Despite the fact that I was an international criminal and probably quite high on Interpol’s most wanted list, I managed to cover the three hundred and thirty miles between Ipswich and Tenby without incident. I even slipped through the Welsh border control without having my car searched and the modern electronic gadgets removed as the Welsh still regarded them as evil. Anyone with a digital watch was considered as being a practitioner of black magic. We were all meeting in a pub in the centre of Tenby and would then descend en masse on Tim’s father’s farm. Had such a group of people met on exercise, or in altered circumstances, there may have been a different atmosphere, but we all got on so well together it was fantastic. As we were having a party we had of course brought fireworks. The local Welsh population were probably unsettled with so many bloody foreigners in their midst for why else would they call the police.
We were simply having fun and letting off a few fireworks as we were all in a party mood. Perhaps because we were using military grade fireworks, which are a little louder than your standard squib, which not only gave you the required flash, bang, wallop, you expected from fireworks, but they rattled most of the windows in a one hundred yards radius too. Luckily for us many people who leave the armed forces join the civilian police force. Most civilians may have seen a group of drunken louts, but the head copper, the head ex forces copper, saw a group of eighteen or twenty nut cases who could have successfully invaded Argentina over a bank holiday weekend and still have time for a party, he simply asked us to withdraw to a place of safety.
Well; that’s not what he said, although I’m sure it’s what he meant. In fact he said something along the lines of, “Get out of my town and don’t not never come back.” Terrible grammar these soldiers, ex or not. It’s bad enough being an international criminal but being asked to leave small Welsh walled seaside town is humiliating to say the least. Well, it may have been humiliating if we actually cared. It was dark when we arrived at Tim’s father’s farm. We couldn’t have got a warmer welcome and we were all invited in and the party really began in earnest. At one point it was realised that the high rate of consumption of booze was diminishing the remaining alcohol stocks so two fellows were dispatched to Tenby to buy more booze. I can remember that one of the guys was Peter Browne; I can’t remember who the other fellow was.
Most of us could drink our own body weight in alcohol and would probably attempt to do so a couple of times over the weekend but Peter was referred to, by us, as a ‘lightweight’ when it came to the demon drink That is not to say the fellow was an angel, if you remember this was the fellow who got me in so much trouble at Watton when he forced me, at gun and knife point, to steal all the knickers, and one suspender belt, from the WRAF block at Swanton Morley. This was the same Peter Browne who had got me into a fight with thirty angry locals in the Trearddur Bay hotel in North Welsh Wales. This was no angel, which is probably why we decided to surprise him when he returned.
It would be safe to say that we were all quite drunk; even Tim’s father was joining in with the craic. We saw the taxi turn into the lane and drive towards the farm house. As it stopped and Peter and the other fellow, it could have been Martyn Strachan, I’m not sure, but as they began to alight the attack began. The commandos had brought some excellent thunder flashes which I had never seen before. These were multiple thunder flashes, like the old German stick grenade and probably more effective. There would be half a dozen thunder flashes on one stick which you could lob toward your enemy. To tell you the truth I don’t think the local Welsh taxi driver had seen them either, and I think he was in a state of shock as he found himself in the centre of his very own Hadron Collider. I think it would be safe to say that he probably went straight home and changed his trousers after that.
With fresh supplies of booze secured a ceasefire was called and we all returned inside and focused on the serious business of getting hammered. Tim’s parents were wonderful hosts and Tim’s father was a real laugh. He was the focus of the party and we caroused ourselves into a stupor before we all got into one bed and passed out. I actually woke up in a bed next to Peter Browne so the first thing I did was check that I had both sets of eyebrows. I suppose in the forces you were used to sleeping with men, there was nothing funny or strange about it. Peter assured me the following morning that he wasn’t homosexual. Well; what he said was, I’m not gay but I think my boyfriend might be.
We all dressed up in our finery and had a liquid breakfast which we held in place with a tray full of bacon butties. You can see how spectacular we were with the photograph that accompanies this blog. I know we probably look like something along the lines of Reservoir Dogs and such an inference would be spot on. The good looking fellow, I know we all were, but the good looking fellow in the centre with the gay moustache is John Clancey. The now head of security at the Manx international airport on the Isle of Man. This is perhaps one of the most evil men on the face of the earth. John and I used to go around telling people that we were twins, separated at birth. John had a strong London accent, in fact when John starts speaking you immediately begin looking around for his pearly suit; I of course spoke with dulcet Irish undertones. I’m taking the photograph, but you can get an impression of what I looked like, as I looked like John, except I was much more handsome and still had the best looking legs in Ireland. And even though I had slept with a man the previous night I still didn’t sport a gay moustache.
Behind us you can see the navy and marines in their best uniforms. This is as we arrived at the church, but don’t think we left the farmhouse and drove straight to the church. Someone thought it would be a good idea if we went for a few scoops in a local pub before the service. For sensible people this may have been a good idea but for a group like us it would only mean that the high jinks would start early. And begin early they did. Most of us were quite good at mental arithmetic when it came to drinking. I of course am a bit of a nerd when it comes to mathematics as I love quadratic equations and the like. But that day there was someone there who was even more into mathematics than I was.
You know how it works; you walk in to a pub, it’s seven minutes past eleven o clock in the morning. The church is twenty three minutes away and you have to be there at five minutes to one. You can comfortably drink one pint of beer in sixteen minutes, while still participating in an interesting conversation, how many pints can you have before you leave for the church? And you thought heavy drinking was for mindless louts. Well; put your calculator down, the answer is five pints of beer and one large vodka, with no ice and that’s as long as you don’t have any crisps. It was when we fell out of the pub and got in to our cars and headed off for the church that I realised there was a genius amongst us, for someone had bought a bottle of whiskey. Even I still cringe at what happened next, for as we sped off toward the church, the bottle of whiskey was passed from car to car as we hammered along the narrow Welsh country lanes. I suppose that song ‘Get me to the church on time,’ would have been most appropriate for the occasion but none of us were sober enough to stand never mind sing.
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.
One day I heard about a group of people living at Erkelenz that might have been of interest to me. They called themselves the Erkelenz Ramblers. I thought it might be nice to join a group that would be out walking in and exploring the local countryside so I made some enquiries. The leader of the Erkelenz Ramblers was Sean Turner, an engineer from 19 squadron, and a big rugby man. I contacted Sean and explained that I wanted to join his ramblers. He invited me along on their next excursion. I should have known better, even though the group had its own tee shirts and seemed well organised; their rambles consisted of no more than a pub crawl around Erkelenz.
A little trick we used, not just in Erkelenz, but all over Germany was to use a five pence coin instead of a deutschemark. A deutschemark would have been worth twenty five pence so for a ratio of five to one you certainly got a bargain especially when using the telephone. I did my usual trick and one Sunday evening having used the local public telephone had returned to our flat to discover I must have left my diary in the telephone kiosk. Not only were all my telephone numbers and personal details in there but so were the combination codes for the doors and safes on the squadron. I legged it back down to the telephone kiosk to discover that my diary was gone.
Unlike the incident in Cyprus I wasn’t that worried, my real problem would be getting into work the following morning. I would be one of the first people arriving on the squadron. I would have to collect the main keys from the guardroom which would get me into the main corridor of the admin area of the squadron. Every door would be locked. At the end of the admin area was a large steel door that also acted as an air seal. Beside it on the wall was a small key safe with a combination lock. I would have to open the safe, take the key out and open the door, then replace the key and secure the safe. I would do this again at the next steel door, then open the safe and take the main key bunch out.
It was always very quiet as I would go through the process of opening up the squadron. I was always very aware of the tales people told about the ghosts that lurked about and as I had met one or two in Ireland I was prepared to meet a couple more most mornings as I opened up or in the evenings when I would secure the building. One fellow crashed the SENGO’s minivan one evening on his way back to the squadron from the domestic site. He claimed that a ghost had jumped out in front of him causing him to swerve and crash the vehicle. Many people believed him. I never met any of the ghosts that were supposed to hang around the squadron but always felt that I was being watched.
The job was fantastic and really involved. There was just so much to do you were constantly busy. One day J R came in and set his bone dome down. He pointed at me and said “Come with me.” We went into the briefing room and up to the large map on the wall. This is where sorties would be planned and briefed. My job was to mark any event happening in our area that would or could affect our aircraft. J R pointed at one marker and asked me what is was. I cross checked the reference and explained that it was a parachute jump. J R clipped me around the back of the neck and pointed out the fact that I had placed the marker in the wrong square. It was sixty miles out.
J R said he wasn’t impressed leading a six ship of phantoms when he looked up to see a few hundred pairs of boots coming down on top of them. It was the first mistake I am aware that I ever made and I never made another mistake in my life, I can assure you of that. But I wasn’t the only person who might make a mistake. One evening a phantom was coming home. The guys had gone to visit an American air base in Germany. The main reason for doing this would be to visit the PX store where everything was much cheaper than we could get, especially for electronic equipment and cameras. As the crew came in they dropped the hook and took the RHAG. Unfortunately some problem occurred and the phantom had to get airborne again.
With full power selected and re-heat engaged the aircraft lifted off and ripped the RHAG cable out of its sockets. It was quite a sight watching the phantom circle the airfield as the afterburners had heated up the cable which was strung out behind the aircraft like a red and orange ribbon. On landing, the aircraft was quickly approached by the rescue and fire trucks that thankfully were not needed. Everyone commented on how brave the crew were by not ejecting and for staying with the aircraft and bringing it in safely. But not everyone knew that the reason they hadn’t ejected was because the navigator had a brand new, top of the range, amplifier on his knees which he had just bought in the PX.
All in all there was a great bunch of people on the squadron. We got a new Corporal in the admin office working with John Zamo. They had a half door which kept people out but allowed you to communicate with the guys inside. You could lean against the half door and have a good chin wag. I was wandering along one day when my direct boss Tony was leaning on the door chatting away. I pulled up alongside him and joined in with the craic. The Corporal announced that he was typing my annual assessment. The banter started and I think it was the Corporal who said to Tony that if he wanted to help me get back to aircrew I should really be given nines, a special recommendation for promotion.
In the world of air traffic this was such a secretive process, probably because most of them hadn’t a clue. Tony then asks what he has given me and the Corporal says eights. “Well then give him nines,” said Tony. It was quite exciting to think that I was actually being given a special recommendation for promotion but part of me didn’t want it because you would have to live up it, you could never allow yourself to go back down again. “And give Biggen Hill a call, see what’s holding them up,“ says Tony. John and myself decided to go for a beer after work to celebrate my good fortune. We had one or two beers in a local pub and then I drove him home. John invited me in to meet his wife as they had just been allocated a married quarter.
She was a lovely girl and was actually a sort of legend in the air force. Not the actual woman herself but her status, for John had actually gone and married the station commanders daughter, from his previous unit. We had a laugh and as I was leaving the door to the flat opposite opened. I, as you may imagine, was quite pleased with myself, not only had I got the special recommendation for promotion but the squadron were now going to start pushing Biggen Hill with my aircrew application. I smiled at the woman standing in the doorway of the flat opposite Johns and was about to walk away when she said. ”You don’t recognise me, do you?”
I didn’t and I told her so. John and his wife are now out of their flat and shaking hands with their new neighbours. “Avril Gough,” she said reaching out her hand to me. The name still meant nothing to me and I didn’t recognise her husband either. “Sergeant Gough,” she said giving me a hint. I still hadn’t a clue who she was and hoped that I wasn’t insulting her by not recognising her. “Police,” she said, obviously giving me another clue. I assumed that with her saying police we hadn’t been romantically involved, which could either be a good or bad thing for if she was a copper and knew me then I must have met her in some official capacity. “Swanton Morley,“ she said, and then, as they say, the proverbial penny dropped. She was the arresting officer when Peter Browne and I stole all the kickers from the WRAF block at Swanton Morley. As I left I could hear her explain to John and his wife how we had met and I knew that it would not be long before my past would be bandied about the squadron, however, knowing that lot, rather than look down on me they would probably give me a fecking medal.
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.
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.
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.
Our little Italian adventure was laughed off by the squadron, something more serious was afoot, we were at war. The Falklands war had kicked off and we all waited for our orders. As we were perhaps the most southerly unit, at that time, many of us expected to be moving a bit more south, in fact quite a bit more. For some reason I always think of a large game board featuring the world. Although one incident may be happening at that moment, such as the Falklands, each player had to position the remainder of their forces, as we said in the air force, to cover their six o clock. Cyprus became a staging post for thousands of troops heading South.
A certain sobriety descended on the squadron. We were sitting outside the mess having a lunch time beer when some Rock Apes came out to, well; if the truth be told, they came out to start a fight with us. These guys had read far too many war comics, they were the real ‘blood guts gore veins in their teeth I wanna kill’, breed. Plus they were quite drunk, which didn’t help matters. The head drunk was a six foot six tall Scouser. Shaved head, even his spit had muscles and tattoos. He broke two beer bottles, placed the bases on the ground and began to perform press-ups with his hands over the broken bases. By the time he had completed his exercises we were gone.
We were told that we were to stay in Cyprus. The Russians had a permanent fleet of ‘trawlers’ around Cyprus which were basically spy ships, listening posts. When we arrived there was something in the region of twenty five trawlers. The moment the war started the number of trawlers in the Med went up to over one hundred and twenty. They were constantly trying to get our crews to speak to them; we knew that most forms of communication would be intercepted. At least we had our Falcon Codes, even the Russians couldn’t break them.
John Zammo and I were sharing a room. We spent a long time discussing how we should spend our time. Many troops heading south were quite ‘pumped up’ and with the addition of strong drink, punch ups were becoming the order of the day as members of one unit wanted to prove how much tougher they were than some other unit. John and I came up with a cracker of an idea, the theatre club. No member of our squadron, in fact no roughie toughie in their right mind would be seen dead in a theatre club. It was settled. We would allow the squadron chaps to carouse to their hearts content in the mess while we would gently pass the time in the theatre club.
We wandered over to the theatre club and were impressed. It surely was a corner of calm. The barman was an old friend from Watton so we settled in and enjoyed a few drinks. As we were leaving, my friend informed me that there was a good-bye party on the Saturday night. There would be a barbeque and dancing and free drink all night long. Oh, and by the way, it was a toga party. We told no one and were quite pleased that we had managed to slip in with the permanent staff almost unnoticed. Work wise most people kept their heads down and then somebody just had to go and spoil the peace.
Part of my job was to plot the approximate position of some of these spy trawlers so that our crews knew to steer clear of them. One crew flying along was contacted by a trawler. The Russians were always trying to establish contact and this one claimed that he was an aircraft enthusiast. He pleaded with the crew to fly past his ship so that he could take a photograph for his ‘collection album please sir.’ The aircrew on 92 squadron were always perfect gentlemen so had to oblige and did fly past the trawler. In fact they were so accommodating they flew as close as they possibly could to the trawler. Perhaps if they hadn’t have been going supersonic the fellow may have got a better photograph.
Seems that every valve on their spy ship exploded and a diplomatic incident quickly evolved. Nothing to do with us, we had a toga party to attend. On the evening in question John and I took a sheet from our beds, cut a hole for our heads, secured the garment with a belt and on the way to the theatre club ripped branches from various bushes and made our headgear. It was a fantastic night. I haven’t a clue who the farewell party was for, or who paid for all the drink and nosh, but thank you. About midnight I managed to find the bar, which was proving difficult even though it was only ten feet away from our table.
I ordered two brandy sours and was shocked to be asked for a few hundred mills. “I thought the drinks were free all night?” I asked. “They were,” I was told. “But they’ve run out.” It would appear that everyone had the same idea concerning the free drink. I reached around for my wallet to discover that it wasn’t there. I explained my predicament to the barman who waved me away. It may have been no problem to him but I suddenly realised that it was a huge problem for me. I told John that I had lost my wallet and he too realised the seriousness of the situation. In my wallet was the combinations for the safes, which contained all the war codes and guides, plus battle orders for the NATO air defence network.
Cyprus was bristling with people who weren’t there; there were even aircraft flying every day,that were not there. The place was full of spooks and spies, special forces and God only knows what else. Because of the sensitivity of the information I had no choice but to report myself for a failure in security. I telephoned the police and reported the fact that I had lost my wallet; it was only when I explained what the wallet contained that the copper, on the other end of the telephone, seemed to take a blind bit of notice of me. He asked me if I understood what this would mean. Unfortunately I did.
The only other person who had the safe combination was the security officer; he would have to be called out as would the squadron commander. Because of the seriousness of the incident the station security officer would have to be called out and the station commander. All the safe combinations would have to be changed and NATO would have to be informed so that they could decide which codes and procedures should have to be changed if our security had been breached. The copper told me to return to my room and wait for further instruction.
John and I went back to our room and poor John knew that just through being associated with me he was in deep shit too. We lay on our pits and let the alcohol take over. I have to say that military police do not have very good manners. Rather than knock on our bedroom door and wait to be invited in they stormed in and began tapping the metal ends of the beds with their batons. With our attention gained, they demanded to know who Morris was. I admitted to being myself and complied with their orders to get dressed and get outside in double quick time. John had to come with me.
I opened my locker to pull some clothes on as pitching up in a bed sheet might not be seen as being appropriately dressed. On lifting a clean shirt from my locker my heart sank for sitting there, where I had hidden it, was my wallet. There’s no point in taking your wallet to a free drink event, especially when it contains such important information, it would be safer and more sensible to leave it in a secure locker in a locked room. I could see the deep and dark hole they were going to throw me in open up beneath my feet. I told John who expressed his belief that I was a fecking idiot or words to that effect.
We went down to the waiting police and climbed in to the back of their land rover. I was wondering where they were taking us as we were driving away from the technical site and heading in to the married quarters patch. My heart sank, for this meant that it would be MI6 at least who would be questioning us. The land rover pulled up outside a small bungalow and we were told to get out. We were told to approach the front door and the land rover reversed away.
I knocked on the front door. It swung open and an RAF copper was standing there with two bottles of beer. As he said “Morris you little bastard,” I got the feeling that I knew him. I took the beer and had a swig. “I knew it was you the moment you called last night,” said the copper. “I’ll never forget your voice.” Then it dawned on me, for the fellow had a Dublin accent. It was the copper from Valley who I had refused to snitch on. “I owe you a big favour from Valley,” he said, confirming my assumption. “But what about…?” “I bet you found your fecking wallet this morning,” he said, and I nodded, feeling the lump in my back pocket just to be sure.
“Come on then,” he says. “Let’s have a bit of breakfast.” “But what about the report?” “Listen,” he says. “I didn’t report a thing, there’s nothing in writing. I knew you were drunk and had probably left your wallet in you locker. You did the right thing through, and for all these years I’ve wanted to be able to pay you back, so we’re even.” I promise you. I have never been so lucky in all my life and perhaps there is some truth when they say ‘what goes around comes around.’ But perhaps more importantly, I had discovered that perhaps not all military policemen were a bad lot.
Please don’t think that the squadron shenanigans was all one sided. At Wildenrath there were three dispersals. One for us, the brilliant 92 Squadron, another for The Cod Squad and the third, the central dispersal, was used by visiting squadrons. These squadrons would be visiting Wildenrath so we would be aware of them and keep an eye out for roving groups who would no doubt be on the lookout for gizzits. Sometimes we would host a squadron which means we would eat sleep and drink with them. One such occasion was when we hosted a Danish squadron with their F16 aircraft.
If I was to use an American football flavoured metaphor I would say that the F16 was the quarterback, very sleek and nimble, whereas we with our F4 phantoms were the heavy mob, the big fellas at the front without whom you are going nowhere. The guy in charge was Mike Fleisher a lovely Danish fighter pilot. They had a twin sticker with them which means that with two people flying, either could control the aircraft. This was a basic function which would allow pilots to be trained on the aircraft. With us it allowed our pilots to fly with them and experience the aircraft themselves.
But it wasn’t just the aircrew who went flying, ground crew would put their name in a hat in the hope that they might be chosen for a jolly. We had an all ranks barbecue on the squadron and had cleared out one of the HAS’s. It was great fun. They were still some bits of equipment lying about. One item was a set of steps used to get into an aircraft which we would call a giraffe. One young pilot, one of our young fighter pilots, climbed his way to the top of one of these giraffes and I can remember standing beside J R, watching this young fellow, who was clearly off his head with the drink.
He was sipping his drink and then looked up as if to give a toast when he shouted “I’m a pilot! I can fly!” before leaping off the giraffe. This thing was ten to twelve feet high and as the rate of acceleration, due to gravity, is 9.8m per second squared you will be able to work out that he hit the ground , the concrete floor of the HAS, with one hell of a thump. He didn’t spill his drink, probably because he used the old trick of swallowing it before he jumped, but he did sprain his ankle. J R was not impressed as one of his pilots was now out of commission for a couple of weeks. At least we knew who would be making the tea and coffee for a while.
He wasn’t the only pilot with sore legs that evening as Mike Fleisher had sore legs too. Mike wasn’t daft enough or drunk enough to leap off a giraffe, well; not that night anyway, but he spent most of the evening asking Irene if she would like to have a flight in his F16. She was a lot prettier than most of the engineers and I had to slap Mike’s legs to bring him back into the real world. He was a great fellow and introduced me to the pleasures of pickled herring, dark rye bread and Akvavit, a sort of Danish schnapps. There were other social gatherings and as the ‘in’ place to be and the second home for most of our squadron was the rugby club we held a shindig for the visiting Danish ground crew. There were lots of meat balls, pickled herring and Akvavit.
There was a grand crowd attending not just both squadrons but many others from camp. I was quite surprised to see a small group of policemen there along with their wives as the police tended to stick to their own club which was appropriately named ‘Snoopies.’ The police were not really liked around camp, although tolerated in the rugby club. At one of their Christmas functions, in their own police social club, they were surprised to find their colleagues waiting outside with breathalysers, which perhaps goes a little way towards explaining why they were so mistrusted by everyone. The evening was progressing fine, lots of dancing and eating and drinking. The rugby club was spread over two main rooms, each with their own bar but the music was located in one room so that the other room was much quieter and allowed conversation. A group of us were hanging about in the quite room when John Roe came back in.
Now; no one had noticed John leave, not even his wife who he was propping up the bar with. However everyone noticed him as he came back in. The entrance was a single door into a small short corridor which then exploded into the main room. When anyone came in it was quite natural for most people to turn towards the door, see who it was and then continue with whatever they were doing, unless of course you wanted to get the attention of the person who has just come in. The situation was somewhat reversed as it was John who had managed to grab the attention of everyone in the quiet room. His penis was poking out of his trousers.
John walked over to the bar and took his place beside his wife. She hadn’t bothered looking at John as being married to the biggest animal in the air force she had probably seen much worse from him. A few giggles and laughs from those watching had her reassess the situation and she immediately scolded him. “John!” she hissed. John acted as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. She perhaps thought that direct action may be the best course for her and reached out to him, but John stepped away. “What?” he asked setting his drink down. John’s wife was pointing at his groin. “Your willie’s hanging out John! Put it away!” “No!” says John, who then turns and points at one of the policemen’s wives. “She took it out, so she can put it away.”
There was quite a reaction to this statement which resulted in lots of police dogs, fisticuffs, blue flashing lights, and uniformed fellows who were a bit hacked off that the only people who were willing to give statements were the police who had been attending the function. No one else there had seen or heard anything, apart from the fact that John hadn’t started it. John was handcuffed and led away. The policemen and their wives left the club and we continued with the party. It was about two hours later when the police came back in again. We were all surprised that they were looking for John, especially as they had led him away in handcuffs.
John had warned the police that he was claustrophobic. The police knew John and perhaps thought that he was just being belligerent but he was indeed claustrophobic. He asked them not to put him in a cell for he would ‘lose it.’ The policemen as usual knew best and threw John into a cell. John had gone through the roof and I don’t mean that in a metaphorical sense. He actually kicked his way through the roof and out of the guardroom. One or two coppers did give chase but John told them to back off, that he was going home and that he would report to the guardroom first thing in the morning. The coppers decided to withdraw and re-group
The police didn’t believe him and had come back to the rugby club where they stopped the party so that they could search the club. All they had to do was go to John’s house where they would have found him with his feet up having a beer. Eventually they did and with some delicate negotiation and input from the medics, John was allowed to remain at his home under house arrest. He was court martialled for the incident and true to form couldn’t have cared less. I have to admit that after that most people entering the rugby club would have been checked a little more closely and I don’t mean making sure that their tie was straight.
I received a communication yesterday informing me that one of the Illuminati, John Clancy, will be undertaking a pilgrimage to Watton, where he intends to capture on film any remaining sites that may be of interest to other fellow Illuminati. John lives on the Isle of Man where he is head of security for the Isle of Man international airport. I wouldn’t like to be an international bad person intending to attack that airport with John around.
As with many military units the local civilian youth would entertain themselves by beating up the occasional lone straggler, who, normally with drink taken, would be an easy target for them. John appeared at breakfast in the Lodge one morning sporting a collection of bruises across his face. John knew who his attackers were but wouldn’t entertain any suggestion that we returned to Watton village, mob handed, and return the favour. John was determined to bide his time and engage each one of his attackers on a one to one basis. If the local youth knew that John had applied to join the SAS they may never have attacked him in the first place.
John was quite a decent sportsman he was also a very good looking fellow. In fact he was almost as good looking as I was. It was often remarked that we looked quite similar, so John and I used to tell people that we were twins. As John had a strong London accent and I an Irish accent, you could see people begin to wonder how on earth twins could have such different accents. We would explain that we were separated at birth and had just met after twenty odd years. We got many a free beer with that story.
And it was one evening I was enjoying a beer at the bar in the Lodge when the rugby guys came in from training. The rugby team was captained and run by Jon Hampson. Jon was a lovely fellow; he had been brought up in South Africa. His father used to fly spitfires and his wife was Irish, from Downpatrick, so as you can imagine a very decent chap indeed. Jon was with a fellow called Paddy Coughlan who helped coach the team.
We began to chat and it was suggested that I should come along and join in with the rugby. I explained that this would be impossible. I had never played rugby before in my life, didn’t really know much about it, however if they would be interested in forming a hurling team I was their man. As is often said, a good story never starts with ‘I was having a cup of tea,’ so after a few more beers I agreed to join in with their training sessions.
As agreed, the following week I got my togs on and went to the rugby pitch for training. There was lots of standard running about and press ups and stuff but then we began to practise specific moves. The first was a line out. This is where both teams line up at the side of the pitch, at the point where the ball had left the field of play, and the ball is returned to play by being thrown between the two lines of men. They even had secret signals to inform their own men who the ball was intended for, this allowed the other players to support and protect that person.
I shall never forget my very first line out. I was with Gary Palmer and Martyn Bennett at the front. The ball was thrown and I jumped to catch it. Suddenly the world went black and became quite painful. Martyn Bennett, who claimed to be going for the ball, had thumped me. How he intended to catch a ball with a closed fist I shall never know. I was led off to the medical centre where my split eyebrow was sewn back together again. Rather than put me off rugby I began to like it. Not just the game but the social life that went along with it.
Tim Lort had come down from Valley as had Steve Underhill and the rugby club soon became the centre of all things social. We trained hard and played hard and socialised hard. Now I was one of the ones getting Wednesday afternoons off. We played for Watton, some of us played for Honington too and then some of us also played for the local town of Wymondham.
There was an old wooden cricket pavilion which was used as the rugby club. It had a great wee bar, run by Jon Hampson and where we spent many a happy hour. The club was decorated with road signs and gizzits from all over the country. A ‘gizzit’ is a short form of ‘give me it’. It was tradition, in fact throughout the air force, that if you went to visit somewhere, even for a game of rugby you would steal something from your opponent; this could be a road sign, a plaque, in fact almost anything.
I wasn’t very good at rugby, I was perhaps a mediocre player, but there were people like Tim Lort who was terrifying when in full flight. Tim normally held the number eight position, leading the pack of forwards. Jon Hampson would lead the backs and Jon was a very decent player but I have to say that John Hughes was one of the best players I had ever seen in my life. As you might expect from a Welshman, John Hughes was poetry in motion.
We slaughtered many brain cells in that club and were always upset when the cricketers would remind us that it was their club and not ours. Taff Pope was once so incensed with this attitude that, while we watched from the bar, he took the land rover and cut huge gouges in the carefully manicured cricket pitch by spinning the wheels and completing hand brake turns.
I can’t remember where we had been playing but a group of the lads were returning from a match in Tim’s campervan. As you might expect they were messing about and one was actually pretending to talk on a telephone that had officially been declared a gizzit. A policeman spotted this and decided to investigate further. I understand that Norfolk country council were very pleased to get most of their road signs back.
I do remember one day a couple of us had gone to play for Wymondham, I think there was Tim Lort and John Clancy and myself. We got changed and came outside. It was mid-winter and the ground was rock hard and covered in cold white stuff. We stood against the wall of the changing rooms to stay out of the wind when I had a great idea. I ran over to Tim’s campervan and stood in front of the grill informing the other two that by standing in front of the grill we could get some heat from the engine. I hadn’t expected my good idea to be met with jocularity and laughter. But that’s what John and Tim did. Having controlled themselves they sauntered over to the rear of the vehicle and my long lost twin brother, in his best London accent, informed me, “The engine’s in the back, you fecking idiot!”
I know that I have often said that the local control position was the best place to work in air traffic control. However another fantastic position was to be duty driver. This allowed you a certain amount of freedom and flexibility. That is of course once you had got past all the NATO standard bullshit. Every morning the mileage had to be recorded on each vehicle in use, and then you had to complete a daily inspection. This involved checking the oil, and water and engine coolant. The weekly inspection included counting the tyres. I know almost as difficult as answering a telephone and writing stuff down.
Most people would pull in to the Mechanical Transport flight (MT) park up and go to the office to collect the paperwork. Old hands, or hairy arses as we were known, would park somewhere that was hidden from the view of the MT controllers. We would collect the paperwork and return to the vehicle to complete the required checks. When I say that you had to count the tyres, you also had to check that all the wheel nuts were present and correct and each was tightened sufficiently to do its job. If the MT controller was in a foul mood you could be told to wash the vehicle before you could leave the MT yard.
One air traffic fellow, John McBride, sauntered in to MT control, one wet Welsh morning, collected the paperwork and was about to return to his vehicle when he was engaged in conversation. I know, engaged in conversation is not how many people would describe talking to a driver. How would you describe single syllable utterances delivered at maximum volume? John was detained for a number of minutes, John by the way was a very pleasant fellow, and afterwards he did say that he thought the conversation, or at least the premise for the conversation, to be a little strange. John returned to the vehicle and completed the paperwork. He took his time, like any decent hairy arse would. He then returned the paperwork and went back to the vehicle.
I understand that MT control were apoplectic. The fellow in charge had a feeling in his water that the air traffic lads were not completing the inspection properly, so the reason that John was delayed in MT control was to enable the fellow in charge to run out and take all the wheel nuts off the land rover. John of course hadn’t noticed. Well come on, would you? However he had signed the paperwork, to say that he had checked the vehicle, and that all the required wheel nuts were in place and in working order.
Unfortunately MT control spent too long celebrating and were quite dismayed to see John drive the land rover out of the yard and then stop, well; when the wheels fell off he didn’t have much of a choice. Who would you blame for that?
Having a land rover also helped you return favours, like giving people lifts or moving stuff about. The SWO would often use me for little errands. Once he sent me off to collect a fifty gallon drum of Racasan. Racasan is a chemical used in portable toilets. It’s a blue, foul smelling, liquid. I know this because it was leaking and by the time I got to the SWO with his Racasan I could hardly see, as the tears were running down my face. I was glad that they all thought it very funny but I did receive some smartie points for my effort.
One of the ruses we used to employ needed you to be the duty driver. It required cunning, bravado and timing. Timing would perhaps be the most important element for this. Let me explain. As with most jobs each person, depending on their rank and time served, were entitled to a certain number of days off, or holidays, each year Luckily the system was geared for abuse, as it ran from the date you joined up, or in my case my eighteenth birthday. So no two people would have the same annual renewable date.
The process for applying for leave was simple. You filled out a leave application form with the dates and days you wanted off. This was then presented to the admin sergeant who would check on his wall planner that no more than three people were away at the same time. If he approved then your name and the appropriate days would be marked on his year planner. Of course if something went wrong, or the dates had to be changed, so did the year planner, which is why only non-permanent pens were used. Next the form went in to the SATCO who, knowing it has been sanctioned by the admin sergeant, approves your leave. Now the form comes back to the admin sergeant who places it in the ‘mail out’ tray.
Can you guess what one of the duties of the duty driver was? Well done, yes, it was to take the ‘mail out’ over to SHQ and collect any incoming mail for air traffic. Of course your leave pass would now disappear between air traffic and station headquarters. A week or two after you had taken your leave you would nip in to the admin sergeant’s office and remove your leave from his planning board. This only went wrong for me once, when my sister sent me a registered parcel that I had to go to SHQ and sign for. Everyone involved was terrified that it may have been their department responsible for losing my leave application so a new one was produced, which I signed, on my return, and everyone went back to being as they were.
But perhaps the best reward I got for being duty driver was when my helicopter instructor friend rang me up. He told me that a Wessex was coming in from Odiham and he asked if I could collect the aircrew and bring them over to 22 squadron. No problem. I waited for the helicopter then drove over to the chopper, collected the crew and headed off to 22 squadron. This was back scratching to the extreme. The crew said that they couldn’t stay long as they had to get over to air traffic and operations and submit their flight plans. I suggested that they remain at 22 squadron and enjoy themselves. “Give me the details for your flight, and I will submit the flight plans.”
I was paying my friend back for the lessons he had given me over the previous months. When I returned to 22 squadron the aircrew were preparing to leave when my friend said, “They’re on their way to Aldergrove, should have asked them for a lift home.” I smiled but the pilot turned and said, “Sure why not?” A map was produced and I was asked to point out where I lived. Initially there was a sharp intake of breath as Warrenpoint was very much in a republican area. “Sod it!” says the pilot. “I’ll drop you in the field next to your house and pick you up in two days’ time, on our way back. How’s about that?”