Ferdy was a long time in the tiny orange inflatable life raft, paddling furiously for the shore. Not that it was far, but an erratic breeze was blowing his little boat all over the dock, his plastic paddle was swivelly and badly designed and mostly he was downhearted about his best present ever just sinking like that. He had watched the bubbles where the aircraft went down, rising and popping, for quite a while. Then he got cold and decided to be philosophical about the whole day. Once ashore he managed to catch an omnibus that was not only going onto the Isle of Dogs, but all the way down to Island Gardens. In fact he alighted at the North Pole… Really. It is a common alehouse on the corner of Manila Street. From here he crossed Millwall Dock at Pepper Street and then struck out across country. In Millwall there was little indication of the fog that was bedevilling the East End further north and as he approached Mud Chute Farm Ferdy could see the Dragon Rapide, a magnificent yellow Dragon Rapide in Automobile Association livery, sitting at the end of a rough, grass airstrip.
The pilot was tinkering with one of the two Gypsy Queen inline engines, but as soon as she spotted Ferdy’s flying helmet and goggles she waved and rushed towards him. She wiped some of the oil off her palm and onto her boiler suit and shook his right wing stub, vigorously.
“Beryl, Beryl Clutterbuck. And you, I am sure, are Mr Ferdinand Desai.” Beryl was a tall and imposing presence, but Ferdy could not take his eyes of the little saffron Dragon Rapide.
“You an AA Patrolman then?”
Beryl gave him an old fashioned look.
“She was a victim of the cutbacks. When the AA scrapped their Rapid Response Unit she was put on the market at an unmissable price. Come and have a good look over her, she’s a DH89A Dominie. Those Gypsy engines produce 200 horsepower each and she can fly at 131 knots with the wind up her chuff. I’ve got a thermos flask of lapsang souchong and a packet of Duchy Originals ginger biscuits in the cockpit. Do you like ginger biscuits?” Ferdy wondered if he had died in the crash and gone to dodo heaven.
Near to the aircraft was a khaki canvas ridge tent with a pair of Lloyd Loom chairs outside, one pink and the other painted blue. There was also an ambitious Dutch dovecote on a pole, with a brass bell hanging beneath it.
“It’s the communications centre,” explained Beryl, “The pigeons are for long range messaging and the bell is to scramble the air crew – that’s you and me. We’ll whiz up to The Gun for supper and you can tell me everything that’s been going on,” she was ushering him into a shiny black Morgan V-Twin Super Sport as she chattered. The little three-wheeler shot off towards the inn, situated close by the Poplar dock and West India lock gates, famed as a venue for one or two of Nelson’s trysts with young Emma. Ferdy found the journey to be exhilarating, a bit like flying, but with his bum only twelve inches off the deck.