Celtic Illumination, part 216, When one door closes….
I had been presented with a situation that had absolutely no wiggle room whatsoever. The age limits for aircrew training had never occurred to me. I suppose you expect me to say that I was devastated, which I suppose I was, but I do not recollect feeling sorry for myself. I do remember going home and talking to Irene about it. A decision had to be made but it would have to be made by the both of us. I hated air traffic control, I found the job to be boring in the extreme and I hated the pretence of the officers. All of them little Cartman’s, demanding that their authority be respected. The most pretentious I had ever come across was an insignificant dwarf of a man at Watton who insisted that his name be pronounced with a French accent. His surname was Benoist, he insisted we pronounce it Ben Noir but his brother turned up one day and informed us that it should be pronounced Ben Hoist. Pretentious? Moi?
One option was that I could buy myself out of the air force and find a new career in civvie street, but I knew nothing about civvie street. The only career advice I had ever been given was when my father told me that I could either become a dentist or an airline pilot for Aer Lingus. That still resonates with me today yet with my hand on my heart I am happy that I never took either of those career options. As I had been phoning around catching up with some old friends I had heard some good news about one of the original three from Watton. I refer to the three of us at Watton who had applied to be put forwards for assessment for aircrew. Andy Swetman had been successful and had been there, read the book, seen the movie and ate the stew. The other fellow was Tim Lort. Tim had been told, by Wing Commander Brown, the leader of all failed fast jet pilots and nastiest rugby referee in the world, that he wouldn’t even consider Tim for Corporal never mind aircrew. Tim bought himself out of the air force.
I understand that Tim spent the remainder of that summer surfing at Tenby in South Welsh Wales, his home town. Tim wanted to fly, and nothing was going to stop him. He knew that the air force would have a thick file on him and every little scrape that he might ever have gotten in to would be used against him so reapplying to the air force was not an option. Tim decided to join the Royal Navy, but there was a slight problem. Recruitment was changing, you couldn’t apply to be a navigator or a transport pilot or even a helicopter pilot. In the old days you could choose what position you were most interested in and apply. What most people don’t know is that although your choices would be looked at, the requirement of the service came first.
If the air force wanted twenty navigators then you were not going to become a pilot, no matter how good you were. The new system meant that only fast jet pilots were accepted and as there were a lot of failures along the way depending on where you failed in your training determined your future career. Tim wanted to fly helicopters but had to join the navy as a trainee fast jet pilot. Time however had to fiddle his medical. He knew that he was too tall to fit in a buccaneer cockpit so shrank a little when they measured him. At the appropriate point in his training Tim went to the medics and complained of back pains. They decided to give him a complete overhaul and were quite surprised to find that he had grown six inches in height.
It was quite an embarrassing cock up that the navy thought they had made and they couldn’t apologise enough to Tim because he could no longer continue to train as a fast jet pilot, he would now have to become a helicopter pilot. Tim pretended to be heartbroken but everyone who knows Tim recognises, respects and salutes the sheer determination of the man. Not only did Tim become a helicopter pilot in the Royal Navy, and I hope that Wing Commander, I couldn’t care less what your first name is, Brown reads this. Because Tim Lort, the fellow who you wouldn’t even consider to become Corporal went on to become a helicopter instructor pilot with the Royal Marine Commandoes, where he earned the respect of some of the toughest guys on the face of the earth.
My choices were limited as I had a family to support, so my options had to be sensible. I know that I detested the world of air traffic but I knew absolutely nothing about civvie street. That’s when I began to consider a conversation that happened every now and again, usually over a quiet beer with friends. It usually began with someone saying, if you could start all over again, knowing what you know now, what would you do? What would you join up as? Most sensible people would of course say that they would join up as a fast jet pilot but one conversation that has always stuck with me was the one where it was suggested that joining up as a steward would be the best option.
I know that I have mentioned before that there was an actual list that placed all the trades within the air force by the average intelligence of the personnel in that trade. The bottom trade was steward, the next was driver and the third most stupid trade in the air force was air traffic control. The premise was that if you had your wits about you, you could become a steward and as they were all pretty thick, you could get promoted as fast as you like and be at the top of the pile in a matter of weeks. I felt that I was actually in that situation. Okay, the door to aircrew had been slammed shut in my face but I was a switched on guy and now found myself stuck in a trade where the average IQ was similar to that of a cardboard box.
I knew what it would entail; I would have to give myself completely to air traffic control. I could pretend as good as the best of them. I knew that I wouldn’t just have to be on top of my career but that I would have to load up with secondary duties. So Irene and I agreed that I would work my socks off. I would become the best air traffic controller in the air force, do the usual, take a commission and get as far up the greasy pole as I could. Of course you couldn’t tell anybody this. I was going to have to leave my quiet little world in the runway caravan and begin to rub shoulders with idiot’s like Joe Pearson and all the little air traffic officers who were constantly pretending to be posher than each other.
Dropping an Irishman with a mission into the middle of that lot would be like lobbing grenades into a swimming pool full of fish. They would know that something was going on but they couldn’t be sure what. I do know that the next day when I was driving to Wattisham I did feel a little empty that I had missed my air crew opportunity but for some strange reason I felt a little excited too because I was taking on the world of air traffic control. The thicko Irishman was going to play them at their own game.