Celtic Illumination, part 214, It’s not what you know……
It was wonderful to be told that I had been accepted for aircrew training. What made it even better was to be given the date I was to start training at RAF Finningley. It was only a matter of ten weeks away. As with most things in my life there was just one small obstacle in the way, my weight. My weight had to be sent to Biggen Hill within twenty four hours of me being told that I had been accepted. The clock was ticking and my mind was in overdrive. I didn’t know what my weight was. Since completing the assessment at Biggen I hadn’t really bothered with with my weight and my stint in Denmark along with the promotion celebrations and leaving celebrations in Germany, there was a good chance I may have put on a pound or six.
I got back into my car and sat thinking. They would be waiting for me to arrive at air traffic control as would the senior Medical Officer. I’m now back to feeling like the Blues Brothers again in that scene where they get into the car and Elwood says, “It’s 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it’s dark… and we’re wearing sunglasses.” It was twelve miles to Ipswich, I had sufficient fuel to get there and back, mid-morning and my vision was perfect. Despite the fact that so many people were waiting for me I drove away from Wattisham. I was heading for a chemist in Ipswich and then home, I was, as they say, a man with a plan.
Yes I would present myself to the SMO to get weighed, but before I would do that I would make sure that I was the correct weight. I had been told about an extreme weight loss method that was used quite often by jockeys. I had been told it by a nurse, so I knew it was straight up factual medical advice. There is a licensed medicine known as Aquaban. It comes in tablet form and is used to combat pre-menstrual water retention. I had to buy a packet of them and a bar of laxative chocolate. I arrived home with my goodies and informed Irene that we would be on the move soon, as long as I could pass the weight test. My fears were correct and I was about eight pounds over the upper limit allowed for aircrew.
I took all twenty six Aquaban tablets and ate the bar of laxative chocolate. I then went upstairs and stayed very close to the bathroom. As you may imagine my body reacted as you may expect and I began to visit the bathroom every thirty minutes until the following morning. I hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep. I had nothing to eat or drink and I was severely dehydrated. But I was happy. I had lost fifteen pounds in weight. I could hardly stand and had half killed myself, but at least my weight was good. I got my uniform on and made my way back to camp. I went in to the medical centre and reported to reception. The SMO almost immediately came out and called me to his office. He was very perfunctory in his approach.
“Get on the scales,” he said, which I did. He recorded my weight, which was within the acceptable parameters. When I asked if he would inform the chief clerk or whether I should he said neither. He wasn’t happy with the way I looked and was considering whether he should have me report again in another couple of days just to make sure. I remember saying to him that this was my career we were talking about and he reminded me that he was simply doing his job. That’s all I needed, a jobsworth medic. He told me that I could leave and he would discuss the matter with the chief clerk and that I would be informed of their decision, as and when, they had made one.
I went straight to air traffic control and gulped down as much water as I could. The admin Sergeant was wittering on about how I should have reported the previous day and that the chief clerk wanted to see me. I didn’t bother telling him that I had already seen the chief clerk but said that I should go and see the chief clerk as it wasn’t the done thing to keep such an important fellow waiting. Instead I went to one of the squadrons and asked to see Squadron Leader Tony Couch. Tony had been great fun in Germany and on promotion had been sent to Wattisham. He had been flying and I went in to flying clothing to have a chat with him as he changed back in to his uniform.
It was a bit of a tricky one and Tony was no fool, this was a fighter pilot, not an air trafficker. “I need your advice,” I said, before explaining that the SMO, a Squadron Leader. Like Tony, was holding back my chance of aircrew training. Tony nodded and suggested that I go away, keep the weight off and stay out of trouble. I had done all that I could do, it was quite tricky to play the old boy network especially when you were not a member. I went back to air traffic and reported to the admin sergeant. I could see that he was a typical air trafficker. He was an idiot and wanted to know why the chief clerk had wanted me. I took great pleasure in informing him that I had been accepted for aircrew training and would be leaving in nine or ten weeks. I didn’t mention that there was a slight glitch at the moment.
The admin sergeant began complaining that his work rosters would now be out of sync and it was all my fault and he would have to tell the head air trafficker. I think he had mistaken me for someone who actually gave a shit. I went off to have coffee and began to meet some of the air traffickers. The fellow who I had met in the families club came in and it was obvious that he wasn’t exactly the most popular fellow in the place. He began to lecture me, saying that the committee had considered whether or not to allow me back in to the club and if I promised to behave myself, and didn’t swear, I would be allowed to return.
I had more important matters to think about and unfortunately this cretin got my swearing speech. “I’ll tell you what swear words are,” I began, which got the attention of most people present. “Swear words are words like poverty, loneliness, cancer, hunger.” You could see that my inference was going straight over his head. He was an air trafficker and incapable of constructive thought, but I continued talking at him, if only for the benefit of the others in the room. I was called back in to the admin Sergeant who had been trying to figure out what to do with me for the next ten weeks and because he was an air trafficker he had decided that I should continue doing what he had originally planned for me, in other words he was incapable of changing his plan.
I continued to go through my arrival procedure arriving at all the important departments on camp. I took my time and felt so alone. The days seemed to take forever to move past until the Monday of the following week when I was told to report to the SMO. I went to the medical centre and waited to be summoned. Every side of my brain was rattling away with plots and plans of what to do if he refused to categorise me as aircrew fit. I was called in to his office and asked to sit down. He was a young Squadron Leader and smiled at me before picking up a bunch of memos. “You’ve got a lot of friends, haven’t you?” he said, before beginning to rattle off the list of names who had written to him. The first name was a Wing Commander, Tony Couch had contacted the guys on 92 squadron, they had all sent a memo to the SMO requesting that he tell Biggen I was okay. “I don’t seem to have much choice in the matter,” he said. “I’m declaring you as aircrew fit.”