Celtic Illumination, part 149, Bean stealers.
I was glad that Watton was top heavy with air traffickers as it was embarrassing to meet anyone from the real air force and have to tell them that you were in air traffic control. In fact I never thought I would ever experience a job as humiliating as height finding until I worked in the abattoir and realised that there were many more rungs below the career Hell that I was in. Andy Swetman had gone off for sergeant aircrew, Tim looked as if he had entered self-destruct mode and I was too stupid to give up.
It was one evening Irene and I had gone to a local pub, the Willow House, for a meal and a few scoops. It was quite funny as rumour control stated that The Willow House was posh and should only be used by officers and those on good behaviour. The oiks, like me, were confined to The Crown Hotel or The Kings Arms. I didn’t like the Crown Hotel anymore as many of the younger abattoir workers would drink in there and they usually became quite antagonistic. I was a natural target for their aggression as I was not only a foreigner but in the RAF too. Thankfully I never had to show any of them how to walk on the rice paper without leaving any marks. Although, I have to admit, I wouldn’t have minded leaving a couple of them with marks.
Well; Irene and I are happily ensconced in a comfortable comer in The Willow House when in comes a failed fast jet pilot and his lady. As drink had been taken by all concerned the gentleman, failed fast jet pilot, and his lady joined me and my wife. I still hadn’t grasped the difference between officers and airmen. Respect for me was something you earned. This fellow and I got on quite well, we swopped jokes, shot the breeze and generally had a laugh. But the conversation then veered over towards the future and careers.
My tongue had probably been loosened by the drink so I gave him what for, told him what I thought of his air force. The failed fast jet pilot seemed to actually care. He may have been showing off in front of his lady but he suggested that if I could prove to him that I had what it takes. Once again, this fellow thinks he is better than me because he has successfully been through the officer and aircrew selection centre, then at Biggen Hill. So too have I, why do I have to keep proving myself to failed fast jet pilots?
At that time there was a big hoo haa in the press about a hefty pay rise for the armed forces. One failed fast jet pilot who had had his legs blown off in a bomb attack in Aiden had used his compensation money to buy a Lotus, he was asked to park it around the rear of the buildings as it wouldn’t be a very good idea to plead poverty if some of us were driving Lotus cars. I can’t remember that fellows name but I do remember playing squash against him.
I knew, well; everyone knew that he walked with some difficulty and rumour control stated that the legs had gone below the knee, above the knee, at the hips, so no one knew for sure the true extent of his injuries and no one would have the temerity to ask. I was progressing well up the station squash ladder when I saw that he was the next person I had to challenge. Suitably togged out I went to the squash courts and couldn’t help but notice his heavily bandaged knees and it was most obvious that the lower legs were plastic. He won the game before the first service for I couldn’t help imagine if I sent him a difficult return that he would go one way and his legs the other.
Anyway, back to The Willow House and the failed fast jet pilot. He suggested that I write him a two and a half thousand word essay debating the pros and cons of the proposed pay rise for the armed forces. If I could present him with such an essay, of a decent standard mind you, he would help me get past the boss and off to Biggen Hill. Well; as you can imagine the midnight oil was burned, the scribe was scribbling and words were smithed. I completed the essay and not only was it factually correct, exactly two and a half thousand words long, written by a well serviced fountain pen, on unlined paper, it was funny too.
I gave it to him at work in a sealed brown envelope and never heard another word about it. As you can imagine my faith, or trust, or even the slightest respect for any failed fast jet pilot had gone, not that there had ever been very much there in the first place. The air force was constantly letting me down, the locals were getting more hostile, something had to happen and that was Taff Pope. Taff was the only person I knew who was quite comfortable sitting in the bar smoking a huge spliff.
Now drugs, the use of or possession of, were deeply frowned upon in the armed forces. We would be marched in, once a year, to view a movie about drug taking and drug takers. It was quite uncomfortable viewing and never showed a group of people laughing their heads off at nothing, but did show a procession of hopeless individuals injecting themselves and collapsing with the needle still stuck in their veins. It was a blood, guts, gore and veins in your teeth type of production. It certainly worked for me, I would never consider injecting myself but I could never believe the tales they told about marijuana use.
Taff apparently didn’t either and it was quite pleasant to sit with him now and again, smoke a spliff and just relax into laughter and dreams. Had we consumed a bottle of whiskey each, then smashed the bottles over each other’s heads and set fire to the bar, this would have been viewed as high spirits but laughing at nothing was deemed to be highly irresponsible and dangerous. In fact Taff completed his service at Watton and needed to return to his home in the valleys of South Welsh Wales.
He hired a car for the weekend and asked me to drive him home. Irene and I jumped at the chance of a mini adventure. Taff was a friend, so you had to help him out. Despite all his bravado and his ‘couldn’t care less attitude’ I’ll never forget glancing in the rear view mirror, as we left Watton, to see Taff in the rear of the car crying his eyes out. I wondered if I would feel the same on the day that I left.