Celtic Illumination, part 189, Oi! Mr. DeMille, I’m ready.
Pretending to be someone else, or using a name that we thought comical, was standard behaviour throughout the squadron while on detachment. BFBS, the British Forces Broadcasting Service had sent a pretty young thing along to interview a phantom crew. The two guys swapped name patches and pretended to be the other person. It was quite funny really as the two guys gave the most ridiculous answers possible while the pretty little air head ploughed ahead with her in-depth interview. She never even twigged when the navigator, pretending to be the pilot, claimed that his main ambition in life was to be a Jindivik pilot. The Jindivik being the remote control aircraft that towed flares used as targets for missile practise.
The only person who didn’t think it funny was JR who bollocked the pair rigid. There is a photograph of the two of them bound and gagged on the pavement outside ops after their one sided conversation with the boss where he forbade them to speak to the media again, ever. There was always some media type sticking a microphone or camera in our faces. If it wasn’t the Russians it was the BBC. The BBC were making a new series about a fictitious RAF squadron, called ‘Squadron.’ The lead actor came in to ops to ask the guys for any tips on how he should portray a fighter pilot. For starters they scruffied him up a bit and filled the pockets on his flying suit with documents.
It was even suggested that he dribble some coffee on his flying suit if he wanted to get the authentic look. The best stain was on Dom Riley’s flying suit. I should know, for it was my fault. Most of us smoked cigarettes and would have had own our squadron zippo lighter. Dom’s lighter had run out of fuel so I offered to re-fill it for him. The standard way to refuel a zippo lighter was to use a land drover. Military land rovers have two petrol tanks, one under the driver’s seat and the other under the passenger seat. To access each tank you would remove the seat, twist the cap and voila! There was a deep metal sieve extending down into the tank which would stop any dirt or bits and pieces falling in to the tank.
We would take the fuel compartment out of the zippo lighter and drop it into the sieve, then lift the sieve out, take the, now full, fuel compartment, reassemble the zippo and continue smoking. Dom was quite pleased that not only was his lighter full and that he now knew how to refill it anytime he needed but he was also impressed with the six inch smoky flame that erupted when the zippo was lit. What he wasn’t impressed with was that when flying and pulling ‘G’ the fuel seeped out of the zippo and apart from staining his flying suit burned the chest of him. Thank God it never ignited, that would have been an interesting one to explain away.
Initially we were quite interested in how the BBC crew did things. For example to give the impression that an aircraft was in flight the camera man would lie on the back of a low tractor that would be towing an aircraft. The camera would be looking up, at an angle, so that you could see the pilot in the aircraft looking all windswept and interesting with the sky behind him and as the tractor moved along the viewer was given the impression that the aircraft was flying. With a lot of the ‘magic’ being exposed we soon lost interest and only a few of the guys tagged along as they were promised to be included in the action. Many of the squadron did actually appear in the series but as dead bodies, which I have to say, complemented the wooden acting of most of the characters.
The air force had given its complete backing to the television series and had said that they could have the use of any aircraft they wanted. Unfortunately with the Falklands war raging away, their choice of aircraft was greatly reduced. Despite the fact that a war was happening, albeit a few thousand miles away, life continued almost as normal. There was a huge army presence in Cyprus and they were having a parade at the British Forces Headquarters at Episcopi. The Southern band of the Royal Air Force had flown in to perform at the parade. We would see them every day out marching up and down and practising.
I really didn’t think much about the band, I mean why would anyone. One day a group of us had gone down to the sailing club. None of us were interested in sailing; the sailing club had the best beach bar and deck chairs. It was a very, very, pleasant place to spend an afternoon. What we didn’t know was that the musicians in the band had formed little groups. Each musician had their own specific style of music that they enjoyed and many of them joined smaller groups that performed all over the place. One of those places was the sailing club. I couldn’t believe my luck relaxing on a beach with a live band playing away all afternoon. All we had to do was keep feeding them beer and they kept playing.
Even in the evenings we would have live bands or groups entertaining us not that we needed it. Many of the chaps would get their very own duelling scar while in Cyprus. Every ceiling would be covered with electric fans and as you probably know, once you’ve had a few brandy sours, the only thing to do with an electric fan is to stop it with your head. By sitting on someone’s shoulders you would bring your head as close to the revolving blades as you would dare and then try to stop it. While you are trying to concentrate on the revolutions and get your timing right, the audience would be chucking all sorts at you. You could always tell, the following morning, who had been involved in such shenanigans as they would have a long, fresh, scar across their forehead.
One evening a squadron barbeque was planned and we all set off for the beach. It was a relaxed affair and we were all lying about, drinking and behaving ourselves, quite well actually, when we heard an engine. Total silence descended on the gathering and we all wondered who would be out in a boat in complete darkness. We all moved away from the light that the bonfire we had established created. Then, out of the darkness we saw a boat. It approached the beach and grounded itself. Then a voice. “Oi mate!” It was a Scouser. As we approached I could see it was the exact same Scouser who had been trying to pick a fight with us outside the mess.
It was a wooden boat, about twenty feet long. There was a huge stack of beer crates in the centre of the boat and half a dozen men, all naked, as was the six foot six Scouser. They were all steaming drunk too. “Which way’s the Falklands mate?” asks the Scouser. Someone pointed away from the beach and having re-floated their craft, the naked Rock Apes chugged their way off into the darkness. I don’t know if they ever got there, I’m still waiting for the postcard.