Recaptured! 1971 - 1982
By October 1970, after months of soul searching, I decided
it was time to move on again. My two long term friends were both in the armed
forces. John Greenbank was in the Army, Peter Clegg was in the Navy, so naturally
I signed up for the Royal Air Force. (Rum, bum and baccy wasn't my scene,
neither was travelling the world, meeting lots of interesting people - and
killing them). I took the Queens shilling and agreed to turn up for duty in
the following January. Finally a clean break? No chance! A telephone call
from Frank Fenn, and a lingerie party, put paid to that idea. (I know what
you're thinking and don't go there!)
Frank's wife was holding a lingerie party, he needed an excuse to get out of the house so I dutifully rang back a few minutes later and invited him out for a drink - pure coincidence! When we arrived back at his house in the late evening the place was still full of females, thankfully they had packed away all the lingerie. They were all ready to head back to Burnley when some bright spark (I still can't remember who it was) suggested that I could give them a lift. That would seem quite an innocuous suggestion except that there were nine of them. Somehow, I managed to shoehorn all of them into a Cortina Estate car and even close the doors. Two on the front seat, four on the rear seat and three in the luggage compartment. The car struggled all the way to the taxi rank at Burnley bus station where a bemused taxi driver watched as I unloaded my human cargo. Two days later, Frank called me again. "One of the girls took a fancy to you so I've arranged a blind date" (I found out later that he used the same line on the girl in question). Unbeknown to me, that blind date was to be my future wife, Joyce.
In January, bags packed, I set off into the unknown again, this time RAF Swinderby and training camp. (Sadly the guitar would be replaced by a rifle for the next six weeks). Within 30 minutes of arriving at camp I, along with the rest of the intake, was escorted to the barber for a haircut. I explained how I wanted it, he nodded sympathically then shaved it all off! The next six weeks were a constant round of "bulling" shoes, pressing uniforms, marching everywhere, learning to kill and, oh yes, learning how to fill in leave forms - that part had my full attention! We then had 48 hours leave before setting off for the next stage of technical training at RAF Cosford. I think I spent the entire 48 hours with a hat on to cover up the fact that I still looked like I'd fallen under a lawnmower.
RAF Cosford was a complete change and it was here that I met up with a crazy Scotsman Chris Nicholl, Ray Foyle, and "Mac" (I don't think I ever knew his real name). Our paths would cross again and again throughout our air force careers, although sadly we have now lost touch altogether. Wednesday afternoon at Cosford (as in most of the air force) was sports afternoon, and when we weren't playing badminton we could be found in the pubs around Bridgnorth. Of course, as in all of my life to date, I was hitch hiking up to Burnley at every opportunity to see Joyce - some things never change! Sixteen weeks later, initial technical training completed, I headed off for RAF Valley in Anglesey and Chris headed north of the border.
The air force is simply brilliant at placing people in the position where they will be of most use - so naturally as a Radar technician I was promptly placed on the Gnat line refuelling aircraft! Here I met Graham Webster who refined my skills in drinking Guinness, doing the Daily Telegraph crossword, reading JRR Tolkien and seeking out places to drink on a Sunday. (It's the reason the Conservative Club in Holyhead was so popular amongst Labour supporters). Other names to mention, Dave Wall who introduced me to the delights of fondue and fillet steak, and Gary Roberts - together we played at the local folk club each week - a very underrated lead guitarist.
To cut a long story short, a year later I was back in training at RAF Newton, then Cosford again - amazingly Chis Nicholl and "Mac" were on the same course and had arranged that we all be billeted together. During this time I decided to make an honest woman of Joyce, so asked her father if I could take his remaining daughter off his hands. It didn't go quite as planned. For those of you old enough to remember, it was the era of Ted Heath and the three day week. Desperate to make some conversation to break the ice, I launched into a tirade of criticism of the power workers and how they should lock them up and throw away the key. Ever felt you've dug a hole for yourself that there's just no way out of? It never occurred to me why her father was at home on a weekday when he should have been working!!! By some miracle, by March 1974 we were married and back at RAF Valley - but not for long.
Within three months I was back on another years training - this time on Flight Simulators, first at RAF Newton again and then RAF Locking. It was here that I was led astray by Bob Cremer who thrashed me at badminton on more occasions than I can remember and, somehow, always managed to be first in the queue at lunchtimes, pinching the last of the Danish Blue cheese. (The two occasions where longer legs are an advantage - sod). There were two notable events at RAF Newton, the first involved Doug Marshalls car. Now Doug had a Reliant Robin - you know the sort - Trotters Independent Traders, London, Paris and Peckham. One night six of us lifted it from the car park, through the reception hall and placed it on the grass quadrangle in the centre of the accommodation block. He wasn't best pleased! It was academic - three months later a light breeze flipped it over on the motorway, did a brief impression of a bobsleigh, and then wrote itself off. The second event involved hoisting a pair of used "shreddies" up the flagpole on our last night before leaving for Locking. No clues were left save that they may have belonged to someone called "St. Michael". (No rank given).
The year at RAF Locking was somewhat blurred by "Scrumpy" (the place being too close to Somerset), and the shock of becoming a father for the first time. Tony was born in Truro hospital amidst a raging thunderstorm, reminiscent of a scene from "Omen". We resisted the temptation to call him Damien. At this point I have to mention a local hero (he insisted!) - Bob Cremer. We will forever be in his debt for rushing Joyce to hospital at some ungodly hour in the morning, and not complaining too much when her waters broke all over the back seat of his Ford Cortina. I was still at RAF Locking, blissfully unaware that his car was rusting rapidly! (You've all seen Alien so you know what I mean). There was one other instance when he came out to rescue me when my Mini broke down late at night in the middle of Bodmin Moor (as Minis do) - however in this instance he assures me that he was simply trying to get away from his mother-in-law. Thanks mate!
The next seven years were spent at RAF St. Mawgan in Cornwall. Sun, sea, sand and a daughter, Kate, to act as a sparring partner for Tony. I extended my service to twelve years (they told me that if I did then I would definitely get an overseas posting - conned again). The list of names from this time are endless but to name a few - Jay Nair, Gordon Petrie, Bob Cremer, Brian Avery, Geoff Storrs, John Humphries (Colombo), Geoff King, Dave Carey, Paul Hicks and Phil Dix. By 1982, realising that if I wanted to travel overseas then I'd better find another way of doing it, I decided to leave the RAF. They tried hard to keep me in. On one of my final interviews I was asked why I wanted to leave. "Because I have to grow up sometime" was my reply. If that was the reason, it didn't work!