[For an explanation of where this story came from, click here. All text © Lindsay Rumbold, 2015.]
RAF Biggin Hill, some time in August 1940 …
First, a confession – I don’t normally write short stories (in fact, I rarely read them), but this idea nagged me until I wrote it*.
Although set at Biggin Hill with a Spitfire squadron during August 1940, it isn’t based on a particular day of the Battle of Britain nor a specific raid: this is fiction, so any resemblance to real events or people is purely coincidental, and any errors are accidental. [Note – the behaviour of the Bf 109 pilot is based on reports I’ve read in various Battle of Britain books. I do feel a bit mean for this portrayal, but it is based in fact, so …]
I’ve done my best with research, and based it on facts as much as possible, but I apologise for any historical and factual errors within this story and ask you to kindly point them out to me.
As for where this story came from …
On the 18th August 2015, I was privileged to be at Biggin Hill for the 75th anniversary commemorations of the ‘Hardest Day’ of the Battle of Britain. It was a very special and emotional occasion, and the commentary team did an excellent job of reminding people just what the station – and the RAF and the country – went through all those years ago.
At take-off time, they rang the scramble bell. One by one, the Spitfires and Hurricanes started up, taxied out and took off. Then the air raid siren went.
I went cold. It seemed like the entire airfield fell silent. My words can’t fully describe the emotional impact, but it felt as if the whole place – past and present – was remembering, too.
One other moment of the day sticks out. That evening, we’d decided to find a pub nearby to eat dinner before heading back home, as spending rush hour on the M25 didn’t appeal. I went upstairs to the loo, and as I finished I heard that distinctive engine note. I rushed to the window and saw three Spitfires, flying over the fields in the late summer sun. I felt as if I was looking through the window to 75 years ago.
All through the meal, and on the way home, this story filled my mind – and it wouldn’t let me go until I’d finished it. I wrote it in just a few days (super fast for me!) and I’ve sat on it for the last month, wondering what to do with it. Finally, I decided that if I want to write books, I need to get used to people actually reading my stuff, so I should post it up for people to see.
So, here it is.
Lest we forget.
*I also have to confess my favourite WW2 fighter is actually the Hurricane, but as I wrote, the pilots insisted they flew Spitfires, so Spitfires they fly.
Perfect planning may prevent poor performance … but a plan is a plan is a plan, until the plan changes.
While I was finishing FT, I considered what I’d learned from the process, and concluded that my biggest lesson was that a bit more planning up front would have saved me a lot of effort (as I said here).
Given the last couple of harsh winters, and the ever present hysteria about how bad this winter’s going to be, more people are wondering about fitting winter tyres to their cars.
So, what are winter tyres? They’re tyres (duh) with a very different tread pattern, made from a different compound of rubber, so as to optimise grip in cold, wet, icy or snowy conditions.
All tyres have an optimum working temperature. You can see a perfect illustration of this in a wet Formula One race: what happens when the track dries out? The wet tyres used overheat and degrade very quickly – the water keeps the tyres cool. But the dry tyres used need to reach a much higher temperature to grip effectively: how many drivers spin off on cold tyres after a pit stop?
Road car tyres are nowhere near as specialised as this, but similar principles apply. Winter tyres use a compound of rubber which is designed to grip at lower temperatures – typically 8°C and below. Your standard road tyre can begin to lose grip at this point.
This is down in part to a material parameter called the glass transition temperature (stay with me). A very simple view is that below this temperature, a material crystallises and becomes hard and often brittle; above it, it’s soft and pliable. The best way to see this in action is put a rubber band in a freezer. At room temperature, the rubber is stretchy: when it’s frozen, the rubber is brittle and snaps. The rubber has gone below its glass transition temperature.
That’s the sort of thing that’s happening with your tyres. The standard tyre just can’t get warm enough (i.e. soft enough) to grip properly.
[Note: There is much, much more to tyre rubber compounds than this: the ingredients used affect not just the rubber’s operating temperature range but the grip levels (for example, sports tyres generally grip more than your average tyre), the rolling resistance (how hard it is to roll the tyre along the road – many “eco” tyres are low rolling resistance to reduce fuel economy, as the easier it is for the car to roll the less fuel it needs to use to move), and durability (how long it takes for the tyre to wear out).]
Now we come to the tread pattern. The tread on standard road tyres is designed to move water away from where the tyre meets the road to allow the rubber to contact it: it does this via a pattern of specific grooves in the surface – known as the tread pattern. If it fails – if the water isn’t driven away – you lose traction, otherwise known as aquaplaning. Again, you can see this during a wet Formula One race: if a driver inadvertently drives over a patch of standing water, the sudden loss of traction can mean he loses control of the car.
Winter tyre tread patterns look very different to their summer equivalents. The grooves are more frequent and a very different shape, some almost like wiggly lines cut into the tyre; the tread blocks (the areas of rubber separated by each groove) are much smaller and much more densely packed.
This is because winter tyres are usually designed to cope with snow as well as cold and rain. These tiny grooves, the wiggly lines, are called “sipes”, and these are designed not only to move water away more efficiently, but also to bite into the snow to give traction. The larger grooves of your summer tyres just fill with compacted snow, meaning they don’t grip: the sipes, on the other hand, remain unfilled so the tyre can grip.
What does all this mean?
If you drive an average car and fit winter tyres if it gets cold, you should see a definite improvement in cold and wet weather grip – even if it doesn’t snow.
I definitely have. I have a small front wheel drive car, with relatively skinny tyres, and a whacking great weight of a diesel engine over the front axle. It has no electronic traction aids (not even ABS – it’s that old). In cold, wet weather, on greasy roads, on its usual “eco” low-rolling resistance tyres, it understeers – safely and predictably, but also considerably.
On winter tyres, even on soaked roads, it understeers so much less I turn into corners a bit early until I’ve got used to having more grip. Puddles of water along the side of the road which previously would’ve pushed the front end all over the place … don’t. Even under heavy braking, it’s much more stable and sure-footed.
Obviously, this isn’t a licence to be a hooligan, but it gives me much greater confidence that should snow fall, I can keep control of the car. In fact, when it snowed last year, my car with winter tyres outperformed all those with flash 4x4s who couldn’t get any grip on their summer, performance-oriented tyres.
So, do I think winter tyres are worth it? Yes, I do.
I’ve got to admit, I was quite excited to see the long-awaited, often-rumoured, previously-cancelled Jaguar F-Type finally get launched. It is a truly beautiful thing in the metal. It sounds mighty fine too.
But I was disappointed to hear how much Jaguar are going to be charging for one. I mean, £60k isn’t far short of what they’re charging for the gracefully-ageing XK.
I’m pretty sure, if he saw the prices, Sir William Lyons would be spinning in his grave. His key ethos was for Jaguar to be affordable luxury sports cars – he wanted to deliver driving pleasure, but at a price people wanted to pay. Nigh on £60k doesn’t fit many people’s definitions of affordable. And if it does fit your definition, then probably you’ll be looking more towards Bentleys and Rolls-Royces than Jaguar anyway.
What concerns me is that I can see the Jaguar brand dying in my lifetime. I know no schoolboys who lust after an XK or XJ. Actually, I don’t know anyone under the age of about 50 who lusts after any Jaguar of any sort. And if I had £60k to play with, the first car on my list wouldn’t be an F-Type. Or any other Jaguar, really*.
This is a real shame, as Jaguar’s engineering integrity and build quality is second-to-none: they deserve to succeed and to thrive, and to match their sister company Land Rover’s frankly astonishing recent revitalisation.
What Jaguar should be aiming for is that mid-market slot, such as currently occupied by the amazing-selling Range Rover Evoque. Circa £35k is still not cheap, but it brings the brand that bit closer to us younger people who don’t have a ginormous disposable income but want something a bit bling and a bit special. Why not have a baby Jaguar convertible – or even just a coupe – to compete with the Mazda MX-5, the Audi A3 and A4 convertible (even the VW Eos), the BMW 3-Series cabriolet, the Mercedes SLK?
These cars are selling – in fact, the UK is Europe’s biggest drop-top market, despite our weather – so why is Jaguar not taking advantage of this niche? Slap in the 2.0 diesel for the mass market – after all, VW, Audi and BMW are selling many diesel convertibles – and have a big petrol engine, with a touch of lairiness, as the “halo car” for the true petrolheads. Heck, even put a big diesel in it for a shovel-load of torque. Make it lightweight and rear wheel drive for some real driving excitement. Revitalise that reputation for producing sweet-handling cars.
Above all, Jaguar need to decide if they want to grow the brand, keep it alive and move it forward (like Land Rover have done with Range Rover). Basically, they need to get some balls, some fun, some humour, and above all some youth back into the brand. You can sell an old man a young man’s car, but you’ll never sell a young man an old man’s car. The X-Type proved that.
Oh, and Jaguar, please stop with this po-faced pretension of cold, aloof stylishness in your advertising. It’s not fooling anyone.
*XF is all right, but even the Sportbrake wouldn’t suit us as we haul too much crap around; XJ just doesn’t float my boat styling-wise (love the aggression at the front: but the back and sides make it look like the bastard offspring of a Citroen and an Audi); XK is nice enough but looks like it should belong to the newly-retired gentleman at your local golf club with a trophy wife (and a trophy mistress, if said gentleman has the XK-RS).
This draft has been sitting on my hard drive for ages, but this is the first chance I’ve had to post up my summary of the trial TSR-2 bake. I photoblogged the sequence in it’s entirety here. Enjoy!
Despite having had a horrible cold that knocked me off my feet for a few days, I still decided to press on with the trial bake: that weekend was my only definite free weekend for some time, and I’d already bought all the ingredients.
After Phase #1’s rundown, it was clear that the most critical unknown and undefined item was the wing material.
[The second unknown – how much TSR2-shaped cake a 30cm length bake would yield – was answered by referring to a scale drawing, using a ruler and doing some sums. It turns out 30cm length of cake (not including engine exhausts or the nose cone) gives a maximum fuselage width of 5cm (including icing). That’s not much cake. I think my first trial bake will need to be a 40cm one, diagonally cut from a 30cm square cake.]
Having a spare afternoon on my hands, and the ingredients sitting in my cupboard, I decided to do a trial run with pastillage. According to the book I’m using as reference (Lindy Smith’s The Contemporary Cake Decorating Bible), pastillage is best suited for pieces of decoration which extend above and beyond the sides of a cake – like, for example, wings.
I think I can best sum up my learning in two parts: material and design.
As I mentioned in my 2013 to-do list, one of my big plans this year is to teach myself sugarcraft and cake decorating, so that I can make a TSR2 out of cake.
If you’re unfamiliar with British military aircraft of the 1960s (and I realise that’s most people), then you’ve probably never heard of it. TSR2 – Tactical Strike Reconnaissance, Mach 2 to give it its full title – was a tremendously complex aeroplane, intended to be the RAF’s jack-of-all-trades during the height of the Cold War. Dogged by specification changes and development issues, it ran late and over budget (sounds familiar?) and was cancelled amid much controversy in 1965*. Only two airframes survived the resulting cull: the most original and complete one sits in the museum at RAF Cosford, and a restored one is at Duxford.
Why this plane? Well, my husband’s uncle (who has been involved with the RAF for years) asked me if I could make one of these out of cake. And I’ve been itching for an excuse to make something interesting out of cake ever since Skoda baked a Fabia.
So, let’s see where we are with this.
If anyone has any tips or suggestions, please comment or tweet me (@Lins_Rumbold) using the hashtag #aerocake.
*I won’t go into the controversy, but if you want to know more about TSR2, I’d start by looking here.
I don’t usually bother with New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t have anything against them personally; it’s just I find it difficult to get motivated in January (it’s dark; usually cold; always feels like a downer after Christmas, and so on).
This year, however, I do have a few things I want to achieve. Here’s my vague Plan (yes, the capital letter is intentional) for 2013.
I was tagged by SC Skillman to participate in the “Next Big Thing” blog-hop, as part of a writer’s group encouraging me to take that nerve-wracking step of getting my work out there (thank you very much!). SC Skillman writes romantic suspense novels, and her current release, Mystical Circles, is available on Kindle as well as hardcopy via Amazon and independent book shops in the Warwickshire area.
What is the working title of your book?
It’s had the working title of Full Throttle ever since the idea for this book came to me. That said, I think the phrase is a bit clichéd, so I’m seriously considering changing it. Drift or Shakedown are the possibilities I’ve come up with so far (feel free to critique or offer better ones!).
Where did the idea come from for the book?
My ideas come from part of my brain chewing over lots of things (often without me consciously thinking about them), and then spitting out some combination of them all, with a twist or two thrown in.
The first grain of inspiration was that I wanted to read a book which involved motorsport but had an interesting plot; but there weren’t many which held my attention. The second was the on and off track rivalry between various F1 drivers and teams (from Alonso and Hamilton, Ferrari versus Red Bull, all the way back to Schumacher and Hill, and definitely Senna versus Prost). Add into that the fact that I love rallying and was a massive Colin McRae fan (especially of the way he ignored team orders and annoyed Carlos Sainz at the Rallye Catalunya in 1995) and another seed was sown.
And the final one was my brain going “Oooh … what if this happened…?”
What genre does your book fall under?
I’d say action, suspense, and possibly thriller.
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
This is going to be a very random cast list, but these are the people who bear reasonable resemblances to my characters:
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Lynne Marshall is about to realise her long-held dream of competing in the World Rally Championship – despite her fiancé, Darren Copley’s misgivings – but the shattering past she’s fought so hard to leave behind refuses to let her get away.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
I want to find a literary agency and go from there to publication, as soon as I’ve stopped procrastinating completed writing a synopsis. I have seriously considered self-publishing, but I’m leaving that as an option for now.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
Er … I first knocked out a very rough draft of a short story with these characters in *cough* 1995 (yes, really).
I started writing this novel seriously in mid-2007, and my first draft was completed in mid-2009. I was almost published with a cooperative publisher at the beginning of 2010, but we ended up shelving it: the novel needed some work, and for various personal reasons (including my motorbike accident) I just completely lost any capability to write well.
It was about a year before I was able to look at the book again – this time with fresh eyes, which was actually very useful – and I completed this current draft at the end of 2011. I’ve since given it a few tweaks in response to feedback. But I could keep tweaking this book forever and a day!
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
It might have something of Michael Crichton’s Airframe about it – a technical subject matter, with a strong female lead character. In terms of my writing style, I’ve absorbed a lot from reading authors like Terry Pratchett and Christopher Brookmyre – there is action, but there’s humour in places, too.
That said, my mother-in-law compared Full Throttle to novels by Mary Higgins Clark!
Who or What inspired you to write this book?
I wouldn’t have completed this book without the love, support, and patience of my husband, Dave – who tolerates me talking about the people who live only in my head, and kindly gives up the laptop so I can write. Much as he says he doesn’t think he helps, he’s an excellent sounding-board and sanity-checker, too.
As for why this storyline … I read a few novels mixing thriller and motorsport during the 1990s, and they struck me as being like James Bond without the spying (I wasn’t much of a Bond fan when I was 16!). I wanted to do something a bit different. I also wanted a book where women had other things to do besides throw themselves at the handsome male protagonist.
I suppose I just wanted to write a book that I wanted to read!
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Lynne is a strong and complicated lead character, and she’s no shrinking violet. Her relationship with Darren is in trouble, and she’s about to find out who she can really count on when things go awry.
Actually, I’ve been told all my characters are interesting and human – this book is by no means just Lynne’s show.
There is a lot, lot more to this book than motorsport. Maintaining the excitement and adrenaline of watching motorsport live in several passages of text is very challenging, so I’ve kept it to a minimum. Luckily, there’s plenty of off-track drama to keep people turning the pages.
I’d like to think that it covers things like love, loyalty and forgiveness – or the lack of those, at least.
I’m also about halfway through plotting and writing a follow-up using some of the same characters, so watch this space!
So, there we go. I hope that sheds a bit more light on the subject of my novel!
Thanks to my complete social ineptitude (and lack of socialising online with other authors) I haven’t yet found anyone to tag (at least, who hasn’t been already) so drop me a line if you want tagging.