I was married to an RAF pilot, supporting in the ways ‘expected’ of RAF wives. Giving dinner parties – which I enjoyed as always surrounded by friends and I love cooking when not just for one. Then there was attending the many mess functions including The Christmas Draw (at which we won every cigarette prize one year – neither of us smoked), the Summer Ball and the Battle of Britain cocktail party. The latter was often my evening for not being the designated driver as I really like the champagne cocktails which readily flowed. The nibbles were actually good too. We used to gather round the waiters in a close knit circle as they tried to fleetingly pass by. Escape with their tray of canapés thereby becoming difficult! You just had to hope that they didn’t then do a wide circuit of evasion of your group. At one RAF station, we had Canadian exchange pilots who threw an annual Canada Day party which was always good fun. The dress code was very different – the wives wore the flying suits, though I never was sure whether they quite went with high heels rather than flying boots. As my husband was 6 foot 3 and I am only 5 foot 3, it was a matter of folding up the sleeves and the legs, or better still, fluttering my eye lashes at one of the shorter pilots! I have to say that the flying suits were always returned smelling a whole lot better than when they arrived.
On one occasion, we were asked to represent the RAF at a cocktail party on a Navy mine sweeper visiting the area and moored in Boston harbour. Sadly, Boston in Lincolnshire and not Boston in Massachusetts, USA. Now, that would have been an even better trip to have made, but having said that, it was a good trip. Cocktails until the senior guys left, then a party. Great, until time to leave to find that time and the tide had not served me well. Time had enabled me to have enough drinks to make me squiffy. As for the tide, it had gone out and whereas getting on board had meant simply walking across a gangway, getting back onto dry land involved climbing a good old ladder. Not good when I haven’t had a drink – and certainly not good when you add in that I was wearing a short dress. Having cleared the deck apart from my husband who held the ladder steady, I made it to dry land after a slow, steady and somewhat wobbly climb! I escaped – and thought I had evaded the eyes of the senior service. However, the cheer as I stepped away from the ladder proved that I was wrong on that count!
Then there was acting as chauffeur for the officers only ‘dining in’ or ‘dining out’ (when someone was being posted elsewhere) evenings. Such events were usually followed up by ‘interesting’ tales – and those were only the stories that were deemed fit for sharing! One of a pig running loose through the mess dining room leaps to mind! Maybe said pig had escaped – it certainly made a good attempt to evade re-capture. Poor thing.
The tale of my husband’s dining out from RAF Brawdy would take too long to recount in full and glorious detail – suffice it to say, he didn’t make it to his allocated room in a separate mess block. The one that contained his wash bag etc and he was supposed to be sleeping in. Rather he walked, using the word there very loosely, through a hedge, as in an actual hedge and not a pathway through it, and needed a search party to find him. My sons and myself were staying the night with a friend, whose husband was also at the event. We were expecting the men home, but instead received a phone call, to which the reply was ‘Well, just don’t come home without him!’ He was tracked down in a different, unused block – up the stairs and at the very end of the corridor. The human mind works in mysterious ways at the best of times, but I have a feeling that the alcohol didn’t help his that night. Boy, was that a very long journey over to my parents’ home with a very much under par co-pilot snoring in the passenger seat. The icing on the cake – to be told on arrival at my parents’ that the house we had just left and emptied had had its sale fall through. This on the day that said sale was supposed to be signed, sealed and sorted. One of the more memorable moves that we had.
The escape from RAF Quarters were always much more predictable. It was the wife’s job to thoroughly clean, polish and tweak the place, but it was the husband who did the ‘march out’. Not at all sexist! I wonder, if it was a female member of the RAF, was it her husband who was expected to ‘do the necessary’? I guess not. Said inspection included checking the kitchen equipment – they had counted them out and they counted them back. This included the antiquated Spong mincer which was always the first thing to be allocated a slot in the virtually impossible to reach high shelves of the kitchen cupboards. My friend is also an ex RAF wife. On our visits to various antique/bric a brac places we sometimes see such mincers. We don’t have to say anything, rather we point it out, smile and reminisce. At march out, rooms often smelt minty, as a trick passed around was that if you had a range of tooth pastes, with various coloured stripes, which were ‘the thing’ in those days, and you squidged them up, they co-ordinated with the various pastel shades of emulsion used throughout the house and you could use to fill any holes from picture hanging. This was necessary because we, in theory, were not supposed to have put anything up on the walls unless there was a fixed hook in place. If there were any such hooks, sod’s law was that they were never where you wanted your picture to go.
The final hurdle of march out preparation was always polishing the kitchen floor. Polishing it to a mirror like shine, which was something that I always struggled with. I tried all of the recommended products, stripping the floor back to basics between each, but never did I achieve such a gloss as my friends. Not that this usually bothered me I have to say. My priorities usually lay elsewhere, but I had to focus on said floor on marching out day and do my best. The rest of the house was done and dusted, cleared for inspection. So the idea was that you polished your way out, ending at the back door through which you exited clutching the last of the cleaning stuff. The wife then waited with neighbours whilst the counting took place and the white glove was run over door tops, door jambs, etc. Then, if I had done a decent job, after the inspection, I would have a ‘thank your wife’ passed on from the inspecting bod! I still find the memories of this totally annoying and boy, was I glad when we escaped from married quarters to buy our first home.
ESCAPE AND EVASION EXERCISES
The ‘actual’ escapes and evasions were training exercises seemingly involving a lot of muck, eating nettle soup and endeavouring to get back to a designated place whilst evading ‘capture’. I guess the reasons for such exercises are self-explanatory; as well as supposedly being character building I guess. One such exercise ended up with an intensive search for a missing trainee pilot. Of course they all wore camo, but one guy had obviously done a particularly good job when applying his. He had a habit of falling asleep in lectures – he just closed his eyes and off he went. So when it came to a night exercise, he obviously applied the same principle, giving up on escaping or evading and focusing instead on sleeping. He hunkered down in a dry ditch and ‘just closed my eyes’, sleeping through the night and past the cut off point for the end of the exercise. He took some finding, so I can only presume that he didn’t snore as much as my husband, as that would have been a dead give away.
The end result of such exercises was a filthy dirty guy arriving home with a mountain of stuff to be washed; in need of a good soak in the tub; and a seemingly endless supply of food heading his way. This followed up by crashing out for a long catch up of sleep – in a bed rather than a ditch.
Having dipped my toe into some fond memories from times past, back to the here and now. If you are struggling to cope with your here and now, or really feel like escaping or evading, do get in touch. If not local to me, or are socially isolating, I do work via phone and Skype as well as face to face.
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