Celtic Illumination, Part 64, Whip crack-away!
RAF Locking was known as the number one radio school for the Royal Air Force. I loved the way everything in the forces had a number, even your clothes. What suit do you think I should wear his evening darling? Oh number three, but with number one shoes and perhaps the number seven, no, number six, tie. We had to march everywhere, even when you were on your own. I loved ordering myself about and calling out commands so that I would know which foot to put in front of the other. There’s nothing better than having a shave in the morning and calling yourself names, sort of sets you up for the day, you orrible little man you.
There were seventeen of us on the course, eight English, eight Scots and me. You may not think this an important fact, but it was. England were playing Scotland at football and this caused a division in the group which of course festered. I thought, and still do, that football is a ridiculous waste of time. I was the youngest on the course at seventeen. The next youngest person was twenty one years of age and he had been a milkman in Glasgow before joining.
I was sort of looking forward to a new experience however we were informed that the first two months would be studying maths and physics to bring everyone back up to speed. As you can imagine my mental finger was hovering quite near the ‘off’ switch.
It wasn’t all classroom based. Once a week we would have sports afternoon, always Wednesday. We arrived at the gymnasium and I was wondering what delights we would be facing that I could fail at. I expected the usual soccerball and hockey, which thankfully I wasn’t allowed to play. We were presented with seventeen little piles of clothing and told that we were to be taught Taekwondo. The reasoning behind this is that as electronic engineers we would not be expected to fight on the battlefield, but if we had to fight it is expected that it would be inside buildings so we were to be taught skills and weaponry that would fit that environment.
I wasn’t a great fan of hand to hand combat, especially after my intensive training on the streets of Belfast, but did enjoy hurling each other about the gymnasium. We did cover other activities which reminded me of the old escape moves, like Colditz, for we were taught how to use a vaulting horse and a trampoline. I could see no other use for these pieces of equipment unless we were being prepared, in case of capture, to escape from a German prisoner of war camp and we weren’t even at war with the Germans.
The real reason was revealed later in the year when we had to perform at the local village fete. Tea and scones on the lawn with young fellows bouncing about in strict formation, how English. You may have guessed that things might not be progressing to plan at Locking, well not the air forces plan, and you would be correct. I was so hacked off with the bickering between the Scots and the English I hung around with guys from the Nigerian air force.
One was called Patrick, after the priest who had christened him, and we became mates. He even showed me the bullet holes, on his leg and back, where the white men had been shooting at him for fun. Like us they shared four man rooms and we went to Patrick’s room once to collect something and I was amazed to see that all four sinks had been converted to altars. I say altars, they may not have called them altars but you get my drift. Each altar was covered in little bits and bobs that they respected and worshipped, like sea shells and bottles of water and earth from back home.
The best craic was in the mess hall. The African guys would line up with one plate and collect white boiled rice, and then add say chicken curry, then rhubarb tart and then some custard. Most of the other nations found this disgusting and I found it quite interesting however I never could manage chicken curry and custard, not with my stomach, although spinach lasagne and ice cream wasn’t too bad.
The camp was about three to four miles away from Weston Super Mare, which is a very popular seaside resort on the south west coast of England. We were close to Somerset, cider country. At the weekends local farmers would roll up in their tractors, with trailer, and see if anyone was interested in a bit of farm work. I volunteered and leapt into the waiting trailer. There was about half a dozen of us and we spent the morning loading and stacking bales of hay in a barn. It was great fun, a change from the norm and quite nice to be stripped to the waist, working hard, in the sunshine.
At lunch time the famer’s wife came out. We were presented with a table full of bread and cheese and pickled onions and some cold meats. It was a feast fit for a King and as I was not aware then that I was to become the King of Ireland, yes, it was a feast fit for me. The farmer’s wife also had three glasses of cider. We were asked to taste each glass and state our preference. I think one was sweet, one was dry and one was perhaps wet or at least less lumpy than the other two. Once chosen we were allowed to drink our fill of what was a home brewed, rough, cider.
Needless to say there was no more work done that day. You would wake up the following day with a hangover that could take down a charging rhino at fifty paces. There would be a plastic gallon container beside your bed full of scrumpy and a crumpled ten pound note in your pocket. Proper job.
But this was still the military and there were rules and regulations. I don’t know what they were but there must have been some, I’m sure the other fellows knew them. Once a week we would have a fire drill. Now I know that for all you modern people a fire drill is when an annoying electric bell sounds and you have to leave your place of work and stand in a line outside until a highly qualified person counts you.
Well this was a military training establishment. We didn’t have an electric bell, which was strange as it was an electronic training establishment but we had a klaxon. On the word of command, or the sound of the klaxon, we would evacuate the classroom, or wherever we were at the time, and race to a fire point. Here we would un-wrap the fire appliance. It wasn’t covered in wrapping paper it had an old red tarpaulin over it. Sounds very professional doesn’t it. Well the fire appliance was an old cart. Big wooden stagecoach wheels, with spokes, and two protruding shafts, which, as there were no horses about, unless you count the big fellow from Bristol, we would drag around the camp.
Once at the incident we would unravel the hoses and shout ‘Ready!!’ Thank God there was never a fire, for although I mentioned stage coach wheels and military you may be encouraged to think of John Wayne and a suitably macho pose but I promise you this was closer to Doris Day and the fecking Deadwood stage a rollin’ on over the plains.