Celtic Illumination, part 67, A ride in a jam sandwich?
Well; as you have already figured out life at Locking was pretty exciting, practising standing still, shouting at fires, sleeping in classrooms. Ah yes, the classrooms. There were a series of tests that you had to pass, in order to qualify and pass out. Now I don’t mean faint. Pass out is a military expression indicating that you have been successful; you have passed out of training and are now trained. Our tests were something along the lines of 1A1 followed by 1A2 then 1B1 and guess what is next, yes 1B2. Are you sure you haven’t been in the military.
As I explained before, the first couple of months were spent going over the basics so that everyone was brought up to speed. I of course had switched off. I loved learning the new stuff, the hands on, practical, learning, but the old mathematics and physics bored me. So I failed my first test, the 1A1. I failed my second test too, the 1A2 however I passed the third test the 1B1. I was told that I would have to retake the first two tests. I wasn’t given an ultimatum, it was sort of, you will take these tests until you pass them.
I agreed that I would knuckle down and study for my basic maths and physics tests, but I never said when. Sort of had the old fingers crossed behind my back if you know what I mean. How on earth could I study when one of the most important events in the universe was about to happen? My birthday, and not just any old birthday, my eighteenth birthday.
Without a doubt the major celebration would be held in Weston Super Mare and without any doubt whatsoever would involve a huge amount of alcohol. First of all I wanted a bit of craic. There was a fellow in Weston who challenged anybody to a drinking competition. He had a two pint glass and offered to race anybody willing, in downing beer. You would have a single pint of beer and he would have his large two pint glass.
I decided that a group of us should enter the pub, at intervals, and challenge the fellow so that eventually one of us would beat him. We went to the pub he frequented and he wasn’t there so we started drinking heavily anyway. We had a normal sort of evening; we would go to a dance, dance, drink then get asked to leave. I think it was somewhere around midnight; I had just been asked to leave an establishment and was outside holding some railings up in case they caught a bad case of rust and fell over.
It was my birthday, I had a pocket full of money, and it was a lovely evening so I decided to stroll back to camp. Stroll, as you may imagine, may be the wrong term to describe my method of walking. It wasn’t so much as one foot in front of the other, but one foot to the left then one foot to the right, four or five back and one forward. Sometimes I would have one foot go both left and right at the same time! A very complicated form of movement, and one which takes years of training and practise, much like the old standing still.
I do remember that I was wearing a pair of black, zip-up, platform boots and as I mentioned before it was rather a warm night so I had taken them off. I’m not a heathen and wouldn’t be seen dead walking along a road in a pair of socks, no matter what time of the day or night it was, so I had my socks of too. I found myself in a sort of housing development. I didn’t know where I was but was using my internal navigation system and was steering by the stars, or was it street lights?
Anyway I saw a telephone box and knew that I should speak to my old girlfriend, Pat, in Ireland. In those days if you wanted to talk to someone in Ireland by telephone you had to be connected by the operator and it was thirty six pence for three minutes. I managed to find the side of the telephone box which opened and went in. I contacted the operator and asked her to connect me to Pat. I didn’t say Pat I gave her the number in Warrenpoint.
I can now hear Pat on the other end of the telephone but we couldn’t speak because the operator was asking me to put my thirty six pence into the box, via the coin slots. I apologised to the operator explaining that I didn’t have any change, I only had notes, but if I could get the pound note into the slot she could keep the change. Now I don’t know about you but I think I was being quite generous.
Unfortunately the operator didn’t and she ended the call. I left the phone box and with my boots in my left hand and my socks in my right, both held out before me like divining rods, I began to navigate my way back to camp. I hadn’t got very far when I noticed a jam sandwich pull up alongside me. A jam sandwich is a nick name we used for police patrol cars that were white with a fluorescent coloured stripe running around the middle.
Two police men got out and came across to speak to me. First of all they wanted to know if I was Irish. The moment I spoke they would know that, so I admitted being guilty to being Irish. They then asked if I had just used the telephone box and I said yes and pointed out that I had only used it for the purpose of making a telephone call. They wondered if I wouldn’t mind accompanying them to the police station in Weston Super Mare and answer some questions.
It was as if everyone wanted me to take some form of test. I asked permission and they allowed me to pull on my socks and boots and then we all drove off to the police station in the jam sandwich. We had an interview room all to ourselves and the younger of the pair began asking me questions while the older of the two went off to get coffee. I found the questions to be quite easy, like what’s your name, date of birth etc. I think I was doing pretty well in their test.
I knew that as an Irishman I would probably get locked up for something I didn’t do so, I began admitting to various crimes that they had never solved. I explained that the Second World War was my fault, I had nailed a fellow called Jesus to a cross, and it was me who killed Cock Robin. It was the elder of the two police men who came back in, with the coffees who asked if I had any identification. I knew that once they had this I would be ‘banged to rights’ as they say in all the best criminal communities.
I gave them my RAF identity card. The older police man looked at it and wanted to know why I hadn’t told them this in the beginning. I explained that they had never asked me if I was in the air force. The older copper suggested that we drink up and they would run me back to Locking. Nice to see the system working and no funny handshakes involved.
It was a pleasant drive back to Locking, again only three or four miles away. I alighted from the jam sandwich at the main gate at Locking and waved a fond farewell to my two new best friends. I knew that I would never ever have a bad word to say about British coppers when I heard a growling noise behind me. I turned to find the orderly sergeant and the eight or nine members of the guard bearing down on me with the sergeant shouting something like get this drunken Irish git into a cell!!