Only the new comers amongst you will not know that at Christmas time our Tracey naughtily sneaks around with the begging bowl in order that you get to show your appreciation for the efforts of yours truly, Mark, and indeed Tracey herself. Each year your generosity astounds us, personally speaking my garden has benefited from trees and shrubs that I would never have otherwise bought, Ive had a trip to the velodrome to watch the London Six Day, and to cap it all, this year a flight in a light aircraft over some of my favourite Essex lanes.

The flight was last Sunday. It all came about as sometime last year I was having a casual chat with Tracey and just happened to mention that if I had a bit of spare cash Id love to see my beloved Essex lanes from above, and bless her, she only made it happen. It helped that our own Mick Pitcher is a flying instructor, another plus is that the flight was from Andrewsfield, an historic airstrip which has since continuous use since 1942, Ive been visiting its tea room for nigh on twenty years.

On the day the weather could not have been better, a sizeable posse of Tiptree Velo had ridden out to see me off (and back one hoped). Mick stated that in all his flying years he had never seen such clear skys, mercifully the winds were also very light. There was a brief pre flight safety talk, Mick described the controls and how the plane would react when I, yes I, moved the joy stick, steering wheel, or whatever it was called, all I know is it wasnt a handlebar. We walked across the field to the plane, I tried to ignore the missing rivets, the antique appeal of the bakerlite dashboard, and the array of knobs and levers that needed pushing, pulling, twisting and poking to make the thing start. Oh yeah, start, did you ever have an old banger that refused to turn over and fire up on a cold morning before dying completely and requiring a push or jump start? Well we opted for the later as the engine refused to splutter into life, enter stage left a spare battery and jump leads.

So now, the engine is running, were taxiing, or driving up a field to the runway, the engine gets put through its final rev up test and before you know it were lined up ready to go. We get the metaphorical chocks away from flight control and the power of the engine is unleashed, we lazily bounce across the grass and as we crest the brow of the runway (its on a slope), were up. Its fabulous, Im grinning like an idiot, before you know it were over Panfield and I can see the windmill at Bocking, in the blink of an eye what we know as Flanders appears, along with the extensive gravel removal site next to it, the accuracy of the tractor patterns made in the arable fields is amazing. We complete a loop of Tiptree and head over Aberton when Mick casually says if youd just like to gently hold the controls Ill show you how they behave, with that he pulls forward, the horizon disappears and we head upwards with the engine straining, didnt like that, and a push forward, oh look, theres the land again, looming large, back to the middle and level again, right then he says, its all yours, but I dont want it, go on, take it, so I did, and promptly gave it back, I was quite happy as a passenger, but pilot, no thank you very much. The flight path continued over Colchester, you just wouldnt believe how big the university is, out towards Manningtree before heading back picking up a tail wind and equivalent land speeds of 105mph but it felt much slower. The air was so clear that the skylines of London and Canary Wharf were visible, we circled the zoo where I could see the Giraffes, they do have Giraffes dont they?. Best lane and village of the day was Messing and the route out to Easthorpe, very pretty. So we headed back to Andrewsfield and instead of landing Mick opted for a low level flyby to impress the patiently waiting crowd, we circled and duly touched down for the smoothest landing Ive ever had in an aircraft. What an experience, absolutely fantastic, I felt a bit shell shocked when we landed but havent stopped reliving it in my head since. Thank you all so much for contributing, thanks to Mick for making it so easy, and thanks to Tracey for making it happen.

This year if Tracey comes a knocking, please dont give again, this experience cant be topped, I do all this for the love of it and Im sure Mark and Tracey feel the same, its all a bit humbling.