full of exhibits too…
The exhibits range from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Exhibits include a gen-u-ine “Bouncing Bomb”…
AND Britain’s very first H-Bomb, “Yellow Sun”. The notice attached advises visitors that the bomb was “never used”. No shit, Sherlock. I can’t imagine that it would be in one piece as a museum exhibit had it been used (no matter how much the Welsh, the French or even Londoners may have deserved it).
Withdrawn from service – get this – in nineteen-seventy! I was ten years old! No wonder I used to go to school in short but wipe-clean trousers, a tin hat and anti-flash goggles.
Talking of which, to the right of frame below is a chap who looks to have damaged his eyeballs by looking directly into the flare of the mushroom cloud, and alongside him a short chap with no neck but wearing a tin hat similar to my own. He has a similar posture and bearing to my own, too, and I have no doubt that he could command a room just as easily as can I.
One exhibit of the era not in this museum is the British United Airways Bristol Britannia aircraft that our family flew from England to Hong Kong in when I was seven months old. The flight took three days to complete (flights just did take that long in those days) and apparently I screamed the whole way there. No surprise eh?
… and I spent the whole trip – days only, the aircraft couldn’t navigate at night, so stops were made and everyone pootled off to hotels en route overnight – in one of these.
So. Newark Air Museum. Not, as one might have thought a dry and dusty warehouse full of bell-jars of 78.08% nitrogen, 20.95% oxygen, 0.93% argon, 0.038% carbon dioxide, and traces of hydrogen and helium through the ages, but an aeroplane museum.
They have a website.
They have a Twitter account.
They’re even on Facebook
and you can find them here:
One “must do” when you visit is to eat and drink in the cafeteria – staffed by the most incredibly pleasant ladies, full of vim, vicar and character. Seriously – great company, great service and great cake! It did my heart good to hear behind-counter talk of ‘I’ve bleached that…’ and we’ll scrub that later…’ A proper cafe!
Just, whatever else you may do, don’t find the museum by accident and wander in through the open door to reception unaware of their opening hours, eight minutes early.
Old “Yellow Sun” herself might be on the entrance till, and then you’ll be sorry.