Celtic Illumination, part 92, A Prince of Wales
Perhaps it’s time to start introducing you to some of the characters that served on the mountain rescue team. I think that if those same team members had been frozen in time and were brought out today, to form a team, they would need an extra truck in the convoy to carry the haloperidol.
Take for example Chippy Prince. Chippy was a carpenter, therefore the first name; Prince was the surname he had been issued with at birth. Chippy was from somewhere in South Wales. Now as you know I was good at mathematics and always enjoyed it, Chippy however had certain skills in that area. Every month we would be given a pay slip informing us how many Great British English pounds Stirling had been paid into our bank accounts. Chippy would look at his pay slip and immediately convert it into beer, announcing to all within earshot how many pints he could have that month.
Chippy was also the team alarm clock. No one would have been late for work if Chippy was around. Chippy didn’t have a bed in his room, he hadn’t forgotten to ask Jack for a bed when he was given his room, he just didn’t like them. Chippy slept in a hammock. His favourite pastime was to settle into his hammock and drink cans of beer. Every morning when he leapt out of bed the cans would be scattered. If we were on base in the evening Chippy could be found in the Sportsman’s bar down in Valley village drinking pints of beer with Tequila chasers.
Chippy was also very useful when we went into bars that we didn’t frequent. There was a movement in those days who wanted English people who had holiday homes in Wales to vacate them and stay away. They did stir up some trouble when they began to burn some of these holiday homes but there was never any mainstream trouble. Occasionally you might see graffiti splashed on a wall somewhere stating ‘Free Wales’.
I probably should take this opportunity to apologise to my Celtic brothers in North Wales. I’m not apologising for calling you the Viet Taff, I think that is quite a cute name. I’m apologising for the incident in the Nant Ffrancon valley, between Bethesda and Ogwen Cottage. There was a huge rock on the left hand side as you travelled from Bethesda to Ogwen. Someone had painted ‘Free Wales’ on the face of the rock, which would be seen by every person passing along that road.
One night, when we had established base camp in Bethesda, myself and another chap, who shall remain nameless just in case the Viet Taff pronounce their version of a ‘fatwa’ on him. I’m sure that would be a mouthful. Well; myself and this other chap went over with a pot of paint, and a brush, and added the words ‘With every gallon of petrol.’ It didn’t go down too well with the locals and remained there, to my shame, for quite some time.
In a lot of the rural areas in North Wales local people spoke Welsh and good for them. However as a non-Welsh speaking person you would walk into a strange pub and everyone would be speaking Welsh. It was often felt that the Welsh would have been speaking in English and then, to alienate the visitor, would begin speaking in Welsh.
We did go into a remote pub one evening and the locals began, or were, speaking Welsh. We did feel that this was a definite response to us speaking English. The farmers looked quite smug as they puffed on their pipes and gave their words a good chew before spitting them out, for everyone to read, but what they didn’t know was that we had Chippy Prince on our side.
Chippy would go to the bar and order a pint of beer in Welsh. With the pint delivered Chippy would drink it in one swallow, pause, then regurgitate it, or most of it, into the glass and in Welsh say, “That’s shit that can I have my money back please?” He would never get his money back, but we would have made our point and would leave and find somewhere that wanted our custom.
I did know some Welsh phrases, well two actually, one was ‘shut your mouth’ and the other was ‘fancy coming to bed?’ Buying beer was simple you could just point at the appropriate pump. Except for the Douglas Arms Hotel in Bethesda. They had a wonderful gimmick where, when you ordered some drinks, they told you the price of the drinks in old money. So you would be told something like ‘Two pounds, five shillings and six pence.’ With everyone now used to the new metric system, you were stumped and the old brain wouldn’t calculate so, safest bet, was to hand them a five pound note. By the time you realised your brain is stuck in gear and wasn’t budging, they had converted the price into new money, taken the appropriate change from the till and then converted that amount into old money. They would now announce how much your change came to in pounds, shillings and pence. To confuse you even further there would be a sixpence or two in you change.
The Douglas Arms was a good hostelry where we were always welcome and would sing our favourite Welsh song which was ♫ I belong to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, dear old Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch town, but what’s the matter with Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, For it’s going round and round, ♫ join in, I’m sure you know the words and tune.
We came back to the section house at Valley one evening and saw that someone had erected large marquees outside, and there were stewards in their crisp, white, jackets running around with trays balanced on their extended hands. A delegation from the Hong Kong air force had travelled to the UK to study the RAF’s search and rescue service. They had started at Valley, which we didn’t know, and then travelled around all the other units in the UK. Their tour was finished; they were leaving the following day, so Valley had been chosen to host their farewell party.
Officers and their ladies were turning up, speaking in a language we couldn’t understand, and I don’t mean the fecking Chinese. We were told to smarten ourselves up, which we did. Ever seen someone comb his hair, with his fingers? We went in to the party and as all the booze was free, we decided that we liked it. There was food available too, but as you know, you should never mix your drinks. Chippy and I were holding the bar up in case it fell over, even then we were very health and safety conscious, when a fellow in a suit and tie came and offered to buy us a drink.
He was of course reminded that the drinks were free, so we offered to buy him one in return. We had great craic and did enjoy a hearty laugh. We enquired as to where this new fellow worked and he told us he was a pen pusher over in station headquarters. We informed him that even though he was a pen pusher he could still be our friend, as long as he would buy us another drink. Which of course, he did. It was a day or two later before we found out that this was the new station commander who was using the party as a sort of ‘get to know you’ affair. His name was Thornton, that’s Group Captain Thornton to you. Please don’t think that Chippy or myself for that matter were nothing more than drunken layabouts.
We were young, super fit, dedicated men. I do remember one day on the Glyder’s a young boy fell and broke both of his legs. We were asked to assist. This is where the super fitness came in to it. Every team member would have immediately marked the grid reference on their map, turned in that direction and ran. I think I was in the second group to arrive. We were all advanced first aiders and the young fellow was being made comfortable in a sleeping bag and on a stretcher. Jack indicated that Chippy and myself would be the two who would take him off the hill. I felt so proud of the trust my team leader had put in me.
Chippy and I lifted the stretcher, the wheel was attached and the restraining straps placed around our shoulders. We ran. It’s difficult, for you have to get the young fellow off the hill as quickly as possible, but try not to cause him any more discomfort than he was already in. The wheel worked wonderfully and it was nice to get the occasional rest. In double quick time we made it to the car park at Ogwen Cottage and handed the young fellow over to the civilian ambulance crew. At it sped away a land rover pulled up into which Chippy and I jumped and subsequently disappeared. We didn’t speak to the waiting press, that was Thornton’s job. It was a real good feeling to have been so important in that young fellows rescue. His father showed his appreciation by dropping two barrels of beer off at the section house the following week. That certainly pleased Chippy and me, but we did share, we were not animals.