Celtic Illumination, part 104, The old school tie.
I had been a Novice on the team for about one year; in fact I had been a Novice for almost twelve months which as you know is a little bit longer. I suppose one of the good points, if you could ever say such a thing, about being a Novice, is that you had to concentrate on completing your list of achievements. This was the list where every item not only had to be completed, but seen to be completed, and signed off by an established team member, if not the deputy or team leader himself. This would mean that you would very rarely get bored or have to repeat a certain exercise.
Sometimes you would have a glut of things to achieve and think you would never complete the list. Sometimes you would get five or six items together in one exercise and your progress would catch up with the drag curve. I was quite near getting my list finished. I had an endurance test to complete and a navigation exercise, two major items, time wise at least. There were one or two other items which due to geographical or seasonal constraints I would not be able to attempt within my time as a Novice. The award could still be made having taken into consideration the attitude of the individual.
To make sure that the raw skills were tested you would be taken out of area for your navigation exercise, and you would be given a small party of three to accompany you with one supervisor. I was called in to the office and told that I would be facing my navigation and endurance test within the following fortnight. I was allowed to choose my three team mates none of which could be established team members and my supervisor would be Pib.
I knew that I would have to lead a team over twenty five miles, in rough ground that I was unfamiliar with, and it was a challenge that didn’t faze me. I didn’t know where it was going to be and I didn’t know what the weather was going to be like. The only factor that would have caused me concern would have been if I had to do it at night. Thankfully I don’t think that had ever occurred to anyone, and forgive me for saying it now, for someone out there has just thought ‘Oh that’s a good idea.’
My only concern was that my supervisor was Pib. Pib was legend. He was the James Dean of the rescue services. We all knew that the air force would never promote him, for he was too much of a real person for them, he wouldn’t play their games, he was his own man. On the day that I was born, yes, that day, ripped away from my loving mother and given to a battle hardened snatch squad of Carmelite nuns, Pib was the team leader of the Desert and Mountain Rescue Team at RAF Khormaksar, in Aden. In 1972 before I joined the air force Pib had been awarded the BEM. Pib was the heart of the rescue teams and a more decent and humble man you would never meet.
Very sadly Pib is no longer with us, he died in June 2001. But just think of this, on Remembrance Day, in the Commonwealth, where everyone observes a one or two minute silence, in Aden, at the Commemorative Service in Silent Valley the British ambassador will read out Pib’s name and lay a wreath. In an obituary;- Pib: A memoir of Colin Pibworth, by Frank Card, Frank summed him up by saying “The sixteenth century Italian poet, Ludovico Ariosto, could almost have been thinking of Pib when he wrote: ‘Natura ilfece, epoiroppe la stampa. Nature made him, and then broke the mould.’” This is the fellow who would be testing me and I certainly did not feel up to the challenge.
I had never been to the Lake District before and was really looking forward to seeing the daffodils. As with Scotland and the Kyle Of Lochalsh, the Lake District was imprinted on my mind, not Just William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge but Beatrix Potter, Swallows and Amazons and the historically famous sectarian riots at Cleator Moor where, in and around the 1880’s , Catholic’s and Orange men gladly murdered each other to death in the streets.
I had great respect for the area and secretly wished that I could have been an ordinary civilian and just wandered around the towns and graveyards and soaked up all that atmosphere in the hope that some of that greatness might rub off on myself.
With base camp established we went into Keswick and the Royal British Legion.
It wasn’t my fault. People were jiving, I think it was something to do with the remoteness of the location, yee ha! I quite happily joined in and for a brief moment was able to forget what lay ahead for me the next day. I say a brief moment for before the second dance could start, the club secretary came running over asking me to leave the dance floor. I understand some of you, the Illuminati, will probably think the combination of my lovely legs and my spiffing dance moves would have embarrassed the locals but no. It was the combination of my size thirteen Dolomite climbing boots and the freshly varnished dance floor that caused the commotion.
The next morning, I was given my map, my start and finish coordinates, my route and wished good luck. The remainder of the team would provide check points along my proposed route and as they say in all good novels, off we jolly well went.
I learned a lot that day and the one specific thing I learned was that eccentricity develops. It cannot be forced. Each individual member of the team had their very own idiosyncrasy. Paddy Cross wore a dear stalker hat that was so ridiculous you could spot him ten miles away, in a high wind, in poor light. Tom Pritchard, with his shotgun poking out of his rucksack, could be identified on any ridge, in a group of men, providing you had a high powered enough sniper rifle. I had decided to use my old school tie as a belt. That’s right. Why I would still have an old school tie from Violent Hell, I don’t know, but this was now my belt and I probably looked like Stanley Holloway in My Fair lady, singing ♫ With a Little bit of luck ♫, for that’s all I needed.
I thought I was doing pretty well, hands in pockets, head down, checking my map and bearings every minute or two, leading from the front and powering along. We were all quiet, wanting to conserve energy, so there was no idle chit chat. We came to a style and a party of civilians were about to cross, we stood back and allowed them to cross. There were four or five of them and after they had crossed and we had all exchanged pleasantries, as is the custom on the hill, one of their party turned around and pointed at my belt, or tie if you will. “Oh!” he exclaims, “Violet Hill! How do you do?” At which he lifted his hat.
Now this could have been viewed as either a good thing or a bad thing, for the remainder of the exercise my squad tried to keep up with me. I wasn’t trying to establish any record for the endurance test, but get away from my squad who now chased me. Even Pib joined in with a continuous chorus of ‘Oh Violet HiIl! How do you do!!!’
I wandered lonely as a cloud. I don’t think so. The day finished, I was pretty worn out, but suddenly I was lifted as Willie might have said, ‘Floating on high o’er vales and hills’ as Pib shook my hand and awarded me my mountain rescue badge. I had made it.