Celtic Illumination, part 182, Ring-a-ring o’ roses
I hadn’t really thought about the world of air traffic control much. Now and again they would contact me, usually about promotion exams. I had a bit of a dilemma with the promotion exams, I could never pass them. It’s a bit strange or foolish, me claiming that these exams were so simple a monkey could pass them, yet I never could. I did try, but for some reason it was not to happen. The information we had to learn was never used on a daily basis. It was as if someone had collected as much information as they could and used it to create a syllabus from which they could concoct an exam. Then one day a Sergeant from air traffic came over and told me that if I would sit down and pass the exam I would be promoted. This time I decided to give it my best shot.
I realised that my time on the squadron would eventually come to an end. It was highly unlikely that I would get posted back to mountain rescue, seriously unlikely that I would go to another squadron and unfortunately more than likely that I would be sent back to air traffic. It was not a thought that appealed to me. I knew I would have to do something about it when that decision was taken for me. I got a phone call one day from Andy Swetman. If you remember while at Watton Andy Swetman, Tim Lort and myself all applied to undergo aircrew selection. Andy was told to lose weight, which he did. Tim was told to go away which he did, but further than the air force expected as he bought himself out. I was given the usual air traffic run around from the failed fast jet pilots.
Andy was at Wildenrath and asked if he could come over and have a coffee with me. I really didn’t think much more about it and sent the aircrew driver off to collect Andy. J R and myself were running ops and I explained to the Boss that a friend of mine was coming over. Andy came in and to my surprise was wearing a flying suit. He had gone off from Watton, been selected for aircrew and was now happily employed as a load master. It was lovely to see Andy but I have to admit that my heart sank when I thought about the hoops the air traffickers had made me jump through to get me absolutely nowhere.
We had a coffee and a chat and came back into the ops room where I introduced Andy to J R. “How long are you going to let him hide here then?” asked Andy. J R looked puzzled. Andy then explained that we had both applied for aircrew on the same day back in Watton and that, in his opinion; I should be trying to get my application in again. Andy left with a big smile on his face and J R told me that we were to sit down and have a chat. I told J R all about the useless air traffickers and how they were always making me prove to them that I had the qualities required for aircrew. J R called the aircrew crew room and asked Tony Bown to come down.
Tony came in a little worried that the boss had summoned him. “I want his aircrew application on my desk by Friday,” said J R and Tony nodded. “I’ll drum up the paperwork,” says Tony, who wanders off to the admin wallaghs. I couldn’t believe it, within thirty seconds of being told that I was interested in applying for aircrew J R was not just on my side but making sure my application went in. There was no proving anything to him, no good behaviour, no fecking essays to write, no six month trial. I knew I would have to start preparing myself but I also knew that I would have to buy Andy Swetman a couple of beers.
Most of the aircrew on the squadron were like that apart from one person who let me down. He was a navigator. One night we were running the ops room and he had gone off to do something or other. The ops desk was covered with clear perspex sheets under which we carried various sheets with information that was constantly used, one of these would have been telephone numbers. If anyone called for this fellow while he was out I drew a circle around the number so that he would know who had called. When he came back into the ops room I explained that a couple of people had called for him. I then said, while moving over to point at the sheet of phone numbers, that I had ringed the numbers, at which point he stopped me. “No,” he said, in his most patronising voice. “It’s not ringed, it’s called or telephoned. You called these people or you telephoned them.”
I had wanted to say that I had ringed, with a pen mark, the names and numbers of the people who had called for him. I immediately wished that I had said circled and not ringed but even so, it certainly was not what I was expecting as he then went on to explain that he considered it part of his duty to educate people like me. I was quite angry and waited for him to finish. I smiled at him for I would have spent six months inside had I really done what I wanted to. “Certain people telephoned, wishing to speak to you while you were out. I ringed their names and number with a felt pen on the desk so you can see who they were.” “Very good,” he said, probably thinking that his determination to educate people like me was on course.
Apart from that one fellow I had an excellent working relationship with everyone else on the squadron. The Boss had his own little air force mini and we also had another mini for battle flight. One of my duties was to look after these vehicles, to make sure they were serviced regularly and full of fuel. The Boss had a little blue name plate attached to the front bumper of his mini. It was a little blue metal plate, about six inches square, which said OC 92 SQN in bold white letters. When being used by someone other than J R, the blue name plate had to be covered with a little canvas bag. Once, when he was away on leave, I had an idea and cut the cobra and maple leaves out of one of the squadron zaps. I then placed it on the name plate and considered it quite a work of art.
The red and yellow of the cobra and maple leaves really stood out and I hoped J R would like it. It would certainly make his mini stand out against all the others. J R telephoned ops and asked if I would come and pick him up from his house. I uncovered the name plate knowing that J R would be standing at the end of his drive and hoped he would see and appreciate my little work of art. I zipped across the airfield and onto the main drag. As I was speeding along I noticed someone walking towards me and as I drew nearer saw that it was a Squadron Leader from the education section.
Unfortunately he saw me, well; he saw the mini and the name plate and thinking that a Wing Commander was driving, as the name plate was uncovered, gave me one of the smartest salutes I had ever seen. I didn’t return his salute but did notice the smile drain from his face as he realised it wasn’t J R but that fecking Irishman from 92. J R was indeed waiting for me at the end of his drive. “Budge over,” he says, as J R liked to drive himself. I got into the passenger seat and J R sets off for the squadron. “I like the badge,” he says. I hope he’s in a good and forgiving mood as I say. “You might be getting a phone call from a Squadron Leader educator Boss.” “Really,” he says. “And why’s that?” “I wanted you to see your new badge and left the canvas cover off. The Squadron Leader saluted me as I drove past him and when he saw it was me, and not you, he didn’t look too happy. J R was smiling away and happily puffing on his pipe. “So a Squadron Leader’s been saluting you?” “Yes Boss,” I admit. “Good,” says J R. “And so he should Paddy, so he should.”