In which we have served - part three

1953; and so from Liverpool to the Isle of Man on the good ship King Orry for officer and technical training. RAF Jurby, situate in the sparsely inhabited north of the island, should have been one of the half dozen high points of my life. It turned into one of the opposite, for at the end of my, I think three months there I failed two essential exams: 'Preliminary Calculations' and 'Meteorology'. That was the end of my flying career. I was later offered the opportunity for a Technical commission, but by then all I wanted was to put that bitter disappointment behind me, serve out my three year National Service time and say goodbye to the Royal Air Force. 

How did I manage to flunk those exams? I've often thought about that. I had left school aged fourteen and three quarters - or rather, been withdrawn by father for lack of funds. But I had secured my School Certificate Matriculation with 'Honours' in Mathematics and General Science as well as 'Passes' in Latin and Greek and 'Distinctions' in English, English Literature and Art. I was aware that father had, afterwards, been invited to meet my Abingdon School headmaster in London and had been offered a bursary so that I could go on to Oxford. Offer refused. Pride? Competing plans? I don't know. In any event,  perhaps I didn't take the classroom stuff at Jurby seriously enough. That, and I have to admit to having developed my own competing spare time interests in Douglas, the Island's capital. More on that in a minute.

But up until those examinations my progress had been, I can honestly claim, well abopve average.None of us really need much time or vision to know just where we stand in the pecking order, do we? I had (have) always been about imaginative action, often controversial, often of an individual nature. Therefore at Jurby, whenever there was a solo or a leadership role on offer it seemed to be awarded to yours truly. For instance I found myself standing up in front of the entire station, appointed in formal debate to propose the highly unpopular motion that "Piloted aircraft will become history". My proposal was defeated but by a surpisingly small margin considering I was trying to convince more than a hundred professional or would be professional aircrew!

That was when I remembered my grandfather's response to this eight year old grandson's question; "How can you not be scared, talking to all those people, Grandad?". ('The General' had in 1938 spoken to 60,000 Salvationists in the Hollywood Bowl - at that time the world's largest religious gathering). "However many are in front of you, Bryan," he said, "Only one pair of ears and one mind can receive what you are saying. Therefore it is only one to one. Those ears and that mind, multiplied many times, will listen to you and may gain something if you have genuine conviction and humility."

Another instance; part of Jurby's officer training program was traditionally the hare and hounds exercise. This involved five cadets being appointed hares and the whole rest of the station as hounds. I was nominated as one of the hares. I was taken off by myself in a garry, blindfolded and dropped with compass and map and nothing else at sunset on the Friday in a remote place on the island. My objective was to evade all the hounds and reach a certain reference point without any form of human assistance and by sunset on the Sunday. I knew the target could be only a maximum of ten or fifteen miles away, but that first night was pitch black and it soon came on to rain. I decided to lay low under cover of trees. When came the Saturday dawn, cold and wet but surprisngly untired, I spotted some of the hounds. Noting the direction of their travel I stayed right where I was until late afternoon. That night the moon came out. I must have covered seven or eight rough country miles before laying up in more woodland until daylight on Sunday. In spite of some close encounters with parties of exhausted hounds I proved to be the only one of the five hares to reach the objective, unintercepted.

I mentioned my 'competing interest' in Douglas. Well, I cannot even remember her name from this distance so just call her Daisy. I recall a sort of cafe / dance hall where each of the tables was equipped with a pole topped by a number, plus a telephone. If you spotted a young lady in a table group across the room and didn't fancy the long walk back after rejection you simply dialled her number, asked her ('hello, I'm on 22, are you the dark haired one in the green dress?') for a dance and hey presto! I could write lots about the ensuing Saturday nights but suffice to say that the young lady was very pretty, very lively and a major distraction for this virgin officer cadet. I often told first Joan and then Delia about the final debacle to this romance. Before leaving the island, sitting in the front room of her family home I assured a tearful Daisy that it wasn't the end, I would be back for her. Long story cut short - 'It's not that, Bryan,' she told me. It seems I had been going out with herself and her twin sister, week and week about. Neither Joan not Delia wholly believed this, but I can tell you now that, although I never saw the two of them together it is the truth as I was told it.

So, lovelorn and lost I'm back on the King Orry, bound for Liverpool then Yorkshire. I've been posted back to my 'trade' as an gas turbine engine fitter on Meteor fighters at Full Sutton, twelve miles outside the city of York. There, 'reduced to the ranks' as I was, in time I was really able to find my feet, regain my confidence and establish a satisfying my place in the new pecking order amongst young males of all types and classes. Remember, this was the time of the 'Teddy Boys' with their brothel creeper shoes, draped, velvet collared jackets that sometimes concealed a length of bicycle chain, extravagent hair styles etc. Ah, those Saturday nights out downtown in the garrison that in those days was York!!!!  Drinking and fighting, hunting the girls and dancing. And it was there, in the De Grey Ballroom, that I found my new lady, the one I would marry and the council house family I cherish and correspond with to this day. Joan Woods. Tang Hall Lane. I had come the long way home ... Yes, rags to riches in everything but money.

Flying? Well, working on the flight line and with my background well known I was offered plenty of passenger trips in the NF11 night fighter Meteors that I serviced. Often, when well clear of any trouble up aloft, I was allowed to take the controls. Pangs of regret but fast fading.

Life was no longer about any wings other than the wings of love.

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