Celtic Illumination, part 123, Cheers!
It was just as well that the air traffic guys came together after the incident at the Trearddur bay hotel. I needed a little help on the open day for although I had invited a young lady, from Bethesda, along another squeeze of mine from Llanberis had decided to surprise me and turn up. We had to keep the pair of them separate and luckily they never knew about the other or met. I find it strange that I actually have a photograph of the girl from Llanberis but cannot remember her name, it’ll come back to be, by Christmas maybe.
I remember my first Christmas at Valley. I went to the mess to get some breakfast and found the mess doors locked with a notice pinned to the door. The notice stated that the mess was closed; this of course explained the locked doors. However if I wanted something to eat I would have to go to the NAAFI. I understand that some members of the Illuminati are foreigners, so I shall explain NAAFI, some people think it stands for Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes. The NAAFI was responsible for providing shops, clubs, bars, canteens and entertainment for the non-commissioned ranks.
Some people used the term NAAFI to explain a certain type of person and the letters would stand for No Ambition And Feck all Interest. I was quite interested in getting some breakfast inside me as I was facing a long shift of answering the telephone and writing things down, and I’m sure you are aware of just how exhausting that can be. I went over to the NAAFI and was surprised to find that the bar was open; this is seven o clock in the morning. Various bodies were lying about, some sleeping or unconscious. Guys were actually standing at the bar drinking beer. Nearly everyone was in uniform so I wasn’t sure if they were going to work or had finished. I cobbled together a bacon sandwich and cup of tea as even I couldn’t stomach a pint of beer for breakfast. For the whole of the holiday period the bar and the mess were combined and although it was quite handy in the evenings, it was a little strange in the mornings.
Drink was a big part of life in the armed forces. It could have been that Christmas day; I was on duty and was standing in the switchboard room. We were expecting the station commander who would visit every person working, on Christmas day, and share a wee dram with them. I noticed the station commander come out of the fire station and begin to walk toward air traffic. I began warning people to smarten themselves up when I saw the station commander stop and help himself to a wee nip from the bottle before continuing on his way.
In fact one Christmas I had pitched up for work a little the worse for wear. When the station commander was seen heading for air traffic I was dispatched to the centre of the airfield, supposedly on bird scaring duties, and was not allowed to return until he was gone. This was at a time when we were running the shifts so if it was weekend, or holidays time, we were quite flexible about not just arriving for work but what state you were in.
It was after the holidays I had gone back home to Ireland for a week or so. I had actually taken the girl from Warrington, Karen, with me. I had introduced her to the good ol boys, Phelim and Peter. We were in a bar drinking, it was about two o clock in the afternoon. There were no other people in the place and I remember seeing the barrel of a rifle come through the door. It seemed to stay there for an awful long time and I really wasn’t sure what to do
I had never been worried in Warrenpoint as I knew all the IRA men; after all I had gone to Violent Hell with most of them. Luckily it was some soldiers, I can’t remember what regiment they were from but about six of them came into the bar and spread out checking corners and toilets. One came and stood before us four. He looked at Phelim.
“What’s your name?” “Phelim, what’s yours?” “What’s your full name?” “Phelim Francis, what’s yours?” “Have you got any I D?” “No, have you?”
It was quite funny to see the boys go through a routine they would go through every day or two, giving non answers to the soldiers. The man asking the questions was quite amazed to hear Karen’s English accent. It did prompt him to ask what on earth she was doing there. Karen pointed at me and I said nothing I simply handed him my identity card which he inspected shook his head and told his men to leave. Karen was a bit freaked out that armed soldiers could come in to a pub and question people, but Peter soon took her mind off it as I remember she ended up dancing on the bar counter with Peter.
I got back to Valley and wasn’t surprised to be told that the boss wanted to see me. Standing in front of the SATCO was becoming wearisome to say the least. I had been a good boy for some time; I hadn’t been charged or faced any disciplinary proceedings. If I had been late for work no one really noticed as I had learned enough tricks to side step that old horse. I had passed all my exams at Llangefni college, had worked well on the entertainment committee, so as far as I was concerned I was edging away from the dark side.
I went in and stood before his desk. He smiled at me and I knew that was a bad sign. He reached into a drawer and brought out a tankard of beer. Standing, he handed it to me and said, “Congratulations, you’ve been posted.” I knew that I had to yam sing the beer, which means to down it on one, then tip the tankard over your head to prove you have drank all the contents. As I swilled the beer down my throat, questions began to race through my head.
“What about my aircrew application?” I gasped, while holding the dripping tankard over my head. “I’m afraid you’ll have to take that up with your next unit,” he said, at which point I realised he should have been selling double glazing. I mean to be a good fellow, to turn up on time for work, sober and in the correct uniform is not very difficult. I should not have thought it something I should have been rewarded for. But to successfully pass three A levels, organise various functions, with great success and collect various other brownie points along the way, these did require an extra effort and I felt really let down. But with hindsight, this fellow was a failed fast jet pilot, so I shouldn’t have expected anything positive from him.
I was down heartened and turned to leave the room. “Don’t you want to know where you’re posted to?” he asked, as I reached the door. “Yeah,” I said, although at that moment I couldn’t have cared less. “Eastern radar,” he said, adding. “Norfolk.” Great, I thought as I left his office, a fecking radar unit. It might not mean much to you but what it meant to me was that ninety five per cent of personnel at a radar unit were air traffic controllers.