A while ago I recommended some books that, even in these days of frills-free, bag-measuring airlines, can restore some of the wonder to flying. There are a couple more I would now add to my list. One is Skybound (Picador), Rebecca Loncraine’s hymn to gliding, which was one of my books of 2018. The other book I would add is due out in the New Year, and I’ve just started reading an early copy.
My friend Graham Coster, who commissioned several travel anthologies I edited while he was at Aurum Press, is now running his own imprint, Safe Haven, where his quirky offerings include titles on everything from urban birding to unsent letters. On January 10 he’s republishing a book of his own, The Flying Boat That Fell to Earth (which first appeared in Penguin, in 2000, as Corsairville: The Lost Domain of the Flying Boat, and was read on Radio 4 and praised by reviewers as various as William Boyd and Jeremy Clarkson).
It tells the story of an Imperial Airways flying boat, Corsair — one of a fleet carrying pre-war passengers in lap-belt luxury from the UK to Africa and Australia — which made a forced landing in the Belgian Congo. Coster tracks down the “air mariners” who went to Central Africa in the extraordinary salvage operation that followed, traces the old mail route the flying boats flew through Africa, and travels to the Bahamas and Alaska to fly on the last flying-boat services left in the world. His book is a love-letter to a mode of transport that is simultaneously improbable and fabulous: “an aeroplane walking on water; a boat defying gravity — as magical as a flying pig”.
In a poignant afterword for the new edition, he points out that it’s a book he couldn’t write now: there are no flying boats left to catch anywhere. So the nearest you can come to sharing his experiences is to read his book…