That first day we were introduced to electron theory, electricity in its various forms, how it was measured and in what units. Our Instructor frequently asked questions around the class to ascertain the level of each individual's understanding. Before our studies could commence on the Tuesday, one of our number who was a degree holder and rather full of himself, spoke out. He stated fervently that he was not suited for this work, he did not understand it and had no interest in it. It would be a waste of the RAF's time to attempt to train him in Radar, and they would be better off employing him directly in clerical work as he had expected them to. Our Instructor was not unsurprisingly taken aback by this outburst, but he did not 'pull rank', he merely replied with a standard sort of Service reply to the effect that in the RAF we all had to do what we were required to do. Our dissenter was silenced for that day, but on the following one restated his case and although this time he did receive some sympathy, he was still encouraged to conform by carrying on. As the week progressed the principles we had to consider became progressively more involved, and the more unhappy our colleague became. On Friday morning we had to undertake our first weekly test, fifty relatively easy multiple choice questions. Whereas most scored in the higher eighties our friend achieved something in the lower twenties, either from true lack of understanding, or by guile. Our Instructor arranged an interview for him with a more senior officer and on the following Monday morning he was not, as expected, transferred to a less demanding Mechanic's course, but was posted elsewhere. I think the rest of us were somewhat relieved at his premature departure as every evening in the billet, he had repeatedly overstated his case to his captive audience, spoiling the otherwise cheerful atmosphere.As the weeks passed by our Pilot Officer teacher became distinctly less reserved in his relationship with us and let slip one or two interesting revelations about being a National Service officer. We heard that living in the Officers' Mess incurred bills which his National Service pay hardly covered and added to that he hinted that he had become to believe that he was regarded as a lesser type of officer by the majority of his regular brethren. However we heard no details of whatever slights he may have suffered at their hands. He reckoned that all in all we would have a better chance of having a happier experience of service life than he had.
The sheer slog of the classroom theory teaching was broken by periods of 'laboratory' work where we constructed circuits with basic components, then with test meters plotted graphs and drew tables of currents and voltages in our Sketch Book (Form 27). All to confirm that the taught theories did in fact work. Also we visited the workshops dressed in our denim overalls where we were shown how to accurately measure, mark out, saw, file and drill pieces of tufnol. Our theories moved on to those concerning electric motors, capacitance and inductance, but it was not until the third week that I ran into ideas that were wholly new to me. I knew next to nothing about AC theory in general and absolutely nothing where three-phase was involved. Our Instructor, a man of academic science, cheerfully explained everything by resorting to the differential calculus, he claimed that it was the only way it could be explained, but the calculus was something not covered by 'O' Level maths of those days. To me such an explanation was totally invalid, it was nothing more than glib cheating: I expected that a good teacher should be able to get a new idea across by using an alternative explanation if the first did not suffice. Spoilt I suppose because Mr.Ingham, my Victorian born Physics master at Abingdon School had always managed to do that. For me a new concept could only be explained satisfactorily in terms of concepts I already understood. Accordingly I wobbled, but I was not the only one to do so. However, we were greatly helped by those of our colleagues who were already qualified in this field, as they very willingly became our evening tutors back in our billet. I had scored 65% in the second weekly test, and when the much more important third week test came I was unable to be optimistic about reaching the required 70% pass mark.
We were confronted with fifty multiple choice questions, the easiest of which always seemed to have two correct answers. Sufficient time was allowed, and needed to be, as very careful consideration was required. But a trained monkey is likely to get one in four right in a multiple choice test, and with the last twenty questions I could only usually eliminate one of the four answers to each question, so I was literally attempting to pick with the proverbial pin the correct one out of the three choices remaining. We exchanged answer sheets for the marking, which turned out to be a lengthy process as there had to be a post mortem conducted on each question. If it was found that a near 100% had chosen a particular answer, whether correctly or incorrectly, then that question was noted by our examiner and it would never be used in the same form in subsequent test papers. This then was why every question appeared to have several right choices for for an answer. A question was deemed to be a good one if the choice of answers selected was pretty well equally distributed! However I eventually found that I had scraped through with a score of 72. One of our number, a man who I considered had a better grasp of the subject than me managed only 65, and he was duly back-classed. Perhaps his pin had been less sharp than mine?
So much for work, but there was much more to being at Locking than the daily grind. First I should say how relieved I was to find myself a member of such a happy gang of compatible colleagues, a huge relief after the mixed bunch at West Kirby. Here we had no feeble minded trouble makers with which to contend. Varied senses of humour yes, with the droll, dry and slightly zany all contributing to an encouraging atmosphere of togetherness in our mutual purpose of getting through the course, and the idea that we should be competitive never arose. Smokers were in a minority, National Servicemen could hardly afford it, and there was little swearing, no excessive drinking, and everybody kept themselves and their bed spaces clean.
The food provided in the cookhouse was rather variable however but never inedible, and there was a NAFFI which offered a basic alternative. The NAAFI also had a Television room and this was equipped with a projection TV which gave a larger picture than normal for those times.
As for the Sports Afternoons, well there was an element of farce about those. Everybody was required to do a 'sport' so the afternoon always started with a parade of sportsmen so that names could be ticked off. Failure to be there would result in punishment, so there could be no shirkers. The Rugby and Soccer players would already be in their strip, and off they went so eagerly to chase their respective balls as did the two men each clutching a couple of golf clubs. There was a posse of keen cyclists in close fitting black sealskin shorts clutching fragile looking racing frames. But to their scorn there were alternative cyclists whose machines were rusty sit-up-and-beg old bone shakers, and they claimed to be "Sociable Cyclists". Perhaps these took the same route as the Country Walkers who always went en bloc through the Main Gate, but who knows where after that? Model Aircraft flying was an allowable sport and we always had a group holding examples of their hobby, but was the man who held a wooden lavatory seat serious when he declared it to be the basis of a control-line model? Thus there was huge scope for inventiveness and if a person carried evidence that he was half serious, anything could be deemed as a sport, and the supervising NCOs proved to be good sports themselves : they did not not turn a blind eye, but would turn highly sceptical ones. They would then quiz the dubious sportsman at length and usually allowed themselves eventually to be convinced.
I usually opted for swimming and this was a combination of healthy exercise and scive. We were taken by RAF bus to Weston and into the old Victorian indoor pool. After changing in the cubicles around the edge of the pool we were all required to jump in. After that it was up to us : if we wanted a good swim we could go on doing so for a couple of hours, but if a quarter of an hour or even five minutes was sufficient for a person, he was not prevented from sneaking away to wander around the town. Sea swimming was out of the question at Weston, as the tide so rarely condescended to rise sufficiently in daylight hours, although the tantalising breaking waves could always be seen a mile distant over the muddy sand. The Victorian authorities built a large sea-water bathing establishment close to the Promenade to better cater for those who believed sea-water to have therapeutic powers, but by 1957 it had become a very run-down affair which I could not bring myself to patronise. I only ever saw high tides in the evenings, when the recreation in prospect was certainly not swimming.
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Text © 2006 D.C.Adams