Cummings’ Goings: Arrows of Desire

RAF Red Arrows at RIAT

RAF Red Arrows at RIAT - Credit: Archant

This month’s Royal International Air Tattoo has a homecoming treat to warm the cockles of any Cotswold heart. On Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 the Red Arrows will be back to where it all started to celebrate their 50th display year.

For those lucky enough to have secured a ‘Red Arrows Pit Day’ ticket there will be a chance to meet the team past and present, gain exclusive access to their pit area behind the lines where you are not normally allowed to go, watch their rehearsals and get the best view of the four-hour flying displays in the afternoon.

So why do they mean so much to the Cotswolds? I found the answer out when I asked my audience to tell me what this magnificent crew had added to their lives, I was richly rewarded with some cracking stories. There are far too many anecdotes to share in this short missive but I’ve tried to pick out the best ones. The Red Arrows began life at RAF Fairford in 1964, performing their first display at Little Rissington a year later. Pop into St Peter’s church at Little Rissington and the power and the simplicity of the small Red Arrows stained glass window will take your breath away.

I heard many stories of when the crew were based at Kemble Airport and how they used to ‘unwind’ in The Wild Duck at Ewen. They enjoyed a party and many people in the area had some tales of Red Arrows revelry and ribaldry we frankly couldn’t broadcast.

Before they were formed there was a team called the Red Pelicans based at Little Rissington. Many callers had vivid memories of their dads or husbands flying with that squadron and we managed to link them together to form a Pelicans Reunited group. Other wonderful snippets included the fact that the precursor to the Red Arrows was the Treble 1 Squadron that operated in the mid 50s flying Hawker Hunter jets. Many people remembered them practising and often flying over Malmesbury especially on a Friday. A delivery driver in Kemble told us how he used to stop off and deliver drinks to the boys and they gave him a Red Arrows tie with an image of them in formation. A B&B owner from Bourton-on-the-Hill thought there must be some misunderstanding when a pilot staying with him left a book of stunning Red Arrow photos. It was of course a simple gift and much appreciated.

My favourite story came from Sue who told us about a very happy memory from the 1960s. She was working at a RAF record office in Gloucester and on one occasion went to a dance at RAF Innsworth. She was 17 and went along with her best friend where they met Jim and Rick. These two handsome men were ground crew. As Sue put it they always had a good story to tell well within the Official Secrets Act of the day! The boys would quite happily make the trip from Fairford to Gloucester to meet up with the girls, however all other details I’m afraid remain classified despite my best efforts to wheedle them out of her.

For those who are recent converts to the Cotswolds, I hope this gives an insight into why there is such a deep affection locally for the Red Arrows and it might add an extra dimension to your experience when you see them soaring through our skies this month as you will if you are within 30 miles of Fairford.

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Green fingers or butter fingers?

In my garden we have the ‘divorce tree’. Many years ago, in a fit of typical male over-enthusiasm and giddy wonder, I decided on the spur of the moment to plant an acer glade. Having fallen in love with these wonderful Japanese maples at Westonbirt Arboretum, I bought a few saplings and planted them in a cosy, well sheltered corner of the garden. Unfortunately over the years they have grown rather larger than I’d imagined, especially the one I planted directly in front of our kitchen window. Not only does it block out the light from the kitchen it has now made its way heavenward towards our bedroom.

I’d love to share with you the secrets of what goes on in my bedroom, but I’m afraid thanks to my gardening skills I can’t shed any light on it. So with darkness descending in the bedroom and head torches worn in the kitchen all year round I was requested to chop the trees down. This ongoing marital battle could just be the end of us. I can’t bear to lose my lovely acers, but I’m sure Mrs C has other plans. A casual flick through her Google search history has revealed a foray into the world of local tree surgeons. Our garden now resembles a land of confusion as I try and deflect her away from the acer glade to the calmer waters of the pond and the wildflower garden.

Sadly I now need to share with you the story about the ‘break-up bench’. In an attempt to freshen up my wildflower garden this summer I’ve attempted to introduce pathways and extra seating areas into the parts that usually become overgrown and inaccessible and therefore neglected. One such plan was to take our huge trusty, heavy wooden bench from its happy position outside the front door and plop it by the pond. A voice in my head told me I needed to do this on my own because only in situ would my vision be understood. So carving up the lawn and destroying everything in our path, my bench and I made the tortuous journey to the pond.

Two-and-a-half hours later I was resting on my new pond-side perch when I heard footsteps down the bark path. The ripples in the pond reflected a similar sensation somewhere in my body and I wondered this time if I’d gone in too deep. The relief when I heard “Wow, that looks nice” was immense. She joined me for a cheeky cold beer and a crafty cuddle and all was well with the world... for a few minutes at least. I then got a sinking feeling, and I mean I really got a sinking feeling. As we slowly drifted closer to pond level I was asked the question: “You did level off the land and place some gravel or stones under the bench didn’t you? You know it will just rot if left in wet soil.”

That was a few weeks ago and I still haven’t come up with an appropriate response.


The July Juggernaut...

For some reason the next few weeks will represent some form of midsummer madness. The month is topped and tailed with the Cornbury and Womad music festivals interspersed with the Tour de Gloucestershire 200-mile, two-day bike ride from the Old Severn Bridge to Berkeley Castle. The energy for these events will be provided by scoffing as much free food down my neck as possible at the Cotswold Life Food and Drink Awards. To top this month off I’m looking forward to a calm relaxing night with the Meysey Hampton WI.

Service please...

I had breakfast the other day at the new Gloucester Services on the M5. There has been a lot of press about the local jobs/food philosophy behind the project and generally a very positive reaction. For my £6 I had toast and jam plus two locally-produced sausages, bubble and squeak, poached egg and haggis! I’m assured the haggis wasn’t some illegal alien from Scotland and I’ve since found out it was hunted down and shot somewhere around Haresfield Beacon. I really enjoyed the whole experience and I’m convinced it will gain the same reputation as its inspiration, Tebay Services.

Time for bible study...

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said “Let there be light”. I’ve always been a massive fan of Genesis. I’ve studied this scripture quite hard and I’m still trying to work out on which specific day God invented Prog Rock. In tribute to the wonderful piece with Tony Banks in this issue of Cotswold Life, I’ve embedded several Genesis song titles into this month’s missive. I’ve just been told supper’s ready so at this stage I’ll leave the rockers to re-read my rubbish and waste five minutes of their precious life counting them. There are eight in there and I’ll reveal them next month. If you can’t wait email me your guesses and I’ll put you out of your misery.


This article by Mark Cummings is from the July 2014 issue of Cotswold Life.

Mark can be heard on BBC Radio Gloucestershire’s morning show 6am-9am

104.7FM and 1413AM, Stroud 95FM and Cirencester 95.8FM