There was a lurch as the weight shifted from wheels to those tiny token wings, and Malcolm knew the little plane had lifted off the hillside and was airborne. It was as if the air was stiffening beneath him to keep him aloft.
Or perhaps it was the pollution that was making the atmosphere thicker; the mists that clung so magically to the trees certainly had a horrible, yellowish tinge.
Still, it did look beautiful, curling round pines that jutted up at him like knives.
Malcolm flicked a switch: the propeller fluttered and was still. Though Dennis's little plane had a real engine the size of a man's fist, it was powered largely by hope. There was silence, except for the wind whistling past stumpy wings.
He found that just by keeping himself cheerful he could maintain level flight. Musing on the British entry to the Eurovision Song Contest sent the plane into a sharp dive, which he corrected by thinking about women's bottoms and melted cheese. He could steer left by thinking about Karl Marx and Pol Pot, while thinking about Adolf Hitler or Augusto Pinochet turned the plane sharply to the right.
But mental gymnastics like these were largely unnecessary; all you needed to keep aloft was to enjoy the view.
And here, laid out for his delectation, were ribbons of roads crawling with gleaming cars, hills segmented up into fields, like so many vast tortoises basking in the sun. It did his heart good to see these vast tracts of arable land set aside to earn grants, the pride of our great post agricultural society. While here and there unhealthy green patches of oilseed rape stood out like fungus growing on the skin of the soil.
Malcolm knew that Dennis was planning to mass produce his compact aircraft. He would probably do very well; this one was absurdly easy to fly. Malcolm felt a sudden surge of resentment that this empty sky might one day be crowded with these silent, short-winged planes. He wondered idly how long you could keep cheerful enough to stay in the air; whether you could cross the English Channel, or even the Atlantic. Bad weather would be a problem: rain would depress you, and send you plummeting into the waves. He had to quickly think about Claudia Schiffer's bottom to correct the dive he’d inadvertently sent the plane into.
The air didn't fail him, coagulating and thrusting him up towards a cloud.
It was beautiful inside. Mystical. Damp.
Malcolm was too old to be hanging around where it was cold and wet. He thought about Mad Cow Disease, and dipped down into sunlight.
Which cheered him up so much he went straight back into the cloud.
And that depressed him all over again, sending him plunging back into bright daylight, which cheered him up again and put him back in the cloud until he took the bull by the horns and began to think of the huge number of repeats there were on TV these days, a thought that sent him into a shallow dive which he pulled out of by remembering how much he enjoyed Fawlty Towers.
He sneaked silently up on a meadow pipit, which suddenly became aware of him, giving him a suspicious glance over its shoulder. Keeping his emotions firmly under control, Malcolm stayed with the bird for fully three minutes, admiring the powerful thrust of its tiny wings (even smaller than his own plane's little stumps). Then the bird came to rest on the top of a cedar tree, and he flew on.
He was passing twenty feet above the garden of a large country house. It had a swimming pool, where a group of children paused in their frolicking to gape at him.
Malcolm thought about Margaret Thatcher, making circles round the pool and waving. But as well as turning him sharply right, thinking about the ex Prime Minister was making him lose altitude. So he imagined a piping hot veal cordon bleu splitting under the pressure of his knife, which took him soaring up towards that bloody cloud.’
He would not be caught a second time.
He found that by concentrating on the sight of sunlight glinting on a tree-lined brook, he could keep the little plane almost motionless, buffeted by a light breeze that caught the stunted wings and tail.
Relentlessly, the wind forced him up the hillside till he found himself next to a kite, staring down into the astonished, upturned face of a small boy.
"How do you do that?" asked the boy, his voice rising up on the wind.
"I don't know," Malcolm called back. "Something to do with superconductors, I think. You'll have to ask Dennis."
He let the breeze whisk him away.
All this keeping himself cheerful was beginning to be wearing. He concentrated his mind on Melanie Griffith's tattoo, rising up till he could see to get his bearings.
He spotted Dennis's Land Cruiser parked at the roadside a couple of fields away, and caught a glint of sunlight on his friend's binoculars.
Tired but satisfied, he set his thoughts on juvenile crime, and started his descent.
Welsh rarebit, he told himself, slowing down sharply. Tooth decay, Che Guevara, Eva Peron, Eva Peron's bottom, the National Lottery, Modern Architecture, and he settled down so gently he didn't even disturb two lovers leaning against a fence.
It wasn't until Malcolm climbed out onto the grass that the young man turned and stared at the tiny plane, with its fat body and stubby wings. He laughed aloud.
"It'll never fly," he said.