Celtic Illumination, part 263, All in a mess.
I went back to Shotley and stayed with Tony and his wife. Tony and I had become really good friends and it was nice to be able to sit and chat knowing that Tony had no ulterior motive in any of the answers or advice he gave me. Despite the fact that Tony was a very successful businessman with the standard big house, a couple of cars, the six berth boat, the flying every Sunday, not to mention the speedboat in the front garden, I wasn’t motivated by money. There were no socialist beliefs that underlined this approach to life; in fact I suppose like most people connected to the armed forces we were all conservative, with a small ‘c’. I knew that I wanted to do something that interested me.
I suppose there was a bit more to it than that. I felt that if I could find a job that interested me, where I could help people, then I would become good at it and theoretically make a decent or comfortable living. All I had to do was find that one job. I had collected all my mail that had been sent to my married quarter in Shotley. With each letter that I opened I could see that I wasn’t going to start from a level position. I think it was Cawoods, a coal merchant in Ipswich, who had taken me to the small claims court for a fifty pound cheque that had bounced. This gave me my first county court judgement against me, after that the letters just became more red and more frequent. I think I ended up with about ten country court judgements against me. Today I wouldn’t give something like that a second thought but then, I can assure you, I was terrified. Personal financial propriety was something the air force had instilled in all of us and I was not just embarrassed and ashamed but terrified that the situation would go against me in my search for work. I was very angry as well, as the situation hadn’t really come about because of something I had done or not done. The worst episode was that we had placed most of our furniture in storage waiting for our house purchase to go through. As that bill hadn’t been paid they auctioned off my furniture and then took me to the small claims court for the outstanding balance. I was certainly finding out that when you are at the bottom there are not very many people who offer you help, but there are a huge number who are quite willing to add to your misery. I left Ipswich and drove towards Liverpool.
I had been officially out of the air force just under a week and I had less than nothing, apart from my attitude, which was that I was capable of doing absolutely anything, all I needed was a small break to get me going. Irene, thank God, was a fine strong woman who had, as an act of caution, put our names on a council housing list months previously. We were to be given a council house in a town called Skelmersdale. When Liverpool began to demolish its slum areas, it built a new town called Skelmersdale, and moved everyone out of the slums in Liverpool to Skelmersdale. Unfortunately I hated Skelmersdale, although I have to say I was never sure if I actually hated Skelmersdale or if I hated myself for living there. A benefit culture seemed to prevail over the place; many people seemed to believe that they were owed a living, that the state had a duty to look after them.
Please don’t think that I was being boorish or snobbish, I wasn’t, but the ethos instilled in us in the armed forces was that you worked for what you wanted and you would be paid what you were worth. I had no problem with someone ill, or incapable of work, or looking after themselves, that as a caring society we had a duty to look after them. Of course it would be a few years before I understood that society didn’t actually care about anything and of course we still don’t. If you don’t believe me just switch on your television. Of the hundred or so stations available one will be showing a programme about Kim Kardashian. This is a woman who leaked her own pornographic video tape and manipulated the media to become super rich. In one way I say well done. During the advert break you will probably see an advert for some charity trying to bring clean drinking water to an area in Africa. And don’t get me wrong, I’m not picking on Kim Kardashian, for example some footballer was just signed for over eighty million pounds, and children are dying needlessly every minute of every day.
Anyway, there’s no point in me ranting on about the stupidly of society, I had my own problems to deal with. Irene may have got us a council house but we had no money, no income, no job, no furniture. As you may imagine my stress levels were off the scale. The only thing I could think of doing was to telephone a friend. I called Louis Henry, the SWO’s man from mountain rescue in Valley. Louis and I had stayed friends throughout my time in the air force. He still maintained that I had saved his life on two occasions and that he would forever be in my debt. Louis had made good progress in the air force; in fact he was now the Station Warrant Officer at RAF Leeming in Yorkshire. Louis was a good friend and so there was no embarrassment for me when we spoke. I told him that I had a three bedroomed council house but that was it. I had no furniture, absolutely nothing. Louis told me to measure the rooms and call him back.
The following morning it wasn’t just me who was surprised but all my neighbours were quite surprised to see the SWO’s working party turn up at my house in two, three ton, lorries. First of all they went in with the carpets, all cut to size and labelled for which room they were destined, and then they completely furnished the whole house. I’m not joking, from beds and chairs to knives, forks and spoons Louis had stripped stores at Leeming and by early afternoon sent his team back to Leeming. But that wasn’t the end of it for Louis then insisted that we all, that’s me, Irene and the three children go back to Leeming with him as he had booked three rooms in the Sergeants mess for us and we were to enjoy a long weekend courtesy of the Sergeant mess.
On the Friday afternoon I found myself standing at the bar in the Sergeants mess at Leeming. I was with three Warrant Officers, Louis the Station Warrant Officer, the head cook and the head policeman at Leeming. We were all Irish so were drinking Irish whiskey, it was Tollymore Dew and it was the first time I had tasted it. It was very nice and became a favourite of mine after that. The round of drinks was quite simple as it was four double Tolly’s. We were having fun when I realised that it was my turn. I asked the steward to serve four more drinks and reached into my pocket to get some money when the Warrant Officer policeman went totally spare on me. ‘How dare you!’ he said, to me. ‘You are a guest in this mess, so please do not try to insult us by paying for drinks. Put your filthy money away.’
That evening someone came in to the bar and asked if anyone had children staying in the mess as they were dragging mattresses around the corridor. Louis had booked three rooms, one for Irene and myself, one for Jane and one for Gerard and James. Jane didn’t like being on her own in a strange place so the two boys had dragged her mattress into their room do that she could sleep with them. We were well looked after that weekend and apart from the break it was nice to know that I still had some decent friends knocking about. In fact so many strings had been pulled that weekend the children had been taken up the road to Catterick where they were driven about in tanks. Late on the Monday Louis drove us back to Skelmersdale and I knew that it was all up to me now. We always boasted in the armed forces that if we ever found ourselves out of work we would do any job to survive. I wasn’t happy finding myself in such a situation and I wondered if indeed I would do any job to survive. The one thought that was foremost in my mind was that advert from the Mensa magazine stating, ‘If you’re so clever, why aren’t you rich?’. Civvy Street, I hoped, was in for a bit of a shock.