A flying visit to RAF Cranwell

The revamped King's Cross station in central London. Photo: Edward Smith/EMPICS Entertainment

As for a 'pre-raid' briefing, I find myself in a bustling Kings Cross station at 0600 hours. I am travelling to RAF Cranwell, the British equivalent of 'West Point' for our military aviators - 'Top Gun' school, without the Harley-Davidsons, taking your 'breath away'.

I am going to talk to the RAF cadets who, 'ere long , will be the latest wave of brave and brilliant young men and women, patrolling our skies, delivering aid and protection to the destitute , and doing remarkable stunts over crowded air-shows.

It is what my late father did so I have a familial empathy with them.

But to get there first, that's my first challenge.

Online, I'm told Sleaford is where I must head.

To an impersonal, stumpy , automatic ticket machine. Faculties at 0605 perhaps stretched, it takes me two 'goes' to punch in the 'data'.

Pin rejected- once, twice. Grump.

To the ticket office and a trio of humanity's finest - one of whom sorts it out immediately , with a delicious 'ha, machines' muttered under his breath.

He also offered a 'micro-brief' as no 'Sleaford' appears on the vast departure board.'Grantham: change at Grantham'.

'Home of Margaret Thatcher! ' , I offer, by way of 0610 small talk .


Another time? Another country.

Prince William training at RAF Cranwell, near Sleaford in Lincolnshire. Credit: Anwar Hussein/Anwar Hussein/EMPICS Entertainment

To W.H.Smith for newspapers- the Telegraph offers free water with today's edition, splashing a picture of Katherine Cambridge and a story about the return of 'cottage hospitals'. Neither are likely to parch me but it is a kindly gesture.

To the till, to pay.

The till is unmanned, even 'unpersonned'.

A duo of assistants hover by a bank of incomprehensible , automatic bar-code scanning, cash-taking, change-giving, receipt dispensing monsters that, like a pub one-arm bandit, tempt but do not explain themselves.

The duo help. All is good in the world of cyber-commerce, at last.

0625-to 'The Leeds Flyer' , (change at Grantham , for Sleaford).Nothing but charm and helpfulness.

0630 and we pull out of the magnificent Kings Cross on one of the East Coast line's finest Class 82 'proper' trains - the engine is different to the carriages - my definition.

'Full English, sir? ' It is inclusive, and offered by a lovely guy and all clearly listed on a comprehensible and comprehensive menu.

No pin codes. No machines. Charming humanity.

Home again, naturally.