Tuesday, 8 September 2009

I played chicken with an aircraft.

:en:El Dorado International Airport :en:runway.Image via Wikipedia

AH! The first day of a new working life, no need to rise so early, waking up in my own cosy bed at home, able to watch my son as he lay sleeping peacefully in his cot, wife at the window to wave me me off after cooking me a big fry up for breakfast. I could get to like this I thought.
I set off in the car for what was a twenty minute journey to the airport on an Autumn morning, the sun was shining, and all seemed good with the world. I had my pipe in my pocket, and a pouch full of tobacco, the pipe taking over from the eighty cigarettes I used to smoke during the long days spent at sea. With me spending more time at home I thought it would be healthier for me, my son and my wife if I gave up the cigarettes, so I bought a pipe with an enormous bowl, thinking that with me being a heavy smoker I wouldn't need to fill it so often.

When I arrived at the office where the fleet of cars and vans I was to drive were stationed I was met by my new boss, another Alex, as it happened (my father-in-law's friend.)
He introduced me to the three other men who shared the same shift as me, and told me they would keep me right as to what my duties were to be.
The first job was to take all the cars, land rovers and vans in turn and check them for petrol, oil etc, which took just over an hour, and as we had to dash down one of the airplane taxiways my first journey was taken with one of the other drivers to show me, not only how to get there but how to negotiate the taxiway by radioing the control tower for clearance.
On approaching the taxiway, or runways that we had to use either by crossing or driving up and down on them, we had to get permission from the tower just in case a plane was about to land or take off.
My new workmate duly did this and after some crackling on the waveband decided the traffic controller had given his permission to proceed, so off we went, fueled and oiled, and returned going through the same process with the tower on the way back.
That was my training for this part of the job so minutes later I found myself sitting beside the taxiway calling the tower for clearance. SAFETYMAN FOUR TO TOWER, I shouted through the mouthpiece, CLEARANCE TO PROCEED DOWN TAXIWAY THREE, crackle crackle you crackle to crackle crackle ready. Gosh, I thought, or words to that effect, what did he say? Then with a quick look about to see if any planes were coming I floored the accelerator and drove as fast as I could down the taxiway hoping I would not meet an airliner taxiing towards me, if I did I could just drive under the wing, there's plenty room,I thought; it might be a bit upsetting for the pilot, seeing a van careering towards him, but who cares its not my fault that the radio is crap, here goes.
Fortunately Prestwick airport was quiet at the beginning of the seventies, with only a few passenger flights, cargo flights, the odd air force flight and some training flights, and as it was still fairly early I managed to complete another two journeys without mishap, and with no comeback from my workmates or the tower.

Time for a tea break I was told; tea break, I thought, we have only just started and now we are stopping for TEA! This was too easy, and when Alex came in to see how I was getting on, I was sitting with a mug of tea, and the big pipe filling the room with smoke while the other three men were sitting eating sandwiches and biscuits (cookies in America.)
"Did you not bring a piece with you Donald?" Alex asked, and without thinking or batting an eyelid I replied "Ach I'm only out for eight hours, I'll get my dinner when I get home."
Alex laughed, " eight hours is your shift, you get breaks here, you are not at the fishing now"
The other three guys just looked at me in a strange way, and I can only wonder what they were thinking about this arrogant clown with the extra large pipe, that was sitting in the corner billowing smoke, between emptying water from the bottom of the large bowl that was in danger of extinguishing the tobacco from inside his pipe, who thought eight hours was just a short stint.
I got through the day fine though, having spent it with one of the other drivers, as I learned my way in and around the grounds of the airport, and also leaning where and when to call the tower for clearance, but it still baffled me how they could understand the controller over all the interference that came through the radio during the conversations.

The next day I was on my own, and after the fuel run, (having the same trouble with the radio, but getting away with it) my duty was to drive the technicians to any outpost of the airport that had become faulty, which could mean anywhere within the bounds of the airport, or some of the radar stations situated well outside the grounds.
As I was on standby I had to sit and wait for the phone to ring before I could move, while the other three men got on with their duties, and if nothing went wrong my shift would be spent in the office, waiting, and waiting. Good job I brought a piece with me today I thought as the first two hours went past uneventful, thats where the tea and piece came in handy, helping to pass the time, rather than fill my belly. Another two hours passed before the phone rang, "safetyman driver required to tower to pick up technicians" was all the voice said, at least I could make that out I thought as I set off.
Now, to get to the tower where the technicians were stationed meant driving up the runway, so as I called the tower for clearance the voice replied crackle crackle to run.....crackle after crackle crackle. "Aye you were not very clear there tower" I retorted, as I have a short temper, (something to remember for a future post) "there is too much interference coming through!"
Above the crackling I could make out that he was annoyed because he had to repeat himself, and having noticed already that they, and the technicians seemed to think they were a cut above the safetymen drivers, I shouted back "still can't make you out through these crap radios, so I'll just proceed." I heard the radio crackle into life again as I engaged the gears to do my usual foot to the floor trick, and with the sound of the controller crackling in my ear shouting, I could just make out a NO! crackle crackle landing... I moved forward about two yards onto the runway just in time to see a large aircraft descending rapidly from the sky, luckily, before I had time to gather any speed, which allowed me enough time to turn and hightail it out of there just as the plane hit the runway.
Crackle crackle bloody crackle crackle report you crackle came the voice over the radio, "I TAKE IT I AM OK TO PROCEED NOW" I shouted back, and floored the accelerator before he had time to abuse me anymore. If I ever meet any of these people I will give them a piece of my mind I thought as I arrived safely at the tower. Nothing was said as the two technicians lifted a fairly large computer panel into the back of the van, then jumped in and told me the destination, which meant going back down the runway. OH NO! here we go again, I thought but strangely enough this time the controller came through loud and clear, and this continued for the rest of my shift, although I was only out once more.
What a boring day I thought as I made my way home at least I had some excitement playing chicken with the aircraft, now not many people can say they have done that, which brought a smile to my face.

It was only the middle of the day and I was finished work, so I thought I would go to the harbour to see what was going on.
The Olive Tree was lying at the pier, and the crew were preparing her for the slip at Girvan where she was to get a quick paint before my uncle took charge of her again, so having plenty time on my hands I donned some old oilskins and gave them a hand.
It was good to be working at something worthwhile again I thought, even though I had only been away for two working days, both of which, the Olive Tree had been ashore, and not fishing.
My uncle tried to talk me into coming back, but as I had only been working ashore for two days the lure of a nice breakfast, and a cosy bed was enough to refuse him for now, even though I never thought much of my new job.

The next day after the fuel run was complete, Alex shouted me into his office, and with a smile on his face brought up the matter of me playing chicken with the aircraft.
"You will have to be more careful" he said, "do you realize that if you as much as scratch one of the vehicles you will have forms and more forms to fill out, with diagrams of the accident to explain, and then I have a report to fill out, all a lot of work for very little"
If one of these things land on me I won't need to worry about filling in forms I thought.
"Ach its these radios" I said "you cant make out what they are saying, and I have no patience with these morons on the other end."
He was very understanding with me, probably because he knew me and what my nature was like, and me being new to the job, but I don't think he would have been so lenient with any of the other blokes, even though he was a proper gentleman.

I managed to survive the first week but I was at the harbour at every chance I had, staring out to sea, remembering my adventures out there, and wondering if being a landlubber was what I was really cut out for, or, was that the sea I heard in my ear calling me back again?

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  1. OMG! It's so brave of you to play chicken with an aircraft! Of course you couldn't do it with Olive tree.^^

    The "land" job seems to be quite easy for you compared to what you did out there in the sea. The only problem, however, are the radios and those on the other end. I think I'd be needing to extend my patience an extra mile, too, if I were in your shoes. I mean how can you act at once if you couldn't understand the radio instructions well.

    Your first days at work in the airport are exciting. I enjoyed how you described your experiences being new at the job. The comparisons of your lifestyle, habits, and preferences. How you presented a transition from your last day of fishing when you decided to give it up, to your new environment and activities in the airport. It brings us to a new world with you and I personally felt that I was "there" again because of how you excellently characterized the setting indirectly by simply telling the story.

    The mood of your post is upbeat and laidback. But when you said you went up to the harbor to have a view of the sea whenever you have the chance, it gives a somewhat nostalgic touch. I can picture the scenario. It leaves behind thoughts whether you will be back to fish or stay playing chicken.^^

    You also brilliantly ended your post.. Hmmm, what can I say? Torn between two Alex's?:)

  2. A story worth waiting for! Jobs at opposite ends of the scale for sure. I would think it very difficult to spend so much down time (waiting) after being used to the active life on the sea. Do we have to wait until Wednesday for the next chapter?


  3. this is amazing http://www.real-wishes.com

  4. Donald, what a magnificent story, built to a pinnacle with excitement, a smidgen of panic of "what next" and then when I found all to be well...I smiled.

    Thanks for making my day,

  5. Fantastic story...... its amazing the way you write. Keep posting.

  6. I like that tending to the Olive Tree wasn't work so much as relaxing therapy after your hours at the airport. Very telling, yes?

  7. I rarely take a challenge to read non-fiction stories because my imagination fails me right aftet the first sentence. I need to revalidate the information I gather with facts and data, that's how I cannot realise the writing potential. Your work and knowing you from a distance, will surely ignite a reading spark and perhaps convert me to become an avid reader of non-fiction stories. Perhaps this day has come.

  8. You painted a fantastic picture of you dodging planes, Donald!