Celtic Illumination, part 105, Chariots of Fire
The social life was quite good on mountain rescue. We had our usual carousing when we were out in the field, and were probably much worse than the reputed sailor with a girl in every port. We had formal parties with visiting dignitaries and stewards and we had the very private, pure mountain rescue session, not for the faint hearted. Sometimes though, I liked to get away on my own. I had found a little pub in Holyhead known as The Skerries, which I adopted as my own. The Skerries was one of the smallest pubs I had ever come across and, as you may expect, I often had a young lady on my arm if I would visit.
It was a lovely little pub with a tiny front room and the ‘snug’ at the rear. One of the young ladies I would regularly escort around Holyhead was Norma. Her father was ex Royal Navy and would take me to the Royal Naval Association club where he would feed me ‘Jungle Juice’. This jungle juice was ‘Pussers Rum’ which the navy chaps would have on toast for breakfast, if they could. It was the same rum that they were given as their daily ‘tot’ until the 1970’s when the tradition was discontinued. Norma was well connected into the local community, so very, very, useful except one evening she suggested that rather than sit in a dusty old pub we go to the cinema and then a late supper.
I pleaded poverty and said that I didn’t have enough funds in the bank to cover such a social outing. I was quite surprised, to say the least, to hear Norma tell me I was wrong and then divulge the exact balance in my current bank account. Maybe she was a little bit too well connected. A warning marker was placed in the water.
I also remember my first ever encounter with garlic bread. It was at an evening barbeque at 22 Squadron. It was a fantastic evening; a parachute had been put up to act as a temporary cover. Bales of hay had been provided for seating and I was eating some food, I know how strange was that, especially as there was beer left. A young lady opened a cardboard box and offered me something from within. Needless to say this was the garlic bread and I took a piece. Like my first abseil I was straight back at the box looking for more.
However there was one party where I picked up a friend for life. Louis Henry, remember him, the SWO’s man. It was a serious mountain rescue session. There was a bit of a training lecture first and I honestly think it was just an excuse to get all the chaps together. Then we launched into the beer and I promise you, no prisoners would be taken. Quite late in the evening I staggered off to the toilet.
As I went in I noticed a pair of legs underneath a cubicle door. They weren’t moving so I continued with what I had come in to the toilets to do. I saw that the legs belonged to Louis Henry and began to call his name. There was no movement, no response whatsoever. I made my way over to the cubicle and, standing on the toilet bowl of the adjoining cubicle, looked over and saw Louis unconscious on the floor. Some other chaps were coming in to the toilets and did not expect to see me demolishing the row of cubicles.
I managed to get Louis into the centre of the floor and saw that he was choking. Training took over and you know the drill, but thankfully he began to cough and splutter and we had an ambulance come and take him away just to make sure he was all right. I mean we couldn’t sit up with him all night and nurse him, we had beer to drink. Next time I saw Louis he couldn’t stop thanking me and accused me of saving his life. I asked him not to be so ridiculous, but he insisted and promised that he would be in my debt forever. He was still saying that six weeks ago when we got together to celebrate his sixtieth birthday.
Louis even gave me a car once, an Austin 1100. The team car had died a death and no one was willing to pay for it to be repaired, never mind make it legal, so it was disposed of. Louis had one too many sherbets one evening, at the families club at Valley, and forgot to put the handbrake on when he parked the car. Needless to say he was careless enough to live at the top of a small hill. The following morning the car had decided to make a break for it and would have gotten clean away, if it were not for the wall at the bottom of the hill.
The two front wings, front grill and bonnet were destroyed. The car had been going at some speed when it hit the wall, so its escape attempt looked pretty serious. Louis, as resourceful as ever, replaced them with an all in one fibreglass replacement. Norma and I were to attend a function at a hotel in Amlwch, don’t ask me how to pronounce it, and it was with great pride that I collected her from her home in my new chariot. It was a real blessing as it was throwing it down, and this was Welsh rain, like a male voice choir, it just engulfed you.
Every time you buy, or just drive a different car, there will be some little thing that the previous owner forgets to tell you. Perhaps a certain little twist, or flick, with a switch or indicator arm. But as we left Holy Island and came on to Anglesey Island everything seemed to be going swimmingly. The rain was horrendous but the headlights were perfect, the windscreen wipers functioned perfectly so we had no problems.
I do remember approaching Amlwch and there was a slight dip in the road, well; a decent sized dip and I noticed a bit of a flood was gathering at the bottom. Like any young fellow I decided that the best way to approach a flood was as fast as you possibly could, for you should get two huge sprays of water splash out either side of the car. A sure fire way to impress any young lady. Well; I was wrong, there were three huge sprays of water. You see, what Louis had forgotten to tell me was that, as well as the wings, bonnet and grill, being destroyed the actual chassis had cracked, and there was a huge slit running from left to right in the passenger foot well. Norma was not amused and actually insisted that I take her home, we were both dripping wet but what’s a little bit of water between friends?
In fact after that Louis sort of adopted me and I was a constant visitor at his house. His wife Elizabeth is such a wonderful woman it’s always a great pleasure to visit them. They had two perfect children Mark and Michelle. I used to collected pieces of slate, or quartz, when I was up in the mountains and during the quiet moments in my room, while the other chaps were showing young ladies their sketches, I would be painting Walt Disney characters on these pieces of slate, that I had collected, for Mark and Michelle.
Even the parties at their house were different. I was invited to a mattress ripping party one evening and it was ‘bring a bottle.’ I’m sure this was just Louis and Elizabeth adapting the mountain rescue lifestyle into a domestic situation and trying to look normal for the neighbours. Louis was in charge of the station bedding store so he always had access to well; anything you wanted really.
A large sheet had been placed on the living room floor and a group of us gathered round and a lump of foam rubber was thrown into the centre. We all tore a piece off and ripped it into smaller pieces, probably a mountain rescue interpretation of fondue. At the end of the evening we had a huge pile of tiny pieces of foam rubber. One of the many skills Elizabeth possessed was that of seamstress, now couple that with Louis’s ability to get anything you needed on camp. A silk parachute was acquired; producing a four feet square, silk cushion, filled with perfect little pieces of foam. Really comfortable and very different.
Of course the Catherine connection was there and she was often invited to stay with Louis and Elizabeth so that they could have an evening out and Catherine and I could babysit. Now stop it. I know you are saying, hold on a minute, where’s Norma? I wasn’t a slut, far from it. Admittedly Catherine and Norma didn’t know about each other but at least Catherine could never tell me exactly how much was in my bank account.