Celtic Illumination, part 227, Cead mile failte.
So; at last, I am able now to actually tell you what Tim Lort was talking to me about on the telephone when he rang me on the seventeenth of April, nineteen eighty five, at twenty three minutes past one in the afternoon. Well; Tim had just got married, big posh naval themed wedding in South Welsh Wales, don’t know if I mentioned it or not, but some ceremonial swords had gone missing. Don’t for one moment think that Tim actually considered that I had the swords, moi? Tim wondered if they may have accidentally been left in my car or if some of the others may have taken them for safe keeping. I can’t actually mention the name of the person Tim thought might have the swords as he has already contacted me and asked not to be named in this blog again, unless he is given a ridiculous amount of money, probably to buy more buttons for his pearly suit.
Some of you may be wondering what I was doing in flight planning if I was running the air traffic control shift, well; let me explain. At the start of every shift you would make sure that all your people were actually at work and then allocate them different positions. Ten or fifteen minutes later you would hope that everyone was in position and had relieved their predecessor, but just to be on the safe side you would take a bit of a wander around. As well as checking air traffic control you would nip into the met office just to see who was on duty, then take a turn through air operations and flight planning. This would give you an overall picture of what was happening and what you might expect later on in the day.
It was during one of these wanders, and it would have been a Thursday, that I noticed on the following day we had a number of Hercules transport aircraft coming in. They were flying on to Aldergrove in Northern Ireland, an hour or two later on the Friday, and planned to come back on the Sunday evening. The following day I came to work with an overnight bag just in case there was a chance I could nip home for the weekend. The Hercules were moving the Colchester garrison to Belfast and would be returning on the Sunday with a few hundred paratroopers. When the captain of the lead Hercules came to air traffic to submit his flight plans I asked if there were any spare seats. He suggested that if I complete and submit the flight plans for all the Hercules then I would be more than welcome to fly with them.
I completed and submitted the flight plans but then went to see O C Operations and asked if he would contact the security people at command and get me permission to go into Northern Ireland. All it took was a quick telephone call and my flying visit was approved. I then telephoned my mother to see if I could come home for a couple of nights. Not only could I come home for a couple of nights but she would arrange transport for me from Aldergrove. I didn’t really mind that it was going to be the pervert priest who was to pick me up but this was a long time before the whole nightmare exploded and I suppose I still thought that he was my father. As I said before I had always been told, time and time again, as if they enjoyed it, that my mother had died giving birth to me and that my father, in their words, a recently qualified professional, had gone abroad to fulfil a contract he had been awarded and thought it best that I remain in Ireland with the nuns.
It would be a long time before I would find out that this was actually a snatch squad of battle hardened Carmelite nuns who were tasked with not just protecting me but introducing me to the rigorous training that would prepare me to become the greatest King of Ireland, ever, but I digress. The pervert priest had been a research physicist for the ministry of defence in England before he donned the dog collar, so in a sort of ‘Sound of music’ way I believed he had become a priest as a sort of penance or act of contrition, I’m not sure, but I ‘m sure you get my drift. I actually spoke to the pervert priest who was with my mother at the time I had called and asked him for details of his motor car so that I could keep an eye out for him. I told him I would meet him at the main gate at RAF Aldergrove and I told him what time I was due to arrive there.
The lead captain had been lounging around in air traffic collecting the names and contact numbers of some of the pretty young things, some of whom were female. I changed in to my civvies and we wandered over to the aircraft. Loads of soldiers in cabbage gear were being loaded up in the rear of the aircraft but the captain insisted that I get up front with the crew, it wouldn’t be fair to put me in the boot with the pongo’s, you never knew what I might catch. A loadmaster was standing by the front door of the aircraft and as I approached he asked me what I thought I was doing. I explained that I was flying with them to Aldergrove and he said that only aircrew went up front I could get to the rear of the aircraft and fly with the pongo’s.
I made my way to the rear of the aircraft and the loadmaster there, supervising the loading, asked me what I wanted. I explained that I was flying with them to Aldergrove and he told me to go to the front of the aircraft and get in with the crew. I had been in situations like this before and refused to be any persons bouncing ball so I climbed on board, through the rear door, and made my way through the aircraft, and now seated pongo’s, and entered the cabin. The captain welcomed me and asked me to sit on the seat at the rear of the cabin which I did. Next thing you know is the loadmaster, yes the one who had told me to get in the boot with the pongos, comes in, but he is too busy bowing and scraping to notice me. The colonel of the regiment is flying over with his boys so he is to sit up front with the crew.
It was as the loadmaster showed the colonel where to sit, which was next to the fellow with the loveliest legs in Ireland, me, that I was noticed and steam began to come out of his ears. Well; not literally, but you know what I mean. Seems that I was in his seat and he was going to have to stand for the duration of the flight or else go in the back and sit with the pongo’s. The colonel and I shook hands and settled in, for normal conversation wasn’t going to be possible with the noise of the aircraft. Once airborne the loadmaster, who was standing in the doorway scowling at me, was told by the captain to issue meals and drinks. Everyone was given a plastic tray with a hot meal on except for the colonel who was given a cup of tea, in a china cup with saucer, and a nice little plate of sandwiches that even had a paper doily. All I got was nasty looks a-la-loadmaster.
The captain asked if there was not a spare meal that I could have and the loadmaster said that there were none left at which point the colonel offered to share his sandwiches with me. And I think it almost killed the loadmaster when the captain suggested that he could at least give me a cup of tea. We landed at Aldergrove and I thanked the captain and assured him I would be on time on the Sunday. I stepped from the aircraft and noticed that the pongo’s were streaming out the rear of the aircraft on to busses. A guy who had been on my shift at Wattisham was now at Aldergrove working in operations and I had contacted him and asked him to help me get from the aircraft to the main gate. Which he assured me he would, all I had to do was make my way to air operations after landing.
I looked about and saw the air operations compound, it was only five or six hundred yards away but I would have to cross a taxiway to get there. I could see that the taxi way lights were on so I knew that it was a live taxiway. I would need to get permission to cross it from air traffic. I could see the nasty loadmaster standing by the aircraft, but he was wearing a headset which was plugged in to the aircraft. I went over to him and asked if he could get permission for me to walk across the taxiway to air operations. What I expected is that he would ask the crew in the cockpit, who could ask air traffic. The loadmaster told me to go so off I went.
I skipped across the taxiway, even though I knew nothing was moving in the area, nothing expect for two land rovers that were screaming across the airfield. I could see that it was the reaction force, different units have different names for them quick reaction force, military reaction force, whatever, but the function was always the same, to stop intruders. I knew some poor sod was in for it as they really were hammering along, but it was only when I found myself spread eagled on the deck, getting patted down, with an Alsatian threatening to take my ears off, that I realised that I was the poor sod they were after. Cead mile failte, my arse.