Celtic Illumination, part 80, I shot the Sheriff ….
It wouldn’t take a genius to work out that, at that moment in time, my career prospects were almost non-existent. Of course I wasn’t to know that my life already had a direction, far more important than anything the air force could put in its way. A top secret cabal was organising my preparation to become the leading Master Candle Maker in the world, the Chief of The Clan O Neill and the King of Ireland, and it was gathering a pace.
I think the air traffickers wanted to keep me away from the tower, in case any visitors saw me, for I looked like a busted sofa, on a good day. I was being given tasks where I was very much on my own and often outside. The night flying shed, snow flagging, putting out the glim lamps and now they added a far more dangerous activity, bird scaring. Now stop it, I’m not talking about sneaking up behind a pretty girl and shouting “Boo!” I’m talking about scaring winged and feathered creatures away from the runways so that they wouldn’t interfere with aircraft, which was known as a bird strike, a condition that could very possibly affect many lap dancing establishments.
For this task, as with so many others in the air force, I was highly trained. First of all my instructor would point at a seagull and then tell me to scare it away. I hadn’t mastered Vulcan mind control so they gave me a gun. This was a Very pistol, for firing flares. It had an adaptor which allowed you to fire a twelve bore cartridge. This cartridge would fire out a delayed explosive. The theory was that you would launch this projectile into a flock of birds. It would explode and the birds would scatter.
After ten minutes this activity would be filed under boring, unless you began to improve your accuracy with the weapon. Some of us could place an exploding shell into the back of a moving land rover. Certainly got the drivers attention. Valley was surrounded by rough ground and gorse bushes. We always tried to make sure we fired away from clumps of gorse bushes, for an exploding shell, in the middle of a clump of gorse bushes, especially in summer, would see a huge fire break out. The fire brigade would be called out and clouds of smoke would engulf the airfield, so as you can image we would never make a mistake like that.
As with military life there were rules and regulation that covered bird scaring. The shells we used had to be contained in a solid, lockable, metal container. You had to count and sign for any live cartridges when you took on the duty and then sign back in any remaining live cartridges.
So one day I was in a hurry. I was a young fellow in North Welsh Wales. I was in a hurry so it must have been the drink, or a woman, or both! I ran in to air traffic control. Rod Shackleton was running the shift.
“Rod,” I said, emptying the live shells from my pockets. “Sign for these so I can get away, I’m in a hurry.”
This request was of course far too intense for Rod to handle. He just sat there looking at me. I’m sure he knew it was me who had hit him.
“Rod,” I said, fearing that either my beer, or my woman, or both, would be going cold. “Will you sign for these please?”
Rod pointed at the telephone he was holding, with the pen he had in his other hand. Answering the telephone, while writing stuff down! Well; anyone could have seen that the poor chap was swamped. I was really angry, probably not at Rod, but at myself for being a fecking assistant air traffic controller, and maybe a little at Rod. I decided some positive action was called for and Rod could do with a wakeup call.
The telephone room had a kitchen/rest room adjoining. I was standing in the rest room/kitchen area. I walked over to the sink area where a Baby Belling oven sat. I opened it and took out the oven tray. Making sure that Rod was watching me I put all the live shells in the tray and placed the gun on top.
“I’ll leave them in here for you Rod,” I said, as I placed the tray into the oven which I then switched on and closed the door. After all, I do know how to operate ovens correctly; I’m not a careless sod.
I looked at Rod; he was just sitting there with his mouth open.
“See ya!” I shouted, as I made for the door.
Rod was the luckiest man on earth, for as I was going out another young chap came in. This was Steve Underhill, a lovely fellow from, I think, the London area. Steve very quickly could see that something had upset Rod’s train of thought. He was correct, but Rod couldn’t speak, all he could do was point at the oven which was increasing in temperature by the second. They’re very effective those little Baby Belling’s.
Steve Underhill, like myself was not meant to be an assistant air traffic controller, stepped over to the oven and opened it. Like any person, with half an ounce of sense, Steve immediately realised that if the shells were removed from the oven, an explosion would not take place. The shells were removed although Rod continued to live in gaga land.
This was regarded as a very serious matter but was only passed on to the admin sergeant. I was called in and rather than the military flavoured rant I was used to, and perhaps expecting, he gave me a talking to. Perhaps ‘a talking to’ is incorrect, he gave me some career advice. Bit of an oxymoron at that time, career and assistant air traffic controller. However he advised me to smarten myself up, stop getting into trouble and basically to sort myself out.
He asked me what I could see as my future. I explained I had no future. All I wanted to do was go back to sergeant aircrew; I had had enough of this malarkey.
“First thing you have to do,” he explained. “Is show the air force that you mean business. You are going to ask them to go on a very expensive year long course, so prove to them that you are capable of following a course, without giving up, or getting thrown off it. Go and do some O levels or A levels, show them you mean business.”
It made sense to me, but I was a little reluctant, as I had already successfully passed the officer and aircrew selection process, I should have known that the air force was as stubborn as I was.
A while later I noticed in orders that the education centre were holding evening classes in technical drawing. I telephoned and signed up for the course. On the first evening I turned up at a lecture room, in station headquarters, along with a dozen or so other people. The senior education officer, a squadron leader, teacher, was running the course and he would be assisted by the junior education officer, another teacher. They were presenting both O and A level courses. I took my O level course book and listened to the remainder of his introductory lecture. We were provided with all the necessary drawing equipment and told to have a good read through the books; the course would start properly the following week.
I went back to my room and, as instructed, read though the O level course book. I then launched in to the course work and arrived the following week having completed all the exercises given in the book. I approached the squadron leader and in a low voice asked if I could have a wee word. He came closer and I presented my work to him.
“I’ve done all the work for the O level course, so do you think I could do the A level course as well?”
He held me by the shoulder and smiled. Then he turned and faced the seated students.
“Class!” he says, getting their attention.
“Little Lord Fauntleroy here hasn’t passed his O level course yet, but he wants to do the A level.” Now it was he, pausing for comic effect. “And he’s Irish!”
I promise you, I could have taken his head clean off there and then. The class erupted in laughter and I could feel my cheeks burning with anger.
“And you’re a fecking wanker!” I said, throwing my course work at him.
I don’t think anyone had ever spoken to him like that before and I don’t think anyone had the audacity to continue walking, as he trotted behind, demanding that I should stop. I left headquarters and had a good long walk by the sea allowing the wind to drain the anger out of me. I was certainly regretting my decision, taken at Locking, to stay in the bloody air force and realised that getting back to aircrew was going to be a little harder than I imagined.