Celtic Illumination, part 234, On a wing and a prayer.
I was starting to get to know a lot of the local civilians. After every meeting of the drama group we would end up in the local pub, The Rose. There seemed to be a clique, but as some of the drama group were married, to members of the clique, I was accepted into their conversation. One regular, Ben, a serial draught Guinness drinker, worked for the post office. He actually went out in the television license detector van, looking for people who hadn’t paid for their television license. Ben explained that the equipment rarely worked, but what they used was a computer printout. If a licence had ever been registered at the address then they would have a record of it and if you didn’t have a current licence they would give you a knock.
You have to agree that there’s no point in knowing someone like that if they don’t offer to help out. Ben took all of our names and address and assured us that he would ‘adjust’ the computer records so that the van would never call on our addresses. There were two teacher types who constantly nipped outside to smoke joints. There was Francis. An old fart, who had retired and moved to the area. He lived in a mobile home that sat on a hill next to the old HMS Ganges. We always threatened that when he died, for he was quite old, that we would set fire to the caravan, with him in it, and launch it off into the Orwell River, giving him a Viking funeral.
Francis had a little green MG open top sports car and would often leave it sitting outside with the keys in the ignition. Too much of a temptation and I would quite often jump in his car and spend twenty minutes hammering around the local lanes, scaring the locals, but giving them something to talk about. As they say, you can take a good ol boy out of Warrenpoint but…… There was another fellow there, Tony. He was an optician and a strange fish, his wife was in the drama group. In the beginning I was the new boy and therefore considered to be daft. On the good ol boy scale of things this lot, compared to me, were yokels, all that was missing was the smock, straw hat and wellie boots.
Tony liked to think of himself as the richest man in the village, but as we all know money is not the be all and end all of life. They had a little trick they played with newcomers, especially bloody foreigners. And I wasn’t the only bloody foreigner. A new fellow had moved in to the village, Chris Pollock. Chris was a Manchester chap but worked in London as a welder and pipe fitter. His wife however was from South America. Her name was Aura and she was as black as the ace of spades. The first evening they came in to the pub, the locals really did stop and stare. I think they had never met a black person before and didn’t know what to do or say. Hello, is normally a good start. Being a bloody foreigner myself, I threw my arms around her neck and gave her a huge bear hug, despite the local yokels and their disapproving looks. She was lovely.
Chris always told a story that when he went to her village to get married, the road ran out and they had to take donkeys. He was always off his head on some form of pot, but says that whatever they had been giving him in South Amercia had him dismount his donkey, when they came to a bridge, and try to carry the fecking thing over. Anyway, back to Tony who, as if they are all in on the joke, asks me if I like flying? ‘Of course I do,’ says I. ‘I prefer flying helicopters to fixed wing, but yeah.’ They seemed to stumble a little bit with my response, but carried on regardless, as I said, yokels. ‘How would you like to go flying on Sunday?’ asked Tony, and I said. ‘Yeah sure, why not?’
Now they could begin to laugh and chuckle. It would appear that Tony had taken each of them flying, from Ipswich airport, and performed some aerobatic manoeuvres encouraging each of them to be violently ill. This was my intended fate. Tony picked me up from my house on the Sunday morning. He was wearing his lucky shirt. We drove to Ipswich and took a little Cessna 172 out for an hour. From the off, Tony was trying to scare me. We got airborne and flew out over Felixstowe and Tony informs me that we are going to ‘loop the loop.’ First of all we climbed to five thousand feet then went into a dive. When your airspeed hits one hundred and twenty knots you pull the stick back and enter a loop.
Once the manoeuvre was completed I think Tony was disappointed that I was far from getting green around the gills. In fact he asked if I would like a go. Seriously? Good ol boys and speed are the two things that really do go together. I suggested we try a hand brake turn which I think had him worried. I began my descent from five thousand feet and was shouting at the speed to increase. Tony was still asking what a hand brake turn was. I began to pull the stick back and explained that when we hit the top of the loop, we should pull out and begin to climb, nose up, till we stalled. A moment or two after the engine cuts out, the aircraft will begin to turn and fall, that’s when you kick the rudder and set yourself off into a spin, or as a good old boy would call it, a hand brake turn, even though it wasn’t a car and you were still at five thousand feet.
It was great fun and the pair of us tried to get the aircraft to pull itself to pieces. After an hour of loops, and spins, and dives, and the odd hand brake turn, we headed back to Ipswich wondering if anyone would pay us money for an aerial photograph of their house. I stood behind Tony as he paid for our little jaunt. It was thirty eight pounds for the hour, so when we got out to the car park I gave him twenty pounds and thanked him for such an enjoyable morning. Tony was really taken aback. He said that he had taken everyone from the pub flying but no one had ever offered to pay him before. Yokels I tell you. So from then on, if I would like to go flying with him every Sunday, I would be more than welcome, oh and by the way, he was happy to pay for it all.
At Wattisham, things were ticking over nicely. I was still very busy with this, that and the other. Christmas was approaching and I was really looking forward to taking the children to the pantomime, even though it wasn’t my responsibility. There’s nothing like sitting in a theatre shouting and screaming “Behind you!!!” I had the Christmas parties to arrange as well, not just for air traffic but the families club, so I was busy on all fronts. It was nice to know that there would be a couple of parties I could attend where I didn’t have to organise anything, where I could just attend and enjoy myself. One such event was a ‘bring your boss’ function on Wattisham. I really can’t remember who hosted the function, not that it is important.
It was booze at stupid prices so Tom McCann and myself, like most other people attending, got there early. It was late afternoon and I promise you we were well gone. O C Operations saw us and came over for a chat. Unfortunately it was one of those days and when he asked how things had gone this past year in air traffic, I didn’t hold back. Once Tom saw me vent my spleen he joined in and the poor fellow got all our bile about the useless Joe Pearson and fecking wife swappers getting promoted and posted while those of us who worked our pretty little arses off got nothing. O C Operations was so interested he called the Station Commander over and he too got a dose of ‘feck you I’ve had enough.’
I do remember the following morning. I was standing in the living room of our house and my head was really throbbing. It was those fecking pillows again. I began to remember the events of previous day and evening and drenched myself in embarrassment. I told myself that the first thing I should do after the holiday period was over, would be to visit both O C Operations and the Station Commander and apologise to them. I’m sure it wasn’t the first time it had happened to them and I’m sure they encountered similar situations again. I noticed a motorcycle pull in to my drive and wondered what was going on. I didn’t know anyone with a motor cycle. I looked more closely and with the way the fellow was dressed and the style of motorcycle thought ‘dispatch rider.’
I answered the door worried that I had got myself in trouble, again. The motorcyclist asked for my identity card which I gave him. He checked the details against a list he had and then asked me to sign a sheet, which I did, and was given two envelopes. I stepped back in to the house wondering what on earth was going on. You could tell from the feel of the envelopes that they were high quality. Each was hand written and addressed to me in beautiful black ink, which of course makes you thing solicitor. Well; it does me. Irene came in and could see that I was worried. I opened the first envelope and read the letter within. I think the colour must have drained out of my face, for Irene was asking what was wrong, what had happened. I opened the second letter and read it. ‘Is it bad news?’ asked Irene. ‘It’s worse than that,” I said. ‘I’ve received an award on the New Year’s Honours list.’