On Tuesday I headed to Goodwood in the hope of watching 40 Battle of Britain aircraft take off. The weather was grim when I arrived, but the sun did eventually venture out, although it was announced that the schedule had been put back two hours. I met up with Howard and we settled down to wait. At one point a car proceeded slowly round the circuit with a hand waving from the back window; Prince Harry, I presume.
September 15th, 1940 was the hardest day's fighting experienced during the Battle of Britain, and has been Battle of Britain Day ever since. At two o'clock the first aircraft took off, and they kept coming. In groups of two, three or four, they passed over our heads, made a circuit of the airfield as they joined up in formation, did a low pass then swept off for destinations all over the south of England, in a recreation of how the sky might have looked 75 years previously. One Spitfire failed to take off, sputtering its way to the end of the runway and slinking back to the dispersal area with its tail between its legs. It did get another go at the end, and made it this time.
One of the two-seater Spitfires did some aerobatics for us, then there was a lull, and Howard and I decided to depart as some of the first groups to take off began to return and land. As we filtered past the queue down a country lane, a Spitfire in Czech markings went over my head.
We were spending the night in a nearby hotel, selected by me because it had a tiny pool. By the time I'd had a swim and a bath I was more than ready for a meal, even though it meant eating so early that the restaurant was entirely occupied by old people.
It was a nice dinner and a comfortable night, although I did dream that we overslept and missed breakfast, and woke up in a panic to check my watch. (It was 6am.)
Our destination for the morning was Tangmere Aviation Museum, home to vast quantities of Second World War memorabilia and an impressive collection of Cold War jets and cockpits. I sat in a replica SE5 cockpit, complete with engine noise, wind, and machine gun sounds, and in a Hunter, and Howard sneakily booked me a slot on the Lightning simulator. One of the museum's many lovely volunteers gave me some guidance so I wouldn't crash, and helped me fly between Portsmouth's Spinnaker Tower and The Lipstick.
Then it was time to head off into the rain. For me this meant home to London, and shortly afterwards out again to a tour of the Sipsmith distillery. The rain was torrential when I emerged from the Tube at Stamford Brook, but the distillery was warm and cosy, and I was very grateful for the introductory G&T.
A handful of my more gin-minded friends had managed to book on to the same tour, and we learned the history of gin, admired the three copper stills (Prudence, Patience and Constance) and, most importantly, enjoyed some tasting. Afterwards, we went to a nice pub. It's probably just as well that this was some 15 minutes' walk away.
I arrived home shortly before midnight, secure in the knowledge that I had birthdayed hard.