Celtic Illumination, part 73, lessons in oneupmanship
I knew I was pushing all acceptable boundaries by announcing that I was on strike. The training staff were stunned, to say the least. I had been lucky enough to have spent quite some time with people who had been disciplined and were being punished and knew that as long as I didn’t stand outside the training headquarters with a placard, demanding equal rights for Irishmen, I would be fine. I would have to play along with their rules but at the same time make my protest.
Unfortunately, and I do apologise to the other two fellows on the course, the training staff insisted that the other two were now responsible for me. They had to make sure that I was up and dressed and in the classroom on time. It was quite a clever move on their part but in a way I thought it was underhand and nasty. It wasn’t really very fair on the other two fellows. I would turn up on time with my two escorts; however I would not pay any attention to what was going on. That was a bit of a lie really. I listened and watched, but didn’t really participate.
The course was six weeks long. With every Wednesday afternoon off for star jumps, or drinking beer in my case, it was closer to five weeks and I am sure that a shaved monkey could have been trained more effectively to do the job. The other five members of the course began to have study evenings as the final exam was charging towards us. I wasn’t interested.
At the time mercenaries were being recruited from forces personnel, for, as they said, a bit of work in Angola, I was tempted to leave Shawbury and disappear. I’m sure the air force wouldn’t have spent much time or effort in looking for me; however I was discovering that they could be so petty I’m sure they would have spent every effort possible to find me and discipline me so that they could prove their superiority to me. Perhaps I was lucky that I never took that option.
The final exam for air traffic was a multi choice exam so I knew that I would have to participate. I would have to pretend that I actually attempted to complete the exam. If I got every question incorrect they would know I was taking the mick, if I got every question correct they would know I was taking the mick too. So I needed to be very careful and fail the final exam in a believable way. I did.
The other five were over the moon at their success and began finding out information about their new postings. I, of course, was suitably surprised that I had failed the final exam. I expected to go back to clothing stores and cut some more buttons off uniforms, although as I had managed to complete the pile of uniforms during my previous stint, they had moved me on to the much more difficult task of taking laces out of shoes and boots that had been handed in to stores. I was quite looking forward to long, relaxed, afternoons playing badminton and the associated pleasures that particular sport brought.
I was told that I had to report to the head of the air traffic school. I found this fellow fascinating. He was a squadron leader, had a leather patch over one eye and one of his arms was missing. I could see that this fellow must have had some interesting experiences. He explained that he had heard I was going to spend the following couple of weeks doing odd jobs around the camp while I waited for the next course to start. Rather than do something boring, here I think he may have been referring to taking shoe laces out of old shoes and boots, so if I wouldn’t mind, would I help him out?
Of course I would help him out. He went on to explain that a dear friend of his was flying a Canberra from an airfield in South Africa to Shawbury. Could I help him work out the flight plan? This exercise would involve me using my brain and was way beyond anything an assistant air trafficker would do. We had to work out how much fuel the aircraft could hold and then establish various airfields where he could land and refuel. We even had to determine the best fit for the aircraft, which meant attaching extra fuel tanks, which of course affected the performance and fuel consumption of the aircraft.
We had to work out how much the landing fees would be at each airfield, what clearances he would need, timings, airfields he could use if there were problems en route. These were the days before computers so there were lots of calculations involved, something I loved. In fact it was quite an interesting exercise and I felt a sense of achievement when we had finished.
The squadron leader was a pilot, and it was quite obvious that he had been grounded. I didn’t ask how he had lost an arm, or an eye, he could have been on the rip with Fegan and Rogan for all that I knew. However his accent declared that he was socially quite some distance away from the good ol boys in Warrenpoint. I felt that he was a nice fellow and felt that I was beginning to like him. This of course would be my downfall. I always gave people the benefit of the doubt. I don’t think I had a nasty bone in my body and when somebody turned on me it was always a shock.
The squadron leader told me to stand in front of his desk and to come to attention. I wondered why we were getting very military as the whole affair so far had been quite relaxed. I felt quite silly standing to attention in front of his desk but as I had received plenty of training in standing still I knew I was doing it well. The squadron leader then informed me that I had just completed my final exam for air traffic control in practical form. He was very pleased to inform me that I had passed and for my sins I was to be posted to RAF Valley on Angelesy Island in North Welsh Wales.
So whether I liked it or not I was now an assistant air traffic controller and as far as they were concerned, Valley was a punishment posting. Apart from it being a remote station, it was in the middle of bandit country and surrounded by the Viet Taff. The squadron leader seemed to be very pleased with himself as he explained that Valley was the worst station they could think of to send me to. The situation was now in one-upmanship territory so, desperately trying to save face, I asked him if that was the station close to the boat to Ireland. They may have won this round, but the fight would continue for a good many years.