It's appropriately dark and Lin's asleep, and I'm now reassured, again, that the Bruins can win without me, 68-66, in Tucson, over the Wildcats but here we are, with free WiFi, a hotel supplied converter, and writer's inspiration demanding expression. As it's our fourth day at this longitude, any excuse for jet lag to explain the midnight inspiration can be dismissed. The concierge actually said that there's a sportsbar in the Haymarket that stays open until 3 AM where I could have watched the game on satellite. It would be safe to say that Lin's scowl at this news is understatement. I took the hint, thereby saving my shins from what the medical profession terms "ecchymoses"
We bit the bullet and opted for a minivan ride from Warrick to Covent Garden, and we delayed an encounter with rail and bus from the Midlands to Marylebone. Our driver offered a 140 pound Sterling bargain, and after morning goodbyes to John Freeborn, Doug Tidy, Ian Cadwallader, Peter Clarke, further thanks to Bob Cossey and Rod, and a host of new friends, including a discussion with Derek, who submitted the Eric Brown "Encyclopedia of Aviation" that I won in a raffle. Actually, we swept the raffle like pirates.... perhaps it was the 95 tickets that gave me such a great chance. I also came away with an old Ghost Airplanes calendar signed by a 74 pilot whose widow, Josephine Smith, donated it to the raffle. The third prize was simply too much, so I gave a bottle of rum to Josephine.
Seated as I was between John and Doug for the banquet, and with a fine view of John, totally enthralled by the ever-charming Lin, we quickly passed a most memorable evening. The food was wonderful, beginning to end. As Doug does not imbibe, I helped out with his dessert port, and combined with my own, I was pleasantly aglow, and hardly noticed that we were hours beyond our usual bedtime.
The speeches were just right. Boz Robinson, retiring after 16 years of leading the association to nearly twice its inaugural strength, and Cliff Spink taking over the helm wearing a newly designated hat upon his coronation. Cliff told a story of encountering a German air controller as he straddled the Czech border, flying an Me-109, and in company with a Spitfire, discussing international air space and identifying his formation to an aggressive controller seemingly intent on interception. Finally, he pulled rank and announced his Luftwaffe equillavency...Major General, and was given a far more respectful sendoff.
To say that we were made to feel immediately at home by Bob Cossey, and to be mentioned in dispatches.... okay, comments from the podium... twice, by the retiring and the active presidents, well, we were honored. In exaggeration, John claimed to Boz, that John and I were the only pilots in the room who had flown in a Spitfire. Of course Cliff was in the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and has flown many marks, but it was typical of the warmth with which we were greeted.
Lin was such a hit with 74 that she was at risk of being named the squadron sweetheart, and in a bevy of many delightfully coiffed worthies, she stood out, as usual. Before the evening was over I was discussing the flight characteristics of a Polikarpov I-153 with an Air Marshal.... not what any rational Chicago-born lad
fantasizes, even beneath the shadow of the Museum of Science and Industry's Spitfire.
John's voice was a bit hard for us to understand in a crowded noisy room, but his enthusiasm and his roguish sense of humor came through, and if we didn't catch every word, we caught all of the atmosphere and came away feeling that we were an important part of a historical event, at least in terms of the sincerity of the greeting. Lin was impressed with how dapper John appeared at the Sunday morning breakfast, and I with John's retelling of his June 1940 greeting from the French officers as the perceived squadron "mascot." I had the feeling that John would have fired his Brownings in that direction, if given the chance.
Lastly, every single person we met at the 74 Squadron Dinner had a story and I wanted to hear each and everyone. I wished the experience could go on and on and Bob Cossey invited us back on more than one occasion.
We would thoroughly enjoy a revisit, and we are grateful beyond expression to Doug and Lee and John and Bob, and to a squadron that outdoes even its outstanding operational achievements in its hospitality.