A Friday 13th Story

Bernie Heaysman - our hero in combat trousers

This week has most definitely had its moments to say the least.
Everyone is now once again fully engrossed in their own working routine and the mundaneness, (if there is such a word?) can all too soon become the norm. The spice of life seems to amount to how hot the curry is at evening dinner.

What makes the difference and breaks up the days and weeks into smaller ‘bite size’ portions are the things, which happen totally out of the blue, for one reason or another.

With Friday the 13th occurring during this month, a few people were wondering just what bad news would be around the corner. I never knew there could be so much superstition in my line of work, but it is there and has a healthy following, mostly in a light hearted way, but justly respected all the same. It could be the fact the shower runs cold, or a light bulb blows, it matters not. Friday the 13th is to blame. There are no two ways about it.

So for myself, the day started as normal and bang on time. The alarm on my locally purchased Protek watch bursts into life. The shopkeeper tells me it is Protek, and the little sticky label on the back would have you believe this to be true, but I am not too sure. Some of the buttons seem to have a mind of their own on the odd occasion. And the strap, not overly convinced. However, it duly sounds loudly enough to awaken me from yet another incomplete dream at 0545, whilst not so loud to wake my roommate. (I hope so anyway, he has never complained).

Once fully awake and ready to depart my pit as quietly as possible, the springs take over where the watch alarm left off. Creaking, squeaking rather saggy springs seem to do their very best to ensure the silence is well and truly broken. I might as well just turn the radio on and go the whole hog at this rate! Still, under the cover of darkness I vacant the room. The air conditioning unit in our room continues its normal, single speed hum. All we need to do is work out the settings. Typical man I guess, been here three months and still not read the instructions. Again, it would appear the buttons have a function of their own and the temperature rises or falls as a matter of potluck!

By the time I stroll across to the gym it is now 0600. The door is already unlocked and people start to filter in. Normally at this dark time of day, there are the usuals there. Approximately ten people, running, in the CV weights section of the Gym or on the cycling machines. I have yet to count the amount of fitness equipment held within this oversized marquee. One thing is for sure; every bit of gym equipment is put through its paces at some point during the day.
Those who what to do indoor Physical Exercise are very well catered for. From the Muscle Bosuns out there, to the general, ‘I just want to get fit’ brigade, they will never want for an item of kit which can exercise virtually every part of the body! Add in flat screen televisions and the scene is set for a great environment to work out at.

For me it is the rower at this time of the day. Nothing too difficult, just sit down, set the Performance monitor to ‘just row’ and start. What could be easier? The first kilometre always aches, that much I know. Soon, however, I settle into a steady rhythm and the kilometres start to disappear. I often think about stopping around 5 Kilometres, after all, I can always play catch up tomorrow, can’t I? This would however soon mean I am behind and will have to cover the extra distance, adding to an already steep enough challenge. Therefore, 5 K comes and goes, the television holds my attention with a bit of Sky news, if I am lucky. The volume is nearly always turned down as well, so you end up making up the story to suit the pictures. This can be funny enough in itself at times. If the news is not on then of course there is football or golf, and lots of it. For some reason the gym staff seem to think that is all the gym users what to see. Football between two Spanish sides, golf from somewhere in the world which is far too idyllic and appealing to someone who is away from home to watch and not ‘wish you were there’ or news. All of which have the volume turned down. Never mind, I have other things to concentrate on, I need to maintain some sort of drive to keep me going.

Before long 8 then 9 kilometres have been completed. No point in stopping now, one more will see me complete my daily quota. 10 Km done, any extra is now bonus, nibbling away at tomorrow’s requirement. With the hour approaching, 13 Kilometres have been covered and time to stop. I have to be at work in an hour and still have to fit in a shower, breakfast and the mandatory cup of tea. So far, Friday the 13th is a normal day.

Following breakfast and a short cycle to work, I arrive at the flight line and enter the Lynx Detachment hanger. People are already working, as some of them have been in all night. This is totally normal, nothing out of place, just ticking over, ready to cross off another day on the calendar before we head home. In the corner of the hanger is the small ‘office’ where I work. I say office, it is very similar to a steel container used in road transportation, except the door is normal, and on the inside there is a bench along one wall with a few chairs strewn in front, left from where the last person just got up, and left. Books line the opposite wall, all aircraft reference books, well thumbed, a bit tired around the edges and crammed into the shelving provided. Once I place down my rucksack at one end of the bench, my day starts. Into the other room I head, it is actually a tent, inside the hanger.

This is our rest area. Handmade wooden seat frames support cargo nets, which are secured in place as the actual seats themselves. Comfortable, yes of a fashion, hard wearing, most definitely. All spaced around an empty packing case we use as the table. On an additional work surface is where I find the kettle. Already warm, just empty. Once topped up with water, and a strategically placed plastic spoon to tip the kettle back, making the contacts work, the red light is on. Tea will soon be mine. Back in my ‘office’ with a hot mug of tea in hand, my day of Quality Auditing aircraft documentation soon gets underway. This activity is rarely completed without minor intervention, and rectification by the author. This is one of my mainstay daily tasks, to look for fault in others legally binding paperwork. Now it may sound harsh, but it carries with it, a sense of satisfaction. By highlighting errors made, others may cease to follow the same course of action. Thus, by doing so, ensuring Military Aviation is as safe as it can be, for all concerned. This is very much a learning and educational culture, which is employed, not a witch-hunt looking to chastise someone for making an error.

Then I get the boss put his head around the door saying I have a visitor. Now, is this the time for my bad news? What have I done wrong, or who wants me now and for what reason. Through the door steps a RAF Officer. A Squadron Leader to exact. He looks at me square on, just a couple of feet away. ‘You don’t remember me do you?’ ‘The last time we met I had more hair’.

The penny dropped. His name is Sean Leach. Now a man, who I last saw as a boy aged just nine, in Elmore Primary School. He was my bestest ever friend, with whom I spent many an hour playing on the farm which his dad had at the time. We literally spent the evenings, weekends, and holidays together, playing and helping out where we could on the farm. I was genuinely lost when his family moved to a new farm, away from the area.

Since then I often wondered what had happened to him. I knew he had joined the RAF and become a pilot. He had his heart set on flying long before he was old enough to join up. During my years in the Navy, I have looked for his name from time to time, via the intranet etc, but all with no joy. So to see him after nearly 38 years proves to me, Friday the 13th, need not be a bad news day after all. And the ironic part of this tale? Sean has been working three ‘doors’ up from me, operating out of The Merlin Hanger, without knowing just how close we were.

The only reason we met up was wholly due to bibic.

I had put up a few posters saying about the New Years Day Half Marathon challenge in the dining hall facility. Sean had read one, correctly thought there is only one Bernie Heaysman, and spent the following week trying to find me. So, I now have something to say thank you to bibic for. The meeting with Sean has truly made my tour out here something special to remember. We have a lot to catch up on.

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