Joining the air force, after my five years in a military boarding school was a strange and impulsive decision given how much I hated the regime in my school. But I wanted to leave home and start living life as an adult. I had very little in the way of self-confidence or belief that I might be capable of anything substantial in this life, after all my House Master had told me I was best suited to working in catering.
The advisers in the careers information office tried steering me away from joining as a steward in the catering Squadron as they felt I was overqualified for this and should either apply for a commission or go in as a direct entry technician which after three years training which would lead to the equivalent of an engineering degree. I stubbornly rejected both options and still wanted to enter as a steward, thinking it would be like the work I'd done at the Grand as a waiter and feeling comfortable with this as it was something I knew.
Six weeks later on 10 August 1982, I arrived at RAF Swinderby to begin my basic service training, for those of you that have that experience, you will know this is where they try to make or break you. The early morning starts the bed packs living in a shared dormitory bulling boots polishing brass buckles and getting shouted and balled at by drill instructors that seemed determined to intimidate and break you either mentally or physically. The daily routine included large amounts of physical exercise assault courses, weapons training and parade drill.
For many of my colleagues the level of discipline, bullying and sheer intensity of each day was too much. Many left each week, either quietly selecting to leave or some violently reacting to the bullying by striking back and then being immediately dismissed.The strange thing was that after all the extreme discipline, bullying and abuse at my school. I found basic military training a breeze. Drill instructors could shout in my face all they like, they were going to have no impact.
One thing that did have an impact was on the last day of our training before our pass out parade a piece of gym apparatus fell apart as I was running up to about 15 foot above the ground to jump to a name at at the end of my last indoor assault course I fell heavily to the floor with the equipment breaking my left foot after being stretchered out to the base's medical centre and put into a ward with my foot bandaged up. I was then visited by one of my drill instructors to be told that I may well have to wait until my foot had healed and repeat my basic training. After some negotiation and persuasion, I managed to get the drill instructor to believe that I could attend my passing out parade, even if in a plaster cast and this is what I eventually did before moving on to RAF Hereford to begin my trade training as an RAF steward.
Unfortunately I could not begin by trade training immediately as it took a couple of months for my foot to heal, so I was put to work on the guardroom window and has the joy of negotiating my way around a new RAF base on crutches.
After my basic trade training, I spent a further six years in the air force, doing everything from being a VIP steward working on Royal functions, but the majority of the time I spent managing bars, including a short stint in the Falkland Islands whilst it was still a war zone. I never really fitted the job in the Armed Forces, although I did develop some useful skills for life and was able to observe many interesting characters along the way. What I did discover is that I had quite a talent for persuading people to buy what I wanted them to buy and a fair amount of entrepreneurial flair when it came to opportunities to make additional money.