Celtic Illumination, part 69, Paddy the pugilist
You may think that there was not much interaction between myself and the other sixteen members of my course, there was, but it wasn’t exclusive. I shared a four man room. One chap was a fitness freak. He was always jogging and doing press ups, in fact when he would get drunk, I wasn’t the only one doing that you know, he would come to the side of my bed and perform one hundred push ups. Now why on earth anyone would do such a thing I have no idea but he did, quite often, and not only that, but I got the feeling that he was being quite aggressive while pushing out his press ups.
Most of the course members were close to normal, quite a few of them were very nice fellows. We would occasionally get together and go off for a drink in Weston. I have to admit that I tended to spend my time with the Scots guys as one or two of the English guys, especially the fitness freak, would go out of their way to tell me Irish jokes. On our days off it was quite pleasant to go to Weston, strip off our shirts and stroll along the promenade I’m sure it drove the women wild, but none of them every came and told us so. We were young single guys with plenty of money. A Saturday afternoon stroll along the prom would be so tiring that we would have to have a wee rest, probably in a pub and then get back to camp around midnight a little bit worse for wear.
It was one such night we got back, the whole course had been to Weston for a few drinks. We alighted from the taxis outside the mess and began to walk back to our accommodation. The fitness freak had had one beer too many and was openly calling me names. He was so angry, in a frustrated way, calling me a stupid thick Paddy. He was suggesting that I go back to Ireland and live on my farm and that I shouldn’t be bothering ordinary decent English people like himself.
I hit him once and I can still hear his head hit the ground. I regret that action every single day since it happened. As he was one of the other guys who I shared a room with, I expected, when he regained consciousness, that he would come at me again, so I had an uncomfortable night waiting for an attack. It didn’t happen, it was as if he had forgotten about the whole incident or had been so drunk that he didn’t even know it had happened. I can tell you I was glad about that as were the other two fellows in the room who were expecting world war three to erupt at any second.
After all, things were looking up. I had re-taken my 1A2 on the Friday after noon and had been summoned to the office where I expected to be told that I had passed and would now continue with the course. I had forgotten about the punching incident, I had hoped the fitness freak had forgotten about it and perhaps he had, but some of the English students thought I was taking sides with the Scots and reported me. I was informed that the air force was not prepared to forget about such a disgusting display of violence.
I began to ask what was going to happen to the other fellow. I was in trouble. I could see that, for they were all marching about the place in a very military flavoured style. I explained that the one punch I had thrown was in fact a measured and calculated reaction to a situation that had progressively got worse over a number of weeks. They looked at me. I explained that there were witnesses who would explain that I had stuck up for myself.
I could feel myself back at Violent Hell and it is only now that I really understand what happened. For years I blamed myself, and perhaps this blog is an attempt to think my way through what happened. I was always ashamed, embarrassed almost, but think about it. I was an eleven year old boy; they were unable to teach me, not that I was against learning. In the subjects that I enjoyed I excelled, certain teachers even encouraged me to study at a faster rate than the normal students.
I had, successfully, been through Biggen Hill officer and aircrew selection centre. I was a natural leader, I had an IQ of 158, I had enough educational qualifications to be a pilot, so what was the air force going to do with me? I was told that I was off the course. Like the priests at Violent Hell they seemed pleased to have gotten rid of their problem. I was told that I was going to be taken to RAF Innsworth, the headquarters of personnel and training command. Still meant nothing to me, so I went to my room and emptied my lockers. A car pulled up and I went and jumped in, didn’t even say goodbye to anyone else on my course.
It was a Friday night when I arrived at Innsworth. I was shown to a room, another four man room. I placed my kit on the empty bed and wandered off looking for somewhere to get a beer. It was getting dark and it was easy to spot the NAAFI which was spilling light all over the countryside. I went in and found that it was empty. I went up to the bar and ordered a pint of beer. There were two bar maids and myself in the bar, not exactly the swinging centre of Innsworth.
“Why is the place so dead?” I asked.
“There’s a disco on at the rugby club,” replied one of the bar maids
“Can anyone go?” I asked.
“Of course,” she said. “Everyone’s welcome at the rugby club.”
I drank the remainder of my beer, perhaps a little faster than normal.
“How can I find the rugby club?” I asked.
“Oh, just go outside and follow the noise.” Was the advice given to me.
Innsworth was littered with hundreds of wooden cabins all set out in military flavoured lines. I detected the thump, thump, thump, of a disco and honed in on it. I was surprised to find that there were not many people in the rugby club. I went straight to the bar and ordered a pint of beer. I offered the barman a twenty pound note. He looked at me, then the note, then me again.
“I can’t change that,” he said, not that it was an excessively large note of tender, it was early in the evening and he didn’t have much change in his till.
“Are you from here?” he asked, and I nodded.
“Just been posted in today.”
“Tell you what,” he said, looking pleased with himself. “Keep a count of the number of beers you have and pay me at the end of the evening.”
I wandered over to a group of huge, comfy looking, leather armchairs. I sank into one and knew that I was really going to like this place.