The day that changed my life was the 7th November 1989. It was the day that I joined the Royal Air Force as a Catering Accountant.
I come from a small village on the West Coast of Scotland, and that day began by me catching the 0620hrs ferry, which would allow me to catch the first train up to Glasgow. Once in Glasgow, I would meet up with my fellow new recruits and catch the train from Glasgow, Queen Street down to Lincoln and RAF Swinderby, where I would spend 6 weeks doing Basic Training.
It’s funny, but even now, I can still remember that ferry journey all those years ago. It was a dark, cold, and still winter’s morning. The only lights were from the ferry itself, and a couple of lampposts. The water was dead calm and jet black.
As the little ferry slipped away from the pier, its engines surprisingly mute, I sparked up a cigarette and watched the place where I grew up slowly drift away into the darkness. I remember feeling no particular emotions as I watched my home vanish – is that sad/cold?
In my defence, I had already said goodbye to my family – Mum, Gran, my sister and brother – the previous day and, to be honest with you, when I had stepped onto that ferry, I had already moved on to what lay ahead, rather than what was behind me.
Anyway, I paid for my ticket – one way, only – and moved to the front of the ferry to watch the twinkling lights on the opposite shoreline grow brighter in the darkness as we made our way towards them.
At this point, I suppose I should point out why I joined the RAF. It’s really very simple – I needed a job. I was 20 years old. I lived in a small coastal village that was/is very picturesque but had no jobs, so I did what most 20-year-old Scots did – I joined the forces. To add a bit of context to that, four people in my street, including myself, all joined the military in the space of six months.
I am rambling now, so back to the ferry. I must have sparked up another cigarette (I smoked far too much in those days, though I am pleased to say I quit seven years ago) and, as I stood there, I remember thinking, “What would the future bring? Where will I end up in the world?”
Well, I can tell you, in the twelve years I served in Her Majesty’s Royal Air Force, I did two tours of the Falklands, lived in Germany for three years – including eighteen months in Berlin, served at a number of different RAF bases in the UK, received an Air Officer Commanding No.3 Group Commendation in the 2000 New Year’s Honours list, and was a PA to a Group Captain for two months.
I met a whole range of people that I would have never met, from the wicked and the witless, to the wonderful and marvellous. I had my heart broken, I broke a few hearts, and, all-in-all, I can honestly say I enjoyed every single minute of it.
Sorry, I’m rambling again. Right, where were we? Oh yes, the ferry. As the ferry docked at the pier, I remember making sure that I had all my bags and waiting impatiently for the ramp to go down, as I needed to make sure I was on the train to Glasgow, which was leaving in 15 minutes.
The ramp finally went down and I handed over my ticket and raced for the train station.
I managed to catch the train with five minutes to go and, as I settled down, waiting for the train to go, I remember thinking to myself as I looked at my watch, “In twelve hours’ time, I will be in a different country and in basic training,” – and I was.
So there you go – the day that changed my life – 7th November 1989.