Celtic Illumination, part 302, As smart as a brass button.
I have to admit I was in good form. At long last I had managed to find a job that would allow me to return home to Northern Ireland. The moment my mother heard the news she was out the door and scouring the local estate agents looking for somewhere suitable for us to live. I was taking things in my stride. I knew that it would all take time so I expected to be on my own for at least six months before I could bring my family over. It was a strange situation for I knew that I had one and a half houses waiting for me, well in the pipe line, so to speak. My aunty Nora had told me that I was to be given the family house in Glenarm. Unlike many people in the UK I did not look on this as some sort of bonus. I might have been given the house, a beautiful five bedroomed mid terrace in Glenarm, but I would only be looking after it. My understanding was that it would always remain the family home, so that any member of our family had the right to come and stay whenever they wanted. In fact it was where we, well; mum and dad escaped to after the Orange Order told us to leave our house in Belfast so that they could burn it. It’s their culture.
I had a cousin in America, a surgeon, who had no intention of returning to Ireland, my sister Carol in Italy also had no intention of returning to Ireland so as my main goal in life was to get back home, with my family, I would be tasked with looking after the family home and be expected to pass it on to my youngest son, who in turn, would pass it on to his. The other house was the house in Warrenpoint where my mother lived. It would be left to Carol and myself so I could buy Carol out if I wished, but to have two houses was a bit extreme, even for an eejit like me. I couldn’t wait to get started back home in Northern Ireland, I absolutely loved working for the disabled community, but first of all I had a wee holiday to take, courtesy of the air cadets.
For one week of the year each air cadet squadron would be invited to stay on an operational air force station. Here they would experience the real air force and if a cadet was interested in a specific career, they could spend time with that section while on summer camp, and get a feel for what lay ahead of them should they join up. We were off to RAF Turnhouse, yes, and like you when I heard the name I also said where the hell is that? Turnhouse was just on the outskirts of Edinburgh and although it was called RAF Turnhouse it catered more for civilian flights and a local flying club than military flights. It has long since closed and is now Edinburgh airport.
My only problem was that I was expected to wear a uniform. One evening Andy asked if I would like to accompany him to RAF Woodvale in Merseyside. I was always ready for any sort of adventure, or deviation from the norm, so agreed and went off with him. As we drove along he admitted that I was being taken for my interview with the Wing Commander and the Squadron Leader, which if I was successful at would see me made Warrant Officer. I really didn’t want to do this as for me the rank of Warrant Officer was a respected position and to play at being a Warrant Officer wasn’t in my DNA. I can remember going in to the office where they both sat looking very cramped behind a tiny desk and began to answer their questions. The whole thing was farce as they had decided weeks before to make me the Warrant Officer.
I wasn’t impressed that two civilians considered themselves capable of interviewing me, but I played along, knowing that there would be a host of problems that would omit me from wearing the uniform. I do remember at one point they asked me a question which stumped me. It was something to do with the structure of the air cadet movement. I had no interest in the air cadet movement, my only interest was to get my two eldest boys out and about and involved in outdoor activities. I looked at the pair of plonkers before me and asked, “Do you know my desk at the Squadron?” They both nodded. “Well; “ I said. “On the wall beside my desk, at the squadron, is a poster that explains all that information, so if I ever needed to answer your question, at least I know where to look for the answer.”
They actually said that because I had explained that I knew how to answer their question, that I had successfully, in their opinion, answered it. I had passed the interview and was now the Squadron Warrant Officer. I was to report to RAF Sealand as soon as possible and be issued with a uniform. I wasn’t concerned, or upset, at their sneaky little ruse to put me into uniform, all I knew is that over the following weeks, or months, they were going to find out what sneaky really was. Of course a combination of bad weather, bad luck and bad planning prevented me from being issued with a uniform before our stint at RAF Turnhouse. Imagine that, who would have thought. The thought of me wearing a Warrant Officers uniform at an air cadet squadron was bad enough but there was no way on Gods earth anyone would get me to wear that uniform on a real air force unit.
We faced a four hour coach journey from Skelmersdale to Edinburgh and I settled myself in for four hours of staring at scenery as we would pass by the Lake District, and although not exactly enjoy the magnificent highlands, we would enjoy some lovely countryside, and road works. One of the cadets had an idea that I should not relax and enjoy the views as he had something better for me to do. There are four standard responses from people when you inform them that you are a writer, not that I go around shaking hands with people saying, “Hello I’m a writer!” Like some poor unfortunate with Tourette’s. In normal conversation, after the usual exchange of names and where you live, comes the standard question, “And what do you do?” The first response is wide open eyes, a sort of blank stare, followed up with, “Oh! Yeah and what do you write?” The second response is that the person frantically searches for a piece of paper and asks for your autograph.
The first time this happened to me I was on a boat sailing to the Isle of Man and it certainly surprised me. I know I was a little embarrassed, but you hope that you will get used to it and treat it like any other aspect of the job. The third response only comes from teachers. In fact if I am talking to someone and I learn that they are a teacher, I would be tempted to tell them that I was a bricklayer, or a bus driver, as you always get the exact same response from teachers, it goes like this. “And what do you do?” “I’m a writer.” “Oh I was going to write a book once.” They then go on to say that they could never find the time, or that they couldn’t find the enthusiasm, but the underlying message is always the same, they feel superior to you, and so they should, I mean teachers are almost as good as social workers, well in my opinion and experience they are.
This cadet, whom I shall not name, presented me with the first twenty pages of his novel and asked me to edit it for him. Not read it and give him some feedback, but edit it, which stated that he thought it was good enough already. I immediately knew that this guy would make a fantastic social worker or teacher. At least he left me alone and didn’t plonk himself beside me and demand that I read it there and then. As we were still in the very early stages of the journey I began to read his novel. To find that he had put himself as the main character who was a fighter pilot in the air force, said an awful lot to me. The writing was not very good, and that in itself is a problem, because you really do want to help and encourage people, you want to be truthful, but how many ways is there of saying, this is shite?
I actually read the first two or three paragraphs and then skimmed the remaining pages as I could see they were the exact same drivel. Rather than enjoy the scenery I now had to pretend I was reading his novel while desperately trying to come up with the correct words to tell him the truth about his writing. We had a pit stop somewhere between the Lake District and Scotland and he came to me wanting to hear how good I thought his writing was. I explained that it would need an awful amount of work, which he didn’t take to kindly to, but that when we returned to Skelmersdale, if I could find the time, I would help him out. Of course I secretly hoped that he would give up on his attempt to become a writer, I mean he was far too good at it anyway, and move on to something more important, something he was much better suited for, like teaching or social work.