Celtic Illumination, part 150, Messing about on the river
Watton was quite a good place from which you could travel out and visit the East of the country, or even London if you were adventurous enough. We were close enough to the Norfolk broads that occasionally boats would be hired and parties would be celebrated. Mad parties that I shall not dare talk about as most of them are probably still under police investigation. All I shall say is that no matter where we went it was always madness and mayhem.
Imagine if you will Cambridge. Picture in your mind the slow flow of the river Cam, the well-manicured lawns of the university, and students gathered in groups, discussing stuff. Young gentlemen, in straw boaters and brightly coloured waistcoats, and a swan gliding by. Now can you imagine two punts? The hot summer sunshine and a group of drunken Pheasant Pluckers charging at each other, on punts, using the five meter long poles as a lances. Now can you imagine one of the punts sinking and people shouting? Not us, we were too busy laughing, and then running. Oh the joy. By the way, when punting, drop the pole to hit bottom, push away and twist. The twist stops the pole from sticking in the mud.
I used to enjoy visiting various auctions, not to buy anything, just to have a nose about and get a feel for what was happening. They always seemed to be full of Americans, who I can only imagine were buying history by the truck full and shipping it back stateside. We would occasionally visit Liverpool and Irene’s family. The first thing I would do is grab her dad and whisk him off to the pub where I would fill him with brown ale and dark rum and just listen to the great stories he would tell me. He had served on bomb disposal in Africa during the Second World War and I promise you had some wonderful tales to tell.
My worst enemy is myself if I am bored and I do remember on one occasion as I was wandering through a market in Liverpool, that I saw some fake brown fur. I don’t know what possessed me but I bought a load and began to cover the inside of my car, the Brown Ford Cortina mark three. Why I did it I shall never know, but once on, it wasn’t coming off. Another time I found myself at a loose end and went to the cinema in the afternoon. I subsequently found myself going back another four times over the following two days. A strange thing to do, to watch the same film, five times in a row. But if I were to tell you that the film was the Blues Brothers then you may agree that I wasn’t so mad after all.
Watton was still same old place. People moved in and out, seasons went from season to season. One day I was standing in the crew room when John Lewis came in. John was the fantastic cricketer and footballer who I had initially met at Valley. The chap who asked me to escort his cousin, the RAF nurse, to his wedding. Yes that John Lewis. John had married a Welsh lass, from Welsh Wales, and she had insisted that she wanted to return to Valley so that she could be near her family. John had requested that his name be removed from the overseas list and further requested a posting back to Valley.
If you wanted to be considered for an overseas posting, you had to fill out an application form, yes the one where you had to have ‘the honour to be your obedient servant’ and ask permission to be considered for selection for overseas duty. I always thought about it but had never got around to it. John came into the crew room this day, and was in quite a mood. Seems like the Wing Commander had a friend at Innsworth who had informed him that the clerks at Valley, in order to get themselves at the top of the overseas list, hadn’t submitted any names from Valley.
I found myself sliding out through the door and along the corridor to the admin sergeant. Mitch just growled at me but he had been at Valley as well. “I wonder if it is possible to find out whereabouts my name is on the overseas list?” I asked. “We’re thinking of starting a family and I need to plan ahead,” I lied. Mitch looked at me and I think he knew what had really sparked my interest in the overseas list, but he nodded and assured me that he would check it out for me.
Two weeks later I saw my name in routine orders. I had been posted to Germany. I hadn’t even considered going abroad however there was no backing out of it now. Irene like me was a bit stunned, but we went through the motions and began packing our stuff. Initially the thought that we had a couple of weeks to prepare was great, but then as we tried to plan ahead we were finding that there wasn’t enough time. I had to attend a special course at Honington where I had to be prepared for Germany.
The more cultured Illuminati among you will probably think this would take the form of a series of lectures about the history and culture and customs of Germany with perhaps some German language classes. Well; this was the air force and I had to go and fire a gun on the rifle range and eat biscuits in a CS gas chamber. Of course being posted overseas meant that you had to drink an awful lot of beer as it is the only decent way of saying goodbye to friends. One evening Peter Chidgely and myself were quite drunk and were staggering back to our houses on the married patch.
We noticed that the station ensign was still flying so we decided to steal it. It was the same ensign I had decorated with knickers, so it would be a suitable keepsake for me from Watton. It was a foul night and I remember coming through my front door and looking at the damp flag and throwing it into an open packing case. The following day, sitting in a boring lecture about gas, or bombs, or something, a policeman came in and asked for me by name. I was escorted to a telephone and was handed the receiver.
“Have you got the Watton ensign?” asked the copper from Watton, at the other end of the telephone. “Yes,” I said. “I’ll bring it back later.” I didn’t think much more about it but wish I knew who had been the duty airman the night before, as he would no doubt be in trouble for leaving the flag out all night. The copper did not possess amazing detective qualities. He had gone to the lodge and asked who was drunk in the bar the previous evening and he had already telephoned Peter.
I went over to SHQ late that afternoon. It was still raining so I was wearing my raincoat. I went in and was a bit on edge as the copper seemed to be quite excited. He asked me to wait in the admin office as he went in to see the Commanding Officer. I know it sounds grand but the ‘Commanding Officer’ was a Flight Lieutenant, nothing special. For some reason I whipped off my beret and stuck it in my raincoat pocket, like any decent airman would. I then undid the buttons on my raincoat and then did them back up again, but out of sync.
The copper called for me to come in so I sauntered in. I wandered over to the radiator and said. “The flag’s a bit wet; do you want me to put it on the radiator?”
I don’t know who started screaming first, the CO or the copper, but the essence of their screaming was for me to get out. I did, and was quickly followed by the copper. He watched as I redid all my buttons and put my beret on. He then instructed me that he would march me in; I was to come to attention and salute, like a proper airman. I did and was stood standing to attention before the CO. He began talking at me. He said that he didn’t think he would explain what I had done wrong to me as I was a stupid Irishman and therefore too thick to understand.
I was pleased with his honesty, because it showed what a small minded little empire builder he really was, however I was displeased that I couldn’t reach over his desk and give him two black eyes. He continued hurling foul, racist, abuse at me and I promise you I have never been so insulted in all my life. The copper was smiling and I knew that in a decent world, the pair of them would have been on the floor and remained there for some time for their ignorance.
I left the office with my ears ringing. I could not believe that such a stupid person existed. I was really very angry but realised that at least the following day I was going to Germany.