As a kid I used to enjoy computer flight simulator games, I think it was on an Atari ST or one of those old-time 2nd or 3rd generation home computers (there was a rivalry then between Commodore Amiga and Atari ST which probably tells social observers something fundamental about you.., like Betamax or VHS, BBC or ITV). Anyway I remember wanting to do this flight simulator game ‘properly’ – as in I wanted to set the settings to the most realistic and difficult level and learn what to do as if I were learning to fly a real aircraft; of course this meant I could barely control the pixelated plane and had to spend ages reading instruction books about how boring things like fuel calculations and trimming to compensate for crosswinds (which didn’t really exist). When I could have just been having a laugh and doing what my friends were doing which was deliberately crashing into bridges (training for something??), or doing virtual loop-the-loops without even knowing how to correct from an incipient spin if they messed up. Huh!

I have the same obsessive approach towards climbing. I fixate on doing things ‘properly’ (to me), like when I decided to start trying harder and did eight 7c’s, four 7c+’s, two 8a’s, before allowing myself to do an 8a+. Because that makes sense and makes the difficult outcome more probable, and means you’re a proper climber at grade xyz instead of someone who got lucky. Or something. I realise it’s ridiculous.

Twenty years down the line from computer flight sims, after botching-up one of my first real-life attempted solo landings sans-instructor and making the decision to ‘go-around’ in the Cessna 152, I’d find myself at tree-top height, failing to gain altitude and staring through the cockpit glass at the deciduous trees surrounding Ormond Beach airfield in Florida getting closer by the second. Why wasn’t I gaining height? Carb-heat ‘off’, dumb ass! Flaps up in stages! Just in time the plane gains height and, barely clearing the tree-tops, I re-join the pattern to make another approach.

I land, taxi to the hard-standing outside the flight-school building and shut her down. None of the other students or flight instructors sunning themselves on benches outside had noticed the clueless rookie almost plough an airplane into the golf course. So I don’t mention it… I go off for a Bud and a cheeseburger and prepare for the next written exam.

Land of the free.. gotta love America.