A flight of fancy and a proposal at altitude have me walking on air
As I gaze out at the perfect blue morning, I feel like a small boy standing on the high diving-board at the swimming pool. For today, I am going to ask someone I have known since I was a child to marry me. And she, poor darling, has no idea.
“Let’s go flying today,” I announce over breakfast, reaching into my pocket to touch the square rosewood box that I have already secretly opened 16 times today.
At the aerodrome an hour later, I do my best to look methodical as — with adrenaline drumming in my fingertips — I chock the Luscombe’s main wheels. I lean down to check the eight brake clips held in place by eight tiny studs, each the size of the small brilliant-cut diamond that is burning a hole in my pocket. Let’s hope none of them fails today.
“Are you all right?” asks Alice, her voice crackling over the intercom as we sit side-by-side in the Luscombe’s leather-lined cockpit. “Yes, why?” “You seem nervous...” she says. “Well, it’s always touch-and-go whether the wings will fall off, isn’t it?”
And then we’re off, up, up, over the fields of France, and very soon I realise that this isn’t right at all. No, what looked like a perfectly clear sky, when we were standing down there looking up, suddenly seems as opaque as onion soup now that we’re up here, peering down. I pictured myself asking Alice to marry me in the limitless expanse of a polished crystal sky. Instead, we appear to be trapped inside a small pearl light bulb. Yes, we are fairly and squarely in the murk: with this clag, I thee wed.
“I think I’ll just climb a little higher,” I tell her. “See if we can get above this inversion.” Round and round we fly, carving a helix in the haze. I tell myself that the situation can only get better, just before it gets a whole lot worse. “I need to pee,” says Alice. “Are you serious?” “I’m really sorry. Do you mind if we start heading back?”
The only sound that will come out of my mouth is a shrill giggle. “Why is that funny?” she asks. “It’s just... I brought you up here because there’s something I want to ask you.”
We’re not looking at each other; she’s watching the altimeter, and I’m staring into the brilliant murk all around us, searching for military jets and the right words. “Actually, I’ve got something for you. It’s in the glove-box.”
“Is this it?” she asks, pulling out a waxed airsickness bag. “No,” I gulp. “There’s a wooden box...” Finally the rosewood box is in her hands. And with a deep breath, I take a running jump off the diving-board.
“What I wanted to ask you...” Alice is opening the box. I pull the Luscombe round in a steep turn. As I do so, we finally edge clear of the clag, and pure, unfiltered sunlight comes streaming into the cockpit... “is whether you would be willing to be my wife.”
There is a howl like feedback in my headset, and for a nasty moment I think the radio’s exploded.
“Ohhhhhmyyyyygoddddddd!” she shrieks. And then again: “OHHHHHMYYYYYGODDDDD!!!” I’m not sure, but I think this is a good sign.
“Oh my God,” she repeats, quietly. And then: “Is this really for me?”
“Yes, of course. I’m asking you to marry me.” “Oh my God.” “Is that a yes, then?” “I don’t believe it,” she says, shaking her head. “Darling, you have to say yes or no.” “Yes, oh yes,” she laughs, “of course it’s yes. But I’m just so shocked. Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure,” I laugh. “You’d better see if the ring fits.”
“It’s perfect,” she says, sliding it onto her finger. “And I love it.”
“Thank goodness. Now...” jittery with elation, I peer back down through the clag “...we’d better see if we can still find the airfield and land this thing.”
This is easier said than done. For the emotion I might be feeling at this point is not an aspect of the flight I had considered during the pre-take-off checks. What a shame it would be, I think to myself, if all that was left of us at the end of this flight, were a small diamond found in the charred wreckage of a vintage aircraft.
And then I think: tant pis. For this may be a whole new beginning, but already it feels like the happiest of endings, too.
C’est La Folie by Michael Wright is available for just £11.99, plus £1.25 p&p, from Telegraph Books (0870 155 7222).