In the nose Mental simulation

I think Helen might finally be coming round to my way of thinking. Almost ever since we met I've been, like, c'mon - weekends are for getting out and doing shit, not laying in bed getting over the working week just in time for the next one to start. And after our coastal exertions yesterday, today we were out and about again.

First off, chores. Taking bins out and stuff. Boo! But then, a train to Waterloo. Brief downpour at Vauxhall made us wonder if the next part of our plan might be doomed to bleakness if not outright failure, but come Waterloo the sun was out again and we headed to the pier by the London Eye. Time to get a boat.

The boat goes east, to Greenwich. No tickets required, Oyster works on these things. Not cheap though. It's quite nice to wait for a boat next to the Eye and in view of Parliament. Shame nearly everyone in there is such a shit.

The clippers have no seating out front, nor on the side, and most of the windows don't open. The first one was empty but not going where we wanted; the second was heaving.

So we were doomed to sit inside, behind some mucky windows through which photography was a lost cause. But down the back there was a bar, so catering was possible.

At North Greenwich pier there's this. Is it art? I have no idea. The dangleway dangles its way past everything, and a plan germinates in my head: how many forms of public transport can I use in a single day?

I'm very taken by the orderly seagulls perched in rows on this thing, having turned the metal into barcodes by shitting so much on them.

I love the Greenwich peninsula and nearabouts. There's seemingly nothing they can or will ever do to make it look pretty. We've just sailed past the zone of aggregates and the views are of cranes and sugar factories and disused wharves. It's so fantastically bleak. Even the O2 itself looks kind of shit really.

The big Rolls Royce engine outside the Emirates Aviation Experience, however, looks ace. Aviation you say?

That's right. It's time for Helen's birthday present, 6 weeks or so after the day itself. We're visiting a small exhibition about how planes work, with a focus on the A380. This place is next to the dangleway, the Boris-and-Emirates vanity cable car joining two shit parts of London together while providing shit views of other shit parts of London. Even during the Olympics barely anyone used the damn thing, and we're not going to use it today. But we are going to do plane-y stuff.

Engines work on 4 basic principles: suck, squeeze, bang, blow. Who knew?

There are large touch screen windows devices on which you play "can you turn an A380 round inside 25 minutes?" game. One such screen shows a "Windows needs to be activated" pop-up message. The thing which explains how engines work is pretty neat; there's also a cockpit nose in which you stand while a video plays simulating the journey of a piece of luggage through Dubai airport. It's reminiscent of the "bottle of beer through the brewery" thing you can do in the Heineken brewery, except less interesting because it's about a suitcase instead of beer.

We go upstairs because we think there's more stuff to see; there's another cockpit, full of kids crawling over the dash and seats, and the entrance to the simulators. We're too early for Cap'n Helen, but her departure is showing as "on time" on the board..

There's a guide on the wall which she chooses to blithely ignore, because she'll just learn on the job. Yeah, we'll see about that.

Downstairs there's an economy cabin mocked up. Looks uncomfortable.

Turns out it is quite uncomfortable. She's raging because there's no pyjamas, and the legroom sucks. The entertainment system works, and one of the videos is about what flying does to the human body. There's a "frequent flyer" giving advice on how you should avoid alcohol onboard, and some science sounding guy saying it's common that you'll find your emotions heightened when watching movies. That'll be why I'm always in floods of tears, eh. To add to the realism, one seat's entertainment system is broken and needs rebooting.

The departure board - which is ace, y'know - updates, saying Helen's flight is now boarding. So we go back upstairs, and they let her session start 15 minutes early.

I'm not driving, but I am allowed to sit in the first officer's seat and my duty is to put the landing gear up after take-off or down before landing. Tough gig, but I think I can handle it. Helen, however, gets to spend half an hour taking off, flying, and landing at various airports around the world. A young lad explains everything to us both and first off, she elects to take off from Heathrow during clear weather in the day time.

It's a piece of piss. Full throttle, 150mph and pull the nose up, landing gear comes up (I'm good at that), bank a bit, level off at a few thousand feet. Where shall we go? She heads towards the south coast, but once we're flying there's not much else to do. Let's give landing a go, shall we?

It's far from a full simulator but there's still enough to be hard work and lots of fun. A bunch of the instruments work properly, there are audio alerts from various systems, and the simulated view out of the windscreen is great. There's no movement no, this is not a box on stilts.

Keep the diamonds in the centre. Follow the flight path. Keep the dot on the 10ยบ line during take-off then level off. Go to heading 18. Etc.

Landing at Heathrow. We do this three times; the first twice are a great success, while on the third we would most likely have died.

Having got the hang of Heathrow, she then chooses to land at Hong Kong Kai Tak airport. Go look it up if the name means nothing - it doesn't exist now, since Chep Lap Kok replaced it. Back in the day it was one of the most challenging approaches in the world, with jumbos having to weave between skyscrapers and pull a strong right before landing on a short runway poking into water.

Helen lands almost perfectly at her first attempt. Slightly to the right, on the grass, but otherwise spot on.

Hong Kong looks as misty as it does in real life.

The session ends with a textbook cloudy night landing in Dubai, followed by a quick take-off and bank to the left in order to see Burj al Khalifa, Burj al Arab and the Palm Jumeraih. Seriously these graphics are pretty good, even if my phone couldn't capture that very well.

Birthday present was a roaring success. She totally loved it, and I totally loved being in the FO seat for the duration. Just before leaving, her score comes up on screen - we're not sure what basis it has, but it says she's 49th. What of, she asks? Well, 49th of all time.

We walk a big circle back round to Tesco and then to the boat pier. She's doing maths. 49th, of all time? Hang on. Let's say this place opened in 2012. Let's say they're open 7 days a week and there's 10 simulator sessions a day over 4 years. I forget the exact equation but we decide she's the 49th best simulator pilot out of roughly 60,000 sessions. Not bad, eh?

The clouds have gone away and the dangleway looks nice. It's a good job, because we queue for about 40 bloody minutes to get on a boat.

This time we manage to sit outside, but facing the wrong way and surrounded by people and anyway, we're clutching beer. Since I've been on a plane, sort of, I'm breaking my "no booze if at work the next day" rule and I have boat beer. Helen has a pre-mix mojito, which is surprisingly nice. On my phone we look up flying lessons, like, real proper ones, because she's totally got the bug. There are things you can buy where one person gets to take controls for half hour, and someone else can sit in the back, but there's a weight limit and muggins here is too fat to fly. Too fat to fly! The bastards! Maybe I shouldn't have broken that booze rule after all.

The boat is actually a fairly unpleasant ride, people-wise - Helen's regularly assaulted by the guy behind us's arse, and then a full on kick - so we pop off early at Tower Bridge and walk the Thames Path north bank. Looking back, it's quite pretty around here eh? This could be my commute in a couple of months.

At the wobbly bridge we go inland to see a small church. Around here, I'm sure, is the restaurant they use in First Dates and we try and find it, but fail.

We fail to find anywhere we'd like to eat, in fact, so walk up to Ludgate Circus and past a closed Mexican restaurant. Grr. So I pull out one of my trump cards, a pub I know is basically always open yet always empty, in central London, a stone's throw from the Thames. Sure enough it's open and empty, and we get booze and try to order food. Three of the sharing platter choices we'd like aren't available, and neither is Helen's choice of Sunday roast. Eesh. But when our eventual choices do arrive they are nice enough.

Even a seized day has to end at some point, and we head to our homes. Helen has a cat to attend to, and I have a 10-forms-of-public-transport-in-one-day trip to plot. Do cabs count?

Created By
Darren Foreman
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