Aspiring Anorak Aversion Therapy

Martianonlooker, Going Postal
Portuguese Air Force Chipmunk at Beja Air Force Base By Rafael VieiraOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

The subject heading may read as though it is an introduction to an accountancy exam, but no, it is aversion therapy applied to an obsession, by licensed operators of machines such as the Dehavilland Chipmunk trainer pictured above. This was guaranteed to ensure that the aspiring anorak was returned to a normal life. Hence Aspiring Anorak Aversion Therapy.

It is said that the bicycle increased the genetics of the gene pool since young lads could then cover a greater geographical area in search of female company. I was a bit young for that but what it did allow was for me to get closer to the magic of flight. There were two airfields within range of my bicycle. One was an RNAS field and the other was a commercial airport.

In the days before cheap package holidays to Spain and before Sir Freddie Laker introduced cheaper flights, I realised that my milk round was unlikely to fund my desire to take to the air. My parents had indulged me in my hobby of airfix modelling but a trip in an aeroplane was a leap too far. Furthermore, in those days schools neglected the LBGTQ agenda, maybe that should be ‘never heard of the LBGTQ agenda’, and the earning potential of being a rent-boy didn’t even figure as a possible solution. However, fate provided a solution in the form of an Air Cadet. He made it sound like it was those ‘magnificent lads in their flying machines (weekends only).

With eagerness and a great deal of anticipation I ‘joined up’, so to speak. The ‘training’ in the Air Training Corp obviously meant marching as that seemed to be the main activity. Years later a scriptwriter for Morecambe and Wise would use a version of my suffering in a sketch with Andre Previn and Eric Morecambe at a piano. There Eric played all the right notes but not necessarily in the right order. My marching involved all the correct limbs but not necessarily in the right order. Such errors on my part attracted the wrath of the NCOs (older teenagers with louder voices). Ho-hum, Per Ardua Ad Astra.

The great day arrived when I took possession of my uniform. If a reader could shed light on the name of the civil servant who decided that Britain’s war surplus stock of RAF uniforms be donated to the ATC, I would be much obliged. Similarly with their thinking on personal hygiene. I had one collarless shirt and three detachable collars. The collars were held at the back with a plastic stud. I could never figure that, my neck was the least prone to dirt of my entire sweaty teenage body. Somehow, I would change collar and be clean? Crazy thinking. Has anyone noticed that old men tend to have a smorgasbord of breakfast/dinner/tea stains on their shirts? Maybe there is a market for detachable collars as per RAF thinking.

I obviously had Guy the Rock Ape’s uniform. If I stood still when naked, I bore an uncanny resemblance to a mop. Whereas, Guy must have been built like the proverbial brick out-house. It took a couple of strides before anyone realised I was moving.

Then one day the flight list was posted and my name was on it. I would be travelling East to get that desperately longed for flight. I had read about the East, Stalingrad to be precise. A hell-hole of slaughter and destruction. My father once remarked of his time in Malta, that they had received a signal from the defenders of Stalingrad. ‘To our gallant allies in their struggle and suffering against the fascist invaders’. That sort of thing.

I went East. Edinburgh didn’t look that bad, difficult to tell with all that fog about. The very same fog that frustrated my attempts to get airborne. All flights were cancelled and the Chipmunks stayed as static displays.

The time came again and we again headed East. This time the flights were ok to go. First I had to do my ‘parachute training’. Forget all those documentaries with people jumping off things. Think of a classroom. Memory recalls the following instructions. Throw canopy back; jump out; count to nine (maybe that is being mixed up with “if gas you find…..”); pull the D shaped handle at the side; look up and ensure main chute deploys; keep legs together; bend knees; when your rear hits the ground, hit the big button on your chest. They did vaguely mention about the reserve chute if the main didn’t deploy. I realise now that further instruction was superfluous since if I had to bail-out, a nasty red stain was liable to be made on the ground.

A couple of bods in blue suits strapped me into a parachute. No WW2 RAF surplus kit for me this time. I’m sure this had RFC stamped on it. I was young and innocent and thought Rangers Football Club must have been sponsoring ATC gear. I then attempted to follow one bod out the door to the waiting aircraft. Anyone ever tried walking while tightly strapped into a parachute harness? I had the gait of a crippled chimp. Somehow, I managed to reach the aircraft and scramble into the rear seat. There the bods trussed me up like a chicken in some sort of harness. A harness which made movement impossible and reinforced my new found status as ballast.

The driver climbed in, nodded and we taxied out. One sees a lot of the wing from the rear seat of a Chipmunk. Occasionally I saw glimpses of the ground as the driver banked on whatever flight plan he had. I could hear him talking to what I assumed must be Air Traffic. It was a bit difficult, since for the most part the headset just crackled and whistled as we flew along. Must have salvaged the comms system from a Sopwith Camel of the reserve fleet.

We were soon joined by another Chipmunk coming alongside, I recognised the cadet in the back seat and was about to give him the thumbs up. That was until I saw him vomiting into his spew bag. I thought better of that and we soon parted company. Shortly after doing so, I heard the driver yelling Ein Ure! Ein Ure! Ein Ure! My suspicions were correct, this old boy in front must be Polish. I had heard stories of Polish airmen in the battle of Britain. He must have been one.

I sat there trying to figure out what Ein Ure meant. Ein was obviously ‘One’, what the hell was Ure? Comprehension was made worse with all the crackles and whistles of the comms set. Somehow a part of my brain was screaming at me. It was telling me that it wasn’t Ein Ure but  ‘EngINE FailURE’ that the driver was shouting. First thoughts were. “this thing only has one engine”, “couldn’t be, could it”? To this day, I see it as though it happened yesterday. I stared past the driver’s left ear and to my absolute horror, the propeller was slowing to almost a standstill.

Sometimes education can be a bad thing. Having recently started school physics, I was aware that we were plummeting to Earth at about 34ft/sec/sec/ in old money. In new money it was 10m/s/s. Why wasn’t the canopy being slid back? The driver had gone quiet and appeared slumped in his seat. My mind worked overtime coloured by West coast experience of life, not that I saw my life flash in front of my eyes. There wasn’t enough film on the spool for that. Rather, I concluded the old codger in the front had died. This may sound melodramatic but not when compared with life. It was said of Fallujah when the US Marines were knocking lumps out of it, that male life expectancy was 54 years of age. Even today in parts of the West Coast of Scotland, male life expectancy is 45. I had at 13 already attended funerals of neighbours who must have been about 30 to 40. Even decades later I have had friends and relatives die in their 40s and 50s.

I made up my mind to bail-out. Procrastination being the thief of time.  All I needed to do was slide the canopy back; leap out; count for 9 minutes; hit the big button on my chest; pull the D ring when my rear hit the ground. What could go wrong? It didn’t take long for that question to be answered. I couldn’t get out of the harness. The chicken was still trussed and I couldn’t figure how to release it. My suspicions nowadays are that the ground bods had experience of wayward kids in aeroplanes so securely fastened the ballast in. I didn’t really have time to ponder, I just needed to get out and so I searched my battledress pockets for my pen-knife.

It’s strange to think nowadays, with all that stabby stabby that now exists, that parents gave their sons knives. It was like a rite-of-passage when reaching about 9 or 10. The really cool kids were in the Scouts and carried a sheath knife, the trade off being the scout uniform. One could always tell those entrants to the pen-knife world. They had Elastoplasts on their fingers from cutting themselves. My own particular bleed-out (or so it seemed to me) occurred whilst having to accompany my mother on a shopping trip to the city. I bled out over the carpet of a department store. My mother was furious and dragged me out complaining that she was black-affronted with me. A curious phrase that is probably non-PC nowadays.

I searched myself with the diligence of a Met copper being dry humped, doing a stop and search whilst attending the Notting Hill Carnival. My knife seemed to be absent. That Hamlet moment came over this non smoker. Looking down at the ground a strange peace settled. All that was missing was the music. Resignation, I don’t know.

Meanwhile, the driver kicked into live and the engine re-started, we flew back and parked up. It was stressed upon all cadets that we had to thank the driver for our trip. Difficult but I managed it and with the crippled chimp gait wandered off having finished with aviation. Little did I know that aviation hadn’t finished with me.

© Martianonlooker 2019

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