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Going to Cardington

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Edited by Geoff Cooper, Saturday, 16 Nov 2019, 12:16

This is the second half of my original post about joining the Royal Air Force in 1956. Shows how old I am.

It was relatively easy to find the next train in the big city station. It was the station where many exciting childhood journeys had started: to London to Auntie Elsie, all over southern  England to find father during the war, annually to Scarborough for our holiday week and even once to Paignton in Devon. It was on the next train that I met fellow traveller recruits. They were men. They resented National Service because they had jobs in factories. To them, two years in the Royal Air Force represented a hiatus: less income, fewer girl friends, only rare visits to the pub. This was a revelation to the greenest, the most naive of them: me, straight from school.

The next change of train was another revelation. In those days, changing trains at Sheffield involved a walk from Victoria to Midland. Not far to walk. To my companions, the biggest issue was which pub we should visit, given that we had a length of time to wait for the connecting train. I’d never been in a pub, coming from a near teetotal, non conformist leaning church background. Had my grandfather not been a Methodist local preacher? I had no idea what to order. My new found colleagues knew precisely what they wanted. And proceeded to introduce me to drinking beer. Which I hated.

A bottle of IPA was recommended. I had no idea then what IPA meant. It was relatively innocuous and while they downed their pints and ordered a second, I struggled to get though the one bottle of India Pale Ale, brewed relatively locally at Burton. We managed the change of train but with me in something of a daze, partly caused by the intaking of unaccustomed  alcohol and partly by anxiety about making sure we did catch the train. 

We did catch the next train. There were further refreshments en route and most of us were very relaxed on arrival at Sandy, where much to our surprise there was transport awaiting us to go to Royal Air Force Cardington. I was anticipating this eagerly, because it was here that my father had begun his war time service. The enormous hangars, legacy of the R series airships were impressive. 

There were 36 of us in one barrack room. To my eternal shame, I denied my post adolescent Christian principles and didn’t join the one recruit who knelt at his bedside to say his evening prayers. But I was there, ready for the adventures of the next few days. I had arrived. I belonged. Until next day.

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The Voice

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Edited by Geoff Cooper, Saturday, 16 Nov 2019, 12:18


If I could paint 

Like Turner

I would capture

This evening’s sunset;

This glorious sunset

As the distant mountains

Swallow its glow.

If I could write

Like Lawrence

I would write

Of that gap

Between the swallow’s


And the twisting flitter flutter

Of the bat.

If I could write music

Like Handel

It would celebrate 

This calm, clear night

But I can’t 

Therefore I won’t try.

So I take a photograph

With my mobile phone

And capture no feeling.

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The Beggar

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Edited by Geoff Cooper, Saturday, 16 Nov 2019, 12:19

The Beggar

At the Saturday market

Among the children playing,

A man holds 

A violin.

Beautiful instrument

Nothing non-descript about it.

It shines, gleams,

Plenty of catgut,

More than enough horsehair.

He scapes away with the bow,


Among the fruit stalls,

For he cannot play -

He has no idea how to play - 

This beautiful instrument.

And I think of

Yitzak Perlman and

Bruch’s violin concerto.

The violin case,

Set open on the ground for offerings,

Is empty

No one stops

To give undeserved alms.

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1956 - Joining the R.A.F.

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Edited by Geoff Cooper, Saturday, 16 Nov 2019, 12:21


In 1956 I joined the Royal Air Force. It was a strange mixture of choice and compulsion. In those days, all men of my age had to do compulsory National Service. No choice. The Royal Air Force was a choice between the three services, chosen principally because my father had been in the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. So a multi-shaded, multi-faceted choice. Aptitude tests had been taken.  An embarrassing medical in a draughty church hall with lots of other young men. A hearing test that I failed until my ears were syringed out. An eye test, with and without spectacles. Not air crew, then. Culminating in the first week of September, with papers ordering arrival at Royal Air Force Cardington by 6 p.m. on the appointed date. An official travel warrant, the first of many.

Although my family and I had been expecting something of the sort for weeks, there was a sudden flurry of activity. Personal items to be purchased anew: new toothbrush, new shaving equipment, a letter writing kit so mother could be assured of my comfort and safety when away from her apron strings. I was, had been, a mummy’s boy, much to my father’s disappointment. A visit to my local railway station, now a well known second hand book shop. For the man in the ticket office, my errand was clearly a matter of routine. He knew where Cardington was although there was no railway station there. His instructions for train times, places to change, even how I would be picked up were clear and succinct. There was no open window of opportunity to get lost.

The great day came. We walked the mile or so to the railway station: mother, father and little brother. For once, my brother was very quiet. The local train, a familiar feature of going to the big city for the soccer match, steamed gently, filling the platform with the tang of rail travel and the expectation of grit in the eye.

‘Now look your father in the eye. He’s expecting it.’ 

It was a feature of my life at that stage, that I found looking my father - and anyone in authority - in the eye, difficult. Steeling myself at the train window, I looked father in the eye and found someone new, someone different. No longer the tyrant scornful of a namby pamby son, but someone who appreciated that I was soon to go through the routines and rituals he had experienced, the same traumas, although strictly speaking, I was not going to war, leaving wife and son, as he had.

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