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  • Writer's pictureNikko Norte

The road to serfdom …

My gaze wanders over Graubünden, a Swiss Kanton, then, via my legs in my black flight overalls, to the pale red hiking boots Heidi yesterday surprised me with. I eh… I don’t lack hiking boots, but I feel childishly happy with this new pair and realize it contributes to my life’s quality to still be able to be childishly happy with, say, a pair of boots, with the sight of the autumn-colored forest under me, with the fresh air that bites my nose, and … oh man.

My flight overalls I bought some thirty years ago in England, where I trained to obtain a license to fly ultralight aircraft. In the open cockpit of the aircraft I had chosen to train on, instructor in the back, my overalls kept the cold from diminishing the pleasure I derived from learning something new. After each day of flying, in the evening dusk, usually in a drizzle, I walked along endless hedgerows to the Merlin Hotel in the village of Marlborough. Creaky stairs and corridors with slanted floors led me to my room. Small room. Flower curtains in the single-glazed window, which offered a view over the Christmas-lit village square. Laura Ashley wallpaper. A rug on the wooden floor, a single bed with sheets and a blanket, extra blanket in the oak cupboard, the trickle of water the shower head released lukewarm. Shivering under that shower head, I looked forward to a meal near the fireplace in the Merlin’s pub, and I dreamed of moving into the Merlin Hotel for good. Opposite the oak cupboard in my room stood an oak desk, on that desk a writing pad, on the writing pad my fountain pen. Flying, long walks along hedgerows, writing, and eh… true, the woman manning the bar in the Merlin’s pub was a knockout, the arrogance with which she dealt with the admirers at her counter intriguing.

To take my exam, I soloed my open flying machine to Popham Airfield, near the town of Basingstoke. An examiner waited for me there. After my exam, numb with cold in the cafeteria next to one of Popham's two runways, our hands around mugs of instant coffee, my examiner remarked that he would entrust me with his wife as a passenger.

‘Sorry to have disappointed you, sir,’ I replied. My examiner burst into a laugh, and a week later, I owned my first pilot's license, which I celebrated with an intriguing English woman in The Sun, a pub opposite the Merlin Hotel of which the ceiling was so low that even I had to keep a watchful eye on the wooden beams supporting it, the Christmas mood massive …

A year later, more licenses under my belt, in a Scottish Aviation Bulldog I considered buying, I visited Popham Airfield again. The Bulldog had been built in the seventies for the Botswana Air Force. In its Botswanan camouflage scheme, it had been bought by an Englishman who had failed to warn me for the bend in the runway from which I took off. It was in that bend, ten percent flaps, a few knots under takeoff speed, that my Bulldog became a Mustang. Bremen, in Germany, would be my destiny, although I headed south, over the white horse of Uffington, the unsettling sounds of moving metal parts my only company in the cockpit. After a nose dive to the office of my former ultralight instructor in Marlborough had reminded me of my proneness to get airsick, I set course for Popham Airfield, where, after a mug of coffee in the airfield’s cafeteria, I too slowly taxied to the start of the runway in use. The Bulldog's front wheel hit something, it turned like wheels on shopping carts tend to do, and the Bulldog ended up in a wheat field adjacent to the runway. Trying to comprehend what had just happened, I wondered whether it wasn’t about time to give up the slapstick life I lived. Bending over to dodge a swinging ladder, my head in a bucket of water. That more or less summed up what life had been about since my refusal to live up to the outcome of the obligated vocational test I took in primary school, and … my altimeter is quietly beeping for quite some time now. Lost in thought, oblivious of my actions, I circle under my paraglider in a column of rising air, steadily gaining altitude, something I did not expect this time of the year.

From my new boots, I divert my gaze back to Graubünden, and I think of the army tent I pitched on a campsite in the village of Savognin in a previous life. Steel table, chair, and cupboard, an army cot with a sleeping bag on it, a diesel stove, and a burner to cook on. Three months, each year, I resided in the snow, and man, I realize why I so stubbornly block the beautiful present from my mind to dwell on the past instead. This morning, I watched two YouTube movies I shouldn’t have watched.

In the first movie, an African doctor explained that herd immunity to corona is a fact in most parts of Africa, mainly because Africans do not comply with the corona measures issued by their governments, and, added I, because the co-morbidities that make corona dangerous for westerners are rare in Africa. In the second movie, a doctor elaborated on a study that showed proof of the effectiveness of the corona booster shots in Israel. The good doctor omitted to mention that the need for booster shots could be seen as proof of the ineffectiveness of the first two shots of the same vaccine, boosters shots likely proving themselves equally ineffective within little time. Heidi found the study on the internet and opened it for me on my computer.

Booster shots, the study seemed to confirm, reduce our chances to become seriously ill after an infection with corona’s delta variant, and while reading, my mind drifted to general Dayan, hero of the Six Day War, who once stated we are a small country, but strong. Not any longer. Israelis today are clearly so weak it must be avoided at all cost that they get seriously ill from a virus that barely makes anyone sicker than the somehow disappeared influenza did.

After I had closed the study on my computer, hiking to the top of the mountain Golm, I thought of the data the Israeli government still releases on a daily basis. Data from which is easily deduced that vaccinated and unvaccinated people, per fixed amount of them, are equally responsible for Israel’s corona-related hospital admissions, which takes the effectiveness of the vaccines into question unless only unvaccinated people die of corona in which case the Knesset would be dancing in the streets of Jerusalem. Forcing myself through to the end of the study, before I set out on my hike, I learned that the effectiveness of booster shots peaks at a mere twenty days. I learned nothing about adverse events, and my throat tightened when I realized that time is running out for the western world to follow the African example, to finally force its governments to actually tackle corona – with focused protection – and to quit using corona to get us to embrace digital passports that will all too soon stop us from hiking where we desire to hike, will force us instead to walk the road to serfdom – who doesn't know Hayek? – and … a cloud engulfs me, my world suddenly grey, my orientation gone.

Let go of the steering lines, a calm voice in my head orders. I do as I am told, realizing that a phenomenon called keel effect will keep me on a straight course. Then, I breath into my cupped hands to raise the carbon dioxide level in my blood, praying to thus keep my panic from developing into a panic attack. Clumsily, I manage to hook the heels of my new boots into the speed bar under me. Stretching my legs, the feel of the wind on my face tells me I gain speed. If only I keep my calm, I’ll be out of this cloud in no time, and I force my thoughts to the day I flew a twin-engine Seminole into the clouds on a long final to Teterboro Airport in New York, actually New Jersey.

Successfully, I had passed the exam for my instrument rating; actual IFR I had never flown. My heart pounding, my eyes fixated on the Seminole’s instruments, my ears keen on the instructions Teterboro tower supplied me with, I worked through the pre-landing checklist, my fingers running over buttons and levers. ‘Landing gear down,’ I heard myself mumble, after which I wrenched my eyes from the instrument panel to look through the gray matter around me at the tiny mirror on my left engine in which, I convinced myself, I saw the reflection of a nosewheel. ‘One in the mirror, three in the green,’ I muttered, and my heart skipped a beat when I noticed that the three landing gear indicators on the instrument panel were not on. Desperate to help the wheels under me snap into their locks, I rolled the Seminole from left to right. No green lights. My mouth dry, I pressed the red button on the yoke, and into the microphone in front of my mouth I said, ‘Teterboro tower, this is november triple, one, two.’

‘Triple, one, two…’

‘Teterboro tower, malfunctioning landing gear indicators, I need a fly-by for a visual check,’ I stated correctly to then lie, ‘Experienced pilot, triple, one, two.’

‘Oh lord...’ the voice from the gray void came back in my headset, and ... I fly out of the cloud that engulfed me some minutes ago, my heart still pounding, the snowy peak of mount Zimba to my left. Seven kilometers to go to the landing site I have in mind, sufficient altitude.

Much higher than I expected, I circle over the village of Schruns, in Austria, some kilometers north of the Swiss border. October 2020. The vaccination program in Austria in full swing. More corona-related deaths in Austria than a year ago. Something not right. For two weeks now, Heidi and I are under house arrest, our refusal to take part in a medical experiment our crime. We are only allowed to leave our house to shop for essentials, my soaring over Schruns, watching the few people on the terrace of the Konditorei next to the church, a criminal act.

I force my glider into a spiral dive to bleed off altitude and think of Orwell, who predicted that mankind in the end would choose happiness over freedom. And he was right. A year and a half ago, the people on the terrace of the Konditorei under me enjoyed their relative freedom ánd Kaffee mit Kuchen. Now, they are in the process of willingly giving up their freedom, coffee and cake synonymous with happiness. Man, I wonder how the Austrian government will ever convince me to vaccinate myself against a disease I need not fear while at the same time calling up everyone over the age of eighteen to get a booster shot because the two shots of the same vaccine they took previously don’t work. House arrest is supposed to convince me, for science and the available data urge us to keep as much distance from those vaccines as we can, and ... cows around the stamp-sized landing field. The windsock on top of a barn flapping in all directions. A provisional electric cattle fence, not there yesterday, rushes toward me. I try to put one of my new boots on the top wire, my glider whips forward, my right foot touches the ground, I hear and see my ankle break.

Stunned, I lie in the grass. Far away and far too slow, I register my heartbeat as pain, nausea, and dizziness fight for my attention. I eh… I’m screwed. Kick in the butt, my head in a bucket of water. A wave of self-pity makes me gasp for air, but at the same time, I embrace the certainty that two doors will open for every door slammed in my face, and I feel my mouth turn into a grin while realizing that government-affiliated scientists would probably have advised me to have both my legs amputated to avoid ever breaking an ankle …


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