Celtic Illumination, Part 83, A running jump
I was stood standing by the side of a road in North Welsh Wales. I had a ruck sack full of kit and a kit bag full of more kit. I was one of six trialists waiting for the mountain rescue convoy to come along. Eventually it did. I had been informed that I may have thought a TAG was the lowest form of life in the air force, seems that there was another level below TAG, mountain rescue trialist! The convoy, was made up of land rovers, both long and short wheelbase and three ton Bedford RL trucks.
None of the team members would look at us. We were told to throw our kit into the rear of one of the trucks and we were then informed that we were basically no better than the kit bags so you can guess where we travelled. We could see the other team members nice and warm in their land rovers, smoking and laughing and chatting. We were freezing in the rear of the trucks.
We got to base camp which was just outside a small hamlet in North Welsh Wales called Capil Curig. Very generously, the other team members remained in their nice warm vehicles and, knowing that we were close to hypothermia, allowed us to keep warm by emptying the trucks. From the main road we had to walk about thirty yards, cross a low wire fence, go through a small copse and finally arrive at the base camp site.
With the trucks unloaded we were shown how to erect a twelve man, frame, tent and then allowed to erect the remaining four tents. The team members came over, collected their kit and stored it in whichever tent they wanted to sleep in. We were told to choose any empty corner in any tent. We were only allowed to sleep in the corners of the tents, so that if there were any drafts we would keep them off the established team members.
The experienced guys just slung their kit at a spot and left it, we of course, laid everything out carefully. Then we were bollocked. Why did you lay you kit out? You weren’t told to? Fecking trialists! What would happen if we had to move out immediately? Lesson one. With all our kit safely packed away, again, we noticed that many of the experienced guys had disappeared. Jack and Pib were still on base camp. We were told that we could go to the local hostelry, Cobdens Hotel and to go to the climbers bar.
We did, all six of us, and the bar was heaving. What I wasn’t aware of was that many students from Bangor University came into the mountains and some of them were girl flavoured. We were allowed to buy beer, we were even allowed to drink it, but we were not allowed to socialise with the team, we could stand in a corner and watch them. Towards the end of the evening Jack gave the nod and we all left. Back at base camp we had door stop sized cheese butties and huge mugs of coffee and then we were allowed to go and keep the drafts off the real team members for the night.
The following morning I woke with someone standing over me offering me tea or coffee. I couldn’t believe it but the duty cook was standing over me with a tray of tea and coffee asking which I preferred. Tea, I said, and was given a lovely sweet mug of tea. How fantastic was that. Jack went around and told the trialists what to wear and we put on the appropriate clothes. We then came out to be given a fully cooked breakfast. I promise you I was in Heaven. I know I’ve gone on about my favourite foods before, but standing in a field in North Welsh Wales, with a full English in one hand and a mug of hot sweet tea in the other, is or was, for me, close to being the best meal in the world.
We were told that, normally, the duty cook would clean any cooking utensils and individual team members would be responsible for their own knife, fork, spoon, mug and plate. Normally, this would happen but as there were trialists about… As we scrubbed the pots and pans the real team members discussed what training they would do that day. It was decided that the main body of men would take the trialists up Moel Siabod for a bit of a bimble. Sort of test us out. Once again we were told what kit to pack and how to pack it and off we jolly well went.
Moel Siabod was a pig of a hill. The route they took us on wasn’t steep but it seemed to go on for ever and ever. It was boggy, so the going was awfully tough. Near the summit one of the team members, Tom Taylor, had broken away from the main body and ran to the top. He had dropped his kit and came back down to us, to take the kit from one trialist and take that back to the top. One of the trialists claimed that his boots were hurting him so he took his boots off and put his RAF shoes on. We thought that Jack might bollock him at the top but he didn’t, for he lost a shoe in the bog somewhere, that was punishment enough.
We were allowed to rest at the summit and were beginning to get some practical instruction in map and compass work. Many of the experienced guys were itching to get going, they were like race horses ready for the off. Although they half killed every one of the trialists, with sheer exhaustion, they didn’t damage us so we were pleased to get back to base camp. I promise you it was heaven just to sit down and breathe easily, but we were so exhausted, even that was hard work.
With some scoff inside us we were once again allowed to wash the cooking utensils. There was a large zinc washbasin filled with water from the river, we always camped by a river, or other water source. A table was brought out and erected. On it was placed a bowl of water, the trialists were called over. If I remember correctly it was a guy called Rick Mewes who ran this exercise.
“Right you lot,” he began. He held up a sewing needle. “What is this?”
I wasn’t going to answer, but somebody chanced an answer. “A sewing needle?” “Correct,” says Rick. “What’s it made from?” “Steel?” said the same fellow. “Correct,” says Rick, again. I was wondering if I should have volunteered an answer, as the questions seem to be quite easy.
Rick then placed a small piece of blotting paper on the water surface and the sewing needle on that. The paper sank but the needle floated. I vaguely remembered the experiment from Violent Hell.
“Right,” says Rick looking at the clever, or brave, fellow who had answered both of his questions. ”Are you as heavy as steel?”
“No,” said the same fellow, seeming pleased with his success rate. I felt that it might be time to start taking one pace backwards but was hemmed in by the experienced guys.
“The needle, made of steel, is floating on the water.” Rick checked us all to make sure we understood. “The needle is floating on what is known as the meniscus, a thin film that covers all water.” The other guys were now joining in telling us that this was how certain insects could skitter across water without sinking. We were then encouraged to approach the bank of the river.
“Right,” says Rick. “I am now going to show you the mountain rescue method of crossing a river. First of all you get a good run up.” Rick had moved away and was marking the ground with the heel of his boot “About here will do,” he said, cutting a rough line. “Next step is that you approach the body of water as fast as you can.” Again he checked our faces to make sure we understood. “Then you leap out, as far as you can across the river. As your feet are about to touch the surface of the water, you bounce! You bounce on the meniscus and continue doing that all the way across the river. Understood?”
We all nodded.
“Right then,” says Rick. “Who’s first?”