I have heard a bt about drones – not war drones bombing innocent civilians, but the latest craze in slightly elaborate model aircraft.
I think the first time they came across my radar were when Amazon announced they were going to deliver books using them. It all seemed pretty far fetched at the time. Later I heard someone talking about drones on a podcast. That has been it, really.
But yesterday I saw one. I was walking down at the river with my dogs and passed two men hunched over something. Behind them on the grass was a delicate white object. It looked like it was made of plastic, had four legs in a square formation, a disc at its centre and then what appear to be pillars rising up with small propellers.
Sure enough, as I stood on the beach 15 minutes later, I heard a buzzing and looked around. I expected to see the two men looking out on the water and the drone circling away from them over the river. They would be looking at it to watch its progress as they controlled it from the land.
But the drone was still behind them, except this time it was about twenty feet in the hair and hovering perfectly. There appeared to be no movement. When you see a helicopter hovering there is a bit of mild back and forth as it makes micro-adjustments to its position. Not the drone, it remained level and perfectly suspended way up high behind the men’s heads.
I could not understand why they were not looking at it. Surely the point is to watch it fly? Actually even to see it there suspended perfectly like a ballerina en pointe was a thing to marvel at. At once dainty and sinister, awaiting its next instructions with glacial control.
As I approached the men a few minutes later I noticed that the drone had gone. The reason they had not looked up was because they were holding a tablet and presumably watching the camera feed from the drone on the screen. Unlike model plane enthusiasts, they were not flying the thing to watch it, but for it to watch us. As I passed them I heard a familiar buzzing again, like a swarm of bees approaching, and high above the treetops the familiar sight of the drone’s tiny body appeared.
Once more it flew off again and all was silent, then all too soon the sound of a swarm hit my ears again. I did not want to look up. I imaged the men, now 30 yards away, peering at the screen and watching a lone female figure walking through the grass with her dogs. I did not like the feeling. I was not going to give it the satisfaction of looking up, mouth agape and giving it the chance to take a photo of my poor dental hygiene.
I thought of a story my dad told me from his time as a kid growing up during WW2. I can not remember the name of the bomb (maybe the V1 or V2) but he said that when those bombs arrived, you could hear them whistling, whistling and getting closer all the while. When the whistling stopped, it meant the bomb was about to explode. He described the fear of waiting and listening and hoping the silence did not drop in as it passed over your house, because if it did, you were dead.
I know technology is a wonderful thing, but for now, I will steer clear of drones. They are a little too Westworld for my taste at the moment.