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The highs – and lows – of learning to fly a kite

25 August 2018

9:00 AM

25 August 2018

9:00 AM

I’ve flown only three kites in my life. My stepfather bought me the first. I remember seeing him from a window approaching our little mews house off Bond Street, clutching it furled in its packet as though his life depended upon it.

The previous day he had overcharged an electric plane sent for my birthday by my other father, the one left in America following a youthful marriage that didn’t pan out. The walk to the launch took us past the barley-twist facades of Mount Street and Allens the butchers (alas, no more) whose soft light, sawdust and warm meaty air I always recall pooling the pavement on autumn trudges home from St George’s primary school. From the centre of Hyde Park the plane hopped jauntily onto the breeze and kept going until it crossed Park Lane, rose above the hotels and swanky showrooms, resolved into an agitated dot, and disappeared.

The kite, however, had strings attached and would not fly away. Shortly after that, Peter became Dad.


The second was made by my grandfather. A taciturn Scot, his affection burst out in occasional acts of madness that punctuate thrillingly the memories of my 1970s childhood. ‘100… 105… 108… 111!’ he once counted through clenched teeth, hands gripped on the wheel of his mustard Rover V8 as I pressed my nose to the windscreen, the lane lines of the M20 coming at me like tracer fire. Once, barrelling through the Dartford Tunnel late at night, a Tannoy boomed at him to ‘Slow down!’ For a moment he thought it was God.

The kite was formidable, a garage-special lash-up of polythene, wrist-thick dowl and industrial insulating tape. When he let my sister and me take charge, we scudded along the ground like cloud shadows made flesh.

The third was this summer, bought from a seaside shop on Sandyhills Bay on the southern coast of Galloway; a cheap confection of coloured plastic and weedy string. It was my daughter’s first. As darkening clouds grumbled at us from the hills, she dug into her mind’s flickering traces of kids’ telly to tell me about Benjamin Franklin sending up his key in a storm. Who cares? Up, up and away it went, such a flimsy thing now bodied out and tense.

Sandyhills is a sweet, tidy resort on a vast tidal stretch. The water comes in so fast that someone once apparently raced the sea to shore on a thoroughbred, just making it. Walking out a few hundred yards with my daughter made me feel uncanny; the feeling I had, in fact, when my stepdad, in his suede belted jacket, fruitlessly ran after the one-trick plane, leaving me quite alone in the dizzying green space of the park. Perfect for flying, though, and my daughter was rapt, tugging and squinting up at the thing angrily anchoring her to the sky.

Her own nature is moving on. Half the time was spent flying the kite, throwing balls for our Shetland sheepdog, digging holes and making and smashing sandcastles. The other was seeking out spangly crop tops in the M&Co in Castle Douglas; gobbling up mobile data to keep pace with unmentionable reality shows; and sketching out girlie outfits with yet another set of coloured pens.

Why, oh why, did I wait until she was ten, and I past 50, to go kite-flying again?


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