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Wednesday 16 January 2013

A novel way to go to work.

It was November 1983 when the phone rang.

"Good morning FE, this is your appointer. I want you to join the RFA (Royal Fleet Auxiliary) Sir Percivale on the 11th of December. You'll need to fly out from RAF Brize Norton and join the ship at Ascension Island. Oh and bye the way you'll be joining as temporary acting 2nd Engineer Officer".

Now I wasn't going to refuse a pay rise so I answered in the affirmative, naval jargon.

"Oh Goody"

On the appointed date I caught the train to Swindon and after a coach ride from the Station, I duly arrived at Brize Norton, the evening before my flight was due to leave. There I was allocated senior officer accommodation (You don't have to share a bog standard two star bedroom). The following morning, after a hearty breakfast (Tea and Coffee), I repaired to the front desk and enquired when the coach would be leaving for the aircraft. The response being "Oh no Sir. We have a staff car waiting for you". (Oh goody, again). However a further surprise was awaiting.

On boarding the aircraft (A VC10), I found that I was going to be the only passenger. Now  you might think that's great, till I looked around to see what else was being transported. You'll never guess.

A fucking shed load of ammunition filling the rest of the plane. Obviously a no smoking flight. Damn.

With all this cargo of course, that meant that it would require a stop for fuel on the way. So after many hours of flight (We were late taking off anyway as the door wouldn't close without a lot of brute force) with myself flitting between peering at the labels on the cargo and and chatting to the flight crew up front, we arrived at our fuelling stop.

Dakar in Senegal.

By this time I was looking forward to the stop. Visions of cold beer and food had been floating before my eyes for some time. (Compo ration chicken curry is not my idea of airline food).

Not to be. Instead of the aircraft turning of the runway and heading for the terminal, it turned the  other way  and headed for the furthest point from the terminal and finally parked next to a smelly monsoon ditch. I was reliably informed by the flight crew that the Sengalese don't like their terminals disappearing caused by massive explosions from aircraft filled with ammunition.

Well at least we could get off and smoke. There was a mad rush down the portable steps when they arrived. I was first off due to pulling rank and off course being closer to the door helped. We didn't even stop smoking when a bowser started filling up the aircraft with aviation fuel.

Eventually having filled up with fuel, we set off on our final leg.

Finally we arrived at our destination without any big bangs and I was that little bit further on my journey.

After entering the airport building I was met by an RAF corporal who was there to take me to my next VIP accommodation for the night. After a quite dodgy journey in a very dodgy, seen better days, landrover I arrived at my quarters. This was an amazing device called a "Concertina". An american version of a portacabin which could be flatpacked for transit and then quickly erected when required. Of course being a yank construct it had lighting and air conditioning built in. Even a telephone.

After telling me that he'd pick me up at 0800 the corporal drove off in his even more dodgy landrover. I did hope he'd come by with four wheels and not three and one trying to emulate a mobius loop.

*I promise you the journey will end soon*

Dawn Broke.

Right on time my friendly corporal turned up and I loaded my suitcases in the back and we set off in the direction of the airfield. Of course I politely asked why we were setting off in this direction, when the jetty was in the opposite direction . To be politely informed by the driver, "Nah Sir, the swell is to great today, so you're going out by chopper" (Helicopter). ooh err.

On arriving at the Chopper landing area and unloading my gear I asked forementioned driver what I should do now? The reply came thus. "When you see a chopper landing just stick your thumb up and ask them to give you a lift". (Before you say bullshit, this was absolutely true at this time after the conflict).

So I did. To a sodding great Sea king.

Mistake. I should have waited for something a little smaller.

The reason being that a Sea King is too big to land on the flight deck of an LSL. (Landing Ship Logistic).

Now as you may have gathered, is that I'm an engineer by profession, and to fly in something that is held up by brute force, with the handling glide characteristics of a brick, is really not my idea of sustainable transportation. However the worst was to come.

After a few minutes I became suspicious when one of the flight crew started tieing  my suitcases together and playing abstractly with the winch. It finally dawned. I was going to be lowered down on a thin wire onto a rolling and pitching ship.

Oh shit.

Actually they didn't lower me onto the ship. They lowered me onto a 40' container on the deck of the ship. Normally the outgoing Engineer will give a handover, verbally and written to his relief, before leaving. You try doing that on top of a container with a multi horsepower egg beater hovering overhead.

That's enough for the night. maybe I'll write the sequel.  Penguins, Bofors gun, how I made millions a few quid from expenses, Gibraltar, how I lost a child? And much, much, more