30 minutes later we repeated out taxi to the runway. Every single person had their fingers crossed and were daring to hope we might leave. It was now about 70 hours since Edsel and I had first left Kent and we had only achieved about 100 miles of our 4000 mile trip. The engines revved up, then roared then we powered almost interminably along the 10,000ft runway. We lifted, slowly, and rose into the air and the relief amongst everyone on board was palpable as we got to our cruising altitude, leaving the sunshine and harvesting of southern England below us and heading out towards Iberia and the West African coast.
The age of the plane meant that the only entertainment was from large screens at the front of each cabin and it turned out that only children’s films were shown. I read a lot of my book that day. We were served “dinner” about 11 am- a ham sandwich which Edsel would not touch, and breakfast about 6pm – pork sausage and scrambled egg and again Edsel had to pick out the pork. No flexibility to the time of day – the catering reflected the original night time flight plan.
Over several trips to Ascension Island I have never been so delayed, and very little changed over the service. Different charter airlines have undertaken the contract for the RAF, including an American firm who shipped over their own cabin staff who called you honey and chassed up and down the aisle in their tight uniforms. The planes changed to , including a DC10 and an Airbus. And the last time the entertainment did change and iPads were handed round from which you could select your movie or music. But those two meals of ham sandwich and sausage and egg have never been altered.
The sun was set by the time we came into land at Ascension and all we saw was the red lights of obstacles around the airfield and the huge floodlights on the airport apron. I’d met our host, Tara once before in London, and once the introductions to Edsel were made, we were taken the few miles to the capital city – Georgetown. I’d not bothered to call Tara to tell her about the delays – she knew far more through the network on island and what was the point when the only option was to wait for the plane to depart and pick us up when we arrived.
I joke when I say we headed to the capital city. True it is the administrative centre of the island, but in fact it was a town of barely 250 souls, in a country of about 1000 people. The make up of the island was a mixture of military staff and workers supporting the functioning of the island, and one or two private businesses. There are actually very few military ranks there. Around the airport is the American Air Force base but apart from the commander and a couple of others they tend to be contract workers keeping the place oiled and greased in case it is needed. The RAF base is up the hill about a mile away from the airfield. It holds a few military staff but again has more contractors keeping the place going and a host of visitors including military people on rest and recuperation or R&R from the Falkland Islands. What a shock it must be to them to feel the tropical heat of Ascension Island after the windswept cold of the Falklands.