Celtic Illumination, part 158, ♫ Shackleton’s don’t bother me ♫
It is a bit remiss of me not to have explained to you, the Illuminati, what we were doing in Cyprus, but as I haven’t even explained what we were doing in Germany I was probably hoping none of you had noticed. Ah well; it’s a fair cop. There were two phantom squadrons in Germany used in interceptor or air defence roles. These were 19 and 92 Squadron, both stationed at Wildenrath. The phantom had three weapons. Sidewinder missiles, which were basically heat seeking missiles and Sparrow missiles which were radar homing missiles. We would go to Valley in North Welsh Wales to practise fire these on the Jindivik’s from Llanbedr.
The phantom had a gun, a six barrel Gatling gun, which was slung underneath the aircraft. Every year we would go to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus for four weeks, where we were guaranteed good weather and where we would practice fire the weapon. As with us, on the rifle range, each pilot had to achieve a certain percentage of hits on the target to qualify. The target was a huge canvas scarf that was towed behind a Canberra aircraft known as a banner. On the scarf would be painted a target, rather like a bull’s eye. Two or three phantoms would fire on each banner.
Each aircraft would be loaded with bullets that were painted a certain colour and each aircraft firing on a banner would carry a colour different from the others so that on landing, the banner could be inspected and the amount of holes for each colour could be counted. Each bullet passing through the banner would leave a trace of its colour. It has been suggested that certain pilots would approach the armourers hut and offer a number of crates of beer for them to arrange for two aircraft to carry the same colour bullets as this would increase his score. I couldn’t comment.
So every year we had to go to Cyprus for four weeks gunnery, however, if you moved out on the advance party, and returned with the rear party, your stay would be closer to the six week mark. Cyprus is often referred to as the best holiday you would never pay for and I think that would be true in most cases. Akrotiri had over one hundred and twenty clubs, each with its own bar. These ranged from the standard rugby and football clubs to a go karting club, sailing club and theatre club.
Most squadrons would have their own rugby and football team. These were more public relations vehicles rather than serious sporting sides. We would always be asked to play against Akrotiri who watered their pitch with sewerage, due to the shortage of water. The chance of catching a dose of botulism or some equally nasty form of plague if you fell over, as if that could ever happen in a game of rugby, always appealed to me. However we would always drag ourselves through these games knowing that afterwards there would be a huge party.
I had always thought that the social life I had so far experienced was a bit extreme however I can assure you nothing compared to the squadron on the rip. If we went to the airman’s club we would have one long table and the singing would begin. The old hands would control this and some of the songs were really funny. Like ♫ Shackleton’s ♫ where individuals would be placed out to resemble the engines and crew of a Shackleton aircraft. They would go through the whole start up procedure, making the people playing the engines swing their arms, to represent the propellers. They would even have someone playing a houchin to start the aircraft with.
The master of ceremonies would lead the squadron singing the song ♫ Shackletons don’t bother me ♫ The crew would be given tasks, even as far as the rear gunner jaggering his arms as if he were firing a machine gun. He would take the aircraft up and even go on a bombing run but the whole set up was geared for one person, usually a new person on the squadron, although there could be two or more. These would usually be playing the role of an engine. It would be somewhere around thirty thousand feet, with forty squadron guys roaring away with the song, that the engine would go on fire and forty pints of beer would then be lashed at the poor person, to extinguish the fire of course.
All great fun, but for any of you who enjoy a few scoops now and again you will understand that there comes a point in the evening where the pangs of hunger assault your senses. Outside one or two of the main clubs were kebab vendors so it was quite handy to nip out and grab a kebab, which should be eaten outside on your own, for if you came in with a kebab it wouldn’t last very long. Every now and then, usually most Friday and Saturday nights, someone would suggest a group go for a Kebab. Not to the vendor outside the club, but to a local village, to a restaurant.
So; if you would care to imagine the scene, approximately twenty people, all a bit squiffy from too many brandy sours, deciding not only where to go, but how many taxis would be needed. Someone would then have to be nominated to order the taxis. This involved some high speed mathematics which, while under the influence of numerous brandy sours, even I wasn’t capable of. The taxi drivers in Cyprus did not understand the concept of a speed limit, which was fine with us as we were, due to the brandy sours, starvationed.
Now; when I say restaurant forget what you are thinking, picture this instead. A square building made from bare, grey, concrete blocks wearing a painted corrugated tin roof. Formica tables with metal legs and a miss matched collection of metal legged wobbly chairs. Bare light bulbs, a television talking to itself and some old woman, seated in a corner, knitting. Everyone in Cyprus is called Chris, or is a friend or a relative of Chris, even the women. We would be met by the proprietor, Chris, who would ask “How many for table please?” Whoever had ordered the taxis; the mathematical genius, would now take over again and instruct the troops as to how he wanted the tables in the restaurant set out.
With the furniture in the restaurant arranged to our satisfaction we would sit ourselves down. Like a pyroclastic mud slide the table would be covered in bowls of salad, pitta bread, tahini, tzatziki, olives, lemons, yoghourt and drink provided by the standard waiter in black trousers and white shirt, called Chris. Some refined individual would order beer but most would opt for the Kokinelli, which was free. Next the waiter would circle the table asking who wanted a full kebab and who wanted a half kebab.
A Cypriot kebab is a mountain of a meal, involving numerous courses including Sheftalia sausages, barbeque skewers full of onions and tomatoes and peppers and various meats, liver, racing chicken, pork chops, and my favourite, barbequed halloumi. Halloumi is a goat’s cheese, although I understand that sheep milk can also be used in its manufacture. As you can now understand, ordering a full kebab would drastically reduce the amount of room you would leave yourself for booze, something that had to be taken in to consideration. And I suppose you thought enjoying yourself was easy and straightforward.
By the time the first course arrived, all the pitta bread would have been scoffed and you would be on your second bottle of Kokinelli. The standards of etiquette and good manners would continue to diminish as the evening progressed. Although there would be a television, on a high shelf, blurting out some form of programme our entertainment would be throwing stuff at some of the bhondu cats that prowled the borders of all the restaurants, probably looking for lost relatives.
At the end of the evening the mathematical genius, who had ordered the taxis, would once again be called upon to order more taxis, for the return, and to work out the bill. It didn’t matter who ate what, or why, the bill was divided by the amount of people at the table. Normally a feast like that would run into the five’s or sixes of pounds or even seven pounds at a stretch. Each group in each taxi would nominate the most sober person to produce identity at the guard post and we would all try to remember where our block was, followed by room, followed by bed.
It was after a few of these occasions that I was able to work out the cause of my sore head the following morning. I know the gorilla would have been in during the night, stolen all my money, thrown my clothes all over the room and pissed in my mouth again, but it was the throbbing headache that concerned me. I had my ‘eureka’ moment. If you have ever woke up with, what is wrongly referred to as, a hangover, you probably thought it was connected to the previous evening and some form of alcoholic drink. Well; to prove that the British tax payer got value for their money, for sending me out to Cyprus every year, I have discovered the cause of the so called hangover. It’s not the booze. Think about it. When you go to bed you feel fine, in fact you probably feel fantastic. It’s when you wake that you have a problem, ergo; it’s the fecking pillow causing it.