Celtic Illumination, part 202, Respect my authoritah!
Normally any claim or factual declaration, made on this Blog, is backed up with hard scientific fact and I think we now have happened upon an incident which will go a long way toward proving a statement I have made time and time again. I have often said that there were only two positions in the air force, fast jet pilot and failed fast jet pilot. Rank was only one way of gauging how embarrassed you were at your failure. A private or a TAG couldn’t care less, but a Wing Commander, without wings on his chest, would be the epitome of jealousy. Here I was stood standing in the reception area of OASC at Biggen Hill between a fast jet pilot, Air Commodore D L F Thornton and a failed fast jet pilot, Wing Commander, I couldn’t care less what his Christian name is, Brown.
Thornton shook my hand and greeted me like a long lost friend. How are you, where have you been, what have you been up to? These questions were asked with real enthusiasm and interest. He was smiling. Thornton had been the Station Commander at Valley when I had been on Mountain Rescue. He was the guy Chippy Prince and myself had met at a Mountain Rescue party and got absolutely steamboats with. He knew all his Mountain Rescue guys. He also knew I was the fellow who often cleaned the white lines outside the guardroom at Valley, on my knees, with a toothbrush, with a disciplinary Sergeant screaming at me. Yet I think he knew that I was one of the good ol boys, there was no hidden agenda, what you see is what you get.
Brown on the other hand would now remind me of the cartoon character Cartman, from South Park. A failed fast jet pilot, who would say, “Respect my authoritah!” Brown didn’t understand that respect was earned, not given, and that worked both ways, as Thornton was now showing. I have to admit I knew the line ‘Respect my authoritah’, but I have never watched the cartoon and had to Google it to find out the name of the character and the show. I am pleased with my comparison of Brown and Cartman for Google tells me Cartman is aggressive, prejudiced, emotionally unstable and a person who exhibits psychopathic and extremely manipulative behaviour. Sounds like Brown to me.
I have to say that it was delicious watching Brown’s face as Thornton and myself had a small chat. Thornton then went away joking that if I needed any help, which he was sure I wouldn’t, to just pop along to his office. Brown was waiting for an explanation and I didn’t give him one. He shook my hand and wished me luck, but when he said “ I really don’t want to see you again,” I knew he was serious, he didn’t want to see me in room ‘F’ and he didn’t want to see me ever again in the world of the air force. It was something I thought I could live with, although I knew if I was given a chitty and told to go to room ‘F’ I would go through the front doors and leave under my own steam, I wouldn’t give Brown the pleasure of seeing me fail. It was only as I sat down I noticed thirty prospective candidates watching me and I suspected that most of them hated me. If I was a friend of the Air Commodore then I wasn’t the one who was going to fail, for there was thirty one of us sat sitting there. One had to go, or God forbid seven of us.
One guy was called away and the thirty of us remaining, breathed a little easier, but we were still we not guaranteed success. The Squadron Leader who had interviewed me came in along with another Squadron Leader, they both carried clipboards, this was serious. My Squadron Leader addressed the group and explained that he was about to read out a list of names and those people were to come outside. My name was one of the six and the physical act of leaving the building scared me. He gathered us together outside on the steps of the building and spoke to us as a group. “Gentlemen,” he began. I looked around to see who he was talking to, then realised it was me. “It is my duty and my pleasure to inform you that you have passed the first part of the selection process. If you would follow me we will kit you out for the second part.”
We were taken away and issued with overalls and coloured bibs with reference numbers. The second part of the selection process consisted of practical group tests in the hanger, individual problem solving tasks and group discussion and problem solving. With our kit issued the Squadron Leader again addressed us warning that we were about to undergo what would be the most physically and mentally demanding couple of days of our lives. For some reason the fear of failure was now gone. During the first part of the selection process there were so many points where you could fail and people did, approximately seventy so far. We were advised to go and have lunch, the fun would start later.
We were taken in to the hangar, a full sized aircraft hangar that had been split into tennis court sized areas. Along the edges were ‘hides’. These were small cubicles where the syndicate would rest. We would each lead one practical exercise and each exercise would be different. One person would be called out from the hide and would present themselves to the Squadron Leader who had now been joined by the Wing Commander. They would show you your exercise and then explain what had to be done. You, as the leader were allowed three or four minutes to measure distances, see if various bits of equipment would fit and generally work out your method of completing the exercise.
Once you were ready, within the allotted time of course, you stood at the midway point and called your syndicate out from the hide. They would line up along the start point and you would first of all explain the problem. Now you would give your approach on how to solve and complete the exercise and then ask for any comments or suggestions. This too was governed by a time limit and before you knew it you were into your exercise. One I remember was quite simple really. We had to carry a bag of delicate scientific instruments from one end of the course to the other. The first thing you realised is that the bag of delicate scientific instruments is actually a kit bag full of wet sand.
The next slight problem is that we had to carry the bag of delicate scientific instruments while all six of us were standing on a plank of wood. I am sure most of you are already thinking ‘That’s easy, I could do that.’ Well; I haven’t finished yet. The plank of wood is sitting on half a dozen wooden rollers. We can move the plank forward by all shifting our weight in one direction and all at the same time. But the last person has to pick up the vacant rollers and pass them forward so that the lead person can feed them back under the plank. Oh any by the way the plank has to go under various hurdles. I’m sure that most of the people at Biggen Hill were quite clever but it surprised me that no one had come up with the idea of putting these exercises on video and adding a bit of Benny Hill music. They could have made a fortune.
My exercise was to cross a river. I had a selection of short planks that could fit between stepping stones. I was allowed to see which would fit what before I called the remainder of my syndicate out. I don’t think my syndicate completed the task, but not many of them were completed. One of the most famous exercises was the swing, where the whole team had to swing across a chasm, with the bag of delicate scientific instruments. There was a lot of laughter and nervous energy. At one point I realised I was soaking wet with sweat. We were all straggled out along the course, time was about to expire and the person leading the exercise decided that he would accomplish the mission by getting the bag of delicate scientific instruments across the finish line. It took some effort, but he launched the bag which crossed the finish line within the allocated time limit but sadly without any of us connected to it.