Tag Archives: National Geographic
Apologies for stepping outside of my cycling brief again, but I can’t resist putting in a shameless plug for this month’s National Geographic Magazine which has a feature on cheetahs by yours truly, a story that I have been working on for the past eighteen months and which took me to Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia and the Middle East as well as to Cincinnati, Ohio, of all places where I was involved in an amazingly complex photo shoot to capture pin-sharp images of a cheetah running at full speed. It is a story that I am quite proud of, have lived with for what has seemed like ages and which I am very happy and relieved at long last to see in print.
One of the many truly great things about doing stories for National Geographic is how much you learn and the things you are privileged to see and do over the course of your assignment. The above photo was taken on what was literally my first morning on the Masai Mara, in Kenya, at the very beginning of my field work for this story in the spring of last year. Although I had been reading up on them for some time before I first flew to Kenya, until a few moments before this picture was snapped I had never before seen a cheetah in a wild.
That day I went out early in the morning, before dawn, with veteran wildlife photographer Frans Lanting to observe and photograph a young mother cheetah who had successfully raised seven cubs to near maturity – an astounding feat on wide-open East African grasslands where lions and hyenas would typically kill ninety per cent of cheetah cubs. These were nearly fully grown, about to become independent, and yet were full of kittenish curiosity, as I soon discovered when four of them quite unexpectedly hopped up on my truck, one thrusting his face directly into mine. To say it startled me would be an understatement. My driver called up to me not to worry; that cheetahs were no threat whatsoever and told me to enjoy what was a special and rare moment. As indeed it was. Once my blood pressure had descended back into the low-hundreds, I tossed my camera to my driver who snapped the above photo. Over the course of the morning I was able to take this photo of another cheetah posing for Frans Lanting who was filming from our other truck.
It was the first of many close encounters and captivating experiences I was to have with these beautiful and (sadly) increasingly rare cats over the succeeding months, the last being at Cincinnati during June when we spent a week filming five of the Cincinnati Zoo’s cheetahs running a course on a farm an hour north of the city. It was one of the most elaborate film shoots National Geographic Magazine has ever undertaken – and that is really saying something.
To get the desired shots a team of some of Hollywood’s finest action and stunt cinematographers were flown in, along with many tonnes of gear. A dolly track 120 metres long (about 400 feet) was set up along the length of the course. The idea was to have a set of high-speed cameras whizzing alongside the cheetahs, step for step, as they sprinted down the course – no easy matter since a cheetah can easily out-accelerate a Lamborghini. To keep the frames sharp and in focus, the track had to be silky smooth and dead level, and the timing had to be dead-on perfect. The course was lit with a 150,000 watt light – the big, monster lights used for lightning effects in movies – that we had suspended from a crane.
The filming itself was done with a $300,000 Phantom Flex cinema camera, shooting 1200 frames per second, with the stills photography being done with three synchronized Canon D1X cameras each firing their full-burst 12 frames per second each throughout the run. It was a lot of costly glass to have mounted on a little sled that would go rocketing down a track along side a sprinting cheetah.
You might think with all this gear, top Hollywood talent (people whose action-filming CVs included the Bond movies among others), coupled with National Geographic’s finest photographers including the editor-in-chief, five generally cooperative cheetahs and the good offices of the Cincinnati Zoo’s highly experienced cheetah handlers that we were on a dead certainty. Far from it.
For three days in a sweltering Ohio Valley heat wave we tried and tried to get the shots, but the damned timing eluded us. Getting the sled to run at the precise pace as the cheetah, so the cat stayed in-frame, was mind-bogglingly tricky, relying on so many variables – not least of which was the mood of whichever cat happened to be doing the run. And since these incredible high-speed sprints take a lot out of the cheetahs, physically, each was allowed to do only a couple of runs per day. And so for us, every run mattered and a run in which the camera stayed just in front of the cheetah, or tantalisingly behind, with just tail and hindquarters in-frame, was a heartbreak. To be sure, there were some exhilarating runs, even if they weren’t captured on the Phantom. Among the best was when an 11 year-old female cheetah named Sarah shattered the existing record (her own) for the fastest timed hundred metres ever recorded by anything on legs – 5.95 seconds from a standing start, hitting a top speed of 61mph along the way. I know. I was the guy holding the radar gun.
With practice, over the course of the week coordination between cheetah, cheetah handler and the film crews improved. When the cheetahs were released, to chase the fluffy dog toy that was being used as a lure, the film crew and technicians became more adept at calculating when to fire-off the sled with the cameras. By the Friday evening, with the shoot about to conclude, it could be said that some decent footage was obtained. But then there was that one magic last run when to the surprise of everyone, everything clicked, every last little detail. The results were jaw-dropping.
You can read – and see – it all here
I hope you will enjoy it.
Light the candles, break out the tinnies. Today is Banjo Paterson’s birthday – born on this date in 1864, at ‘Narrambla’, near Orange, in rural New South Wales. For those of you who are not Australian, or haven’t had the pleasure of living down there, and don’t immediately recognise the name, Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson is Australia’s national poet, the man who gave the world Waltzing Matilda, and a rich swag of iconic Australian ballads such as The Man from Snowy River and Clancy of the Overflow, and, for those of us of the cycling persuasion, Mulga Bill’s Bicycle.
That latter tells the tale of Mulga Bill, a proud and haughty outback stockman who, fancying his skill at being able to ride anything that moves, buys himself one of the new-fangled safety bicycles everybody is talking about, and, all dressed up in a natty new cycling suit, sets off down the sloping street, away from the shop and out of town, disdaining all help or advice – only to have the skittish bicycle break away from him like a rodeo colt, giving the unsuspecting wrangler a short, swift, terrifying downhill ride that ends with his being launched off a twenty-foot cliff and splashing (harmlessly) into in a deep pool in Dead Man’s Creek.
Mulga Bill’s Bicycle appeared in the Sydney Mail on 25 July, 1896, at the height of the great cycling craze that was sweeping Australia and much of the rest of the world. The ballad was an immediate hit and has never really been out of print ever since. It has appeared in anthologies, been put to music, illustrated by countless Australian artists – including the great Pro Hart – and caused there to be many a ‘Mulga Bill’s’ bicycle shop dotted around Australia.
It also casts a revealing light on the poet himself, his values and the colourful, fast-changing times in which he found himself living.
Banjo’s romanticised bush was very much a world of the horse, and he guarded it jealously. In real life, for example, camels and their Afghan handlers played a huge role in settling the outback, being the lifelines that supplied the lonely settlements on the waterless plains and hauled the year’s wool clip to market from the outlying stations, but you’d never know it by reading Banjo Paterson’s poetry.
Nor would you guess, by reading Banjo, that the rivers in southeastern Australia, the very heart of the mythical bush that Paterson made his own, had a boisterous Mississippi-style steamboat culture with its brawling river ports and colourful steamboat captains that rivalled anything in Mark Twain. Again, nary a word of it in Banjo’s poetry. It was all the horse.
But the bicycle was something even Banjo couldn’t ignore.
The bicycle transformed the bush – far more than the horse ever did, or could, for it was the vehicle of the common man. Everyone could afford a bicycle. With the invention of the ‘safety’ bicycle in the mid-1880s – the sort of bicycle we know today, as opposed to the pennyfarthing – anyone who needed to travel the vast empty distances in the outback suddenly had access to a cheap, reliable form of transport which could carry them a hundred miles or more in a day, and, unlike the horse, didn’t require grass or water and could be repaired by anyone with a bit of wire and ingenuity. Australians took to cycling like nobody else on earth – shearers, prospectors, miners, land agents, stockmen, bush preachers, commercial travellers, the very people Paterson loved and wrote about and who figured so prominently in his ballads and poetry, were all taking to the bicycle in droves.
“It is extraordinary what unlikely places one found those tyre tracks,” wrote the veteran Australian newspaper correspondent Charles Edward Woodrow Bean in his classic turn-of-the-century outback travelogue On The Wool Track. “They straggled across the very centre of Australia. We crossed them in paddocks as lonely and bare as the Sahara. Bicycles were ridden or driven or ploughed or dragged wherever men could go, and not infrequently where men could not go with safety. But the bicycle got through, if the man did.”
A sure sign that the shearing season had begun, he wrote, was the number of bicycles heading into the bush. “The shearer set out on these trips exactly as if he was going from Sydney to Parramatta. He asked the way, lit his pipe, put his leg over his bicycle and shoved off…If he was city breed, as were many shearers, the chances were that he started in a black coat and bowler hat, exactly as if he were going to tea at his aunt’s.”
As the nation’s most popular and best-selling bush poet Banjo felt unable to ignore the bicycle, and so he chose to lampoon it instead:
“‘Twas Mulga Bill from Eaglehawk that caught the cycling craze
He turned away the good old horse that served him many days
He dressed himself in cycling clothes, resplendent to be seen
And hurried off to town and bought a shining new machine…”
Confident of his ability to master anything, the dude-y Mulga Bill sets off on a meteoric course down the main street and out of town, bouncing, veering and gathering pace until the out-of-control bicycle – a lovely metaphor for all the irreversible new-fangled changes – finally bounds off a twenty-foot ledge and dumps its badly shaken rider smack in the middle of Dead Man’s Creek. Of the bicycle, Paterson concludes:
“…It’s safe at rest in Dead Man’s creek, we’ll leave it lying still
A horse’s back is good enough, henceforth for Mulga Bill.”
So there you have it: game, set and match to the horse. And Banjo made it stick too, in his world anyway, never revisiting the cycling theme in his poetry but, like Mulga Bill, sticking to the good old horse thereafter.
For those who’d like to know more about Banjo Paterson here’s a link to an award-winning feature I wrote about him that appeared in the August 2004 issue of National Geographic. Perhaps not quite as intrepid as those early bushmen, I’ve cycled a fair bit through the bush myself – about 10,000 miles worth in a solo trek around the continent in 1996. Some of that story here. If you are considering cycling through the Australian outback yourself – a wonderful experience and a great thing to do – you might find this post here useful.
Or if you just want to read a rollicking good poem, here Mulga Bill’s Bicycle in its entirety:
‘Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that caught the cycling craze;
He turned away the good old horse that served him many days;
He dressed himself in cycling clothes, resplendent to be seen;
He hurried off to town and bought a shining new machine;
And as he wheeled it through the door, with air of lordly pride,
The grinning shop assistant said, “Excuse me, can you ride?”
“See here, young man,” said Mulga Bill, “from Walgett to the sea,
From Conroy’s Gap to Castlereagh, there’s none can ride like me.
I’m good all round at everything as everybody knows,
Although I’m not the one to talk – I hate a man that blows.
But riding is my special gift, my chiefest, sole delight;
Just ask a wild duck can it swim, a wildcat can it fight.
There’s nothing clothed in hair or hide, or built of flesh or steel,
There’s nothing walks or jumps, or runs, on axle, hoof, or wheel,
But what I’ll sit, while hide will hold and girths and straps are tight:
I’ll ride this here two-wheeled concern right straight away at sight.”
‘Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that sought his own abode,
That perched above Dead Man’s Creek, beside the mountain road.
He turned the cycle down the hill and mounted for the fray,
But ‘ere he’d gone a dozen yards it bolted clean away.
It left the track, and through the trees, just like a silver streak,
It whistled down the awful slope towards the Dead Man’s Creek.
It shaved a stump by half an inch, it dodged a big white-box:
The very wallaroos in fright went scrambling up the rocks,
The wombats hiding in their caves dug deeper underground,
As Mulga Bill, as white as chalk, sat tight to every bound.
It struck a stone and gave a spring that cleared a fallen tree,
It raced beside a precipice as close as close could be;
And then as Mulga Bill let out one last despairing shriek
It made a leap of twenty feet into the Dead Man’s Creek.
‘Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that slowly swam ashore:
He said, “I’ve had some narrer shaves and lively rides before;
I’ve rode a wild bull round a yard to win a five-pound bet,
But this was the most awful ride that I’ve encountered yet.
I’ll give that two-wheeled outlaw best; it’s shaken all my nerve
To feel it whistle through the air and plunge and buck and swerve.
It’s safe at rest in Dead Man’s Creek, we’ll leave it lying still;
A horse’s back is good enough henceforth for Mulga Bill.”
(For those hyper-critical sorts who notice the dateline on this post reads the 16th of February, and who happen to know that Banjo’s birthday is actually the 17th, bear with me please: while I may be writing my blog from Sussex, putting finger to keyboard here on the afternoon of the 16th, it is already the 17th Down Under and a happy excuse for me to post early since I have been given to understand from our local electricity provider that we will not be having any power all day tomorrow due to ‘essential works’ being carried out on the grid – so it was post today or miss the event completely.)
In July of 1996 I left my job at Time Magazine and set off to cycle around Australia, unsupported and on my own, free clear and beholden to no-one. Shortly before I left though, I approached the editors of National Geographic, told them my plans, and after due consideration their story approval committee responded with cautious enthusiasm – a contract to write a small feature on the expedition (how I loved to hear it called that, and by such an august lot as the expeditions committee of the National Geographic Society!) along with a hundred rolls of Fuji Velvia film.
On the chance that the story might actually be better than expected, and that I might actually complete my ambitious 10,000 mile circumnavigation of Australia, they said they’d like to send one of their photographers to join me occasionally on the road for a few days, starting when I reached the Kimberley – or rather if I reached the Kimberley, as I recall the photo editor putting it at the time. I couldn’t blame him for the caution. I was an unknown quantity and the Kimberley was a good 4000 miles from Sydney, where I was starting, and getting there involved crossing some mighty harsh stretches of Outback.
I set off late in July and over the next three months I cycled up Australia’s bustling eastern seaboard, took an experimental 600-mile side-trip into the Queensland outback along the Capricorn Highway, returned to the coast again at Townsville, then pedalled up to Cairns and before turning west and heading into the so-called ‘Gulf Country’, the achingly desolate, blazing hot savannah that skirts the Gulf of Carpentaria. I was in seriously remote territory now, some of the harshest and loneliest scrub in Australia. I survived this baptism of fire and eventually made it to Darwin, arriving there much browner, fitter and leaner, and much, much wiser in the ways of the bush.
The day after I got there I called the photo editor collect from a pay phone on Mitchell Street and told him I was just about ready to start tackling the Kimberley. My stock had risen around the magazine by then. I’d been posting chatty, informal letters back to the manuscripts editor about my life on the road. He’d enjoyed them and passed them around – remember, this was before the age of Broadband, when letters were well thumbed sheets of paper in enveloped with postage stamps on them – and a consensus was building in the august halls of the magazine that this bicycle journey of mine might actually end up being a good story. Certainly the photo editor greeted me in welcoming fashion. When I told him where I was and my plans were he replied ‘just a moment’ and for the next few seconds I could hear the sounds of an atlas being spread open on a desk in an office 12,000 miles away.
“Is there an airport at this place, Kununurra?” he asked after a moment’s silent study. I told him there was. “Okay. We’ll have a photographer meet you there in a couple weeks,” he said, “He’ll follow you along the road to, hmmm, let’s see, how about Broome? Will he be able to get a flight out of there?” I assured him he would. We chatted bit, he wished me luck and we rang off.
I lingered in Darwin a couple more days, and set out for Kununurra, an isolated settlement in the eastern part of the Kimberley, about 600 miles away. When I got there I learned there would be a delay: the photographer they were sending was off on another assignment and couldn’t get here for another couple of weeks. And so I spent a fortnight getting to know Kununurra, where it was 115 degrees every day and sweltering in humidity in the build-up to the rains. I put in the time picking fruit in the irrigated melon fields on the outskirts of town – brutally hot hard work by normal standards, but a doddle compared the long days I’d put in on the bicycle riding out to this place from Darwin.
It was the first week of November by then, time for the running of the Melbourne Cup, the famous Australian horse race that stops the nation. Like everybody else in town I spent the day in the pub, drinking cold beer and investing my fruit-picking earnings in slow-running horses. The good news was, though, at long last, the photographer would be flying in the next morning.
I went out to the airport to meet him, curious and a little apprehensive to see what a National Geographic photographer was like – you hear so many myths and stories. What came out of the plane was a cheerful Canadian guy named Ian Lloyd who lived in Singapore and did specialised in Asia. Aside from magazine work he had a long list of corporate clients, including many of southeast Asia’s grand hotels and five-star resorts. This was his first visit to Kununurra. He glanced around and said: ‘You’re kidding, right?’
We had lunch together in the pub and then he went off to see about renting a Land Cruiser or some such for the 600-mile drive to Broome, and pick up some camping things and supplies so he could stay with me on the road. You can get all kinds of gear in Kununurra, anything from geologist’s hammer to a helicopter. It may be just a lonely dot on the map, but it is also the main service and access town for the big Argyle Diamond Mine, some two hundred miles further out in the desert. Geologists, mine engineers, site surveyors, contractors, you name it, go in and out of here all the time.
While Ian took care of his end of things, I moseyed on back to the seedy backpacker’s hostel in which I’d been staying for the past fortnight, packed my things and gave my bicycle a thorough going-over ahead of the dawn start I proposed to make on the morrow.
I’d told Ian I would be leaving at first light, which at that time of year, in that part of Western Australia, is about half past four in the morning. He smiled and shook his head and said he’d catch up with me later, that he had a few things to attend to yet in town, This seemed a little odd to me; all the photographers I’d ever known and worked with in the past were always dead keen to get out there at the crack of dawn and work the morning light for all it was worth. And yet here was this guy, National Geographic no less, going to sleep in. What was this all about?
For the time being though, at least on the gloriously sunny morning when I finally pedalled out of town, I was just grateful to be shaking the dust of Kununurra off my pannier bags, and enjoying the freedom of the open road once more. I’d done my part, said where I’d be and when I’d be going. Presumably this Ian knew what he was doing; if he screwed up, that was his look-out, not mine. Now it just felt good to be up and moving.
I made decent time. I always did this hour of the day. That was the trick to cycling through the deserts out here: put in the work in the relative cool of the mornings, and then, around eleven o’clock or so, when the mercury has soared up over the century mark, pull over make yourself a day-camp in whatever scrap of shade you can find and sit out the worst of the heat, sipping from a water bottle, reading, dozing, listening to the drowsy hum of the insects. Then set off again late afternoon, when a subtle but recognizable shift in the light told you that the day was on the wane and the gentle slide towards evening had begun.
On the subject of light I began looking around as I pedalled along the desolate highway that morning and thinking to myself that perhaps Ian had called the right turn after all; this was a nice time of day for riding, but a bit early yet for the outback colours to have taken on those nice rich tones that photographers so rightly love.
A couple of hours later though, the morning sunlight was as honeyed and sweet as anyone could hope for – the sky had deepened by then to a rich enamel blue and the majestic red rock country of the Kimberley was practically aglow with golden sunrise warmth. It was lovely and getting lovelier by the moment. But still no sign of Ian.
I pulled over on the roadside for a drink and thoughtful look around, wondering where this guy might be, if he’d broken down or gone the wrong way out of town. Wherever he was, he was a long way from where I was. My stretch of road was dead quiet, just a desolate ribbon of bitumen stretching away for miles in both directions and that great primal hush that descends over you when you stand all by yourself along a lonely roadside in the Outback. The horizons on every side were empty. The only thing that was moving anywhere was a distant speck of a helicopter off to the north – somebody doing a bit of cattle mustering, probably. That’s the way they round up their livestock here in the Kimberley, where cattle stations run into the millions of acres: they use helicopters. This time of year, with the rains about to start, the big Kimberley pastoralists are usually busy moving their cattle up onto higher, firmer ground – one of the many chores they need to attend to in the battening down of hatches before the onset of ‘The Wet’, when the homesteads get flooded in, the roads washed out and pretty much everything up here shuts down.
I had about 2000 miles to cover if I was going to get myself far enough south to be out of reach of big tropical rains that were coming. I’d been dawdling these past few weeks, what with one thing or another – taking a well-earned breather in Darwin, revelling in the romance of having ridden my bicycle from Sydney to the Timor Sea, and that fortnight I’d just spent cooling my heels in Kununurra waiting for Ian to show up. We were well into November now, very much time for me to get cracking. I capped my water bottle, mounted up and set off down the highway into the pretty morning light, the buzz of that helicopter growing ever more insistent in my ears.
Ever seen that old Hitchcock movie North by Northwest? You know that scene where Cary Grant is standing all by himself at that impossibly desolate crossroads in South Dakota, looking as lonely as a pin on a map, and watching the crop-duster swooping in the distance? Where the audience feels a gathering sense of unease and menace that Cary Grant’s character doesn’t notice until it is nearly too late? Well, except for the fact that I don’t look a thing like Cary Grant, that could have been me. And like his character, I never saw it coming. I was pedalling blithely along the highway when suddenly there came a deafening roar as the no-longer-distant helicopter zoomed up behind me, shoulder height and frighteningly close, its powerful down-drafts buffeting me across the road. As it whooshed by I noticed Ian leaning out the open hatch with a big motor-driven Canon SLR clapped to his face.
Nose down, the chopper sped up the highway ahead of me, Ian leaning out and shooting back at me like a tail-gunner. As I watched, open-mouthed, the pilot wheeled his craft around in a low, tight turn and came back for another pass.
And so it went. Back and forth, hovering low – and I mean reach-out-and-grab-the-struts low – with Ian shooting close-ups, the pilot smiling and nodded reassurance, and me wrestling the downdrafts, gripping the handlebars like a strangler, flabbergasted, awestruck, and all the while trying to look casual for the camera: a carefree cyclist breezing down an empty desert highway with just the twittering of the birds for company.
The pilot was a genius, his skills honed by years of mustering cattle and dropping off geologists in weird and inaccessible locations. He was easily able to pace me on the bike, occupying the lane beside me, even doing it backwards when Ian wanted to take pictures from the other side of the road. At one point, when they were riding along close beside me, he’d had to haul back on the joystick and jump clear to let a road train barrel through beneath him. A moment later he was back again, hovering beside me, little more than an arm’s length away, as though nothing had happened. I can only imagine what that truck driver must have thought. The spectacle of a cyclist being monstered by a helicopter must have been a little odd even by outback Australian standards.
As for me, I’ve been able to play dodge-’ems with the most aggressive of London’s taxis, busses and white-panel-van delivery men with complete equanimity ever since. They are all just pussycats compared with a bush pilot in a Bell Jet Ranger.
After a few more passes they put down on the roadside and the pilot switched off the engine. Silent fell over the desert. I drew up on my bicycle, chuckling to myself with relief and amazement, accepting gratefully the ice-cold bottle of Gatorade Ian thrust into my hands, and the oversized bag of breakfast goodies he’d brought along to go with it. Ian and the pilot and I then stood around gasbagging for a while – for I felt there was much for us to discuss – after which they hopped back in the whirlybird and, all smiles and waves, took off in a roar of engines and swirling dust, back to Kununurra, shooting aerials along the way. And there was me standing by my bicycle in a big empty desert wondering what on earth I’d let myself in for.
We spent the following week together, Ian and I, crossing the Kimberley east to west, all the way to the old pearling port of Broome. No more helicopter chases after that first day, just him driving a rental Land Cruiser packed with camera gear and me working long days in front of the lens, pedalling back and forth as required, jollied on by Ian’s infallible good humour and his assurances that this would all pay off in the end. As indeed it did. Buoyed along by the strength of the images that were shot that week, the story of my ride around Australia grew in National Geographic’s editorial panel’s estimation from the original planned shortish feature to a full three-part series – the first in the magazine’s history.
In fact, one of the shots Ian took that week, of a beleaguered me pedalling past a bush fire not far from Fitzroy Crossing, very nearly became a National Geographic cover, narrowly losing out at the last minute to a more adorable shot of baby leopard cubs (but winning the reader’s choice poll!) To this day whenever I see that shot I can still hear him calling out to me from a safe distance away (thanks to his 300mm lens), as I pedalled across the viewfinder: “Can – you – ride – closer – to – the – flames?” And my plaintive response, a wailed: “Noooooo!”
Ian was to join me several more times over the course of my journey – in the towering Karri forests and Margaret River wine region south of Perth, and again in Melbourne, in the cold, blustery wilds of Tasmania and one final time at the very end of the trail, at the steps of the Opera House when I finally reached Sydney. I came to look forward to his visits on the trail, a familiar face after weeks of encountering only strangers, and having the opportunity to step outside my traveller’s anonymity and be somebody, a somebody with a name, a background, colleagues, and friends – one of them fast becoming a jaunty Canadian photographer named Ian Lloyd. All these years later we still keep in touch, exchanging the news of our families and children and marvelling at the passage of time.
As for me, I’ve always wanted to write the story of scooting down that lonely desert highway, wide-eyed, with the blades of that Bell Jet Ranger prodding me along – without doubt the weirdest bit of traffic I’ve ever encountered in my cycling career – but writing the photographer into the story just isn’t usually the done thing in the magazine game, not even in a first person account. It just seems too indulgent and anyway there wasn’t space. But what is a blog if not an opportunity for a little writerly indulgence? And so here, fifteen years late, is my helicopter story.