Our mother was barmy, it wasn’t her fault for she was born that way, in fact her mother was barmy too in a quaint Irish way, she wasn’t really Irish but she thought she was because somewhere further down the line someone was Irish, but she was barmy and she passed it on to our mother. Part of being barmy is gullibility and boy was our mother gullible, a fact that me and our Ned noticed from a very early age, in fact one of the very first things that I can recall from my childhood is the two year old me leaning over our newborn Neds cot and whispering to him, “Hey Ned, our mother is barmy you know”, so he knew from birth.
Lots of houses around here have some remnants of the birch wood in their gardens and in the 196os when we moved here the folklore was that there was a tree preservation order on all of the birch trees in the district as they were what was left of an ancient woodland owned by the monks of Kirkstall Abbey, not that it stopped the council knocking 90% of them down to sell the land to developers and then slapping preservation notices on what was left, but still.
So our suburb sits on top of one hill and on top of the hill opposite sits Leeds Bradford Airport, highest altitude airport in England (nearly), prone to bad weather and high winds, and sitting in the valley between is a couple of miles width of fields and what remains of the monks birch wood.
Our mother swore until the day of her demise that the birch trees in that valley had preservation orders slapped on them because the pilots landing at the airport used them to line up their aircraft onto the runway when landing.
Someone told her that once, “They say…” is how she started most of her barmy statements, she never explained who “they” were but apparently “they” had an answer to every question in the universe, ever, and the answer to the question “Why are so many trees around here protected in law” was “Because pilots need them to line up with the runway when landing”, they said that, so it must have been true.
“But mum” we’d say, me and Ned even when very small, even pre-school me and Ned would say, “What about when they land in the dark and can’t see the trees ?” and our mother would slap the backs of our heads and tell us to run along and play and not ask such stupid questions, mainly because “they” had not told her the answer to that one yet.
And we’d sit in the garden and laugh and laugh about what would happen if you went down into one of the gardens at the bottom of the hill that were directly under the approach path and took an axe to some of their trees, would the next Boeing 737 to arrive back from Palma end up in Yeadon Tarn by mistake, or would it just circle around and around all day until it ran out of fuel with the two pilots hanging out of the windows on either side of the cockpit yelling to each other, “Its a big silver birch, theres a clump of three of them, and then one on its own, and then some gorse bushes” with the other yelling back “those gorse bushes ?”, “No, no, no, the clump of silver birches, we’ve not passed the clump of silver birches yet you bloody idiot”.
And then there was the time, one summers Sunday afternoon when we were playing cricket in our back garden with our dad bowling and our mum was fielding, that is she was stood at the bottom end of the garden with no understanding of what a fielder did in cricket and getting the blame for every run that me or our Ned scored off our dads rubbish bowling…
I don’t want to give the impression here that our garden was big enough to have a cricket pitch in it for it didn’t but it was big enough for four people to stand around in pretending to play cricket…
When suddenly there was a drone of aircraft engines and over the top of our bungalow came a large twin-prop commercial airliner, like a Viscount or similar (look it up) and instantly you could see that a couple of things were wrong, the first being that it shouldn’t have been skimming over the roof of our bungalow at all for we lived TO ONE SIDE of the flight path not RIGHT UNDERNEATH of it, and the other thing was that only one propeller was turning around.
It was low, I’ll give you that, and days later we read in the Yorkshire Evening Post that one engine had failed on takeoff and unable to gain height the pilot had flown a tight circle and landed back at the airport again, panic over, no harm done – but this was too good a story for our mother not to embellish slightly, well quite a lot actually and in the next few days the ladies at her place of work gaped in awe at her as she recounted how the huge airplane ACTUALLY TOUCHED our TV aerial as it skimmed right over our bungalow and she, our mother, had to shout out to us poor children playing cricket in the back garden to duck down as it was obviously looking for somewhere to land on our cricket pitch.
But story embellishers can also be susceptible to other story embellishers and the following Sunday when we sent her out to buy some ice creams for us from the ice cream man in the street she came back with a story that he had just told her about how the airplane was so low last Sunday that the ice cream man had had to jump up and shut the skylight on his ice cream van because he was sure it was just about to be hit, luckily he managed to close it in time and the Viscount JUST MISSED him BY INCHES, she believed every last gasp of this story and re-told it many times to astonished people who must have wondered how a huge airplane like that had managed to limp its way back to the airport with so many obstacles like ice cream vans and kids playing cricket in the way.
And of course you all know about the bound-for-Las Vegas-in-a-Beoing 707 story, the one about how when we were bound for Las Vegas in 1973 the Boeing 707 circled the Grand Canyon for us all to take photographs (which it did) but then banked to one side and stopped, stopped in mid-air on its side to give everyone a better look, she told that story to all the ladies at work too and no-one believed it more than my gullible and slightly barmy mother.