Celtic Illumination, part 60, Throwing stones at submarines.
I have to admit that life was getting a wee bit boring. It was the same old round of drinking and working and going, or not going, to school. The crowd had somewhat dissipated, we were each going our own way, some were concentrating on their studies, some would have been training for trades and some would have been continuing with their lives in work, getting married, having children. Me? I was just getting bored, and that of course was a very dangerous situation for me to be in.
My life had changed, as in; I was hanging around with my girlfriend Pat and her family, a lovely family where I actually voluntarily contributed. Pat’s father had killed himself in Belfast and the family had moved to Warrenpoint, the mother, five daughters and one son. They didn’t need my help, or the help of anyone else, for that matter. The mother was the head teacher of a local primary school and the children were all well rounded, well-spoken and well behaved.
Despite the settling effect they had on me I still was getting frustrated with life. One of the hideaways I used was Mervyns’ travel agent offices. I would spend the day with him, hiding in the back room if any one came in. One day while hiding there I was complaining about the air force and how they had never bothered to get back to me. Mervyn suggested that I telephone them. I did.
I promise you, I knew nothing about the air force. I knew nothing about the rank structure, the jobs available, where I might be posted to or stationed. I just needed to get away. I was extremely lucky for I chose to join the air force as sergeant aircrew air electronics. This would mean that I would have been working in the new Nimrod aircraft as a submarine hunter. That sounded exciting.
I had to undergo a weeklong series of tests and interviews at the officer and aircrew selection centre at Biggen Hill. I had heard of Biggen Hill and didn’t really care about the interviews and tests. Luckily for me they were all quite practical and fitted in well with my abilities and interests. I did have enough qualifications to apply to be a pilot, but thankfully didn’t.
As with the eleven plus and my entrance examinations the letters arrived to say that I had been accepted and would my parents sign the form allowing the air force to take me away. Dad still wanted me to be a dentist or pilot for Aer Lingus, but what did he know. Despite passing all their tests I was still kept waiting. Warrenpoint was getting greyer and greyer, and then one day I was asked to go to RAF Aldergrove for a meeting. I went there and found it very strange to be sitting in a room with thirty soldiers all in full combat gear and armed to the teeth.
It was 1975 and huge defence cuts were being applied to the forces. I wasn’t even in the air force and my job was being cut. However, they offered me another position. Its official title was Ground radio and radar electronic fitter. A flight sergeant explained to me that after my training I could work on anything from computers the size of matchboxes to computers the size of buildings. I couldn’t have cared less, I just wanted to get away and throw stones at submarines.
One of Pats sisters well; three of Pat’s sisters were studying at Queens University in Belfast and one, Anne asked me to escort her to the New Year’s Ball. Thin Lizzy were the headline act so I agreed, with Pat’s permission of course. Six of us headed for Belfast and the night of our lives. It was a fantastic night, much discussion had gone in to whether or not I should hire a formal suit for the evening or wear a normal suit. Canny as ever, when it came to money, mum and dad stepped in and I was given dads set of tails, with white waistcoat and white tie so I could dress properly for the occasion.
At Violet Hell I was the only person at the school to wear short trousers and that continued for two years. I knew that for this evening I was going to be the only person wearing tails. I was wrong, for at one point during the evening when I was staggering out of the gents toilets I met my maths teacher who was wearing a set of white tails. It was a fantastic night and I remember going in to see Thin Lizzy on stage. Phil Lynott and another member of the band, Eric Bell, spent the evening kicking lumps out of each other on the stage while the audience still bounced around on the dance floor oblivious to the real tension and emotions that were erupting on the stage.
As with most parties and drink we lost each other and I staggered out not really knowing where I should go. A passing army patrol thought it quite funny to find a drunk, in tails, staggering along a Belfast street, at dawn. They came over and asked who I was and where I was going. My ability to speak was somewhat compromised with the amount of Pernod I had consumed, but I did have the address of their digs written of a piece of paper. I handed it to the soldiers who very kindly placed me in their land rover and dropped me off at my accommodations.
I returned to Warrenpoint and a day or two later received a letter and some money. I was in and had to report to a building in central Belfast one evening the following week. There was so much to do, people to see and say farewell to, places to go and visits for the final time, get my hair cut. I only went to see one person that was Mrs O Hare, the wonderful woman who’s family I had lived with in Warrenpoint. She wished me well and asked that I send her a postcard from whatever country I was in. I promised I would, however, to my eternal shame I never did.
The only other thing I did was get my hair cut, three times. I had shoulder length hair and for my first visit to the barber asked for a couple of inches to be taken off. I only got outside the barbers door when I went back in and asked that he take a bit more off. I then went to Mervyn who explained that a short back and sides is what I would be needing or else they would shave my head when I got to basic training. I went back to the barber and got my short back and sides.