I’ve lived in my humble top floor flat in St Margarets, on the border between Richmond and Twickenham, for five years next month. It’s the longest I’ve ever lived anywhere except for the house I grew up in, and it’s certainly the best place I’ve ever lived, if you excuse the crushing heat in the summer (which, considering the average British summer, can last anywhere from one day to eight weeks, so it’s not really that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, even though I whinge).
My flat is on the Heathrow Airport flight path. A plane flies over my house every one minute and 48 seconds. They fly until around midnight (I’m fairly certain they should stop at eleven, but they don’t seem to) and then resume at around four in the morning (I’m fairly certain they should start at six, but they don’t seem to). I’ve lived here for so long I don’t even hear them any more; they make my walls rumble and my windows rattle, but I’ve learned to filter them out.
I can’t stop looking at them, though. I have a skylight in the my kitchen and barely a day goes by where I don’t stop what I’m doing to gaze up at a 747, often wondering if the passengers are looking down at me (which can be disconcerting if I’ve just stepped out of the shower). I’ll lie in bed and watch the planes fly out of the distance, one after the after, keeping to their one-minute-and-48-second timeframe so perfectly it’s almost hypnotic – you can see the lights blinking on a new plane on the horizon just as one sails overhead. And when I’m watching TV I find myself staring past the screen at the big window in my living room, watching planes soaring this way and that, their routes changing slightly according to which system they’re following in any given week.
A few nights ago we had the most terrific thunderstorm I’ve seen in years: three hours long, centred directly above my house, with so much flashing lightning I turned off all the lights and could still see perfectly at least half the time. It was faintly apocalyptic but also beautiful, even if I did have a bit of a panic and unplugged all my electrical items in case I got smited (my friend’s house was hit by lightning last year and he lost a lot of expensive stuff, so I wasn’t taking any chances).
At precisely 9.35pm I was watching a plane flying towards my house through a squall of rain and thinking to myself, “Blimey, I wouldn’t like to be on that plane right now.” And then, almost two seconds later, I watched a tremendous burst of forked lightning dart across the sky, leaping from cloud to cloud until it hit the plane.
IT WAS THE COOLEST THING I’VE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE.
Of course the plane was okay: I’ve had many conversations over the years with people who don’t like flying who are convinced that a lightning strike will mean instant death to all aboard, and now I can actually say to them, “I’ve seen a plane/lightning interface with my own eyes and the plane didn’t even shudder!” And, as I said, IT WAS THE COOLEST THING I’VE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE.
Sadly I didn’t take a photo and I wasn’t filming it, but after mentioning the incident to my friend Pet Shop Anny, she found this picture:
Which sort of sums up what I saw, only my lightning came from sideways-on, not above. And, I’m sure you’ll agree, if you’d seen something like this as well, it might have been THE COOLEST THING YOU’D EVER SEEN IN YOUR LIFE, too.
I don’t think I’m going to stop plane-gazing any time soon. Particularly during a storm. Planes rock my world, and I love being able to worship them every one minute and 48 seconds for the shiny, winged gods they really are. Keep watching the skies…