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David: a story in clouds

David Armstrong from Surrey shares the lockdown skies from his back garden

09 Jun 2020 2 min read

I live in the bottom left hand corner of Surrey, less than a mile from either Hampshire or West Sussex.

My last holiday flight was in 1983 and I have stayed away from planes since then apart from a couple of essential business flights.

Unfortunately, being equidistant from Heathrow and Gatwick, the planes don’t extend the same courtesy to me. This was mid-afternoon on 1st June 2019, a day of cloudless blue sky:

Picture shows a blue sky that has been filled with vapour trails from aeroplanes.

The very earliest vapour trails from soon after dawn literally hung around all day slowly dispersing until they resembled clouds. All that pollution would have to come down somewhere – it certainly didn’t go into outer space.

A couple of days ago on 1st June 2020 I retook the photo with the same camera:

Picture shows a clear blue sky with only small fluffy white clouds. Only one small vapour trail is visible in the bottom right corner behind the tops of a few trees.

After weeks of clear skies with nearly all the planes grounded there was one vapour trail low over the trees and a few small fluffy real clouds.

The clarity of the air is very noticeable. I had assumed my vision had deteriorated over nearly seven decades. Now after a few weeks of lockdown with vehicles off the roads, aircraft grounded and all their accumulated pollution removed my visual acuity has returned to what it was 30 years ago.

When I was eight years old we had one of the last smogs. Visibility was down to about three feet in the dense yellowish fog. My granddad met me from school and we felt our way along garden fences which seemed a lot less familiar than they should have been for the mile walk home. Granddad got bronchitis which became pneumonia and he died a few days later.

Since then we have learnt to stop burning coal on open fires, lead has been taken out of petrol and diesel particulates have received attention at last. Did nobody wonder for all those years why the backs of buses were covered in soot from their exhausts?

Thirty-seven years ago I saw a photo taken from space showing how terribly thin the layer of our precious breathable atmosphere was, and quit flying through it. It was a no-brainer.

I saw a photo taken from space showing how thin the layer of our precious breathable atmosphere was, and quit flying through it. It was a no-brainer.

How ironic that others’ sense of entitlement to have several holiday flights a year to enjoy places with bright sun and clear skies leaves me with the polluted air that results.

We need a great deal of creativity if we are to wean our population from only visiting our resorts from 30,000 feet… and while Covid-19 is not what you or I would wish on anybody, we may not get another opportunity as good as the present one.