Celtic Illumination, part 217, Fair exchange, no robbery.
Joe Pearson, the idiot marching admin sergeant, seemed pleased that I had missed my aircrew opportunity. Apparently he knew I would not have been accepted, if only I had met him six months previously I would never have had to go to Biggen Hill in the first place. Rather than rip his head off, I smiled and nodded at his wisdom and benevolence. Joe then decided that as I was their first Hereford GST graduate I should be pretty switched on when it came to discipline so he was going to give me a shift to run, on which he would put the trouble makers. I can tell you how scientific this approach was and perhaps give a little more insight into what an idiot this man was.
One day Joe asked me to come in to his office. He told me that a very special person was joining air traffic control. Because I had all the special cases on my shift, I was to look after this particular fellow. He was not to be disciplined, he was not to be given any dirty duties, or shouted at. In fact I should pretty much allow him to do his own thing. This was a new one on me so I asked if the new fellow was the Station Commanders son or the son of someone equally as important. It was quite obvious that the arrival of this new chap was causing Joe some concern as Joe really didn’t know what to do about it. Everything fell in to place for me the following day when the new chap arrived and reported to me. His name was Leon, Leon Freeman, a black fellow.
Len was a lovely chap and we got on tremendously well. It was funny to watch Joe who didn’t know what to do or say when Leon was about. I found it very strange that attitudes like that existed in the air force, but then Joe Pearson was in the air force, you couldn’t get much stranger than that. I know my shift was regarded as the worst shift of the lot, but I would have said that they were the best of the lot. Loyal and hardworking, you couldn’t ask for any better, plus, although they didn’t know it, most of them were helping me in my double top secret quest for world domination. I think people liked belonging to my shift as I gave them some interesting duties to perform.
For example the guy in the greenhouse at the top of the air traffic control tower had his normal duties to complete but he also had to keep an eye on the station dump for me and alert me when anyone went into the dump. I had already completed some research on this project myself from the runway caravan and knew that quite soon I could put my cunning plan into action which would make me a rather important person on camp. As a TAG, a Trade Assistant General, at Shawbury I had worked in clothing stores, cutting buttons off uniforms that had been returned or exchanged and taking the laces out of old boots and shoes.
It may have a been the most ridiculous job ever but I sat and drank tea and coffee with the store men and listened to them tell tales, complain and of course expose me to the exciting world of the store person. All airmen and women were issued with uniforms. Each item of clothing had a certain length of time it should last you. Your best uniform should last you three or four years, your working uniform two years or so. Your jumper should last eighteen months and so on. If a certain item of clothing was damaged, such as a jumper shrunk in the wash, you were snookered. You could either wait until the life of the garment had expired before exchanging it or you could buy a new one.
We all had four shirts, two pairs of shoes and one pair of boots. These items could be exchanged at any time you wanted. What I had learned from my time in Shawbury clothing stores was that they waited until they had a certain weight of returned items before disposing of them. One day I got the call that someone was at the station dump and I immediately went to the green house to investigate. I could see that it was the clothing stores truck and could see them lobbing bags in to the dump. The dump was a secure area and you had to go to the guard room to sign for the keys to gain access to the place. I was waiting at the guardroom when the clothing stores guys came back with the keys.
I went to the dump and took as many shirts and shoes as I could get and squirreled them away in the night flying shed. I wasn’t trying to establish a new career as a rag and bone man, but from then on, the first duty of the day for my driver was to go to clothing stores and exchange something for me. This allowed me to build up a nice collection of brand new shirts and shoes which now allowed me to branch out and begin dealing with other sections on camp. I was establishing myself as Mister Fix It. If anyone needed anything out of the ordinary or if we needed priority treatment then a couple of shirts or shoes, as payment, would ensure priority service for me.
I had spoken to a Warrant Officer from Shawbury who was travelling around giving career advice to anyone interested. I had a good chat with him and asked him quite bluntly how I could get promoted. He said that if I could imagine my boss writing our annual assessments. In his mind he would have us all standing in a line. If you want to be noticed, he said, when your boss looks at you all in a line you have to be the one jumping up and down the most. It actually made sense to me and one way of jumping up and down was to be the first person people thought of when they wanted something.
Normally I didn’t use my bartering system for myself but one day met the station photographer who was a keen rally cross enthusiast. An assurance that I could supply him with any maps that he wanted for any area in the UK, had him offer me as many rolls of 35 mill film that I wanted and the promise that he would develop and print the photographs for me too. It was an offer too good to miss. Then one day reading routine orders I saw a notice that caught my interest. One way of impressing your bosses was further education. The education section had asked for people who were interested in completing an O Level in three days. An O level in the UK would be equivalent to a high school diploma in America. I telephoned the education section and asked if this was true and they said yes it was.
They were offering a course to study O Level Economics on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday then complete the exam on the Monday. I signed up for it there and then. The instructor was a civilian and I gave him a lift most evenings to the train station in Ipswich which I would pass on my way home. He told me that he was an ex Royal Naval educator and now he travelled around military bases teaching these courses. He believed that the hardest course he ran was for mathematics. He believed that he could take a complete dullard and after two weeks would have them pass the mathematics O Level exam. It was far too good to be true, but I sat and passed O Level Economics, putting the first positive tick up for my plan. People were starting to come to me with all sorts of strange and interesting requests, one I remember was a fellow who needed enough canvas to recover a canoe. It took me a day or two sniffing around camp but I managed to get him what he wanted. He didn’t even mind that it was bright orange. Although I don’t think he believed me when I told him it had cost me the shirt off my back.