Tag Archive | Cyprus

Celtic Illumination, part 199, the Olympic games.

You may think it strange that I was trying to deceive the air force and was being supported in this deception by my boss.  The air force operated on two levels.  The first level was the professional, black and white, level where people reacted to facts and figures, there was no personality involved.  This would occur when you were dealing with people, outside your squadron or unit.  When dealing with your own people you would always be flexible, or as people might say, give someone the benefit of the doubt.  We knew that the SMO would react to the facts and figures.  If I were one single pound over the recommended weight, then my chances of going to Biggen Hill would be scuppered.  All we were doing was stalling for time, so that when I actually presented myself, I could be sure that I was the perfect weight.

J R and Tony knew not just the physical effort I had put in to all the training but they had invested in me as well, with time and effort.  They were also aware of the useless air traffickers who had prevaricated every time I had applied for aircrew.   All I had to do was stay off the radar for my remaining ten days in Cyprus.  Luckily this was way before the days of computer recorded access points.  We would have to sign with our name, rank and number for meals and for transport and for most other amenities too.  There was an easy way around that slight problem.  Luckily, most systems are, or were, flawed.  You would be handed a clipboard with a signature sheet and asked to fill out your details.  You were never asked for your identity card so that the details you entered could be checked to be true.

To submit false details would eventually be flagged up and that really is your only problem as you don’t know how often the details would be checked, if at all.  So all you had to do was copy the details of the second person on the list.  With your own handwriting being different, your entry would not stand out, and assuming that the second person on the list, who had entered their details which you were now copying, was telling the truth, then no alarm bells would ring.  We were used to having false names on detachment but these were usually comical and not intended to deceive anyone.  It was much easier when the majority of the squadron left to return to Germany.  There were only a handful of us left in Cyprus.  Unfortunately among this handful were the characters Dave Magee, Jimmy Orr, John Roe and Taff Howells.

These four would have to be the maddest and baddest characters in the whole of the air force.  The detachment had seen some particularly extreme incidents which did have their humorous side. One squadron session got so out of hand that the police actually sent dog units in to the mess to try and calm things down.  Thankfully with the majority of the guys away this group of nutters were quite well behaved.  I thought I would be pleased to climb in to the rear of a Hercules to return to Germany, but when I realised who I was with, I wondered if we would actually make it back.  Normal people might get worried if they were travelling in an aircraft and warning claxons honked and lights begin to flash.  I simply followed procedure and strapped myself in for a possible crash landing.

Magee and the gang were smiling, so I wasn’t worried at all as the crew of the Fat Albert went through their drill.  Apart from their technical knowledge, which I had to admire in a strange sort of way, their timing was spot on too as we were now diverting in to Athens.  I had always wanted to go to Greece ever since as a child in Belfast we would be invited in to the neighbour’s house to watch a slide show of her latest travel adventure.  I wondered if the birthplace of civilisation would be ready for this crowd of reprobates.  We landed safely and unbelievably were told that we would have to wait till the following day for a spare part.  Somehow or other I expected the technical problem might just fix itself the following morning, my main concern was to make it through the night unscathed.

We were allocated rooms in a small hotel and then instructed to meet at a restaurant where a meal would be provided for us.  After this the evening descended in to mayhem.  There was an awful lot of wine and Ouzo, plates getting smashed and laughter.  I felt it a shame that such an opportunity to explore Athens was lost to me, but with that crowd I should have expected no less.  The behaviour was rambunctious to say the least and the funniest event of the evening was Taff Howells trying to secure the services of a Greek lady of the night with his Barclaycard.  Whether he was serious or not we will never know for he wasn’t successful in his pursuit.   He did manage to buy a load of booze which like a magnet had us all in one large hotel room.

We were right on the harbour front and as it was a warm night the windows were wide open.  Someone pointed out the luxurious yacht that was moored directly opposite the hotel and then another person wondered if they could throw an ashtray and have it land on the deck of the yacht.  As you know we were a competitive lot so, when we ran out of ashtrays basically anything else that wasn’t nailed down was launched from the hotel windows toward the yacht. The following morning we climbed on the coach to return to the aircraft. The Fat Albert crew were already on the coach and asked about the debris that littered the road and yacht.  We explained that they had held one hell of a party on the yacht the previous evening and we poor little lambs couldn’t get much sleep because of the noise.  This is why we all looked so dishevelled.

As sure as night follows day, the aircraft healed itself and we were soon airborne again and heading for home.  I hoped that we would make it this time but the troops were partied out and we were soon shivering in the cooler air of Germany.  It was late evening when we landed.  We were all tired and looking forward to getting in to our cars and heading to our respective homes.  The following day I would be driving to Liverpool to collect Irene and the boy child. I hoped I would be driving to Liverpool the following day, for as we entered the terminal, I spotted some military police watching us.  We kept our distance from them, as you do, as we waited for our bags to come in.

Having collected our kit we began to leave the terminal but two coppers came over to me.  Once they had established that I was the person they were after they asked me to follow them to an office.  I promise you, my mind was in overdrive trying to figure out what I had done wrong this time, or was being accused of doing wrong.  One copper began dialling a number on a telephone, waited, then introduced himself and said “We’ve got him for you sir.”  He handed the telephone to me and I said “Hello?” as you do.  When I heard the voice say “Hello mate,”  I relaxed a little, for it was my immediate boss Tony.  “I see you managed to remain undetected then,” he said, and I laughed.  “Listen,” he said.  “I know you’re off to the UK tomorrow to get your family, so I wanted to tell you the news before you left.”  “What news?” I asked.  “I wouldn’t unpack my bags if I were you mate,“ says Tony.  “You’re off to Biggen Hill in a fortnight.”

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Celtic Illumination, part 198, On a wing and a prayer.

Every day I would have to submit a report on how combat ready the squadron was.  There were three stages of combat readiness, non-combat ready, limited combat ready and combat ready.  These figures would be submitted along with statistics on our aircraft along similar lines.  This would allow command to see, at a glance, exactly what firepower they had at any one time.  Someone kept telephoning me every day and asking me how many aircraft we had and how combat ready were we.  As I was already submitting the combat statistics over a secure signal network I gave a false figure.  On the first day I was rather mischievous and ran off whatever aircraft I could see, so it was something like ten Phantoms, two Buccaneers, one Vulcan and a Gazelle.

I had scribbled it down on a notepad as I was talking and thought no more about it.  The following day the same person telephoned and asked again for our status.  I added one to each aircraft type and hung up.  This began to happen every day and as the person, a young female, on the other end of the telephone didn’t question the madness of it all, I continued adding one to each aircraft type every time she telephoned.  Meanwhile we were making good progress and every crew had been declared combat ready.   The SENGO was called and when he came in to operations J R informed him that we had completed our operational task and that we could now start taking the ground crew flying.

The SENGO began to make a list of names when J R pointed at me and said ‘Put him on the top of the list.’  I was sent off to flying clothing and kitted out.  On returning to ops I found out that I was to go up with Roy Lawrence.  Roy took me to the briefing room and asked if there was anything I would specifically like to do while airborne.  I said I would love to go supersonic and of course fire the guns.  After all I was a boy.  Roy gave me a safety briefing, emphasising the importance of following his instructions, especially if he ordered me to eject.  I had no intention of getting a Martin Baker tie, if I could help it.  It was quite exciting walking out to the aircraft and climbing in.  The engineers were having great fun, asking if I had enough sick bags or did I know which end was the front.

We taxied out as one of a pair and while sitting at the end of the runway the other aircraft informed us that we had a barber’s pole showing.  Basically a red and white pipe showing that there may be a problem with the wings, but quite common and it should rectify itself as we got airborne.  However Roy still instructed me that I should prepare to eject should the situation worsen.  Thankfully the problem did sort itself out and we climbed away from the ground.  It’s quite different from flying in an airliner.  You are very aware of the power but it’s much smoother.  I had quite a lot of experience in the back seat from my times in the simulator, so was familiar with the environment.

Roy found the Canberra and we began our attack.  As we closed in on the banner I could only just see the Canberra pulling away from us.  Roy was giving me a running commentary on what was happening and when he informed me that we were about to open fire I was disappointed that my view of the target was terrible.  As the cannon, underneath the aircraft erupted you could feel it through your feet and hear it as well.  Roy pulled away and came in again for a second run, again letting the Gatling cannon rip.  We then came away and circled high above as the other aircraft had two runs on the banner, so I had a great view of what we had just completed.

We then left our sister ship and headed out across the Mediterranean.  Roy  dropped down close to sea level and, as the good ol boys would say, floored it.  Despite the fact that I could see our speed climbing on the dials before me, I knew to watch the leading edge of the wings, for as we crossed, or broke, the sound barrier we would get a grey mist shimmering along the front of each wing.  It was an amazing thing to see and then Roy pulled the stick back.  I had three mirrors in front of me, something like the rear view mirror you would find in a standard motor car.  All I could see in the mirrors was the Island of Cyprus grow smaller by the second and then you think ‘Oh shit! We’ve got to come back down again.’

You’ll never find anything like that in any fun fair or even come anywhere close on a computer simulator.  Roy performed a variety of manoeuvres as we descended, from rolling to flying upside down, all exciting stuff.  We then enjoyed a lazy, and much slower flight, around the coast and it was quite interesting to fly past Paphos , Aphrodite’s rock, the cliffs and submarine point.  As you may have expected every time we checked in with the squadron we were getting plenty of Falcon two six nine calls.  We landed and Roy took my photograph beside our aircraft.  I was extremely pleased with the flight but knew that I would not want to be a navigator.  I knew that I would have to be in control, but I also knew that I still preferred helicopters.

Back in operations everyone wanted to know what I thought about the flight and I didn’t want to appear ungrateful.  I felt strange talking about my experience because I found sitting in the Phantom to be a very erotic sensation.  I was surprised to hear that this was very common, that the close confines of the rear seat were in some deep psychological way connected to the womb.  Please don’t ask me to explain it; I didn’t understand it when it was explained to me.  I changed back into my ill-fitting uniform and returned to operations.

J R wanted to know if I had been submitting our combat readiness to command every day.  I assured him that I had and showed him the file that contained all my signals.  He was confused because the commander of the British forces in Cyprus couldn’t understand the statistics he was being presented with every morning at his briefings.  As I was able to show that I had sent the daily signal, to command he understood we had fulfilled our duty but couldn’t comprehend how the local commander was getting these strange figures.  I pretended to be confused too.

It was at this point that Tony Bown came in with another signal.  “Biggen Hill want to know your weight.”  I hadn’t been weighed since arriving in Cyprus but it was obvious to everyone that I had lost a good amount of weight.  They had asked the senior medical officer, the SMO, in Cyprus to weigh me and report my weight back to them.  If I was within their guidelines I would be called forward to Biggen.  I made my way over to the medical centre wondering how to get around this, in case I was too heavy.  I waited in reception and when I saw a young fellow, who I would say was borderline geek, if not full blown geek, I approached him and asked if I could get weighed.

He took me to a room and showed me the weighing scales.  I had never seen a set like these before in my life.  You actually sat in a seat and the reading was taken from behind, so you couldn’t actually weigh yourself.  I sat down and being terrified, that I could be a pound or two over the limit, placed my right toe on the ground and pushed for all I was worth.  I think I my perfect weight was meant to be approximately one hundred kilograms.   This fellow announces that I am ninety five kilos.  “Great.” I say, leaping off the scales.  “Can you make a note of that please.”  “Why should I make a note of it?” asks the young man.  “Because,” I say, as I am slipping out through the door.  “The SMO wants to know my weight.  Can you give it to him please”

Tony and J R were pleased with the weight but the SMO wasn’t, he wanted to weigh me himself.  I explained to both Tony and J R what had happened and they wondered how we could get around it.  Their idea was that I should hide.  The detachment was nearly over; I had ten days left in Cyprus, because I was on the rear party.  If I could remain in Cyprus for the next ten days, without being spotted, we might get away with it.  The SMO would have to submit the weight I had given.  Luckily I was used to giving false names, but I wasn’t used to being somewhere really, really, nice and not wanting to be there.

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Celtic Illumination, part 197, On the count of three.

Sorry about this but I’m going to have to go off topic for a few moments.  The Celtic Illumination Blog has received another award, ‘The Versatile Blogger’ award.  The more alert of you Illuminati will, or might, say “Ah, well done, award number three,” and you would be correct, except it is number four, as I never bothered to mention number three, ‘The Liebster Award.’  So before you all go looking for a length of rope and a suitable tree, please hear me out.  To have someone comment or nominate you for an award, or even present you with an award, is a great honour.  It means that they have read the Blog and have liked it enough to place a marker on it, and I really do thank you for that.  And what is a Blog if it doesn’t have readers?

Unfortunately there is an established etiquette that goes along with getting an award for your Blog.  Firstly I have to display the badge on my page, which I don’t really know how to do, which is why I was keeping quiet about number three, but I realised I would be letting my readers, you, the Illuminati, down.   I am supposed to put a back link in to the Blog that recommended me, something I am not really sure how to do, but will try.  The request from the latest award, The versatile Blogger, from DESTROY ALL FANBOYS,   http://fanboydestroy.com/  (I hope that is the correct way to put a link in) was to display the award on my Blog, not sure how to, but will try.  Announce your nomination and thank the Blogger, done.  Present 15 deserving Bloggers with the award.  Might have a slight problem with the links but will try.  Link your nominees in the post and let them know of their nomination with a comment, I think I’ve covered this with my problem with links.  The final request is that I post seven interesting things about myself.  Only seven?

A quick glance at the file where I keep my Blog archive, shows that to date I have produced two hundred and thirty thousand words, equivalent to approximately eight hundred and fifty pages, if it were a book, and all about me, me, me.   Is it not interesting enough that I am the world’s leading Master Candle Maker, the high Chief of The Clan O Neill and the true King of Ireland?  Is it not interesting enough that I am an international criminal, have the loveliest legs in Ireland and once thought I was Jesus?  Is it not interesting enough for me to say that by being born with six fingers on my left hand was not a disfigurement but a mark of God?  So this little side track is to thank all those who have taken the time to select me for awards, to explain that I really do appreciate them and do want to respond correctly to them but am technically, a little behind the drag curve, shall we say.   My attempts to change the look of the Blog so that I can show these award badges might result in a few hiccups, so please bear with me.  Otherwise as we can now officially acknowledge and celebrate award number four, let’s have a party.

And believe it or not it was party time in Cyprus. (Hope you liked what I did there.)  It was time for the detachment squadron party which was to be held at the sailing club.  There were three coach loads of us who descended on the sailing club.  The first two coach loads had arrived and the guys were trying to consume all the free food before the aircrew came.  It really was a lovely setting and a very warm night.  John Zammo and myself were stood standing at the bar, as you do, when we heard a coach pull up behind the bar.  We informed the others that the aircrew had arrived and there was a certain hush that descended on the atmosphere.  It didn’t dampen the mood, we were just curious as to how they would present themselves.

We could hear the odd cackle and laugh coming from them but no one had appeared around the corner and we were wondering what was going on when we heard someone shouting.  It was military flavoured shouting and was someone bringing men to attention.  We all listened with great interest and were rewarded by seeing J R march all the aircrew around the side of the bar and onto the beach.  As they passed the bar, Squadron Leader Keith Mac Burney, broke ranks and ran over to John and myself, where he slapped his wallet on the bar counter, in front of us, and as he left to return to the marching column of men, shouted.  “Get me a brandy sour and get yourselves a drink too.”

John and I didn’t need much persuading and delved in to his wallet, but kept watching J R and the aircrew wondering what on earth they were up to.  J R marched the guys right into the sea, up to about waist height, ordered them to about turn and brought them out of the water.  It was quite a giggle and as Keith Mac Burney dripped and squelched his way up to the bar and his waiting brandy sour, he informed us that most of the aircrew knew that they would have been thrown into the sea at some time during the evening, so they thought they might as well get it over with and enjoy the evening, free from worry.

It was a cracker of an evening.  John and I stole, sorry, borrowed, one of the buses and went for a spin around Akrotiri.  It was great fun; I was driving and John was operating the lights.  Well; when I say he was operating the lights, he was flicking all the switches trying to get the headlights to work but he couldn’t, so we settled for the inside lights of the bus.  At the end of the evening it was so warm that the guys decided that they would not sit inside the coaches as the air conditioning was non-existent so they all sat on top of the coaches.  The only person worried was the driver.  The first stop was the air crew accommodation and John and myself were invited to stay for a small sherry.  Well; Keith Mac Burney said. “Oi! Get your arse of the bus and come and have a drink with us.”  Which I think correctly followed all the required etiquette and procedure.

A fire was lit outside their accommodation and we all sat around drinking brandy.  It was one of those sessions where you just simple pass out or fall asleep. All I knew was that I had woke up in my own bed with a right sore head.  This wasn’t the sort of injury you can get from improper use of a pillow and can be incorrectly known as a hangover.  This was more along the lines of a physical issue and I wondered just how much my pillow actually hated me.  I knew I would have to complete much more detailed research into pillow abuse.

It was the Monday morning when it was all explained to me by Colin Malcolm.  Colin had been the orderly officer the night of the squadron party and had been stone cold sober throughout the evening.  He explained what had happened and I was slightly embarrassed as he couldn’t stop himself from laughing as he explained what had gone on.  I had passed out.  Standard squadron operating procedure for consuming too much brandy.  Keith Mac Burney had decided that he would ensure that John, who hadn’t passed out but who was trying to crawl in to the embers of the bonfire to keep warm.  Keith decided that he would ensure that John and myself would be escorted safely back to our accommodation.  He asked Colin Malcolm to bring the minibus around and he then organised the remaining aircrew to help get John and I into the back of the vehicle.

I was lifted, by four fighter pilots, one on each hand and one on each leg and under the supervision of Keith Mac Burney was taken over to the rear of the minibus.  Keith decided that by employing a swinging motion they could sort of chuck me into the rear of the vehicle.  Keith was coordinating and suggested that on the count of three, maximum effort would be employed, and I would sail into the rear of the waiting vehicle.  The first attempt failed, as did the second and the third.  By this point in the recounting of the story, Colin Malcolm looks as if he is about to wet himself with laughter and Keith Mac Burney is just as interested in the story as I am.  Colin continues to explain that he had to step in and help. The reason the guys couldn’t get me into the rear of the vehicle was because they hadn’t opened the fecking doors, and every time Keith Mac Burney shouted “Three!” they swung me forward and my head slammed in to the closed rear doors of the minibus.

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Celtic Illumination, part 196, It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.

It was a standard grey day in Germany, winter was still holding on but spring beckoned.  The days seemed lighter.  John Zammo was on his usual mail run around the squadron and on passing through operations mentioned that J R wanted to see me.  I left whatever I was doing and made my way up to J R‘s office.  Normally, he would tell me what he wanted but this time he invited me in, asked me to close the door and then to take a seat.  Something out of the ordinary was happening.  J R had a signal in front of him and he was smiling.  “Biggen Hill have accepted you for selection, we’ve just got to wait for a date.”  Well; I can tell you my spirits were flying higher than any phantom ever could.

J R then made sure that I knew what I was in for.  He explained the importance of being on the ball as far as current affairs were concerned and emphasised the importance of physical fitness.  From that moment on every member of the aircrew made a point of conversing with me, asking me questions about current affairs and explaining the role of the air force.  It was a lovely time, even J R took time to chat to me about his role, the role of the squadron, even the future of the air force.  I was quite surprised one evening when the station commander came over for some night flying that he mentioned that he had noticed I had been accepted and wished me luck.

I had a very simple plan which was to complete training as sergeant aircrew air electronics.  This was a relatively new branch in the air force so the upper echelons were still quite fluid.  Prove myself and after a couple of years take a commission and aim for the top.  As long as I had the correct attitude and worked hard it was very achievable.  There was one slight problem standing in my way which of course was Biggen Hill.  I had to pass the selection process.  This was no morning of tests and some half arsed interview; this was a week-long selection process from which most other personnel selection processes in the UK had stemmed from.

There was of course the elephant in room, which was me.  My weight would never stay still and I suppose I was to become a yo-yo dieter for the rest of my life.  I began training in earnest because although I had a plan for my career, I suppose I secretly wanted to prove all those air traffickers, who had messed me about for years, I wanted to prove them wrong.  However now I felt a new force coming in to play, for I felt obliged to J R and his aircrew.  They had so readily given me their support and encouragement I felt that I had to pass Biggen Hill to validate their backing.

We all knew that Biggen Hill could ask for me at any time they pleased so I was to be ready at a moment’s notice to get back to the UK.  So to add a little bit of pressure to the equation the squadron left for Cyprus.  I had been placed on the advance party and on the rear party, again, so I was facing six weeks in the sun.  It was strange that many of us found the little things so important.  On arrival I discovered that there was no running water on our dispersal.  My main worry was how would J R get his morning coffee?  J R drank coffee so strong the spoon, as they say, could have stood up in it.  Added to that the man constantly sucked on a foul smelling pipe and I don’ t think he could have faced the day without his nicotine and caffeine hit first thing.

When the birds arrived I drove out on to the pan and collected their G suits and bone domes, how there happened to be a crate of ice cold beers in the truck as well I will never know but the guys enjoyed it.  Operations had been set up, the engineers put the birds to bed and the aircrew settled in to their accommodation.  The next morning J R arrived to work and came in to operations.  “Any chance of a coffee?” he asked, I was about to leave ops and get him his coffee when one of the navigators chirped, “There’s no water Boss, and it won’t be back on for a week.”    I had made sure that I had secreted away a gallon of fresh water so that J R could have his morning hit.

It was quite funny when I came back in to operations with his coffee, the navigator didn’t really know where to put himself and J R just smiled a knowing smile.  But then he took my seat behind the ops desk and passed me the keys to his car.  I was to go back to my accommodation, collect my training kit and return to the squadron.  I wasn’t aware but there were certain established jogging routes in Cyprus and J R had selected one for me.  I was to continue opening the squadron in the morning, however, J R would come in and I would, having given him his coffee, change into my training kit and complete an eight mile jog.  Oh, and by the way, he was timing me, so he wanted to see an improvement over the coming days.

I felt a bit strange leaving the squadron but in a very short space of time I was away from the dispersal and on my own.  Just me, my breathing, my heartbeat, and the sunshine.  I would say that the first third of the route was uphill, across the domestic site, through married quarters and onto the cliff tops.  The cliff tops curved around and dropped away, so the following third was a gentle descent to the harbour and then the final third would have been uphill again, but not as severe as the first third.  I promise you it was perfect.  Once past the married quarters and on top of the cliffs I would take off my shirt and just enjoy the sunshine.

Initially I was concerned as snakes would be slithering about in front of me. My pounding along would have them skitter across my path and it was quite disconcerting, especially for an Irishman, where was Saint Patrick when you needed him?  I couldn’t really enjoy the view for the first couple of days as I was more concerned with the snakes but after a while I got used to them and I suppose they got used to me.  My efforts had been quite successful as my uniform was hanging off me.  A couple of the guys, Brian Henwood and Jim Smith wanted to put wire coat hangers in the cuffs of my shorts as they were so big they were comical.  It really would have made me look like one of Spike Milligan’s characters or someone from It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, but then Brian Henwood, a Squadron Leader fighter pilot, was the fellow who would skip across the ops room singing. “I’m walking backwards for Christmas across the Irish sea.”

Nothing fitted me and clothing stores would not exchange my kit for something smaller.  I had to pull it all together and hold my trousers up with a belt.  Someone had the great idea of stapling my shorts to my shirt, which was grand as long as you didn’t sit down.  Of course being in Cyprus helped greatly not just the great weather but the diet which was heavy on the salad, so no one minded if I rewarded myself with the occasional brandy sour and the odd bout of squadron madness.

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Celtic Illumination, part 194, And on the third day.

Christmas was a really great time to be in Germany, apart from the traffic fines.  I wish I had been there as a child as they really seemed to throw themselves into the spirit of it all.  I can remember going to watch a carnival procession in the centre of Erkelenz and was wondering why people were throwing handfuls of sweets at me.  It was a wee while before I realised they were giving them away as part of their tradition.  They did go some way toward attaining the image on the standard Christmas card.  It was such a magical time of the year, even for the grownups.

We had various groups and services at Wildenrath that provided all sorts of amenities.  There was even a caravan park down in the Black Forest region that was for hire at very reasonable rates.  A large gang from the squadron descended on the caravan park one winter weekend.  I remember the tradition was to build a bar, at the end of your caravan, outside, with snow.  The wine, schnapps and beer would then be set in to the bar and people would mill about moving from one caravan to another chatting and getting drunker by the minute.

We had our own tradition on the squadron for Christmas.  We still would have to have battle flight sitting at the end of the runway, two fully armed phantoms, one from each squadron with their engines ticking over ready to scramble.   Airborne in less than five minutes, at the border within twenty minutes.

On Christmas day those of us married and not working would go onto camp and into the single accommodation where we would grab a couple of the lads and take them back to our house for lunch.  It didn’t matter if you knew them or not as long as they were on the squadron they would be welcome.  One Christmas we had a couple of single lads at our house and in the early evening were informed that there would be an informal squadron party at one of the flats.  We went over and joined in with the madness.

I do remember that on entering the flat the guy who lived there approached me and asked what I would like to drink.  I said that I didn’t mind what he gave me to drink.  This was quite a dangerous thing to do and say.  Drinks cabinets were full of strange and exciting drinks that may have been given or bought, probably for their novelty value.  This is how I ended up pouring tequila into my windscreen washers; someone had brought a bottle to our house.  As no one in their right mind would normally drink the stuff I felt that I had found a good use for it rather than pour it down the sink.  This time I ended up with a pint of pernod and blackcurrant.  Rather than risk the ridicule of the others in the party I accepted the pint and began to drink it.

I was told that not only did I finish the pint of pernod and black but that I was given a second and although I didn’t finish the second pint, I had a good stab at it.  I understand a small group brought me back to my flat where I was laid out in the living room and they sat around drinking.  The following morning, I shall; not say on waking but on regaining consciousness I went to the bathroom and sat myself down on the toilet.  I was feeling really, really, rough but a sudden terror began to descend on me.  I think it was my feet I noticed first.  Thankfully they were still at the ends of my legs but each had a single wound, right on the centre of the foot.

I looked at the back of my hands and each hand had a wound, like the feet.  Stigmata.  I knew I was Jesus Christ.  Apart from the fact that I had just had a birthday I actually did believe that I had stigmata.  For those heathens among you, stigmata is a term used, normally by Roman Catholics, to describe body marks in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ.   Thankfully this was way before I found out that I was King of Ireland, I don’t think I could have coped with being both.  Irene had a good laugh as I explained that she was now the wife of Jesus and should act accordingly.  What had happened was that the guys who had brought me back to my flat thought I was play acting, that I really wasn’t unconscious.

They had pushed lit cigarettes into my hands and feet to see if I would react.  I would have thought if I hadn’t reacted to the first cigarette burn it was highly improbable that I would react to the second.  However it was nice to see the fellows being so thorough in their efforts.  I promised myself that I would get each one of them back.  I think the Russians were trying to get their own back too for the incident in Cyprus where we smashed up one of their bogus trawlers.  The phantoms were never happier flying at low level, but the weather in Germany was not brilliant and the guys usually ended up at medium level in cloud, so they flew a lot of the time by instruments, known as IFR.  IFR stands for Instrument Flight Rules as opposed to VFR, Visual Flight Rules.

Battle flight had been scrambled and the guys were thundering toward the border.  There was always a lot of discussion about what would happen if they really did attack.  There were even multinational conferences for various air forces where they would discuss and debate various theories.  It was expected that we would be severely outnumbered and one line of thought was to get everything airborne, once the enemy were in range, fire everything at them and then land and re-arm and get up again.  There would be far too many of them to engage in dogfighting.  This would be repeated as often as possible.  Graham Clarke, a pilot and weapons instructor, suggested this at one conference and was immediately asked to leave.

When you look at what was expected to happen it wasn’t really that bad of an idea.  Officially it was thought that if world war three did start the Russians would be at the ports on the coast within forty eight hours, such was the size and standard of their forces.  Needless to say we would all have been a memory.  So every time a bird was launched, for real, many people had a clock ticking away in their heads.  This time our battle flight was launched and he headed for the border, despite the fact that it was a fine day, weather wise, the navigator, Dave Gledhill, was still fiddling about with the instruments in the rear of the aircraft.  Many phantom pilots had been Lightening pilots before transferring type and they found it strange to have another body in the aircraft.

They reached the border and began to patrol but the airwaves were blocked with loud rock music so they couldn’t communicate with the ground controllers and their instruments began to direct them into the East.  Dave says that had the weather been the standard grey mist they often flew in, there was a good chance they would have followed their instruments and gone through the border.  Luckily as it was a good day they could identify land marks beneath them along the border and were able to stay away.  According to Dave this was a real attempt to get them to cross the border and fire up a diplomatic incident, luckily for us our guys were switched on and double checked everything.  Unfortunately I too would double check everything from then on, everything being my hands and feet.  I don’t want to go through that again.

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Celtic Illumination, part 192, A rock and a hard place.

I have often, as I am sure many of you, the Illuminati, have come across various rocks or lumps of stone that are associated with legend.  I suppose the first one I encountered would have been the Blarney stone in Ireland.  Legend has it that by kissing the Blarney stone you would imbue yourself with the gift of the gab, meaning a certain eloquence of speech.  These days, and every day, you will find long lines of tourists waiting their turn to lean over backwards and place their lips against what most Irish people now know was an urinal.   The second lump of rock I came across would have been two standing stones on the top of Tryfan in North Welsh Wales.

Tryfan, because of its shape, is one of the most recognisable mountains in the UK.  It offers a variety of climbs but at the top has two standing stones known as Adam and Eve.  This legend states that by climbing to the top of one of the stones and leaping across to the other will grant you the freedom of Tryfan.  Others say that it gives you wisdom and some even say that you get your virginity back.  You’re not going to believe this but there is a rock in Cyprus known as Aphrodite’s Rock.  It is actually a sea stack and is also known as the Rock of the Greek.  All you have to do here is swim around it three times and you will either get your virginity back or you will find love.  A group of us decided to visit Aphrodite’s Rock and see what happened.

Had this been at ten o clock on a Saturday or Sunday morning then we could have claimed to have had our tourist heads on.  As this was happening at midnight on a Friday night it would be safe to say that we had our stupid heads on.  There were three mini buses full of us who arrived at Aphrodite’s Rock at about one o clock in the morning.  We lit a fire and began drinking beer and wine wondering if we should swim clockwise or anticlockwise.  This is a big problem with many myths and legends as there’s never anything written down.  It was decided that some of us would swim around the rock three times in a clockwise direction; some would do the opposite while those having difficulty finding their knees sat on the beach watching the waves.

I suppose it’s one of those things you simply have to do.  Mostly harmless and a positive tick on the ‘been there, seen that, done that,’ list most of us carried in our heads.  The night was great fun, lots of splashing about and drinking but nothing really over the top.  By dawn some had crashed out, but most of us were still in a party mood and decided that we would return to camp for breakfast, then we would gather at submarine point and spend the day there sunbathing and swimming.  Submarine point was a beautiful spot hidden among the red sandstone cliffs.  As you begin to descend from the cliff tops you are drawn by the turquoise water, so clear and inviting.  The place looks raw and wild.

You can see a long strip of smooth rock jutting out into the ocean. As you approach the area it is quite exciting to think you have found such a remote and beautiful place, however once you actually get on to the rock I know my heart sank.  Into the soft red sandstone of the cliffs were carved many squadron mottos and crests.  Some of the work was quite detailed and very well done but we were surrounded with ancient caves and temples and ruins.  The whole area was steeped with history and really did encourage your mind to wander off and dream about what life could have been like.  I felt like a vandal as I sat down and tried to ignore the graffiti behind me.

We had each brought a gallon container of either wine or brandy as it was intended to continue the party, however as some bright spark once pointed out ‘the spirit is indeed willing but the flesh is weak.’  We had been drinking all night long and had just had a fill of food, the sun was beginning to smother the island and we all fell asleep.  I can remember waking at about five in the evening.  There was a slight chill in the air and I was in serious pain.  I, as had everyone else on submarine point, had been burned raw by the sun.  Now with a slight chill in the wind it made you feel as if the very skin on your body had shrunk.

I can remember scrambling back up the cliff which was so uncomfortable.  We all hobbled back to our accommodation and did the only thing we were capable of doing, which was lying on our beds.  Even that was painful.  The night air was cold and it was just too excruciating to even have one single sheet covering your body.  I had the great idea of dragging my mattress into the drying room, a room that was always hot for the drying of clothes, and was able to get some sleep.  I don’t think anyone even bothered with food the next day as moving around was simply too agonizing.

Monday morning had us all back at work, for us on the squadron the first shift would be starting at six in the morning, whereas the main departments on camp would not be opening for business until nine o clock.  At nine o clock I went to the medical centre where I hoped to get some calamine lotion and pain killers.  There was a long queue waiting to see the medics so I found a quiet and cool corner and sat myself down.  As with most medical centres there was a noiseless and calm atmosphere, people would speak in almost hushed tones, but this was a military medical centre and it should have been no surprise to any of us to have some idiot start screaming.

It was the Station Warrant Officer who had taken himself over to the medical centre to see what horrible people would be trying to take time off work by claiming to be ill.  The first person in the queue, like myself, had some serious sunburn and was wanting something to ease the pain.  The Station Warrant Officer had a different idea.  This was self-inflicted injury and was therefore punishable.  He was going to put the poor fellow on a charge.  I’ve never seen a line of people disappear so fast in all my life.  I got back to the squadron and gritted my teeth.  My days in the guardroom were over, well; hopefully.

John Zammo had asked me to smuggle some brandy and wine back for him which he wanted for his wedding reception.  I had no problem with that but one of the navigators, Barry, had decided that the squadron would host a Cypriot evening in the mess back in Germany and was looking to take fruit,  brandy, pitta bread, lemon juice and even bitters back to Germany.  Luckily with the Falkland’s raging away no one asked any questions about the amount of secure packages I was sending back to Germany.

Once back I had to collect Jimmy Orr’s mother in law and give her a lift to Liverpool, where I was heading anyway.  They had a great system where people like myself, when flying out, would drive to the departure terminal and simply hand over our car keys to a squadron member who would be remaining on the squadron to keep the place safe, secure and ticking over in our absence.  The cars would be taken to a HAS where they would be parked and maintained.  They were treated in the same way that we treated military vehicles, they would have been started now and again to make sure the batteries were okay, drips and leaks would have been investigated.  But arriving back in Germany you knew that you would walk in to the terminal and the same fellow would be there to return the keys to your car which would be parked outside the terminal.  Very civilised indeed.

John Zammo told me that he laid all the Cypriot booze, along with more wine he had bought in Germany, along the back seat of his car.  He had covered it, so as not to encourage thieves and the like, and intended to declare it at customs when he arrived in the UK.  Everything he would have to declare was on the back seat and everything else in the boot.  He had quite a large quantity of booze and cigars to declare.  As he came off the ferry in England, John drove towards the ‘Something to declare,’ area but was waved through by the customs officers.  The only reason we could think of for his good luck was swimming around that fecking rock, which we would all be aiming for next time we went to Cyprus.  But now we had an even bigger problem because John couldn’t remember which direction he had been swimming in.

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Celtic Illumination, part 191, Cheese!!

I’m sure that some of you might be thinking that Cyprus was just one six week long drinking binge.  We actually worked quite hard while we were there and we really did make the most of the good weather.  Apart from the gunnery practise most of the aircrew would be taken out on a boat and thrown overboard.  It was all part of their survival training.  They would be booted off and the boat would zoom away, then the rescue helicopter would come in, pick them up and take them back to base.  Much better than going in to the North Atlantic in Winter.  We all were aware of the Canberra and the banner it towed.  After every mission the banner would be brought back to us for inspection.

We were all aware of the Phantom and the Gatling gun it carried.  We were even aware of the long belts of ammunition, with freshly painted tips, that were wound in to the gun, as they would be stretched out in long lines drying in the sun.  What we were not au fait with was the Canberra and banner coming together with the Phantom and the gun.  George Lee had an idea.  George got the marine unit guys to float a weighted dingy off the coast, by the cliffs.  He then got the squadron to stand on top of the cliffs and came in to destroy the dingy.  It was a superb example of not just his flying skill but his accuracy with the gun.  Everyone was impressed although if the authorities ever found out George, as they say, would have been for the high jump.

George wasn’t the only one who broke the rules now and again.  The Phantom had a hook which dropped down at the rear of the aircraft.  It was a pretty solid lump of metal and was used to catch the arrester gear, mainly on ships, but we also used it on airfields to stop the aircraft.  If you can imagine the Phantom aircraft flying straight and level, then the two engines at the rear have a slight downward angle.  So at about ten feet above the surface of the sea you would kick up a huge wake.  When one-upmanship came into play the more daring would drop the hook and fly low enough for the hook to trail in the water.

With permission the guys would beat up the airfield coming in fast and low giving us all a thrill and scaring the crap out of anyone else on camp who wasn’t aware of what was happening.  Around the midpoint of the detachment the SENGO came in and announced that he wanted to arrange a squadron photograph, but he needed my help.  I hadn’t really done any photography since Locking but agreed that I would help where I could.  I then discovered that it wasn’t my photographic skills he was interested in.  He had heard that I had served on mountain rescue.  Around our dispersal were huge lighting gantries, like you would see at football stadiums.

The SENGO showed me the plan he wanted to mark out on the dispersal and gave me a copy of the plan and a radio.  I wasn’t impressed because I was a good sixty meters in the air and unlike mountains these gantries swayed in the wind.  Luckily I wasn’t scared of heights and was able to co-ordinate quite well with SENGO and his team, far below me, marking the ground with chalk.  I should have had a camera with me because The Bear, Squadron Leader Keith MacRobb was coming in to beat the airfield up and although sometimes in North Welsh Wales when you were up in the mountains you could look down on low flying aircraft.  At least the mountains were solid and you felt safe whereas standing on a fecking gantry with a Phantom hurtling past beneath my feet scared, as the Irish would say, the bejesus out of me.

Luckily the station photographer was to take the official photograph and the poor fellow looked a little green around the gills as he was informed where he was taking the photograph from.  Most of the guys stood in a pattern that represented the figures nine and two in front of three phantom aircraft and we all shouted cheese at the appropriate moment.  It’s quite a sad photograph really because some of the guys in it are not with us anymore.   Normally people would be moving from one squadron or station to another so there was always a constant flow of personnel but with the Falkland’s war more people were being moved about.  We learned that John Gostick, a pilot and Jeff Bell a navigator had lost their lives in the Falkland’s.

John Gostick was a lovely fellow.  The moment he started speaking you knew that he was from London.  He always had a smile and a joke and his wife, who was an ex Royal Naval officer spoke with Received Pronunciation.  The first time we met she told me she had married him for a bet.  Jeff Bell too was a lovely soft spoken fellow who had a very dry sense of humour and was always willing to help and get stuck in.  It was such a sad loss.  John and I were still trying to stay away from all the madness, and sometimes we succeeded.  At the weekends many of the guys would hire jeeps or vans and set out to explore the island.  John and I discovered that the bread delivery man would leave camp at seven in the morning so we would scrounge a lift with him.

When he came to the main turn for Limassol John and I would get out and head for the hills, well; the Troodos mountains to be more precise.  We thumbed lifts, caught buses and even travelled in the back of lorries.  We felt it was much more of an adventure and I actually think it was.  I can remember getting on one bus which really did have sheep on board.  John thought along the same lines as myself and believed that you should get in among the locals, eat what they ate and sample the local hooch.  We ended up one day in the village of Kolossi.  If memory serves me right we went into a restaurant called the Kolossi Castle.  It was quite basic, with the usual style of furniture for Cyprus, as in nothing matched.  I looked at all the courses available.

It was so exciting to find so many foodstuffs that I had never eaten before but alas I only had one stomach.  The lady who was serving us was very helpful and I couldn’t make my mind up as to what I would like to eat.  It ended up that she provided half a dozen side dishes with a small portion of each choice from the menu.  I was invited to taste everything and then I could make a decision as to what I wanted to eat.  I ended up having shark steak which I now love.  I was so pleased to find the real Cyprus away from the tourist traps and the squadron madness.  Although I have to say that sometimes the madness followed us.  John and I were sitting on the promenade in Limassol after one of our away days, enjoying a beer.  It was quite a warm evening and there was little wind.  With no warning at all John stood up, took one step forward and dived into the ocean, fully clothed.  He swam around for a little while and then hoisted himself out.  It certainly surprised and amused the tourists around us as for me, I think you know by now, I had seen and done much worse myself.

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Celtic Illumination, part 190, Anything for the weekend sir?

So, picture the scene.  It’s midnight, John Zammo and I are in bed.  Stop it.  It was a four man room with four beds.  John was in one bed and I was in another bed, a different bed, the one opposite him.  Anyway, we could hear a ruckus outside on the balcony which rumbled along and then came in to our room.  A group of the lads poured in most of them, well; all of them drunk.  They were carrying another drunk who was close to passing out.  They threw him on one of the spare beds and told us that it was a one hundred squadron sergeant.  One hundred squadron were the Canberra guys who dragged the target around for us to shoot at.

It was like having a new born baby in the room.  John and I lay there listening for the fellow breathing.  However, unlike a new born baby, this fellow got up and peed in the locker beside the bed they had put him in and then lay back down again.  This was of course totally unacceptable; I mean he wasn’t even on our squadron.  John and myself then decided to get a little pay back.  We shaved his eyebrows off.  Not satisfied, we lifted the mattress off the bed, with him still on it and dragged it out onto the balcony.  It was as we were wondering how to get the mattress into a nearby tree that one of the group who had dumped this fellow in our room came along.

It was Jimmy Orr.  Jimmy asked what we were doing and when we explained that we wanted to put the mattress complete with recumbent drunk into a tree he suggested that this might not be a very good idea.  The sergeant had been on one hundred squadron but with immediate effect he was now on our squadron and might take an unfavourable view of any persons hoisting him into a tree rather than looking after him.  They already had looked after a fellow squadron member by ensuring he had a safe place to sleep rather than have him wander off into the bondoo.  We took the mattress back in and placed it on the bed hoping the sergeant wouldn’t be too hard on us.

Luckily he didn’t notice and on waking went off to his own accommodation.  John and I always denied shaving the eyebrows off and thankfully Jimmy Orr never mentioned the fact that he had discovered us trying to get the guy into a tree.  Jimmy was one of a small group on the squadron who needed locking up.  Sure, John Roe and Dave Magee were the worst offenders but there were a couple of others who were just as bad.  One evening we were outside the mess probably having a beer when Jimmy had a great idea.  There was a small gift shop where we would buy cigarettes.  The cigarettes were rationed and the Cypriots seemed to enjoy controlling our purchases.  Jimmy went over and began to look at a child’s bicycle.

He began to communicate with the guy behind the counter, a Cypriot called Chris, well; probably called Chris.  Jimmy was talking loud enough so that we could all hear him.  He was going through the motions asking how much for the bike, how fast would it go, were there any other colours, did it have a warranty?   By this time Jimmy has taken the bike to the counter, which is next to the main door.  Chris was wanting to know if he was going to buy it when Jimmy says he must have a test drive and leaves the shop with the bike.  By the time Chris has come out from behind the counter and out of the shop Jimmy is now riding the bicycle on his test drive.

We of course are falling about laughing.   If Jimmy had rode in little circles in front of us it might have been funny but Jimmy was on the roof of the building riding along the red sloping tiles.  Anyone who has ridden a bike before knows that a level flat surface is normally the best and safest place for cycling.  Jimmy may have had one too many drinks for he was quite careless with his manoeuvring and signalling.  It was quite obvious that he had forgotten everything from his cycling proficiency test, if he had ever done one, because rather than stop, look and listen, he shot straight off the roof into a clump of bushes.

Being quite drunk Jimmy had achieved rubber bone status and was unharmed the same unfortunately could not be said for the bike which Jimmy returned to Chris who was stunned.  Not perhaps at seeing Jimmy fly off the roof like something from E.T but because Jimmy told him he wasn’t going to buy it as it wasn’t fast enough.  I don’t know how that got sorted out, if it ever did.  There were a couple of things we would buy when in Cyprus.  There were tailors on the unit who would knock you up a pretty decent suit for fifteen quid.  John got a suit made as he was getting married when we returned.  Apart from the brandy which we smuggled back by the gallon, people tended to go after hanging carpets, leather pouffes or sheep skin rugs.

I wandered in to the mess one afternoon having finished work.  I was at a loose end.  The only other person there was John Roe.  He was playing pin ball and asked me what I was up to.  I explained that I wasn’t actually doing anything.  John told me that he was about to go in to Limassol to buy some sheep skin rugs and if I was interested he would take me with him and show me the best shop in Limassol for these items.  We went off and caught a bus into Limassol.  John led me along various back streets to a small shop that was overflowing with rugs and carpets and pouffes.

I didnt buy anything but John bought two huge sheep skin rugs and we made our way back to the main drag.  We sat outside one of the hotels having coffee and then wandered off to get a bus back to camp.  As the bus pulled away John began punching me and I wondered what was wrong but followed him as he was shouting that he had left his sheep skin rugs at the fecking hotel.  We raced back to the hotel and were pleasantly surprised to see the rugs lying beside the table we had been sitting at.  The bus was the last bus of the day to camp so we would now have to get a taxi back.  John announced that as we were getting a taxi back it didn’t matter what time we left at.  I agreed.

John declared that we should celebrate the recovery of his rugs.  I added that a celebration was most defiantly in order as it was my birthday.  I suppose I wish I had never said anything.  We were sitting outside quite a plush hotel and I assumed that we would remain there and celebrate.  John had a different idea.  He explained that in order to celebrate properly we would have to go to the worst brothel in Limassol.  As I have said before it was quite common for us in Germany to nip into various brothels for a beer but I had never even thought about brothels in Cyprus.  I followed along wondering how John knew about this place.

That evening I needed as much brandy as I could get, not to drink but to sterilise myself after what John had put me through.  It was the most disgusting place I have even seen in my life.  Unlike Germany where the brothels were quite welcoming and comfortable this place was perfunctory.  I sat outside while John did what he had to do inside.  I still feel unclean just thinking about the place and all I did was sit there and grimace at the running commentary John provided me with throughout the encounter.   In fact the Cypriots didn’t have a very good reputation for hygiene, in any shape or form.  Roger Greenwood, one of our navigators, was telling me that he had been posted to Cyprus and had shipped his car out.  The day his car arrived he went to the docks to collect it and was told that he couldn’t take the car until it had been officially fumigated.  As far as Roger was concerned it was just another hoop he would have to jump through.  He was quite surprised when the fellow fumigating the car dropped a bucket, on the end of a rope, into the sea and pulled up a bucket of sea water.  He then threw the bucket of water over the car, held his hand out and said, “Ten pounds please for the fumigation.”  I always wondered if John Roe ever needed fumigating.

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Celtic Illumination, part 189, Oi! Mr. DeMille, I’m ready.

Pretending to be someone else, or using a name that we thought comical, was standard behaviour throughout the squadron while on detachment.  BFBS, the British Forces Broadcasting Service had sent a pretty young thing along to interview a phantom crew.  The two guys swapped name patches and pretended to be the other person.  It was quite funny really as the two guys gave the most ridiculous answers possible while the pretty little air head ploughed ahead with her in-depth interview.  She never even twigged when the navigator, pretending to be the pilot, claimed that his main ambition in life was to be a Jindivik pilot.  The Jindivik being the remote control aircraft that towed flares used as targets for missile practise.

The only person who didn’t think it funny was JR who bollocked the pair rigid.  There is a photograph of the two of them bound and gagged on the pavement outside ops after their one sided conversation with the boss where he forbade them to speak to the media again, ever.  There was always some media type sticking a microphone or camera in our faces.  If it wasn’t the Russians it was the BBC.   The BBC were making a new series about a fictitious RAF squadron, called ‘Squadron.’  The lead actor came in to ops to ask the guys for any tips on how he should portray a fighter pilot.  For starters they scruffied him up a bit and filled the pockets on his flying suit with documents.

It was even suggested that he dribble some coffee on his flying suit if he wanted to get the authentic look.  The best stain was on Dom Riley’s flying suit.  I should know, for it was my fault.  Most of us smoked cigarettes and would have had own our squadron zippo lighter.   Dom’s lighter had run out of fuel so I offered to re-fill it for him.  The standard way to refuel a zippo lighter was to use a land drover.  Military land rovers have two petrol tanks, one under the driver’s seat and the other under the passenger seat.  To access each tank you would remove the seat, twist the cap and voila!  There was a deep metal sieve extending down into the tank which would stop any dirt or bits and pieces falling in to the tank.

We would take the fuel compartment out of the zippo lighter and drop it into the sieve, then lift the sieve out, take the, now full, fuel compartment, reassemble the zippo and continue smoking.  Dom was quite pleased that not only was his lighter full and that he now knew how to refill it anytime he needed but he was also impressed with the six inch smoky flame that erupted when the zippo was lit.  What he wasn’t impressed with was that when flying and pulling ‘G’ the fuel seeped out of the zippo and apart from staining his flying suit burned the chest of him.  Thank God it never ignited, that would have been an interesting one to explain away.

Initially we were quite interested in how the BBC crew did things.  For example to give the impression that an aircraft was in flight the camera man would lie on the back of a low tractor that would be towing an aircraft.  The camera would be looking up, at an angle, so that you could see the pilot in the aircraft looking all windswept and interesting with the sky behind him and as the tractor moved along the viewer was given the impression that the aircraft was flying.  With a lot of the ‘magic’ being exposed we soon lost interest and only a few of the guys tagged along as they were promised to be included in the action.  Many of the squadron did actually appear in the series but as dead bodies, which I have to say, complemented the wooden acting of most of the characters.

The air force had given its complete backing to the television series and had said that they could have the use of any aircraft they wanted.  Unfortunately with the Falklands war raging away, their choice of aircraft was greatly reduced.   Despite the fact that a war was happening, albeit a few thousand miles away, life continued almost as normal.  There was a huge army presence in Cyprus and they were having a parade at the British Forces Headquarters at Episcopi.  The Southern band of the Royal Air Force had flown in to perform at the parade.  We would see them every day out marching up and down and practising.

I really didn’t think much about the band, I mean why would anyone.  One day a group of us had gone down to the sailing club.  None of us were interested in sailing; the sailing club had the best beach bar and deck chairs.  It was a very, very, pleasant place to spend an afternoon.  What we didn’t know was that the musicians in the band had formed little groups.  Each musician had their own specific style of music that they enjoyed and many of them joined smaller groups that performed all over the place.  One of those places was the sailing club.  I couldn’t believe my luck relaxing on a beach with a live band playing away all afternoon.  All we had to do was keep feeding them beer and they kept playing.

Even in the evenings we would have live bands or groups entertaining us not that we needed it.  Many of the chaps would get their very own duelling scar while in Cyprus.  Every ceiling would be covered with electric fans and as you probably know, once you’ve had a few brandy sours, the only thing to do with an electric fan is to stop it with your head.  By sitting on someone’s shoulders you would bring your head as close to the revolving blades as you would dare and then try to stop it.  While you are trying to concentrate on the revolutions and get your timing right, the audience would be chucking all sorts at you.  You could always tell, the following morning, who had been involved in such shenanigans as they would have a long, fresh, scar across their forehead.

One evening a squadron barbeque was planned and we all set off for the beach.  It was a relaxed affair and we were all lying about, drinking and behaving ourselves, quite well actually, when we heard an engine.  Total silence descended on the gathering and we all wondered who would be out in a boat in complete darkness.  We all moved away from the light that the bonfire we had established created.  Then, out of the darkness we saw a boat.  It approached the beach and grounded itself.  Then a voice.  “Oi mate!”  It was a Scouser.  As we approached I could see it was the exact same Scouser who had been trying to pick a fight with us outside the mess.

It was a wooden boat, about twenty feet long.  There was a huge stack of beer crates in the centre of the boat and half a dozen men, all naked, as was the six foot six Scouser.  They were all steaming drunk too.  “Which way’s the Falklands mate?” asks the Scouser.  Someone pointed away from the beach and having re-floated their craft, the naked Rock Apes chugged their way off into the darkness.  I don’t know if they ever got there, I’m still waiting for the postcard.

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Celtic Illumination, part 188, ♫ The wheels on the bus ♫

The squadron had an entertainments committee.  Well; I am assuming they had something along those lines.  I wasn’t sure, but events and functions happened.  One standard recreational activity while on detachment was to have a trip to the local brewery.  Even someone like me, who practised the dark art of home brewing, wasn’t that interested in how Keo produced their beer and thankfully the Keo employees understood this.  Even if someone had stood up and said ‘This is a bottle of beer and you drink it from this end,’ that would have been too technical for most of our chaps.  A coach load of us arrived at the Keo brewery outside Limassol and poured in to the factory.  “Long tour or short tour?” asks the guide, who from his demeanour had seen all this before.

I shouldn’t really have to explain to you, the Illuminati, that we chose the short tour which involved finding the shortest route between the bus and the bar.  If I remember correctly the Keo lot were very stingy with their product so it was just as well that we had our own stock of fine German beer on board the coach.  We had finished all the free beer they were going to give us and were now being told that if we wanted more, we could pay for it.  This of course was our prompt to leave.   Back on the coach we were heading back toward Akrotiri when some of the chaps decided that they now needed to relieve themselves.  It was five o clock in the evening, or thereabouts, so the traffic was quite heavy and under no circumstances was the driver going to stop and allow us to engage in ritualistic formation peeing.

Someone found a bag, or a bottle, and was relieving themselves on the coach.  They were right in the back of the coach, in the corner.  In order to complete the mission the guy had twisted his body and was leaning into and against the corner window.  There was a certain look of satisfaction on his face which indicated that he was achieving his objective, something we all cheered.  Then there was a sort of gasped hush as the corner window of the coach popped out and floated off, skimming above the following cars like a Frisbee on a mission.

We settled down and behaved ourselves knowing that we now had to get back to base and get off the coach without the driver noticing that his rear corner window was missing, probably like the guys at the brewery he would want us to pay for that too.  We did begin to sing some squadron songs though and whether that was to cover up the sound of the horns and flashing lights behind us I’m not sure but we seemed to get away with it.  Another trip that had been arranged for us was a coach trip to the ancient village of Paphos.  To me it was a village even though it is often referred to as a city and once was the capitol of Cyprus.  Unfortunately Phapos now has a reputation for being an upmarket retreat for the well-heeled.

Paphos has a wonderful little harbour where you can sit in the sunshine, get rat arsed and feed the pelicans that hobble about the place.  It also has some fantastic Roman ruins and mosaics if you know where to look.  The squadron decided that we would take over a small bar on the harbour and a session began.  John Zammo and myself decided to visit the ruins.  We were dressed as any normal tourist might be, short trousers, especially with my legs, and T-shirts.  But most of us would have had a bag, a large briefcase type affair that would hang by one long shoulder strap.  We used these to carry water, wine, cameras, squadron Zaps, screwdrivers, pliers, wine, scran.  You get my drift?

John and myself found the ruins and went in.  Someone started nagging on about paying an entrance fee which of course we refused as we were not tourists.  The area was still being uncovered and the management of it seemed to be quite shambolic.  We ignored the walkways, which I promise you were dangerous, and wandered about inspecting the work.  I was soaking up the atmosphere and trying to comprehend that what I was looking at was created about the same time as Jesus was knocking about.  It was strange seeing an actual link that put some reality to the Latin texts I had to translate at Violent Hell.  Most of the mosaics were still being uncovered and pieced together.

I suppose now would be a good time to formally apologise to the Cypriot government as one or two of their beautiful mosaic floors have pieces missing.  And before anyone starts blaming me, it’s not my fault; this is an age old tradition stretching back for centuries, just look at the Elgin marbles.  Anyway, it still looks quite nice on my mantelpiece and continues to fill me with awe and amazement.  Having had our fill of culture and hoping no one noticed our bags were somewhat heavier that when we had come in, John and I escaped.  We bumbled along enjoying the sunshine and headed back down toward the harbour area.  Perhaps a beer and a photograph with a pelican might not be a bad idea.

As we approached the harbour we decided to call in to the hotel on the corner for a glass of wine before joining the troops.  It really was a beautiful day and there perhaps could be nothing better than a cool glass of white wine on the shore of the Mediterranean at Paphos harbour.  It was a typical Mediterranean hotel, all white with a large veranda, covered with a white sailcloth.  We sat drinking in the scenery and asked for a bottle of Saint Pandemonium, the white wine that really was a hand grenade in a bottle.  By the time we got on to the second bottle a wedding party had arrived.

They must have booked the hotel or the balcony for it was now full of people and plates of food were being shoved in front of us.  Well; it would have been rude not to join in.  By bottle three, John and myself were fluent in the local language, whatever that was.  Then two policemen arrived.  We don’t think they were looking for us, but as we had refused to pay to enter the mosaic place and as we had liberated some pieces of mosaic as well, we thought we should vacate the wedding party and the hotel, just in case.  We moved through the crowd, now all our dearest lifelong friends, looking as innocent as we could and belted down the staircase to the front car park.

This is where I began to wonder about the effect the squadron was having on John.  For at the bottom of the staircase was a police car.  It was empty so I presumed it was the one the two coppers had arrived in.  We could have made a clean getaway except John reached in to his bag, brought out a squadron zap, and zapped the windscreen of the police car.  It was one of those ‘If I laugh any more I’ll pee myself,’ moments.  We legged it back to the squadron guys who by now had taken over a bar and were busy getting drunk with the pelicans.

John and I realised that we had run into a dead end and explained our predicament to the chaps.  As you may imagine for a bunch of guys who for using false names was second nature, disguising John and myself was easy.  John changed clothes with some guys but I ended up wearing a skirt.  The police did come along the harbour but seeing a crowd of fifty fellows, did the old equivalent of the British Bobby and his ‘Evening all,’ before turning and walking away.  It was good to relax so I wandered out to the harbour to enjoy the sunshine.  Yes that is me in the photograph leaning against the lamppost, but I was only chatting with the chaps, I wasn’t soliciting for business, not with legs like mine.

Some of the guys came out and turfed both John and myself into the harbour.  The only people worried were the bar staff who came out shouting that we should be careful as the harbour was littered with broken glass.  We assured them it was no problem as I still had my shoes on.  Regrets?  Yes, as the song says, I have a few.  But so what, forgetting to have your photograph taken with a pelican is not the end of the world.

 

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