Sunday, August 26, 2007

Imperial War Museum, Duxford

On the final leg of the English part of the tour was a visit to the Imperial War Museum at Duxford Air Field. That certainly scratched the war jones (blog posts passim). The Imperial War Museum people proved to:

1. Have preserved some things
2. Remembered that Britain was fighting actual enemies during its wars, not simply making preparations to have potential partners in reconciliation.

There were a lot of people there. Clearly British people do like some types of history. Although the typical visiting unit was probably granddad and grandson, there were plenty of people of all ages and sexes, all paying a small fortune to trek around in the rain to see things like imploded mini-subs and Focke-Wolfs. The museum display was crammed – by the B52 Stratofortress in one hall and the Lancaster in the other hall. By some miracle they had managed to jam several dozen smaller planes in around the two bombers. The B52, in particular, seemed to go on forever. I'm not entirely sure that it could have flown. Perhaps I'll end up like one of those people who deny that people walked on the moon. Even though the blasted thing was in front of me – and beside me on both sides and stretching out several hundred feet behind me, having gotten here from the US somehow – it's still hard to believe it could ever have gotten off the ground.

The highlight of the exhibits for me was their TSR-2, Jim. (I think it's Jim – there are only two left, Jim and Joe.) The TSR-2 is dear to my heart as when it was scrapped in 1965, it was literally scrapped – two of the airframes ended up in the scrapyard, where my dad bought a large ring of fuselage from the middle of the nose to use some of the components in it. So as a child, I used to sit in the ring and roll around in it. (Actually less fun than it sounds as it was very spiky on the inside.) Seeing TSR-2 in the hangar in all its Thunderbirds-era X-Plane glory was quite a thrill and I took dozens of photos of it that don't do it justice as it was packed in with other planes, including Concorde 101, the prototype Concorde.

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TSR-2 at Duxford

We went inside Concorde, which evinced no thrill of recognition, but walking around on the raised walkway over it, we recognized every inch of it – as we did many of the other planes – due to the fact we'd labored so many hours over the Airfix models of all of them. We remembered every decal you had to float off paper to apply to the sides of them and the strips of clear plastic bubbles that were pressed inside them to make the windows. Perhaps this doesn't describe the way the actual planes were put together . . . the displays implied they were more difficult to build than even Airfix kits.

In other hangars, men with pipes and moustaches called Squiffy [1] were rebuilding various WWII aircraft in a super-hobbyist fashion, taking years to restore each one to flying condition. Apparently, when the weather is fine, which is to say never, the flying-condition ones take off and have fun in the sky.

There was a V1 on display, too, with a photomontage of London during the Blitz, including what I think is the first photo I've seen of a wounded British person. He was being helped out of a shelter, pinstripe suit covered in high-contrast black spatters of blood. (I am significantly less in favor of war than of peace – I'd better have that on record. I'm aware that I'm sounding a little bloodthirsty in these posts, but I really was irritated by the political correctness of some of the displays we've seen on this trip.)

The weather during the whole trip has been outrageously British – apparently global warming is stirring up the weather patterns so that some summers are going to be nothing but a constant downpour – and the sky let loose again on this leg. It was 15 degrees C and pouring rain, in late August, and the rain continued at that rate all the way from Duxford to North London.

[1] I'm making it up about the moustaches and pipes. There weren't any and if there were, they probably wouldn't be called Squiffy.

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