Sky’s the limit by Lesley Taylor
“Are you going to see the Flying Circus?" Ethel asked, as she opened her packet of sandwiches. “Of course, try stopping me!” Maggie responded, pouring out a cup of tea from her flask. “Are we all meeting somewhere Saturday lunchtime?” “What about getting some lunch at Lyons, in Commercial Road, and get the bus to Southsea Common?” Edna suggested. “All right, we’ll do that,” Maggie said. From here to Lyons. Oh dear, Mum’s given me fish paste again!”
“What are you cleaning your Sunday shoes for?” Maggie jumped. “So I – I won’t have to do it Sunday, Dad.” “In that case, where are you going tomorrow?” “I – I – I – ” Maggie did not dare to mention the Flying Circus. But Dad had guessed. “You’ll not be goin’ off to Southsea tomorrow, my girl. Too expensive, for a start, without one of them planes fallin’ on you. You’ll stop home an’ help your mother.” He went out to the outside toilet. At the back door he turned. “I never liked you workin' at Biggins, in that typin’ office. It’s makin’ you stuck up. You oughter be up at Vollers, makin' corsets.” He almost slammed the back door. Maggie shrugged. “That’s good; you can help me wash the bedroom curtains.” Mum placidly filled the kettle from the tap. Maggie crossly went into the back sitting room.
Maggie had never seen so many people before; at the entrance she could not even see the planes over a sea of heads. And they were all pouring on to the field; the girls all linked arms to keep together. The show was amazing. All the big name were there; Amy Johnson declared the show open standing on the wing of her plane, which stood on a raised platform, and Amelia Earhart flew her plane over the common, and waved from the cockpit. The excitement was tremendous. There were biplanes flying in formation, with smoke making lines in the sky behind them; they conclude their performance by drawing a red and blue heart in the sky. Then there as an announcement over the loudspeaker. “Ladies and gentlemen, as you may know, at 3.30 this afternoon there will be a demonstration of wing walking. But unfortunately the star has been taken ill. Is there anyone in the crowd that would like to replace her?”
“I’ll do it!” Maggie shouted, and made for the official tent, ignoring Ethel and Edna’a shouts to come back. In the official tent stood a man wearing a flying jacket, with goggles pushed up into his hair, and in front of him stood a line of young lads and girls. Her heart sank; she had never imagined there would be all these people. But the flyer looked along the row, and puffed on his cigarette. “You, there, in the striped dress!” Maggie jumped.
“Come along now,” he said sharply, and strode out of the open back of the tent. Maggie stumbled after him. When he reached the plane, he turned to her. “Name?” “Margaret Digweed.”
“Age? Over twenty one?” She nodded; no need to say she was twenty one next week, which was true. A form was thrust to her. “I can’t employ you without your permission,” he said. Maggie signed. Then he explained the straps and harness on the top of the plane. Finally he handed her a sweater. “You’ll be cold else,” he said briefly. Maggie climbed up. It was exhilarating. She had her arms free, so she could wave to the crowd, who cheered her voiciferously. The wind snapped at her skirt, and cut through the sweater, but it felt clean. The view of the city of Portsmouth and the Solent was fascinating. The pilot dipped and climbed again, never scaring her, and each dip she entertained the crowds. After seemingly too short a time he landed again, and helped her down. “Well done – you’re perfect,” he told her. “Did you enjoy it?” “Wonderful.” Maggie smiled.
“You go up again at five for another walk, and at six thirty we’re in the flypast,” he told her. “And then you’ve earned twenty pounds.” Maggie gaped. “Oh, and I’m Joe McMahon. I flew planes in the Royal Flying Corps, over France. If you stick with my show, I’ll teach you to fly a plane.” “No, she isn’t – she’s comin’ straight back ‘ome wiv me!”
They turned; Dad stood there, furious, ominously waving a strap. Then he gaped. “Well, I’m blowed! It’s Major McMahon, isn’t it?” “Private Digweed – well I’m damned!” To Maggie’s amazement, both men were hugging and thudding each other in the back. When they were calm again, Major McMahon turned to Maggie. “Come back at five-thirty, Margaret, and I’ll explain to your father how I’m going to employ you. All right?” Maggie nodded.
When she returned at five twenty, she heard it was all arranged. She was now a member of the Major’s team, with Dad’s approval. As she mounted the plane and strapped herself in, she knew she had never been so happy.