…I’d stayed on in the Air Force: “re-engaged” (that was the term they used)?
This theory about “parallel universes” , “multiverses”- I’ve never really bought into that; the idea that every possibility has actually happened, in another universe. Why?
But what if I had stayed on – in this universe – how would my life have been different. Well I would have had a proper ‘career, and am sure I would have made Warrant Officer: good pay, nice uniform, status.
I felt “safe” in the RAF. Does that sound odd? In an organization whose main purpose was to fight wars? It’s true though, in the sense that I felt part of something; I had a place, and, in a strange way, I felt I belonged.
So I reminisce, probably editing out the bad bits. But there really were good bits, mostly on my “permanent” station, that camp by the slag heap (the “signals section” was actually built into the slag heap).
Names and faces come floating into consciousness: Tony, Dick, Jim, Phil, another Jim, Norman, Maurice, Jock, and not forgetting John who nowadays would be called gay but that appellation had not come into being in 1956. John was never called “queer” he was just accepted as being “different” . I can remember when all the signal arms started to clatter in unison John would shout out ‘Panic Stations!’
We became good friends. He had a great sense of humour, and loved the theatre (as I did) and we went to shows and to the pub, and I took him home on a couple of occasions. He told my parents his mother worked in a Milliners. ‘Oh, that sounds like a nice job.’ said my mother ‘Yes,’ replied John, ‘and she gets all the hats she can eat’.
He got posted to the Far East but we kept in touch, even after he was demobbed. The last I heard of him he had formed a drag act with a friend: The Dolly Sisters. We lost contact but I still have a photo and he looks brilliant in drag. Funny, he never tried to convert to “bat for the other side”.
And then there were the WAAFs. Lovely girls: Mary, Janet, Sybil, Claire, (gusty) Gale, Dixie, Korky… and many more. Oh yes, and there was the ex Birmingham “clippie” (I can’t remember her name) I went out with a couple of times. One summer evening I took her to Southport on the back of my motorbike, wearing a tight skirt. (I didn’t often wear a tight skirt!). She was a game girl, just hitched it up and away we went.
Then there was Claire She was an ex model, or so she told us. She was lovely looking and we went out a few times. One night at some demob party or other she got drunk, was sick and lost her one false tooth. She wasn’t with me that night but Mary told me about it afterwards. She was duty airwoman and helped Claire to look for with a torch outside the WAAF Block. They didn’t find it and. as it was a front one, Claire kept a low profile until she had another one made by the local dentist.
Ah, Mary. I fell in love with Mary. On Wednesday – Sports afternoon – we used to drive into Southport; six of us in Jim’s car – Sybil, Janet and Dick were the other three. I can still re-live those afternoons and evenings.
I was devastated when Mary got posted to Singapore. I met up with her many years later through a Services web site. She had Parkinson’s disease and we corresponded, and talked, at least once a week, on Skype for two years. She died suddenly, and I travelled to London to attend her funeral. Mary had always told me she would have “Always Look on the Bright Side” sung by Eric Idle at her funeral, and it was played just as we were leaving. The priest looked a bit bemused when he announced it. I felt really close to Mary when I walked out to that funny, uplifting song.
By the way, I didn’t go out with all sixty of the WAAFs on camp, but I was only there eighteen months.