Living the Dream

21 07 2008

Concorde 2

The view from Cloud 9.

We all have our dreams.


A recurring one of mine has me in pyjamas on the subway at rush hour. I am barefoot, rather uncomfortable and being chased by either a tiger, a bear or an enormous Cornish pastie. I have never subjected this dream to professional analysis as I fear what other murky mysteries that might unearth, but I do often wake up rather hungry.


When it comes to travel, everyone seems to have their dream trip. For some it is an African safari, for others a luxury bure on a remote Tahitian beach. It could be snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef, the solstice at Machu Picchu or Venice during Carnival. In fact, many of these things are not only possible but often even affordable. If you forgo your week in the Dominican Republic this year you just might be able to fulfil a life-long dream next.


It is said that life is short and as we take our first bitter taste of mortality we appreciate the veracity of this statement. Life can change in an instant as we fall victim to health, mobility or financial difficulties. Our ability to travel can be curtailed by job or family commitments, or the inaccessibility of our dream destination. Not that I would advocate financial irresponsibility unless you’re selecting a gift for my birthday, but I do believe that we should never give ourselves cause to look back and say “I wish I had…”


When I was in school I saw an advertisement for Concorde. It was a 3 hour flight that would break the sound barrier and see the curvature of the earth. Although expensive, it was a fraction of the cost of a scheduled flight on the world’s most famous airliner and I was hooked. I had always been interested in aviation and loved flying. Concorde was the ultimate for me at the time. Breaking the sound barrier and being on the edge of space were beyond my dreams and yet here was a chance within my grasp.


Remarkably, my parents were supportive of the idea. They knew how much this would mean and how it really did qualify for that oft over-used title of “Once in a lifetime opportunity.” I raided my hard-earned savings account and booked my seat. I barely slept over the coming days and read and re-read every single scrap of information I had on the sleek record setter.


I’m not sure if I was the youngest person on board, but I was certainly a contender as we boarded the aircraft and filed through its narrow fuselage. We strapped ourselves in and began to taxi towards the end of the runway. Although Concorde had then been in regular service for more than a decade it still turned heads and attracted attention: the airport buildings, taxiways and secure areas were packed with spectators and airport workers there to catch a glimpse of the legendary aircraft.


The pilot provided a running commentary for his plane-load of enthusiasts and kept us informed of all the happenings. The take-off was more dramatic than any I had previously experienced and we found ourselves pinned to our seats as we soared into the September sky.


Once airborne, the cabin crew attentively treated us as though we were their usual compliment of the rich and famous. We dined on the finest food and sipped on champagne, all the while watching the Machometer at the front of the cabin climb towards the speed of sound. Finally, with an announcement from the captain, we slipped through the sound barrier. It was hard to imagine that 40 years earlier when Chuck Yeager had become the first to do so, there was fear that the rigours of Mach 1 would rip his Bell XS-1 apart. Now, we sat in the lap of luxury sipping Bollinger while reclining in comfortable leather seats.


One by one we were taken onto the flight deck to meet the crew and gaze out through the sloping windows that graced the needle nose. During my visit, I watched us reach Mach 2, twice the speed of sound. The earth curved majestically beneath while the sky above eased from a dark blue into the cobalt and jet black of space.

Concorde 1

84,268,800 inches per hour at 600,300 inches altitude


The landing was even more dramatic than take-off as the reverse thrusters and carbon brakes slowed our impressive speed. We were each handed our flight certificates and assorted memorabilia and although back on the ground, I was most definitely on Cloud 9!


It was a day I have never forgotten and still ranks amongst my greatest of experiences. My savings account was gradually restored to some semblance of respectability and not once since have I ever regretted the expenditure. Concorde no longer flies and today the few opportunities to break the sound barrier and flirt with the edge of space cost as much as a new car.


We all have our dreams and some of us are graced with the opportunity to live them. If you have that chance, investigate it, take it and don’t ever allow yourself to say “I wish I had…”


Photos and post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008




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