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Celtic Illumination, part 244, If you’re happy and you know it…

Although I had sort of given up on the air force, the air force hadn’t given up on me, well; they expected me to keep performing right up until the last moment of service, I had lost all interest.  I was told that I had to undergo my regular training for NBC, Nuclear, Biological and Chemical warfare.  This involved a day spent on the rifle range, eating dried biscuits in a gas chamber and a multi choice exam.  I couldn’t see the point in it and really couldn’t find any enthusiasm whatsoever.  A month or two before this, during one station exercise, I found myself with about thirty other fellows kipping down in the classroom where the NBC tests were held.  We were supposedly under a gas attack so were all kitted up in our suits and gas masks.  There was very little conversation going on as talking with gas masks on is quite difficult.  If you don’t believe me stick your head in a bucket and ask your partner for a cup of tea

I was wandering about looking for something to occupy myself with and found myself standing by the podium at the head of the room.  I looked inside and saw a perforated card.  I immediately knew what it was and took it out.  It was quite common to write on your NBC suits.  Mainly your blood type plus your name, rank and number would be on the front of your suit. So to see me sitting in a corner scribbling away on my NBC suit would not have been considered to have been out of the ordinary.  What I had found was the template used to mark the multi choice tests given at the end of the NBC training day.  If you didn’t pass this test you would have to come back the following week and enjoy the whole process once again.  Now of course I was guaranteed success as I had the correct answers written down one leg of my NBC suit.

On the day of the NBC training we had an over excitable Rock Ape Corporal run the show.  He really did give the impression that he spent far too much time watching American war movies.  I continued the age old tradition of shooting at the stick that held the target up, rather than at the target, which annoyed him greatly.  The CS gas didn’t really upset me as, like most people of my generation from Northern Ireland, we were used to CS gas seeping under the front door, usually at tea time on a Sunday evening for some reason, so eating biscuits in a room full of CS gas didn’t present any problem.  It was at the end of the day, which I can assure you was a very long and boring day, that we enjoyed a final burst of craziness.

The Rock Ape was one of those military flavoured nut cases who thought that marching was fun.  He lined us all up so that we could march back to the armoury and hand in our weapons.   Normally I might have broken into a marching chant and livened things up a bit, but it wasn’t just me, we were all a bit tired of his childish enthusiasm and just wanted to get the day over and done with.  Even though he was a Rock Ape, a sub species of human not exactly renowned for their intelligence, he managed to pick up on the vibe that we were not a bunch of happy bunnies.   Someone like myself would have immediately injected a bit of humour to lighten the mood of proceedings however the Rock Ape had his own ideas, which veered more towards Rambo rather than rambunctious.  There was a direct route to the armoury but he took us off in another direction announcing that we should enjoy a little bit of drill to end the day.

He then gave an instruction that we should all hold our rifles above our head, in both hands, and rather than march along the road, we would proceed in double time, a sort of coordinated running.  It took most of us by surprise for I had never seen anyone in the British forces do this before.  I think I had seen it in a movie, and even then it was probably a punishment. It made as much sense as carrying telegraph poles.  You could tell from the faces of everyone involved that no one was impressed and were probably wondering what to do about it.  I think most people on the training day outranked the Rock Ape and were perhaps considering the most diplomatic way of how to deal with the situation.  I gave up thinking about it and stopped.  I stepped out of line and stood at the side of the road.  The Rock Ape continued on for a few yards before he noticed that one of his troops was standing by the side of the road.

He halted the main body of men and ran back to me screaming and shouting.  I didn’t want to embarrass him in front of the others, plus I didn’t want any witnesses to what I was about to say to him, so I kept my voice low.  He stood in front of me and continued to yell.  This is where I got real medical evidence to conclusively prove that smoking cigarettes is directly related to blood pressure.  And passive smoking at that.  Because it was me smoking the cigarette, while it was quite obvious that it was his blood pressure going through the roof.  I very quietly told him he was an idiot and I would be making my own way back to the armoury.  I then slung my rifle over my shoulder jammed my hands in my pockets and sauntered off in the general direction of the armoury.  One or two others took courage from my actions and left the main body of men.

The Rock Ape reorganised the group and once again. with rifles held above their heads, doubled off into the sunset.  There was about five of us who had revolted and each one of us knew that the situation could either be quietly forgotten about or it could go mental. It all depended just how offended the Rock Ape felt.  This was the armed forces and Wattisham had a fine tradition of idiots getting punched in the face, regardless of the time or place.  The most famous, I am proud to say, and you’ve probably guessed it already, involved Dave Magee.  Dave and a group of friends were walking from the mess to their squadron after lunch.  They were about to cross a ditch, which because it was so narrow would only allow one person at a time to wobble across the couple of planks that crossed the divide.  A young Corporal policeman approached from the other side and announced that as a Corporal he was crossing the bridge and Dave’s party would wait.

All policemen or women started life as Corporals but they were not real Corporals they were acting Corporals, very similar to acting the eejit.  Some of them had a real mouthful to go through if they ever had to give their rank.  It may have been something like Acting Corporal, unpaid, senior Aircraftmen John Smith.  I don’t think anyone actually cared about them, especially people like Dave Magee, who patiently waited for the acting unpaid police Corporal to cross the bridge and them punch him in the face which propelled him into the ditch and the stagnant water therein.  Most coppers would explode with rage, begin to issue threats and give chase, but this copper stood up and cried, which is why the incident was so fondly remember at Wattisham.  I’m not advocating violence but most people in the forces tend to smile when they hear of a copper getting their comeuppance.  So the Rock Ape was very nearly in the same category as the police Corporal, we all knew it and I suppose we all hoped that he knew it.

We made sure we looked as close to smart military men as we could as we came to the armoury, as in we had all stopped smoking, hands were out of pockets, berets were on straight and we were holding our guns correctly, which meant that the end the bullets come out of was pointing up.  The Rock Ape had lined up the body of men and was bringing them out one at a time to hand in their weapons.  We, the revolters, ignored him and handed our guns in then gave him a friendly wave goodbye.  Of course he was incapable of allowing the incident to die and came after me.  “Next time you’re on NBC training,” he hissed.  “I’m going to give you such a hard time.”   “Good luck with that.” I said, adding.  “I’m demob happy.  I’ll never have to go through this shit again.”

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Celtic Illumination, part 243, Dickie Dive Bomb.

Despite the fact that I had decided to leave the air force I still had to perform my duties.  I began to dump my secondary duties and I have to admit that it was nice to have a bit of time to myself.  One secondary duty I kept was trade training.  I know; the fellow who loved air traffic so much he had to be tricked into passing out of basic trade training was now an instructor.  I had been teaching the young airmen and preparing them for their promotion exams.  I liked them all and wanted them to succeed so I wanted to see it through.  Before I took over it had been quite formal, where they had to attend certain sessions, at a specific time, on certain days during the week. This wasn’t very fair on the shift workers, so I encouraged them to come to me at a time that suited them.  It seemed to work and the guys were making good progress.

I went away on some leave for a fortnight but when I came back found that my deputy had reverted back to the old system and was making the guys attend specific sessions at a time that suited him.  He was also being a bit of an arse and wouldn’t meet up with me to bring me up to date with what the guys were doing, so that I could take over again.  It soon became clear that he wanted to take over as trade training coordinator as a secondary duty.  Had he come to me and explained himself, I might have given him the position, as long as I could have continued mentoring the guys in my own way.  I managed to get a hold of him one day and we had words in my office.  It was one of those conversations where voices are raised, expletives exchanged and the problem usually gets sorted out in a brief affair behind the bike sheds.  And by affair I don’t mean soft lights, red wine and lots of roses.

Unfortunately the exchange was overheard by Dickie Dive Bomb.  Dickie Dive Bomb was an ancient Squadron Leader, the sort of fellow who would often be told that when he joined the air force Pontius was still a trainee pilot.  Dickie was a lovely old fellow and came in explaining that he couldn’t help but overhear what had happened.  He then told me that if I was serious, I had accused the other fellow of only being interested in himself and not the airmen he was supposed to be teaching, Dickie told me that I should put my concerns in a memo to O C Operations.  The pair of us got together and constructed a memo which I went upstairs and dropped in O C Operations correspondence tray.

This was the sort of memo where you withdrew to a safe distance, took cover and put your fingers in your ears.  Before long Dickie Dive Bomb came to me and said that I was wanted in O C Operations office and that he was to accompany me.  We went in and my deputy was there with the SATCO.  We faced each other and O C Operations explained that he had read the memo and was aware of the situation.  He then went on to explain that my deputy felt I had damaged his professional reputation and if I did not apologise, there and then, he would initiate disciplinary action against me.  He was an air traffic arse so I knew he wouldn’t have been capable of dreaming that up himself, I could sense the SATCO’s hand in the affair.

I stood my ground and as with the SIB refused to speak.  Before the situation could turn into farce, O C Operations asked Dickie Dive Bomb and myself to leave.  We did and when we were far enough away from the office Dickie clapped his hands around my shoulders stating that he was so proud of me for having the bottle to face them off.  Full control of trade training came back to me and I reverted to having the guys come in as an when it suited them and I was seriously pleased when they all passed, which could have been a little bit tricky for me if they hadn’t.  Another use for the flight planning section was to host station briefings.  Usually this would be for visiting squadrons of air cadets but at least once a week a large group, of an average thirty people, would come in and be given a station briefing.  This would be a slide show accompanied by a talk explaining the history and function of the base.

My job was to set the whole affair up and one of the Squadron Leaders from operations would actually give the briefing.  One day I was at the rear of the room waiting for everyone to sit down when Dickie Dive Bomb came wandering over.  I asked if he was giving the brief and he said ‘Yes’ so I relaxed a little as I now knew everything was in place.  That’s when Dickie turns around and says, “You know what?  I think I’ll give it a miss this week.  Why don’t you give the station brief?”  With which he wandered off.  I had no choice but to take to the stage and give the brief.  I was quite surprised that I was able to waffle my way through it and even field most of the questions I was asked afterwards.  As the crowd emptied out of the briefing room Dickie came back down and informed me that I had done such a good job that I could do the station briefing from then on.

I didn’t mind, it wasn’t that difficult.  I also had to set up the briefing room in station headquarters for the Station Commander who would brief visiting dignitaries.  Unfortunately I would have to report to the Station Warrant Officer and get the keys for the briefing room in station headquarters which would result in me being told to smarten myself up and get a haircut on every visit.  We had been given a new operations building, purpose built, but the exercises and bull shit continued.  If we were on exercise then the Station Commander would run station operations during the day.  At night time O C Operations would take over and as the deputy in charge of operations I would assist him.  Being a Wing Commander at about midnight he would usually slide off to a dark corner and get his head down and I would be left in charge, running the station.

I was often tempted to hit the main hooter and launch the wing, but I don’t think I would ever have been forgiven for that.  Not only did I control both phantom squadrons but all the ground defences as well, it was like a huge interactive board game, but better.  I do remember one night it was very quiet and the whole of the United Kingdom air defence network was on exercise.  We recently had a computer installed in operations.  This was quite a big thing if you think that this was about the same time as Alan Sugar’s Commodore 64 was becoming popular.  Most of the airmen had been trained up on the computer but I hadn’t a clue how to use it so I wandered over.

I asked the fellow operating the computer if he would explain it to me and show me how it worked, but he apologised and asked if I could come back later as he was quite busy.  I would never have to actually use the computer but I felt that I should know how it worked and what it did, at least.  I couldn’t see how he was busy as nothing was flying so I asked what he was doing.  He explained that he was playing dungeons and dragons against someone in Scotland.  I may have been leaving the air force but it was nice to see that the tradition that state of the art equipment, resulting from the investment of millions upon millions of Great British English Sterling pounds every year,  would continue to be treated with the utmost respect and be used exactly as intended.

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Celtic Illumination, part 242, Testing times.

Tony and myself were spending a lot of time together, in fact we were becoming very good friends.  No matter what we were doing Tony was always very competitive, whether it was drinking, driving, flying, whatever, he had to always be one better.  He wouldn’t want to beat you so that he could brag about it; he just needed to beat you.  I think it may have been his own self-worth he was reinforcing.   I actually admired Tony.  As a student, when he was studying to become an optician, he had found himself in a situation where he suddenly had to provide for a wife and child, if you know what I mean.  He desperately wanted to continue his studies and qualify so he drove a taxi in London at night and studied throughout the day to become a very successful optician.

He hadn’t had an easy life.  His father was a painter and decorator and when retired, Tony and Mary would go around to their house, every Sunday evening, visiting them and having a meal.  One Sunday evening he walked in to find both his parents dead, by the gas fire, which they think had gone out as they slept, and asphyxiated them.  So Tony had my admiration, I thought he was quite like me, or I was like him, whichever.  We were both switched on and hardworking and we were both determined, but Tony more so than me.  I discovered this once during a game of squash when he refused to give up after I had defeated him.  He insisted that we continue playing, which we did, for well over an hour, but he was unsuccessful.  Then one day, in the pub, where else?  The landlord approached us and showed us a small quiz in a newspaper.  It was the MENSA quiz.

You know the sort of quiz I mean, ‘If a donkey has six carrots, how long will two donkeys take to dig a trench?’   That sort of thing.  Both Tony and I agreed on the answer and the Landlord went away happy.  We then began to discuss the test and wondered if it meant that we were now clever feckers, sorry, intelligent enough to join MENSA.  A few days later I came across a similar advert but this time followed through and actually completed the puzzle, cut it out and posted it off, applying for membership.  Now at this time both Tony and myself would have considered being in MENSA as something positive.  We were unaware that many, especially in the media, consider MENSA members to be somewhere, on the anorak scale, between train spotters and chess players, more versatile than the former, less obsessive than the latter, the very models of self-obsessed, high-grade intellectual futility.

Had I been aware that members of MENSA were considered ‘freaks’ I may not have applied for membership.  In fact some critics can actually be quite funny, one article I read called members of MENSA ‘Eggheads’ and claimed that they all had chips on their shoulders, which provided the gift of a title of ‘Eggheads and chips.’  For those of you who have seen the newspaper puzzles, completed one and deduced that you are a clever fecker, I’m sorry, it’s a bit of a con.  You haven’t joined MENSA you have applied to do their assessment test.  They had contacted me and asked if I would like to take their assessment test, at home, unsupervised.  If I would send them a couple of quid they would supply me with the test.  It came back, a small booklet with the instructions.  I was supposed to stick to a certain time limit and not have any outside help.  I photocopied the test and gave Tony a copy.

We sat at his dining room table and, supervising each other I suppose, completed the test in the prescribed time limit.  We then exchanged booklets and worked our way through the test discussing various questions and the answers we had given.  It was strange that we argued about so many answers but because we did I was convinced, or concerned, that I had got most of the questions wrong.  I had to know, so I submitted my completed test paper.  I had been successful and now was being invited to sit a supervised test the next time they were holding them in my area.  Again it was only a couple of pounds and when the letter came I didn’t really think much about it, I just went along to a school in Bury Saint Edmunds, on a Saturday morning, and along with about twenty other people, took the supervised test.

When we finished, the guy in charge, who looked as if he had stepped out of an Open University televised lecture from the seventies, suggested that we all head to the pub and have a beer or three.  I have to admit they were a strange bunch, but all very nice, in a geeky sort of way.  Eventually my results came back and I had passed, I was invited to join MENSA.  I did, and I promise you the only reason I did was so that I could place my membership card in front of Tony and challenge him to join.  Tony calculated his chances from the discussion we had with our answers and could never find the time to take any of the tests.

So although most people in MENSA are embarrassed at being in MENSA, most pseudo intellectuals, who report and criticise on MENSA members, are not members.  They usually say that are clever enough to join or have been invited to join, but they don’t want to be associated with a bunch of social inadequate freaks, all sounds a bit like jealousy to me.  You may feel the same, that being in MENSA means nothing, but think about it, since the mid 1940’s in the United Kingdom at eleven years of age most people sat a test known as the eleven plus.  This was an intelligence test that separated children into different educational streams and seriously affected their way of life.  So for those of you, who think this sort of thing was not important, think again.  Remember most journalists are failed solicitors.

MENSA has a magazine that is produced each month.  It was a standard magazine type production, with articles, letters, adverts and a list of meetings.  The four centre pages of the magazine were yellow in colour and contained a regional break down of meetings, where there were to be held, what they were about and any rules for attending.  Some of it looked pretty weird, like ‘multilingual scrabble, non-smoking venue, bring your own bottle.’   Because they were yellow in colour they were known as the ‘Yellow Pages.’  British Telecom, who run the telephone system in the United Kingdom, called its business telephone directory, the Yellow Pages, probably because they too were yellow in colour.  What no one expected was that British Telecom took MENSA to court and made them change the name of the section in the magazine.

I didn’t think much about it.  I never attended any of the meetings, I sort of read the magazine and left it at that.  The one thing I do remember from the magazine was one advert that ran every month; it said “If you’re so clever, why aren’t you rich?”  and as this was the Thatcher years of greed, yuppies, Filofaxes, Porches and mobile bricks, it certainly struck home.  But it was one day in Flight Planning something happened.  I had taken the magazine to work with me, for something to read, and two baby pilots came in.  They asked me for some charts and I left my desk to find them their charts.  One of the baby pilots picked up the MENSA magazine.  When I got back to them and gave them their charts, the one with the magazine asked who it belonged to.  When I said that it was mine he began to laugh and stated that how could the MENSA magazine belong to me, I was Irish.

That is the exact moment that I decided to leave the air force.  I had put up with a lot but you know that donkey, the one with the carrots digging a ditch, well this was the straw that gave it some very bad back problems.  You probably think that I harboured thoughts of hatred at the giggling prat in front of me, but I didn’t.  Well; I did, but my overriding thought was a line from the poem ‘An Irish airman foresees his death’ by W B Yeats. It reads, “I know that I shall meet my fate, Somewhere among the clouds above; Those that I fight I do not hate, Those that I guard I do not love.”  Those final eight words resonated in my head, those that I guard I do not love.  Unfortunately, for me anyway, the moment I made that decision I switched off to the air force.  I had eighteen months left on my contract which I hoped would be enough time for me to figure out what I should do in civvie street.

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Celtic Illumination, part 241, Flash, bang, wallop, what a picture.

I have to admit that the Shotley drama group must have thought I was wonderful and I’m not just talking about my thespian skills.  The air force were now providing most of the equipment for their productions.  Mind you the air force didn’t know they were involved, but I’m sure I could have convinced them it was all in the interest of public relations.  You would even see certain individuals walking around Shotley in brand new air force shirts and shoes.  Tony and I were still flying as often as we could so I arranged a little bonus for him and his son and managed to have them fly the phantom flight simulator one evening on Wattisham.

Please don’t think that I was the only person involved in this type of shenanigans.  I do remember one guy who had left the air force and had bought a house in Shotley.  He very proudly showed me around the inside of his garage one day and he had two, yes two, full sets of air force tools.  In many workshops you would see large wooden tool boxes attached to walls.  Once opened, a whole range of tools would be displayed, ranging from screwdrivers and wrenches through hammers and pliers to chisels and knives.  To even attempt to have one complete set of air force tools was something even I wouldn’t have considered but two full sets was a bit much.  There did seem to be a lot of ex-military people floating about the place.

Because The Bristol Arms was so close to the old HMS Ganges site the ex-military types seemed to congregate there.  Of course as the landlord didn’t like serving members of the forces, he had no time at all for ex members of the forces.  One day I had a brain wave.  It was a Saturday afternoon and the Families Club would not have been open.  A couple of us had been working hard all morning trying to convert the garage into a temperature controlled beer cellar, I was determined to serve real ale.  I had applied for permission to knock a couple of walls down to start the conversion and was still waiting for permission.  I wasn’t a great one with the waiting around for permission lark so had started the conversion during the week by creating a new entrance to the garage through one of the little sheds attached.

I was concentrating so hard on what I was doing that I hadn’t noticed the Station Warrant Officer standing behind me.  He probably admired the way I handled the sledgehammer so he suggested that I should consider positioning a look out, in case anyone saw me knocking a wall down without permission, then left me to it.   On the Saturday we sat around the bar having a well-earned beer when someone suggested that we should open the bar every Saturday afternoon.  I wasn’t convinced that it was a good idea, yes it would have increased sales for me but it would also create more work for me.  Some evenings, especially midweek, you might only have one or two people visit the club, and unless I could be guaranteed a decent number of people for the Saturday afternoon, I didn’t want to proceed.  There was also the fact that you would be recovering from the Friday night and preparing for the Saturday evening.

Saturday afternoon was always quite busy at The Bristol Arms where there was a sort of informal British Legion gathering.  That’s when it hit me.  I would offer the ex-forces guys the club as a British Legion meeting place.  They would love it as my drinks were less than half the price they were paying in the Bristol.  Three or four of us jumped in our cars and raced down to The Bristol Arms.  We went in and wandered around the tables asking the chaps if they would like to come to the Families Club for a decent session.  Within minutes the cars were full and we managed to almost empty The Bristol, much, I am glad to say, to the displeasure of the landlord.  I could now see that there could be a reason for opening every Saturday afternoon.  I decided to give it a try for a couple of weeks and if it showed promise to probably apply for permission to open on Saturday afternoons.

I was always interested in the fact that there was never any trouble at the Families Club.  Normally where there is a huge amount of alcohol consumed you expect a certain amount of trouble but there never was any, well; almost never, any fisticuffs.  I suppose the clue was in the name, it was the Families Club so there were no individuals with rampaging hormones on the prowl, especially after we got rid of the wife swappers.  It was one night; I was at home safe and sound in my bed.  I think it was shortly after midnight and someone was hammering at the front door of our house.  I went to the bedroom window opened it and leaned out.  “What?” I shouted.  “It’s me,” came the reply.  “Wayne.”  It was past midnight, I had been roused from my beauty sleep, not that I needed it, so as you can imagine I began to quiz the caller, as I couldn’t remember knowing any person called Wayne.

The conversation continued, although as I was shouting questions at the caller I doubt if conversation would be the correct term for it.  Irene by now had woken and is asking me who is at the front door and who am I talking to?  I explain that it is some fellow called Wayne.  “Oh,” says Irene.  “That’s your brother in law.”  Wayne was married to one of Irene’s sisters, while Tommy was married to another.  Tommy was in the van.  We brought them in and settled them for the night.  They had been working in London and had decided that rather than go all the way back to Liverpool for the weekend they would come and stay with us.

On their first evening with us I brought the pair of them over to the Families Club and insisted that they settle in and enjoy themselves, there was no need for them to pay for anything; the whole evening would be free.  Well; I assumed that is how you treat family.  Wayne was a strange fish, he still is by the way, but he didn’t exactly embrace the situation he found himself in.  Tommy seemed to react as I would have expected any red blooded male to react who is told they could drink for free all evening.  Of course by evening I mean way into the wee small hours of the morning.  There was the usual crowd of boozers and we were having a bit of fun.

It was one of those evenings you never forget, and I shall never forget the driver who had joined us.  He was a young fellow, but once again when you come across someone strange you tend to never forget them.  He began to show some photographs around, nothing strange in that really until you understand that the photographs were of his wife dressed in all sorts of exotic lingerie.  Now I know one of the laughs we used to have was with a certain men’s magazine which had a feature at the rear of the publication featuring what was known as the ‘readers wives’ section.  Although the magazine was extreme and disgusting, you would always have a gander at this section, not to ogle the women, but to check out the furniture, because sometimes you would recognise the furniture as being forces issue and then look at the woman to see if you knew her.

So for me I found it so strange that this young fellow was passing around photographs of his wife in various stages of undress.  I mean it’s not the sort of thing normal people do, is it?  There was an initial buzz of, I will not say excitement more incredulity, after which things came back to normal and we resumed the serious business of drinking.  Next thing you know is a fight has started.  Someone has stolen the photographs.  It was the first and only fight I have ever seen in the Families club.  I ran around from behind the bar and I can only say it was as if we were all in a Burt Reynolds movie.  Punches were being thrown left, right and centre.  People were crashing over tables and chairs and I have to admit it was a great bit of fun.  Thankfully no one was hurt and the photographs appeared again, it all sort of brought a new meaning to the phrase flash photography for me.

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Celtic Illumination, part 240, The wrath of grapes.

Barry, the new chairman, and myself quickly became friends.  He was an animal of the highest order and he was the only person I had ever met who had been through a court martial.  In fact he had been through three.  Barry told me that he was once stationed at Saint Athens in South Welsh Wales.  He liked his beer did Barry, and dabbled in the world of darts.  An Irish darts team, from the Republic of Ireland, were passing through, on their way back to Ireland, when Barry came across them.  They were not on the Saint Athan base they were in the local town.  Barry enjoyed their company so much he joined in with them and ended up in the Republic.  It took him two weeks to sober up and realise that he was absent without leave, in the Republic of Ireland.

He got back and was faced with a court martial.  Barry then let me into a secret.  Normally when you were charged, you went through the usual process of marching in and listening, to make sure that the correct details were read out.  At the end of the disciplinary proceedings the presiding officer would say, “Do you wish to accept my punishment, or do you wish to elect for a trial by a district court martial?”  First of all there is no need to ask how I know those lines so well, but having heard them so often, it’s hard trying to forget them.  I think most people in the forces were afraid of a court martial, no one actually knew what they were; well, everyone knew they were pretty serious and that afterwards you usually ended up in Colchester military prison, polishing the inside of dustbins, after you had emptied them and washed them.

Every time the station routine orders came out the first thing you would check is postings to see if you were off somewhere nice, or if any of your friends were.  Next you would read the list of court martials for that month, most of which would have been connected in with drunk driving, and you would of course want to see if you knew anyone on the list.   So at the end of the standard ‘charge’ disciplinary proceedings when you were asked if you would accept the presiding officers punishment or go for a court martial most people would immediately accept whatever punishment was coming their way.  Barry explained to me that this was wrong, it was all a game.  What you had to do was ask for the court martial.  You may think that the accused would be the person most against proceedings moving into court martial territory but in fact it would be the presiding officer who would not want the court martial.

First of all it would show that he hadn’t handled the charge properly and secondly he would have to now get all the senior officers on camp to attend.  Important people wasting important hours, we can’t be having that now can we?  So Barry warned me that if I ever faced disciplinary action again, to ask for the court martial and the whole process would crumble around me.  It was interesting and deliciously dangerous, who knew if I would ever get to try it out?  There was no way I would ever be in trouble again.  I, along with my career, was on the way up, in fact one day reading orders I noticed that the guy in charge of Flight Planning had been posted.  I immediately volunteered to take over the Flight Planning department.  It would mean that I could finally get away from air traffic and Joe Pearson.

I was accepted for Flight Planning which was quite an important position.  First of all you ran the Flight Planning department, no problem.  My second duty was being the deputy in charge of station operations, but I now had to prepare the Station Commanders brief every morning at seven o clock.  I always knew that the best place to get noticed was sitting next to the big boys and I certainly was doing that now.  There were one or two idiots in station operations.  O C Operations was fresh in his post and was a nice fellow; the Squadron Leader was an honorary good ol boy.  He was only interested in shooting things and had converted a rough area of scrub land, on the edge of the airfield, and was breeding pheasants which he, along with O C Operations would slaughter when the birds were ready.

So as you can imagine the focus of station operations was on the breeding of pheasants rather than those noisy aircraft things.  One of the operations officers was a great fellow and the other was an arse, a navigator who couldn’t fly.  One day we came in and he was bubbling with enthusiasm.  “Look!  Look!” He would squeal at anyone who came into operations.  “Look what my wife bought me for Christmas!”  “A shotgun?”  “Oh no, she bought me a left handed shotgun.”  The gun would then be taken out of its leather cover and displayed to all and sundry before being put back in.  Strange how his lifelong passion for shooting things was only now coming to the fore.  The Wing Commander came in and was walking across the operations floor.  “Sir!  Sir!” says the air operations arse.  “Look what my wife bought me for Christmas!”

The Wing Commander had a beautifully dry sense of humour so he looked at the gun and said.  “Oh how nice, she bought you a shotgun cover.”  The arse heard me laugh and the look he gave me could have taken down a charging rhino at fifty paces, but the Wing Commander, as they say, had left the building.  From that moment on the air operations arse was after me and would go out of his way trying to make life difficult for me, always trying to show me that he was so important and posh.  It was one morning, after a long night in the Families Club, that I came in to Flight Planning about forty minutes late for work.  He was waiting for me, bouncing about the place, whining that he had to sit in with the Station Commanders briefing that morning and it wasn’t good enough.

Now; you know what it’s like when you’ve got a hangover and a total arse rabbiting on at you. Yes; that’s right, you tend to react, so I didn’t over react, I simply turned around and told him to shut up and feck away off.  I wish I had remembered Steve Underhill’s wonderful saying which is, ‘Why don’t you feck off, and when you get there, why don’t you feck off again!”  The arse of an operations officer ran away which I thought was standard practise for him.  But he returned demanding that I give him my identity card so that he could make sure the details he entered on my charge sheet were correct.  At this point I was more concerned with my hangover and couldn’t have cared less what he was doing.

Rumour control now took over and people were wondering what the outcome of the charge would be, for it was quite rare for someone in my position to be charged, normally I would be the person issuing the charge.  The day that the charge was to be heard came about.  The Wing Commander was away on leave so the Squadron Leader would be chairing the proceedings.  There was no need for the usual briefing before the charge, but Joe Pearson felt that he should go through it anyway.  I think he was enjoying himself.  In we marched and once again, when we lined up in front of the Squadron Leader, I checked to my left and to my right, working out which one of my escorts I would punch first, if things started going wrong.

I didn’t even listen for any mistakes as the Squadron Leader ran through the details.  It was all very perfunctory until he came to the end of proceedings.  “Do you wish to accept my punishment or do you wish to elect for a trial by district court martial?”  I was standing to attention so couldn’t cross my fingers but I hoped to high heaven that Barry had been telling me the truth.  “I want a court martial,” I said.  Joe Pearson looked as if fifty thousand volts had gone through his head.  “Clear the court room,” said the Squadron Leader, who then pointed to a chair and indicted that I should sit down.  Once we were alone he apologised for having to take me through such a pantomime, but I really shouldn’t go around telling officers to feck away off. I explained that I was very tired and normally wouldn’t act like I had done

“Tell you what,” said the Squadron Leader.  “We’ll bring everyone back in.  I’ll ask you again, and if you say ‘I accept your punishment,’ I’ll admonish you.  How’s about that?”  Everyone was called back in and we took up our positions.  The Squadron Leader asked and I took his admonishment, which of course is no more than a very light slap on the wrist.  The first thing I had to do was get to a telephone and ring Barry.  I couldn’t believe his advice had worked. If only I had known at the beginning of my career, what I now knew, but how many times have people said that?

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Celtic Illumination, part 239, You have the right to remain silent.

Vic and I had a good thing going as a side line business.  We provided parties for people.  Sometimes one of the local pubs, not the Bristol Arms, would ask us to provide a mobile bar, buffet and disco for functions that they had been offered. Vic got the food, cost price from his mess, and had his men prepare it.  I had the booze and the disco from the club so everyone was happy with the set up.  I had trebled the profits in the Families Club and the Americans were raving about it, so as it was quite successful, I was left alone and allowed to get on with it.  I had a good relationship with the local publicans and was actually considering leaving the air force and buying my own pub.

But, as is normal in my life, things began to go pear shaped.  Vic had been showing a young trainee how to use a pressure water boiler.  Vic noticed that the young fellow hadn’t closed the front of the boiler correctly so went to correct the situation.  The boiler exploded and covered him from head to toe in boiling water.  I can’t remember what percentage of his body was scalded but basically it was the whole front of his body.  Vic was out of the game for some time which meant that the air traffic Warrant Officer at Shotley took over as chairman.  He too left me alone and allowed me to get on with running things, probably following the forces favourite maxim, if it aint broke why fix it?

Then one day I carried out my weekly stock check on the bar and discovered that the stock check the previous week has not been completed.  Believe it or not there were six stock checks supposed to be carried out each month.  One every week which would be carried out by the deputy bar manager, another by me the bar manager at the beginning of the month and a snap or surprise bar stock check at a time of my choosing.  As you may expect I would merge some of these so that we would have four, no point in going overboard.  So I arrive to carry out a weekly stock check which is also a snap inspection.

On noticing that the previous weeks stock check has not been carried out I split the figures as we go through the check and enter two records , suggesting that the previous weeks inspection has been carried out.  It’s only when I come to count the money that I discover five hundred pounds missing.  It was such an exact figure that I knew something had to be wrong somewhere.  I checked and rechecked the figures but couldn’t find the mistake.  I had no option but to call in the Warrant Officer.  We were in the dining room of our house and he went through the books.   I came clean about fixing the figures but explained that I couldn’t work out where the money had gone.  I had already gone to my deputy bar manager and asked him if he knew what had happened and he shrugged the incident off.

The Warrant Officer asked if I wouldn’t mind him using my dining room and called the deputy bar manager over.  I was asked to leave the room and they had a ‘chat.’  As my deputy left the house the Warrant thanked me and explained that he had no choice but to call in the police.  This was a situation that no one wanted, the Special Investigation Branch, the SIB, of the military police would be called in and like the Ghurkha’s who say they cannot unsheathe their Kukri knife without drawing blood, the SIB do not get called out without taking a few heads back with them.  The Families Club was closed with immediate effect and a notice put on the main door, explaining that it was closed.  Now of course rumour control would take over and gossip would spread like wildfire.  My worried bar staff were contacting me and I simply told them not to be afraid but to tell the truth.

As long as everyone told the truth then only two people would get into trouble.  One would be the thief, if one existed, because there was an outside chance that there could be an accounting mistake somewhere along the line that would explain the missing money.  The only other person who would get in trouble would be me.  I had been giving credit to people, so that towards the end of the month, if they felt like coming out for a wee drink, then why not, they were happy, I was increasing sales and the messes on camp did it, except they called it mess bills, so why couldn’t I?  Then there was the fact that I had made false entries in an official document.  We learned that the SIB had arrived and were investigating the matter.  My accounting books were seized as were the keys and anything else relevant to the matter.

One day I was asked to attend the police flight where I was to be interviewed by the SIB.  It was a plain clothes guy who was to interview me but a local copper sat alongside him in uniform.  We, the uniformed copper and I, knew each other by sight.  They started asking me questions and I answered.  Once they discovered that I had been extending a line of credit to various people the plain clothes copper turns to the one in uniform and tells him to place me under a police caution as I have admitted committing an offence.  I couldn’t believe that having initiated an investigation into the possible theft of five hundred pounds, I was to be charged with giving people credit, but that’s the SIB for you.  The copper read me my police caution, often referred to as miranda rights, you know the old, ‘You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence,’ jargon.

As he read me my caution, I could feel something drain from me, I can’t really explain it any better, but I knew that the only thing I could do was to say absolutely nothing.  This incensed the plain clothes copper who then began to list the various other offences he was considering bringing against me.  In fact he was so angry he asked his uniformed partner to ‘have a word’ with me as he left to cool down.  The uniformed copper pleaded with me to speak, advising me it was the clever thing to do, thing is, he didn’t know that I didn’t do clever.  Eventually they realised that no matter what they said, to me or threatened me with, I wasn’t going to speak to them so I was told to leave the police section.

I went back to air traffic and immediately went to the warrant officer.  Once I explained what had happened to me, he understood that probably all of my bar staff would be given similar treatment, so went off to see the Station Commander.  The longer the incident dragged on, the worse the gossips would react, plus the community was being robbed of its club.  In what I believe was an intense meeting between the Warrant Officer and the Station Commander the situation was resolved.  The SIB were asked to leave camp.  I was given access to and control of the Families club again and my deputy bar manager stood down and agreed to repay the five hundred pounds that his son had needed for something or other.

Sadly though after the warrant officer had proved himself to be such an excellent bloke he was given a married quarter on camp and I was given a new chairman.  All I knew is that he was an engineer on one of the squadrons, his name was Barry and he would come and meet me at the club on Friday night.  Irene came over with me on the Friday night and was sitting on a stool behind the bar as I served drinks.  It seemed to be a normal Friday evening and then Barry walked in to the club.  The moment I had heard that he was on one of the squadrons, alarm bells should have sounded.  He rounded the corner and stood, with his wife at his side, then pointed at me.  “I challenge you to a drinking competition!” he roared.  I laughed and hoped he was joking as Irene said. “He accepts.”

The rules were simple enough; we would each nominate the others drink and the last man standing was the winner.  It was about five o clock on the Sunday morning that Barry keeled over and collapsed to the floor.  I may have won but I feared for my future as the occasional session was fine but there was no way I needed or wanted the madness of squadron life to come to the Families Club.

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Celtic Illumination, part 238, Opportunity knocks.

An opportunity arose at Wattisham where I could extend my secondary duties.  We were always playing war games and going on exercise.  One incident they loved to play out, time and time again, is what happens when air traffic control is destroyed?  Will the squadrons be able to continue flying?  The hard and fast answer is of course yes, the squadrons will continue flying.  I think the best example of this, for me anyway, was when the red arrows came along once.  As they came into the circuit they advised air traffic that they would sort themselves out and the controller took his headset off and, like the rest of us, watched.

There are lots of rules and regulations especially concerning how many aircraft can take off at one time.  With the red arrows again, the rules are not ignored, but set aside, as all nine of them will take off together.  So, the destruction of air traffic control was always an empty exercise to me.  Should air traffic control be deemed destroyed then the secondary air traffic control would take over, which was the runway caravan.  Again, totally ridiculous and unrealistic scenario, as no one seemed to be paying any attention to the big picture.  The whole air traffic world was changing.  Someone sitting in a control centre in London could flick a switch and have the live radar feed from Wattisham.  If needed, they could talk an aircraft down, at Wattisham, while sitting one hundred miles away in London.

As a defensive unit the runway caravan was useless.  The best thing you could hope for was that if you saw attackers coming at you, is to get in the cab and drive the thing away.  So when I was told that we were to construct a standby air traffic control, that was heavily defended, I was glad of something different coming along.  I was pleased that it was viewed as a secondary duty, but continually wondered why it would have been done in the first place.  If my unit was under attack the last thing I would want is a bunch of air traffickers running around the airfield.  These however were the days of the cold war, so stand-by control centres, inflatable tanks and cardboard aircraft were the norm.  The Russians were using satellite technology to continually photograph bases, and military establishments, so old aircraft were constantly moved around the airfield, as if they were functional.  Cardboard cut outs were placed out, painted to look like aircraft, while the army would set out row upon row of inflatable tanks to give a false impression of our actual strength and capabilities.

My building was known as ‘building 194.’  It was an old radio installation and was quite large, although it was only one single room and one toilet.  Civilian contractors were busy at Wattisham constructing hardened aircraft shelters so they were asked to build a huge earth bunker around 194.  Which they had done.  All I had to do was construct the defences and design and build the inside of the building which should have a platform, capable of supporting two people, so that their head and shoulders were through the roof.  And a seating area that could double as a bed space.  Oh and by the way, there’s no money.   This was right up my street and something I knew I would enjoy doing as it involved everything else I had going on around the camp.

There was a huge hangar in a remote area of the airfield.  Aircraft didn’t use it; it was permanently locked and occasionally visited by police patrols.  It certainly needed investigating.  Luckily enough there was a loose panel which could be pulled far enough out to allow access to the hangar.  Thinking I had seen a nasty terrorist gain entry to the hanger one day, I myself entered the hangar to give chase and apprehend the fellow.  Well; that would have been the excuse had the coppers turned up.  What I had found was indeed an Aladdin’s cave.  For some reason a stack of stores that had been on its way to the Falklands had been diverted to this hanger and was just sat sitting there doing nothing.

There were all sorts of heavy duty foul weather clothing, sea boot socks, not to mention furniture, lockers and tables and chairs.  Needless to say a lot of this stuff now made its way over to 194, for safe keeping I’ll have you know.  If I had to work on a Saturday or Sunday then five minutes after arriving at work, I would be off on my travels, always contactable by radio but always working away.  The most enjoyable part of it all was working outside in the good weather.  I would borrow a large dumper truck from the civilian work site and take loads of stones, from the heaps dotted around the airfield for the rapid runway repair guys.  I used these to create a parking area and access road to 194.  One day the SATCO came over to help out.  There was a small gang of us working away and he asked if he could drive the dumper truck.  He was a little amazed when he asked for the key and I gave him a bent nail.

One Sunday I had been working away and really enjoying myself.  As far as I was aware everything was ticking along nicely.  The controller in air traffic was a young fellow, a junior officer.  He was a total arse and always claimed that his parents, on the Isle of Man were millionaires and only drove Rolls Royce’s.  I don’t think anyone had any time for him.  I finished work on the Monday morning and drove home.  When I was next back at work, which I think was the Tuesday afternoon, I was immediately called into the SACTO’s office and told that I had been reported for drinking on duty.  The arse from the Isle of Man had claimed to have tried to contact me throughout Sunday and as he had got no reply, had assumed that I was in one of the messes drinking.

I demanded that he be brought into the office and accuse me face to face, but was told that he had gone off on leave for two weeks, so we would have to wait until his return so that the affair could be investigated properly.    He was a typical air trafficker, gutless and useless, but really, really, posh.  In order to keep 194 warm and serviceable the bird control unit established their base of operations there.  These guys were normally air traffickers who couldn’t make the grade, and would spend their days drawing pictures of birds and writing notes on their nesting preferences, sort of like the special class at school.  One day however the BCU guy came in with a shotgun.  I had used shotguns before, mainly in Ireland but this was a pump action shotgun, which I had never used before.

Normally the BCU guys scared the birds away from the airfield, now they were going to murder them to death and hope that that would keep them away.  When you think that just the other day a local council, in England, announced that the local seagull population would congregate on the bin collection day and cause mayhem, so to outwit the birds they changed the bin collection date.  Seems that it only took the birds two weeks to work this out and adapt their behaviour.  So with that information in mind how long do you think it would take the local bird population at Wattisham to figure out that the guy with the shotgun was an idiot?

I was being driven back to air traffic control one day, by the BCU guy, when air traffic called us on the radio.  The local controller told us that there was a large flock of seagulls on the grass in front of the air traffic control tower, would we come over and disperse them.  Disperse them, ha!  We would slaughter them.  We drove toward air traffic while I fed shell after shell into the shotgun.  As we drew near, the gulls began to lift off.  The land drover stopped and I stepped out.  I took the shotgun to my shoulder, aimed at the birds and fired every shell in the gun.  I think there were six shells.  I then bowed to the small crowd who had gathered at air traffic to watch the massacre.  There must have been upwards of fifty seagulls and I hadn’t hit one.  Nearly as good as attacking sand bags, but not quite.  And as I did say, the seagulls now knew that the fellow with the shotgun certainly was an idiot.

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Celtic Illumination, part 238, Opportunity knocks.

An opportunity arose at Wattisham where I could extend my secondary duties.  We were always playing war games and going on exercise.  One incident they loved to play out, time and time again, is what happens when air traffic control is destroyed?  Will the squadrons be able to continue flying?  The hard and fast answer is of course yes, the squadrons will continue flying.  I think the best example of this, for me anyway, was when the red arrows came along once.  As they came into the circuit they advised air traffic that they would sort themselves out and the controller took his headset off and, like the rest of us, watched.

There are lots of rules and regulations especially concerning how many aircraft can take off at one time.  With the red arrows again, the rules are not ignored, but set aside, as all nine of them will take off together.  So, the destruction of air traffic control was always an empty exercise to me.  Should air traffic control be deemed destroyed then the secondary air traffic control would take over, which was the runway caravan.  Again, totally ridiculous and unrealistic scenario, as no one seemed to be paying any attention to the big picture.  The whole air traffic world was changing.  Someone sitting in a control centre in London could flick a switch and have the live radar feed from Wattisham.  If needed, they could talk an aircraft down, at Wattisham, while sitting one hundred miles away in London.

As a defensive unit the runway caravan was useless.  The best thing you could hope for was that if you saw attackers coming at you, is to get in the cab and drive the thing away.  So when I was told that we were to construct a standby air traffic control, that was heavily defended, I was glad of something different coming along.  I was pleased that it was viewed as a secondary duty, but continually wondered why it would have been done in the first place.  If my unit was under attack the last thing I would want is a bunch of air traffickers running around the airfield.  These however were the days of the cold war, so stand-by control centres, inflatable tanks and cardboard aircraft were the norm.  The Russians were using satellite technology to continually photograph bases, and military establishments, so old aircraft were constantly moved around the airfield, as if they were functional.  Cardboard cut outs were placed out, painted to look like aircraft, while the army would set out row upon row of inflatable tanks to give a false impression of our actual strength and capabilities.

My building was known as ‘building 194.’  It was an old radio installation and was quite large, although it was only one single room and one toilet.  Civilian contractors were busy at Wattisham constructing hardened aircraft shelters so they were asked to build a huge earth bunker around 194.  Which they had done.  All I had to do was construct the defences and design and build the inside of the building which should have a platform, capable of supporting two people, so that their head and shoulders were through the roof.  And a seating area that could double as a bed space.  Oh and by the way, there’s no money.   This was right up my street and something I knew I would enjoy doing as it involved everything else I had going on around the camp.

There was a huge hangar in a remote area of the airfield.  Aircraft didn’t use it; it was permanently locked and occasionally visited by police patrols.  It certainly needed investigating.  Luckily enough there was a loose panel which could be pulled far enough out to allow access to the hangar.  Thinking I had seen a nasty terrorist gain entry to the hanger one day, I myself entered the hangar to give chase and apprehend the fellow.  Well; that would have been the excuse had the coppers turned up.  What I had found was indeed an Aladdin’s cave.  For some reason a stack of stores that had been on its way to the Falklands had been diverted to this hanger and was just sat sitting there doing nothing.

There were all sorts of heavy duty foul weather clothing, sea boot socks, not to mention furniture, lockers and tables and chairs.  Needless to say a lot of this stuff now made its way over to 194, for safe keeping I’ll have you know.  If I had to work on a Saturday or Sunday then five minutes after arriving at work, I would be off on my travels, always contactable by radio but always working away.  The most enjoyable part of it all was working outside in the good weather.  I would borrow a large dumper truck from the civilian work site and take loads of stones, from the heaps dotted around the airfield for the rapid runway repair guys.  I used these to create a parking area and access road to 194.  One day the SATCO came over to help out.  There was a small gang of us working away and he asked if he could drive the dumper truck.  He was a little amazed when he asked for the key and I gave him a bent nail.

One Sunday I had been working away and really enjoying myself.  As far as I was aware everything was ticking along nicely.  The controller in air traffic was a young fellow, a junior officer.  He was a total arse and always claimed that his parents, on the Isle of Man were millionaires and only drove Rolls Royce’s.  I don’t think anyone had any time for him.  I finished work on the Monday morning and drove home.  When I was next back at work, which I think was the Tuesday afternoon, I was immediately called into the SACTO’s office and told that I had been reported for drinking on duty.  The arse from the Isle of Man had claimed to have tried to contact me throughout Sunday and as he had got no reply, had assumed that I was in one of the messes drinking.

I demanded that he be brought into the office and accuse me face to face, but was told that he had gone off on leave for two weeks, so we would have to wait until his return so that the affair could be investigated properly.    He was a typical air trafficker, gutless and useless, but really, really, posh.  In order to keep 194 warm and serviceable the bird control unit established their base of operations there.  These guys were normally air traffickers who couldn’t make the grade, and would spend their days drawing pictures of birds and writing notes on their nesting preferences, sort of like the special class at school.  One day however the BCU guy came in with a shotgun.  I had used shotguns before, mainly in Ireland but this was a pump action shotgun, which I had never used before.

Normally the BCU guys scared the birds away from the airfield, now they were going to murder them to death and hope that that would keep them away.  When you think that just the other day a local council, in England, announced that the local seagull population would congregate on the bin collection day and cause mayhem, so to outwit the birds they changed the bin collection date.  Seems that it only took the birds two weeks to work this out and adapt their behaviour.  So with that information in mind how long do you think it would take the local bird population at Wattisham to figure out that the guy with the shotgun was an idiot?

I was being driven back to air traffic control one day, by the BCU guy, when air traffic called us on the radio.  The local controller told us that there was a large flock of seagulls on the grass in front of the air traffic control tower, would we come over and disperse them.  Disperse them, ha!  We would slaughter them.  We drove toward air traffic while I fed shell after shell into the shotgun.  As we drew near, the gulls began to lift off.  The land drover stopped and I stepped out.  I took the shotgun to my shoulder, aimed at the birds and fired every shell in the gun.  I think there were six shells.  I then bowed to the small crowd who had gathered at air traffic to watch the massacre.  There must have been upwards of fifty seagulls and I hadn’t hit one.  Nearly as good as attacking sand bags, but not quite.  And as I did say, the seagulls now knew that the fellow with the shotgun certainly was an idiot.

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Celtic Illumination, part 237, Get me to the church on time.

I suppose I could say that life was ticking along quite normally.  Irene did her usual, no messing about childbirth routine.  This time she made sure that it involved a middle of the night run to Ipswich hospital where she gave birth to our wonderful daughter Jane.  I did my usual and fainted, once again, taking Irene’s mind off the actual childbirth process.  Whether it was the three children or not I can’t be sure but the family in Ireland began to take an interest.   The first request was to go and visit an aunt who was working as a nun in Africa, Sister Paul, however as she was born on the twelfth of July we called her Billy.  Billy was flying back to Africa via London and we were invited to the convent she was staying at, for lunch.

I always love going to convents and the like for usually they are sumptuous buildings and this convent was no exception.  It was outside London and was a huge Victorian mansion.  It always surprised me that whenever I went to a convent the nuns always knew me.  I knocked at the main door which was opened by a smiling nun who immediately says “Ah hello Peter.”  Once again I have no idea how this girl knows me, but the thought slips away from my mind as there is a bustle of excitement and we are all ushered in to the convent.  We were to have a private lunch in a huge dining room and Billy was in good form.  We were waited on by nuns who, once the meal was finished, suggested that they take the children away to give us a bit of peace and quiet.

It was very kind of them and as we relaxed and drank coffee we became aware of a growing commotion outside.  I went to investigate to find the nuns giving the children rides on the stair lift and chucking a ball around in an area littered with artwork and ornaments that would normally have you check your arms were kept tight by your side at all times.  Billy gave us a painting she had brought from Africa for us.  It was oil on cloth and the scene featured was of a village party.  One reveller is crawling away from the party and Billy pointed him out saying that it was me.  Once again I was finding out what people actually thought of me.  I still have the painting and enjoy looking at it and of course myself.

The next visit was from a priest, Owen.  Very strange as it was only a day trip which meant him getting a train up from London.  I say strange because when I was imprisoned in Violent Hell, Owen taught there.  He had been working as a missionary priest in Africa and had to return to have cancer in his throat dealt with.  During all my time at Violent Hell Owen wouldn’t invite me to his room or even go out of his way to speak to me.  It was a pleasant enough afternoon but I could never work out why he came in the first place.  Then came Mary.  Mary was a nun in Alabama and had always been very friendly.  As children Carol and myself always looked forward to Mary coming home for she would bring exciting gifts like transistor radios whereas Billy would bring carved giraffes or deer.

Mary was with us for about ten days, which covered two Sundays.  On the first Sunday I was actually on duty for twenty four hours at Wattisham, so I left work, drove the twenty five miles back to Shotley collected Mary and brought her back to camp where she attended mass in the catholic church.  Afterwards, before enjoying another fifty mile round trip, I gave her a quick tour of the base and a showed her around air traffic control.  My shift were up to their old tricks and every room I took her into the guys would shoot up to stand to attention and remain ramrod stiff till I left the room.  I would be having words when I got back from dropping her off.

At the same time that Mary was visiting there was a huge event being staged at the Eurosports centre.  It was something along the lines of the catholic youth Olympic games.  The ex air force, failed fast jet pilot, who was running Eurosports proved how useless he really was when it was discovered that he didn’t have enough beds for the number of guests they had booked in to the centre.  He certainly entered panic mode, which was great news for me as he now needed general staff to help prepare Eurosports.  The Eurosports complex was quite a sad site to walk around.  Hundreds of empty buildings wasting away.  He had us open some of the old accommodation blocks, which were long single story rooms basically.  We would wash them out with hoses and once dry erect a number of camp beds.

We all felt that if you had paid for a room with a bed and were given a camp bed in a room with twenty others, with no lockers or even chairs, there might be one or two complaints.  The final ceremony was to be held at a sports ground in Ipswich where quite a few thousand people would attend mass which would be celebrated by the top Catholic in England, Cardinal Basil Hume.  Needless to say Aunt Mary wanted to attend this event.  It was to be held about three on the Sunday afternoon so I would work behind the bar for the usual Sunday afternoon session in the Families Club and once I had closed the bar about two o clock, would drive Mary off to Ipswich.  Irene and Mary had got on really well, apart from Mary scaring the wits out of Irene one night.

One of the children was crying and Irene had got up out of bed to go and attend them.  Mary thought she would give Irene a break and see to the child herself.  Both girls met on the upstairs landing but only Irene screamed.  She wasn’t afraid; she was just shocked, for it was the first time she had seen Mary without her wig and with no teeth in.  Irene and some of the other wives had planned to get together for a few drinks that afternoon and Mary was included.  As Irene and Mary came in to the club and sat down I do remember coming over to their table and asking what they would like to drink.  Most of the girls were drinking vodka and orange so Mary just pointed at the drinks and said “I’ll have whatever they’re drinking.”

It wasn’t the first time I had a drunk nun in my car as at Carol’s wedding in Italy aunt Mary had been hoofing down grappa and was in a world of her own, to say the least.  We drove off to Ipswich and parked up.  It was a football stadium that had a running track around it.  There was a huge stand where the people would be and out before them was the altar.  It was a wet and windy day and as Mary and myself made our way between cars and buildings we got a little bit lost.  I saw a priest wandering along, well; black raincoat, black biretta and a white dog collar, says priest to me.  He came up to us and I asked where the event would be taking place and he pointed ahead.  “Just over there,” he said.  I gave a sort of tut and said.  “Looks like we might get a wee bit wet.”   “Well,” says the fellow. “I’m going to get wet for sure, at least you’ll have a roof over your heads.”

I turned to find out why Mary was tugging away at my arm to then see her go all gooey eyed and grasp the hand of the priest, who as she is now addressing as “Your eminence,” I deduct is Cardinal Basil Hume.  Now there is probably a good joke hanging about in there,  ‘Did you hear the one about the cardinal the Irishman and the drunk nun?’  No matter, Mary went back to America and I suppose all three of them had reported back to Ireland that I still only had one head and wasn’t a growling devil worshipping eejit, for it was now felt safe enough for my mother to visit.

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Celtic Illumination, part 236, The hippy, hippy, shakes.

I hope you don’t mind me asking but I need a wee bit of help.  I need to find the three best stories in all of my blog.  That’s not something I can do, only you, the reader, The Illuminati, can decide that.  So, if you wouldn’t mind and if you have the time, could you add a comment at the end of this, or contact me in any other form that you want to and let me know which story tickled you the most, if any.  There’s no need to go hunting through previous blogs to find the title or part number, although if you want to feel free, it’ll save me doing it.  If you just want to say what the story was about, or who it was about, that will suffice.  Thanks for your help and support, world domination beckons.

My world had certainly been shaken with the job offer from Tim Hirschman.  I wasn’t sure what to do as I wasn’t really aware of civilian life.  I suppose I had been very lucky as we had always lived in nice comfortable houses and never really wanted for anything.   I had never thought about buying a house or settling down somewhere.  This was a time when Margaret Thatcher was coming in to power and the ‘greed is good’ mantra was becoming popular.  Tony and myself were becoming good friends and I had never considered him as a wealthy man.  We once went to Colchester and visited the Volvo car showroom.  Tony bought three brand new Volvos and I didn’t see anything strange with this.

We had a routine for Sundays which for us would begin at ten in the morning.  We would meet up and go to Ipswich airport where we would take an aircraft out and bash it about above Felixstowe.  Once down we would drive back to Shotley and go to the pub.  The pub closed at half past two when we would buy a bottle of whiskey and head to Chelmondiston, where Tony’s boat was moored.  It was a six berth, twin diesel, converted trawler, if that means anything to you.  We would settle ourselves on the boat, drink the bottle of whisky, and spend the remainder of the evening trying to get off the boat.  Now I can look back and see that perhaps Tony did have more money that the average person, but at the time it meant absolutely nothing to me.  And anyway, the air force was always there to bring me straight back to earth.

One day on my way home from work, it was around lunchtime, I decided to nip in to The Rose and have a quiet pint.  There was only one other fellow there, and he was the local doctor.   We got chatting and I discovered that he had been in the navy and stationed at HMS Ganges, down the road, where he had been the surgeon.  When he left the navy he elected to stay in the area and become the local doctor.  I asked him for his opinion on service life compared against civilian life and he gave me his views, but he did keep looking at me in a rather strange way.  Eventually he asked what the lump underneath my ear was and I explained that it was a cyst.  He wanted to know why I hadn’t see the doctor on camp to have it removed and I explained that the doctor and I were not the best of friends after some people had intervened on a medical issue  on my behalf.

By this time we had finished with the beer and were on the pink gins.  It was approaching half past two and the pair of us were entering staggering mode.  It was then that he suggested we nip around to his surgery where he would whip out the cyst.  Why not, I thought, and so we went back to the local surgery which only had secretarial staff working.  We went in to his consulting room and he asked me to lie down on the bed.  I did and he then cleaned and prepared the area around my ear.  He then turned and I thought he was doing something at the sink when he asked if I was happy to continue. I said yes to see him spin around and swipe at my head with the scalpel.  I didn’t feel any pain, just the blood run down my neck.

“Sorry about that,” he said.  “I went a bit deep there.”  I waved it away and allowed him to finish his job sewing my head back together again.  With the job done and the pair of us thinking it was time for a nap he finished up and gave me a shaving chitty.  These were regarded as gold dust in the air force.  For some strange reason it was something we all looked forward to, getting a shaving chitty.  Mine was for two weeks and I was mightily proud of it.  As luck would have it I had pulled a twenty four hour stint as guard commander in the guardroom.  I arrived bright and early and entered the guardroom.  The Station Warrant Officer came in.  I was at the reception window issuing keys, so the Station Warrant Officer, the SWO, lined up the guard for inspection.

He bollocked each and every one of them, and because I wasn’t in the line-up I have to admit it was quite funny.  One poor chap, who had a small stain on his jacket, was accused of eating his breakfast off his uniform.  One by one the SWO bollocked each of the guard and then sent them off to their duties.  He then turned on the Orderly officer and gave him what for, which had me start to get worried.  He then snapped the head off the orderly Sergeant and told him to take over issuing the keys as he wanted to have a wee word with me.  I left the desk and came to the SWO.  “We’ve forgotten to do something this morning haven’t we laddie?”

It was pure pantomime but with a serious edge to it, so I played along.  “Me sir?  Not me sir.  I don’t think I forgot to do anything this morning.”  “We forgot to shave this morning, laddie,” growled the SWO, to which I reply.  “Oh no sir, not me.  I have a shaving chitty.”  The SWO holding his hand out, meant that he wanted to see the letter, so I gave him my shaving chitty.  “Ah!” says the SWO.  “This is from a civilian doctor!”  “Yes sir,” I answered, wondering if it mattered if a civilian doctor or a military doctor issued a no shaving chitty.  “You’re not a civilian laddie,” snarled the SWO, who immediately called me to attention.  He began to bark orders at me and had me march out of the guard room while he explained to the orderly Sergeant what he was up to.

Once again I found myself with most people arriving for work, being marched down the centre of the main road on camp with the SWO screaming “Left, right, left, right, swing those arms higher!”  He made a right meal of it and marched me all the way to the station medical centre.  I could see people disappearing into bushes and behind buildings as we moved along.  Even the waiting room in the medical centre began to empty as they heard the shouting coming through the main door.  The senior medical officer, my friend, came out to investigate.  The three of us went in to a treatment room where once again I was asked to lie down on the bed.

The SWO was loving it as he explained to the doctor that I had gone to see a civilian doctor rather than a military doctor.  The SMO was inspecting my ear and missing cyst.  “I think the area has gone septic,” said the SMO.  “I’ll have to open it up and clean it out.”  I said nothing and lay there, at least this time we were all sober, except the SMO declared that if I was brave enough to visit a civilian doctor then I wouldn’t be needing any anaesthetic.   I cringed as he cut into the wound.  I couldn’t really feel any pain but I could hear him saw through the skin and that made me shudder.  He cleaned out the wound and then sewed my head back together, again.  He then began to give me advice on how to care for the wound, and as he said that I shouldn’t shave for a fortnight the SWO erupted and stormed out of the medical centre screaming that he wasn’t happy having a fecking hippy running his guard room.

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