Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Memories of Swinderby

This is me and the lads. Royal Air Force Swinderby ('Swinders') September 1978. Thats me in the middle rank, third from right. The chap to the right of me is Peter Orme, from Sheffield, one of the great characters of our intake.

Front rank, far right, is Eric Mayne, from Biggin Hill. Eric was my roomate in the notorious 'spurs'. I actually preferred the spurs to the hideous Gibson Block, with its dormitories. Eric was very quiet, and got on with what had to be done. He was highly intelligent, and one of the older members of the intake, I was one of the youngest. He was the perfect roomate.

Front rank centre, with the pace stick, is Corporal John Weeks, our drill instructor. He scared the hell out of us for six weeks, and once threw my boots through a window because there was a speck of dust on one of them. He actually turned out to be a really nice guy. I met up with him again a few years later when he was posted to Wattisham as the guard room corporal. I remember us getting absolutely hammered together at a British Legion club somewhere on the east coast, after a Remembrance Day parade. I loved parades, and always volunteered for everything.

Rear rank, seventh from right, is Simon Gregg, from Market Harborough. I didn't have so much to do with Simon at Swinderby, but after passing out we went to Cosford together to do our trade training, and over the course of four months we became very close friends. We had similar tastes in music, and both enjoyed the cinema. He had a great sense of humour, and was very easy to talk to. One Sunday, I caught him listening to the The Archers on Radio 4. From that point on he was known as 'Archie' - everybody in the RAF gets a nickname. I was 'Ted', for obvious reasons. John Weeks had a different name for me - several of them, in fact!

At the end of our course at Cosford, we were told one morning "postings are up!", and so the four of us who passed the course ran off to the general office to see where we were to be posted, all hoping that we would not be sent to Scotland.

I got Wattisham, with its Phantoms, Simon got Wittering, with the Harriers. We were both thrilled.

February 2nd, 1979, in a heavy snowfall, we stood on the platform at Birmingham New Street station, shook hands, and went off to see what lay ahead. Simon was killed in a tragic accident shortly afterwards, something that upsets me deeply to this day. You couldn't imagine a nicer lad than Simon.

Swinderby is closed down now. Unless you have experienced it, you cannot conceive of what those six weeks were like. But the feeling you have when you pass out at the end of it makes it all worthwhile.

Well done to Michael Slevin for putting this little video together.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Canal Swimming Club - No Swimming Allowed

It is one of those truly unique 'Belgian' moments.

I love Bruges. If you have never been there, I suggest that you put it on the top of your 'must see' list. As Ralph Fiennes so memorably put it in the 2008 movie In Bruges "its like a f***ing fairytale..."

Well, even Han Christian Anderson couldn't have made this up. A swimming club where no swimming is allowed.

The canals of Bruges are lovely - I am often in the town myself - but to be frank I wouldn't want to swim in them. But what is the point of a swimming club where swimming is prohibited?

To be fair, there is some small print that suggests that swimming might be allowed in certain periods of the year, but only if the water conditions are "good".

Trust me, you do not want swim in those canals, as beautiful as they appear.

Interestingly, having inspected the recently installed waterside decking that is home to the Canal Swimmers Club, a great place for sunbathing, I noticed that there is a bar. However, drinking alcohol is also prohibited by the police.

A little advice - it is worth staying overnight in Bruges, as the town empties of tourists from about 8pm onwards, and becomes very quiet. That is the time for a stroll along the canals. Just don't go for a swim.....