Gap years. When I was editing this piece, for some reason I started thinking about gap years, and realised I actually had four and a half gap years. There are two sides to this equation, for those intending further education, it can be useful to take a temporary job in the profession or trade you’re thinking of following, this will harden your views on the subject. If it is just a protracted holiday, with a dilettante interest in some vague subject, one is lucky to be able to afford to do it. For those not involved in further education, the sooner they get on the bottom rungs of the ladder, the wider is their opportunity and broader their perspective. In my case the gap years affected me both from the point of view of scope, because so many of us were returning all at once, and also from my pension aspect. In today’s climate, with such wide access to information and ideas, careful thought, and good research is essential, as at this stage one’s whole future is at stake.
Crash courses. One hears a lot today about crash courses. My introduction to a crash course was the first 22 weeks of my naval career, 18 of which consisted entirely of learning the rudiments of electronics, and the entrails of dozens of radio and radar transmitters and receivers. When we passed out, we would be having to maintain the sets, be totally on our own in a strange environment, in difficult conditions, with only a handbook for guidance. I believe that whoever set out those courses, knew the essentials, new the conditions under which we would work, and tailored the course accordingly. It certainly worked. While I was at sea, thinking I would be returning to my job as a surveyor, I started a primary correspondence course in building construction but I discovered, even though I had considerable spare time, the lack of easy communication, was a serious deficiency. I therefore wonder if some of these courses which are sold on the Internet, or promoted on the Internet, have the same problems as I had. What we learned in those 18 weeks, by reading, listening and with hands-on, was incredible. Crash courses, to be of any use must be of a high standard, tailored to suit the requirements of the individual and in a first-class teaching environment. Courses I have attended in evening class were never up to these standards, and the products of some of the technical courses currently replacing apprenticeships, are suspect.
3 Weeks In The Isle Of Man. After three months in Newcastle we left for the Isle of man where we were billeted in boarding houses on the front at Douglas. Further along the front, similarly housed but behind barbed wire, were the Italian internees, mostly harmless waiters and restaurateurs who would probably have been a greater asset to the war effort than some of us. Unsurprisingly, none of us realised the welcoming officer, the Entertainments Officer, was John Pertwee, the actor, later to be of Dr Who and of Worsel Gummage fame. It was his job to inveigle us into contributing to the overall entertainment on the island. With a pleasant, innocent smile he enquired if we played rugby and those foolish enough to admit to it were promptly enrolled in the team and issued with navy blue kit. Later he was back recruiting volunteers for an amateur show to be put on at the local theatre. If you have read my piece on Hypnotism, you will know the story of the heinous hypnotist.
The rooms in the boarding houses had been modified to be small ‘cabins’, a euphemism for a ha box. We slept on two-tiered steel bunk beds. The dining room and lounge on the ground floor, was where we were supposed to study, but in which we mostly played a gambling bastardisation of Ludo called Uckers. Each morning we were marshalled and marched up to Douglas Head. The building there, once a hotel, was converted into a radar signal school. Radar then was incorrectly called RDF,(radio direction finding,) as the Germans were understood not to have it. The original designs were for use in aircraft and consequently small. We were also trained on substantial versions for use in ships. The theory was difficult to master in such a short time, and the distractions of being on the Isle of Man, where the war seemed so far away, didn’t help. There was a dance hall, there was poker, Uckers, and the local services canteens. Finally, of course there was Lieutenant Pertwee and his bloody rugby, and I use the term advisedly. The RAF had a policy of retaining on their station, anyone who was a blue, or international rugby player so they built up what amounted to an international team, but Pertwee didn’t tell us this when he asks us if we played any sports. I turned out with the rest of the sheep for the slaughter. It was evident, very early, we were going to lose heavily. I noticed that my team mates tackled late. For some insane reason I decided to show them how. A six foot four, 17 stone, international was lumbering down the field when I tackled him round the knees. I was told he didn’t even stutter, just went on to score, while I lay there, literally out for the count.