I would like to clarify up front that I am not, in fact, 75 years young today. Nor will I be for quite some time. My mental age is another matter entirely; I flick from the barely developed immature mind of a 12 year old boy to the crotchety old brain of a crazy cat lady within the space of a second, so it can’t really be relied upon. In any event, the thing, not the person, turning (turned) 75 was actually my old squadron. The reunion was only a week and a half ago so it is still basically current affairs in my slow life and it is a damn sight more up to date than anything else I have considered writing since February.
It is awkward to describe the squadron to anybody who hasn’t been a cadet in some form. Rocking up in uniform, spending hours each week polishing shoes and ironing things for inspection at least twice a week, rolling around in forests occasionally covered in cam cream… It all paints a very odd picture of 5 years of my life. Honestly, it would have been more than 5 if I hadn’t shipped myself off to university. In my life, there was never an option of joining the squadron. I am wholeheartedly convinced it was programmed into my DNA to become a part of it. My dad was the Warrant Officer for 20 years and a cadet on top of that. My mum was a part of the squadron, mine (or my brother’s) godfather was too. There was just no escaping it. There is a picture the month before I was born of both my parents in the squadron. I was putting in my servitude before I was even born, you see. This should be more than enough to explain to you why I joined on my 13th birthday and only left when I could no longer stay in my home city. My family is like herpes to the squadron. They get rid of us but sooner or later we come back. My brother joined while I was there and lingered after I left. The squadron will never be rid of Ash power for more than a few years at the time. I am sure my brother will have an illegitimate child at some point and the squadron will have the next line of Ash spawn.
The memories within the walls were some of the best I had within those years and the building probably constituted the biggest risk to my health and safety at the time, riddled as it was with asbestos, but that is a story (and a lawsuit) for another time. It was strange being back. My time within the cadets truly was an experience I could not replicate. I mean, how many people can say that they had the chance to fly a plane long before they were old enough to drive a car? Who can say they had the chance to have a helicopter flight on their 14th birthday? In those 5 years, I probably had the chance to experience more than I could ever put into words. The fact I only went flying once or twice because I suffer from violent travel sickness is irrelevant. It actually made for quite an interesting experience when the qualified pilot in the plane opened the canopy in the air over Cornwall for fresh air to prevent impressive projectile vomiting. Now that was quite something.
Going back for the reunion gave me the chance to see people I hadn’t seen since I left for uni, and some from even longer. There were things people started talking about that I should have remembered but for whatever reason they had slipped my mind. Once you start talking, it is hard to stop though. There were many laughs on that moment and for me and Alex (you know, the squadron reunion was basically a family reunion too), there were moments off odd contemplation. Given our mum’s involvement with the squadron, she appears in the roll of honour. It is always a surreal experience hearing it being read out and seeing the looks of sympathy as people look over. It was not exactly the best moment of the day but a moment for collective remembrance.
Speaking of family, I should not have been allowed to sit with my brother at the reunion. Alex might not have much going for him, but he can actually be funny at times… In a loud and often at someone else’s expense sort of way. It was probably not made better by the encouragement from the person who is supposed to be his responsible older sister. Alex does not have a good judge of how loud his voice can be. (I think this may be genetic. I may suffer from the same problem). There was one particular incident involving a silent parade square, the collecting of a reward and the word ‘bellend’ shouted in a voice that came across about as loud as an elephant on steroids next to a microphone. The heckling from the Ash corner was probably inappropriate but the commanding officer is basically an extended part of our family and he seemed to quite enjoy it. I was rather more disappointed than I would care to admit that he would not name the minibus the ‘Ash Appreciation Transportation Device.” I was very much invested in the raffle. Ash Power would also have sufficed though it does not have quite the same ring.
Among the banter and the catching up, the younger generations, also got to see the older. There were some quite notable figures in the VIP area. I could not even start to list their accolades and give them the mention they deserve. I do not have the literary prowess to do so. It was quite the honour to have a number of the guests, particularly given their age. I mean that as no insult, but let us just say they are no spring chickens.
I am loathe to waffle too much about my own experiences within the squadron. You would think 5 years of 2 nights per week and occasional weekends would be quick to cover, but it just cannot be summed up with any ease. I have played a number of instruments in a marching band in front of crowds I can’t even number at airshows. I have helped form a cordon around a field to allow a Chinook to land. I have flown gliders and a plane, I have learnt first aid, leadership, the most effective ways of polishing shoes. I have camped out in forests with little equipment and as a result I can make fires and shelters from scratch with relative ease. I also know how to skin a rabbit and fillet a fish. Both of which are obviously extremely vital skills in my life in a big city. I also know how to use an axe.
In hindsight, I think the survival weekend skills may have been grooming me into a serial killer.
I have schmoozed with far too many mayors and had a role in a fair few remembrance parades, both on and off the squadron. I have commanded a drill squad and been a part of one. If I can sum it up in one way; it has probably been the single greatest thing for boosting up my CV. I would hasten to add I do not tend to use skinning rabbits as my unique selling point, although that may be what I have been doing wrong…
I could write so much more but people have short attention spans and I have waffled. I have not just recapped the reunion, I have fallen into a state of reminiscence that seems to be clutching at my brain. It is telling me to spout memories into words that will mean nothing to anybody and in fact paint quite the odd image as stand alone statements.
For an easy ending, I shall sum up the reunion in one statement:
There were scones; it was basically the best day of my life.