Author Archives: Benjamin Brooks

About Benjamin Brooks

Meteorologist by day, Gamer by night, Geologist and Palaeontologist the rest of the time. More can be found at www.benjamindbrooks.co.uk

Per ardua ad astra

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

-Leonardo da Vinci

Saturday the third of May 2003 was a day marked little by humankind in general, other than by the good people who live near the site of “The Old Man of the Mountain” in New Hampshire, which collaped early that morning, but that’s another tale for another day. I mention this otherwise unremarkable day because it was the day I first had the opportunity to fly in one of the RAF’s Vigilant T Mk 1 Motor Gliders. It was only a short flight of twenty minutes and I was only allowed to use one set of controls, but it was my first time in command of an aircraft and as Leonardo da Vinci so eloquently put it, my eyes have been turned skyward ever since.

I was, over the course of my teenage years, very lucky when it came to my time as an Air Cadet and the multitude of opportunities that it presented. By the time I left school in 2007 and was discharged from the CCF (RAF) I had been able to undertake a Gliding Scholarship at 624 Volunteer Gliding Squadron in Devon, a Flying Scholarship at Tayside Aviation in Dundee, and become a Trainee Gliding Instructor at 624 VGS. Unfortunately only a year later my doctor diagnosed me with mild Asthma, which to this day remains a bar to flying with the RAF, and so my flying career ended rather suddenly during the summer holiday of my first year at University

A few years earlier when I was sixteen I had applied to join the RAF as a pilot, I remember the days after failing to get through RAF boarding to OASC. I spent nearly a week of my summer holidays laying on the family sofa feeling sorry for myself, knowing with the certainty of youth that I would never be able to afford to fly commercially, and that the RAF was my only chance, and I had blown it. Now, after being diagnosed as asthmatic, I cried for hours. Watching my dreams slip away with the prescription I then held in my hand. Writing the letter to my VGS commanding officer informing him of my resignation was the cruellest twist of the knife; while it was a fait accompli as soon as the doctor had made the diagnosis, it still fell to me to write that letter. It felt as though I was in a sense giving up.

Alas flying in the civilian world is expensive, and not being blessed with huge quantities of disposable income at university or sizeable bequests from long lost relatives, I put aside my dreams of flight for a while with the hope that one day I’d be able to scrape together enough money to get back into the game. Now some will say I could have applied for one of those “career development loans” that flying schools with “direct to first officer” programmes are so enamoured with, and indeed have friends that did that very thing; but I am very risk averse, and with a new asthma diagnosis which could at any time have become a bigger problem than it ended up being, it just didn’t seem like a good idea.

Skipping briefly over the intervening decade, I continued my studies in Geology at University rediscovering and deepening a love of that subject, and more specifically Palaeontology. I spent four years after my graduation in 2011 working at various museums in an appropriately Indiana Jones/Dr Alan Grant-ish capacity before moving on to a (Ahem.) “real job” in meteorology; in which I have been working ever since.

“Flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.”

– Douglas Adams

“Living your best life” is a phrase often used by the influencer generation, and if I’m totally honest it’s not a phrase I particularly like. It is the sort of phrase that conjures up a particular image that I don’t think of as being very positive. it also implies that anything other than the hedonistic persuit of ones own happiness is time “wasted”, but perhaps that’s more revealing of my biases than anything else.

However, in this instance there is an element of truth to the phrase, I loved working in museums, and were it not for a national lack of heritage funding and limited PhD positions in palaeontology I would have stayed in that profession, and you never know I may yet persue it again in the future. Were it not for my savings running out working in the heritage sector I may never have moved into meteorology, a job which for all it’s shift work and complications I do not dislike. All that being said I am where I am and thanks to moving out of palaeontology I can, just about, afford to return to the air.

So this year, a full eleven years after my last landing at RMB Chivenor, after my asthma diagnosis forced my resignation from the volunteer gliding squadron, I have at long last returned to the air as something other than a passenger.

I’ve never known an industry that can get into people’s blood the way aviation does.

— Robert Six, founder of Continental Airlines.

The most surprising thing so far has been how much I missed the thrill of flying, coming down from my third flying lesson I had the biggest smile of my face in years, grinning from ear to ear and practically punch drunk! I was happier than I have been in a decade. In hindsight perhaps it should have been obvious. By the age of seventeen I was flying a motor-glider happily around the skies of north Devon my own, then by nineteen I was earthbound once more and having to leave the sky behind. I don’t know if it was the stiff-upper lippedness of being British, the eleven years grounded, or simply that until last year I had accepted my fate, but until I stepped out of the aircraft after that third lesson, I simply had no idea how much my heart yearned to fly.

Now of course, there’s a long road ahead before I gain my Pilot’s Licence. While I can fly an aircraft well enough thanks to my teenage exploits, radio-telephony and aerial navigation are both new challenges, while human factors and the technical examinations beckon like Scylla and Charybdis, a menacing thunderhead of mathematics, medicine and psychology ready to rain upon my parade. These trials are worth the suffering and challenge to gulp the beauty of soaring above the earth.

The point, as much as anything I ever write has had, is that one should be very careful about giving up ones dreams. Perhaps if I had been more careful at a younger age it would not have taken me until I was passed thirty to begin again on the ladder to the stars, but time heals all wounds and most embarrassments, and the most worthwhile of goals are the ones which pose the greatest of challenges.

Or as the Royal Air Force’s motto says, Per Ardua, Ad Astra; Through adversity, to the stars.

Flying might not be all plain sailing, but the fun of it is worth the price.

– Amelia Earhart

Merry Christmas 2018!

Good afternoon everyone,

Here’s wishing you all a very merry Christmas. I’m afraid there isn’t going to be a pre-recorded Christmas message from me this year, because I simply don’t trust myself not to go into a rant about the farce that is Westminster at the moment, and to do so would be prejudicial to my keeping my job.

So instead, I’ll wish you all a very merry Christmas, and leave you with the hope that 2019 will be better.

I also never got around to writing anything about this year’s great American road trip, but I did produce a vlog while I was out there, so here it is for anyone who didn’t see it!

In other news, now that Tom (Azüll of The PodQuest) is back from his sojourn in the United States, hopefully we can bring you something new this year… watch this space!

With season’s greetings,

Ben

Twitter is a strange place these days.

I came back to twitter this week after avoiding it for a while, and I think it may have been a poorly timed return given events in the UK to do with that thing which shall not be named. But after observing a week of highly frayed public discourse I feel like this needs to be said:

In the interests of general discourse in the world, allow me to offer this small opinion. It may be a worthless one but seeing things going on as they are is intensely infuriating to me. Politics touches every part of our lives, so the least we can do is be civil about it.

If you think anyone who disagrees with your pet political position is a “traitor”, a “quisling” or an “enemy of the people”, you are part of the problem with political discourse, not the solution. Similarly if you minimise the legitimate concerns of others about your pet political position, you are also part of the problem, not the solution.

For example, as a monarchist, a strict, specific reading of the definition of “traitor” would allow me to apply that word freely to republicans here in Britain, but I do not, because I’m fairly sure thought is not a crime, and someone holding an opposing view doesn’t scare me, provided they don’t act on it violently. Similarly, there are legitimate concerns and objections to monarchy, even the constitutional kind for which I advocate, and as a monarchist it is my duty to listen to those concerns and take heed of them, both to allow me to educate and discuss counterpoints, and to help me better refine my own ideas.

The thing I’ve noticed this week (even from myself at times) is that there are highly intelligent people out there who fall into these twin traps constantly.

Not everyone who disagrees with you is a bad guy, not everyone who agrees with you is a good guy. Treating them as such doesn’t condemn the former and excuse the latter, but it does demean you, and it has cheapened our political discourse to the point we are at now.

This having been said, I am not saying there are not political positions that deserve to be dismissed out of hand – Godwins Law exists for a reason after all. Just maybe think, and talk to your interlocutor before flying off the proverbial handle. Ideas live and die by debate, but debate the idea, don’t berate the human.

OK, rant (plea?) over, have a nice day everybody.

I’m Spreadin’ the News… I’m Leavin’ Today…

“I’m going on an adventure!” said the young man to the drinks machine while it dispensed his necessary morning bottle of caffienated sugar syrup.

“Whirrr….Bzzzzzt…..Clatter… Clank” said the drinks machine, spitting out the beverage in question and wondering, in the non-plussed way machines do, why this human was bothering it at 0448 in the morning.

The young man collected the drink, and after saying a polite but cheery “thankyou” to the machine, wandered along the platform towards an uncomfortable looking bench.

Watching him walk away, the machine rolled its eyes – or it would if it had any – and after the regulated couple of minues turned off its lights and went back to sleep.

And so begins my three week adventure to the United States of America, Land of the free, Home of the brave, and still – bewilderingly – the only country in the industrialised world where your medical bills might kill you. However that’s a discussion for another time.

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Yes, I confess I had to employ a monopod for this shot (I believe the youth of today call them “selfie-sticks”)

As I write, I find myself whisked through the inky black of a Devonshire autumn morning on a South Western Railways train in a carriage where my only company is a couple of early bird commuters making their way to London for another long working Friday. Although why anyone would commute from the other side of the country for the sake of a single day of work is a little baffling to me. Anywho, the trip upon which I embark this morning is a long one, in fact it’s the longest “holiday” I’ve had since I was 11, when my mother took my brother and me on an eight week epic journey around a sizeable portion of the anglosphere. It’s also going to be one of the busiest, as I am attempting – foolishly perhaps – to take in as much of the contiguous united states as I can given the time and funds I have available. In order to do this I will be enlisting the help of two stalwarts of Americana… AMTRAK (that’s the US’ cross-state rail system) and the Road Trip (kindly driven by my good friend and up-and-coming thespian, Tom, who we shall perhaps meet in later blog posts).

The plan, then, is for a week to be spent in New York, where I’ll be taking in the normal touristy things, and hopefully being introduced to some other non-touristy places by Tom. I’ll also be – perhaps predictably –  visiting some museums; I’m particularly looking forward to the Hayden Planetarium although I doubt very much I’ll get to meet Neil DeGrasse Tyson, as much as it would make my holiday.

After this initial stay in the Big Apple, it’s on a flight out to San Francisco to board the California Zephyr which will take me through the Rockies, the Sierra Nevada, and the Great Plains back to Chicago (the city, not the Musical) where I’ll be changing trains onto the Lake Shore Limited back to New York. I figure this way I can cram as much of the US’ wonderful blend of scenery as I can into my stay. My only real regret is that I won’t get any time actually in San Francisco, other than the eight hours or so overnight between my flight landing and the train leaving, (just an excuse for another trip I suppose).

Then once I’m back on the East Coast, Tom’s once again taking up the baton and the road trip begins… this part of the trip is – as yet – unplanned, but as long as we get back for the first days of NY Comic Con, I’ll be happy.

I’m now passing through Axminster, giving me a last chance for a brief farewell to my childhood neighbourhood before the epic adventure begins! I’ll bring this first post to a close here though, but as I’ve brought enough Camera Equipment to supply a low budget documentary crew… I imagine you may see more of me in the coming days.

Makes a change from the dearth of posts over the last year or so though right!

Ben D Brooks
16 Sept 2017

Another orbit comes to a close

It’s that time of year again…

Where I subject you all to my Christmas Podcast (as it seems to have become!)

I promise this one’s less depressing than last year, although I also didn’t have much to say, especially as I tried to avoid talking much about this annus horribilis!

But anywho, Merry Christmas one and all.

Ben Brooks
21 Dec 2016

A Gamer’s Call to Arms!

Hey Folks;

I’ve finally got to the point where it’s become clear that my existing gaming group in East Devon are never going to be able to maintain an ongoing RPG campaign of any kind.

So I’m looking to find a group of four or so gamers in the Exeter (UK) area to join me in playing some games; so if you’ve ever played tabletop games or would be interested in giving them a go, I’d love to hear from you.

Unfortunately due to my shift working I’m not able to commit to a specific day every week, but I do get my roster 2 months in advance, so planning sessions shouldn’t be a problem.

I’m willing to set up and run a campaign in Runequest or Call of Cthulhu for others, or act as a player character in pretty much any other games system (Dungeons and Dragons, Vampire; the Masquerade etc).

So… if that’s of interest to anyone, I look forward to hearing from you

Ben Brooks
24 Feb 2016