Saturday, March 29, 2014


I'm not sure what reaction my students will have when they see this awesomely naff video of my old school in the 1960s (discovered by one of my old service buddies and posted today on FaceBook). Probably hysterical laughter. But, as the movie shows, it was a whole world unto itself.

In my partial defense, I will say that when I went through RAF Halton's aircraft engineering school, about fifteen years later in 1979, the coveralls were fireproof and slightly smarter, and the technology more modern. However, the instructors were just the same character types, crusty, bristly, bloody-minded corporals and sergeants, some of whom were actually left over from WWII, who thought nothing of taking a week's metalwork, rejecting it on some minor flaw, failing tolerance by 1/1000th of an inch, and making you start over. Some of them were probably the same instructors in this movie.

Interestingly, the cars and motorcycles we drove and rode were actually much worse by 1979, as was some (not all) of the popular music, although the newer aircraft types we trained on and later were responsible for were even more awesome. These classic British Lightnings and V-Bombers were cool and helped face down the Soviets in the 1960s, but the Harrier actually won a war -- the Falklands -- in 1983.

The RAF's unique paternalism was just the same, as was the attitude to sports and outdoor activities. I couldn't play rugby anymore by then -- I'd gotten too skinny for the front row, so I became a distance runner instead while at Halton. There were lots of British Asian kids there too, just as there are in this movie. We were also just as nerdy as some of the very young-looking recruits in this movie. The club facilities were probably a little shabbier by 1979, but I spent hours nightly, fixing up my motorcycles in the motorcycle club. Later I learned BW photography in a photography club at RAF Leeming. The glider field was still there, but had newer model gliders.

I never regretted for even a minute becoming an RAF engine fitter. The technical and engineering education I got there was second to none, and it's paid off in thousands of dollars of income and value over the years. I expect the character traits this former life helped me develop -- intellectual honesty, stubbornness, bloody mindedness, being totally unimpressed by spin, results-based, interested in real things and real results -- have been both good and bad for me, but mostly good.

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