Celtic Illumination, part 196, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.
It was a standard grey day in Germany, winter was still holding on but spring beckoned. The days seemed lighter. John Zammo was on his usual mail run around the squadron and on passing through operations mentioned that J R wanted to see me. I left whatever I was doing and made my way up to J R‘s office. Normally, he would tell me what he wanted but this time he invited me in, asked me to close the door and then to take a seat. Something out of the ordinary was happening. J R had a signal in front of him and he was smiling. “Biggen Hill have accepted you for selection, we’ve just got to wait for a date.” Well; I can tell you my spirits were flying higher than any phantom ever could.
J R then made sure that I knew what I was in for. He explained the importance of being on the ball as far as current affairs were concerned and emphasised the importance of physical fitness. From that moment on every member of the aircrew made a point of conversing with me, asking me questions about current affairs and explaining the role of the air force. It was a lovely time, even J R took time to chat to me about his role, the role of the squadron, even the future of the air force. I was quite surprised one evening when the station commander came over for some night flying that he mentioned that he had noticed I had been accepted and wished me luck.
I had a very simple plan which was to complete training as sergeant aircrew air electronics. This was a relatively new branch in the air force so the upper echelons were still quite fluid. Prove myself and after a couple of years take a commission and aim for the top. As long as I had the correct attitude and worked hard it was very achievable. There was one slight problem standing in my way which of course was Biggen Hill. I had to pass the selection process. This was no morning of tests and some half arsed interview; this was a week-long selection process from which most other personnel selection processes in the UK had stemmed from.
There was of course the elephant in room, which was me. My weight would never stay still and I suppose I was to become a yo-yo dieter for the rest of my life. I began training in earnest because although I had a plan for my career, I suppose I secretly wanted to prove all those air traffickers, who had messed me about for years, I wanted to prove them wrong. However now I felt a new force coming in to play, for I felt obliged to J R and his aircrew. They had so readily given me their support and encouragement I felt that I had to pass Biggen Hill to validate their backing.
We all knew that Biggen Hill could ask for me at any time they pleased so I was to be ready at a moment’s notice to get back to the UK. So to add a little bit of pressure to the equation the squadron left for Cyprus. I had been placed on the advance party and on the rear party, again, so I was facing six weeks in the sun. It was strange that many of us found the little things so important. On arrival I discovered that there was no running water on our dispersal. My main worry was how would J R get his morning coffee? J R drank coffee so strong the spoon, as they say, could have stood up in it. Added to that the man constantly sucked on a foul smelling pipe and I don’ t think he could have faced the day without his nicotine and caffeine hit first thing.
When the birds arrived I drove out on to the pan and collected their G suits and bone domes, how there happened to be a crate of ice cold beers in the truck as well I will never know but the guys enjoyed it. Operations had been set up, the engineers put the birds to bed and the aircrew settled in to their accommodation. The next morning J R arrived to work and came in to operations. “Any chance of a coffee?” he asked, I was about to leave ops and get him his coffee when one of the navigators chirped, “There’s no water Boss, and it won’t be back on for a week.” I had made sure that I had secreted away a gallon of fresh water so that J R could have his morning hit.
It was quite funny when I came back in to operations with his coffee, the navigator didn’t really know where to put himself and J R just smiled a knowing smile. But then he took my seat behind the ops desk and passed me the keys to his car. I was to go back to my accommodation, collect my training kit and return to the squadron. I wasn’t aware but there were certain established jogging routes in Cyprus and J R had selected one for me. I was to continue opening the squadron in the morning, however, J R would come in and I would, having given him his coffee, change into my training kit and complete an eight mile jog. Oh, and by the way, he was timing me, so he wanted to see an improvement over the coming days.
I felt a bit strange leaving the squadron but in a very short space of time I was away from the dispersal and on my own. Just me, my breathing, my heartbeat, and the sunshine. I would say that the first third of the route was uphill, across the domestic site, through married quarters and onto the cliff tops. The cliff tops curved around and dropped away, so the following third was a gentle descent to the harbour and then the final third would have been uphill again, but not as severe as the first third. I promise you it was perfect. Once past the married quarters and on top of the cliffs I would take off my shirt and just enjoy the sunshine.
Initially I was concerned as snakes would be slithering about in front of me. My pounding along would have them skitter across my path and it was quite disconcerting, especially for an Irishman, where was Saint Patrick when you needed him? I couldn’t really enjoy the view for the first couple of days as I was more concerned with the snakes but after a while I got used to them and I suppose they got used to me. My efforts had been quite successful as my uniform was hanging off me. A couple of the guys, Brian Henwood and Jim Smith wanted to put wire coat hangers in the cuffs of my shorts as they were so big they were comical. It really would have made me look like one of Spike Milligan’s characters or someone from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, but then Brian Henwood, a Squadron Leader fighter pilot, was the fellow who would skip across the ops room singing. “I’m walking backwards for Christmas across the Irish sea.”
Nothing fitted me and clothing stores would not exchange my kit for something smaller. I had to pull it all together and hold my trousers up with a belt. Someone had the great idea of stapling my shorts to my shirt, which was grand as long as you didn’t sit down. Of course being in Cyprus helped greatly not just the great weather but the diet which was heavy on the salad, so no one minded if I rewarded myself with the occasional brandy sour and the odd bout of squadron madness.