A bit about me part 9 - Music Wilderness years

When my 3-year tour in Germany was over, I was posted to RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire. I only spent 6 months there, working in the Stats and Records Investigation Flight, before I was promoted and posted to Headquarters Inspectorate of Recruiting, based in Stanmore, North London.      

I ran a small section responsible for planning entrants into recruit training to enable a smooth and efficient flow into their subsequent trade training. My family joined me shortly after arrival, and moved into a house at RAF Stanmore Park.
It was during this posting that I renewed contact with some members of the Pieces of Mind. On a shopping trip in London, I was perusing records in the HMV store in Oxford Street, when I saw a familiar face on an album cover. The album was called ‘Some Things Never Change’ and the familiar face was none other than Dave Kubinec. He was dressed as a bellhop carrying a tray with a bottle of wine into what looked like a trashed hotel room. I bought the record, which is great by the way, with the intention of contacting the record company, A&M to see if they would give me his contact details.
Being the late 1970s, there was no email or Internet, so contact was done the old fashioned way of writing a letter. I then forgot about until I received a phone call at work from Dave, about 3 months after I had written the letter. He was in regular contact with Adrian, so the three of us arranged to meet in a London pub and had a great drunken night reminiscing.

Around the same time, I also met up with Andy Gibbon, who was in the Blonde on Blonde group with Les Hicks trying to get some material released. I thought the songs they had, particularly the reworked ones from the Rebirth album, were very good. Sadly, I don’t think they got very far.     

Whilst at Stanmore, I worked with a colleague who was studying for a degree with the Open University (OU), which had been founded in 1969 and started taking students, on a distance learning basis, in 1971. His experiences made me think of the education I had forsaken to play in groups. I didn’t stay on in school and take ‘A’ Levels or go to University, despite being quite capable of doing both. I knew my mother had always been disappointed as I was the only one of our family who had gone to Grammar school.
I wanted to prove to myself that I could attain a University degree and being as the RAF would pay part of the fees, I decided to enroll to start at the beginning of 1978. There were not that many course choices in the OU’s early days and to get a degree, you had to achieve 6 credits, of which 2 must be at Foundation level. The Foundation level courses available were Mathematics, Social Science, Technology and Arts. I elected to take Mathematics as my first course and followed this with Social Sciences the following year.

I soon discovered that undertaking part time education, whilst holding a full-time job, was difficult, especially a job such as the RAF that came with numerous other duties. I decided I would take my time and take a year off before continuing.      

The courses I took were: Mathematics, Social Science, Statistics, Research Methods, Computing, Systems Behaviour and Economics. All of them, apart from Statistics and Computing were 1-credit courses; Statistics and Computing were half a credit each. I attended weeklong Summer School courses for the Mathematics, Social Science and Economics courses. I eventually finished the requisite number of credits and was awarded a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in 1986. I had proved to myself I could get a degree, albeit the hard way.

During this posting I finally, or at least I thought at the time it was final, severed contact with guitars. I still had the Pre-CBS Fender Stratocaster I had bought from Mo Wight’s, back in the late 60s and I wanted to buy a Pioneer Hi-fi system. The guitar was not being used, so I decided to sell it in 1980. I managed to get £200 for the guitar, which at the time I thought was excellent. At the time, nobody anticipated the crazy prices that pre-CBS Stratocasters would achieve a couple of decades after I sold it. Still I enjoyed the Hi-fi system more than a guitar that was stored in a case, under a bed. I now had no guitar.

My Pre- CBS Fender Stratocaster
One of the few photographs I have of the guitar I sold in 1980 for £200. 20 years later, these guitars were attracting prices up to £25,000. Our son Mark is sat with the guitar on his lap. His friend Vincent sits next to him, whilst Emma is in the pram. The photograph was taken in our garden at Upwood, so would have been in the summer of 1972.

My next move occurred in September 1980, when I was posted to RAF Hereford. Within a week or so of this posting I received the sad news that my younger brother Terry had died suddenly at home. At the time, I was still waiting to be allocated a married quarter at Hereford, so my family were still living in Stanmore. This meant I was living in a barrack block during the week and travelling back to Stanmore on Friday evenings.      

One weekend I had planned to visit and stay with my brother and his wife, who lived in Caldicot, however, something came up and I had to go back to Stanmore. Late on the evening of Saturday the 20th September we received a knock on the door from the orderly corporal. He told me I had to contact the orderly officer and gave me his address. At this stage, I knew someone in my family had died, but expected it to be my mother or grandmother.

When I went round to see the orderly officer at his house, he opened his door and the first words he spoke to me were ‘Your brother’s dead’. He then said I had to ring my uncle. I stood at the door shell-shocked, not believing what he had just told me.

I walked back to our house, in a bit of a state and told Jackie, who also couldn’t believe it. We didn’t have a telephone, so I had to use a call box to ring my uncle who confirmed that Terry had died. My parents were on holiday, hence the reason I had to call my uncle. His wife had returned home from shopping, late Saturday afternoon, to find him dead in a chair, in front of the television.      

It took me a long time to get over the death of Terry. The callous way I had been informed of his death and the regret I had of changing my mind of visiting him that weekend preyed on my mind for months afterwards. I kept thinking that perhaps I could have prevented his death if I had been with him that weekend. In the end, I went to see one of the doctors in the RAF medical centre and discussed how Terry had died.
When I showed him a copy of the death certificate, the doctor told me that there would have been nothing I could have done to save Terry. Essentially the disease he had, which was something to do with the pancreas, would have had to be diagnosed a long time before his death. This certainly allayed some of my worries, but I still feel bad that I never had the chance to see him one last time. There have been many occasions, usually when I have been on my own, that I have silently wept.

As for the way I was informed, whilst I can try and find excuses such as the military are over familiar with deaths or perhaps he thought my brother was severely ill, I still think the officer handled it extremely badly. He could have had least said he had some bad news for me or even shown me into his house to sit down. Life is hard; however I cannot forgive his action.     

After Hereford, I moved back to RAF Brampton, which was now Headquarters Support Command. The job was similar to my first one in that I would be analysing training data with around a dozen other colleagues in Command Stats. The big difference was that I had been promoted to Sergeant on leaving Hereford. I stayed in this post for a couple of years until I was moved to another Inspectorate, this time the Flight Safety one at the Ministry of Defence in London, where I was to spend an enjoyable 4 and a half years working in civilian clothes.
For the first 6 months I carried on living at RAF Brampton, making the daily commute from Huntingdon to London, by train. It was in London that I started working in Information Technology (IT) or Automated Data Processing, as we called it back then. The IT role came with an added benefit of a pay increase.      

Eventually, RAF Brampton insisted that I move out of their married quarter to one at RAF Uxbridge. I took a trip to Uxbridge, along with my family, to look at the married quarter we had been allocated and also check out the local area. I am really glad we did this, as the quarter was awful. It was a terraced house with a huge radio mast overlooking the small back garden and Uxbridge was a large town, much larger than what we had been used to. This visit prompted us to buy a house, which we did in a small village, near RAF Brampton, called Offord Cluny. It was situated a few miles from St Neots Station, which meant I could manage the daily commute to my job in London.

In April 1987, I was posted to the Maintenance Analysis and Computing Establishment, at RAF Swanton Morley. This base was well about 75 miles from where I lived in Offord Cluny and there was no direct way of commuting by train, so I took a decision to make the daily 150 mile round trip by car.      

The route, I took from Offord Cluny, was across the Fens via Chatteris, Downham Market, Swafham and Dereham before reaching Swanton Morley. Most of the time, the journey was quite pleasant and relatively traffic free. However as winter approached, you tended to get early morning fog combined with ice, which made the road conditions treacherous, particularly those stretches that ran along the many drains you get in the Fens. There were many instances of drivers skidding off the roads into the ditches and, sadly a few deaths have occurred.

My role there was analysing aircraft fatigue data and to be honest, it was the most boring job I ever had in the RAF; I hated almost every minute of it. The only good time I had was when I attended the annual Rifle Championships, held at Bisley in 1987. I had always been a reasonable ‘shot’, so when the chance came along to attend the Championships as part of the Swanton Morley team, I jumped at it. If nothing else, it would offer me a few days away from the boredom of work.     

I can remember it being very hot whilst I was there, and it was quite uncomfortable sleeping in tents. I also damaged my Achilles tendon when taking part in a competition known as the Queen Mary. This involved firing a self-loading rifle (SLR) in various positions from 500 yards to 100 yards distance. Basically you fired a couple of shots at the target, then had to run 100 yards to the next distance and fire a couple more shots in a different position, until you reached the last 100 yard firing point. All of this in a fixed timescale of, I seem to remember, a minute for each 100 yard distance, whilst dressed in full camouflage uniform and military boots.
I did fairly well, managing to get into the second round. I also beat a young chap next to me, who was in the RAF Regiment. I always remember his officer telling him off for being beat by an old man; I was 41.

The next day, I woke up in the tent and could hardly walk. I certainly couldn’t put my right boot on. I managed to limp to the medical tent and was told by an RAF Squadron Leader that I had come close to snapping my Achilles. He gave me some painkillers and also an excused boots note. He didn’t send me home though, so I was allowed to compete in the competitions that didn’t involve running.      

One such competition was over long distances on the Stickledown range. Shooting at distances up to 1100 yards was quite an experience. I believe the targets were about 10 feet wide by 6 feet high, which seems a lot, but at those distances, you could hardly see them with the naked eye. Even with the telescopic sights we had, the targets looked very small. The art was getting your first shot on the target, and then it was relatively straightforward to adjust the sights and move the shot closer to the inner circle.
I scored well enough to make a reserve place on the RAF Support Command team. I didn’t participate in the inter Service competition, but apparently achieving a reserve place was quite an honour, especially for someone on their first time at Bisley.  

Despite enjoying myself at Bisley, I never attended again. I still have the occasional issue with my right Achilles, usually if I do any running, although it can ache when just walking.   

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