One evening, with Mum away on holiday, I was sat downstairs at home, whilst Julian was upstairs with his girlfriend. He came down and asked me whether I would like to play cards with them both! Strip Poker was the name of the game, the prize, sexual congress with his girlfriend. Apparently, she fancied me and had convinced Jules that asking me to “pay her some attention” was a good idea. Not one to be rude, I ensured that I dealt the cards and therefore won every hand. Julian then “absented” himself and I did what I had to do and lost my virginity. It was memorable in so far as in the circumstances in which it happened, but I do not remember fireworks and a host of angels singing, more Jules coming back into the room with a bottle of cider and saying something along the lines of “you all done then?” I made my excuses and went back downstairs, but I had found something I wanted to be good at, at last. I had had an epiphany. I decided with a clear mind that I would endeavour to become as accomplished at sex as it was possible to become, after all it was fun, was exercise as it required some gymnastics and improved stamina, was pleasurable and made you happy and if you were any good, made your partner happy as well. What I did not realise, was that everyone thought exactly the same thing, I was no different from anyone else, BUT, I had decided to practice, practice, practice!
So, armed with this new found goal, I headed back to Chepstow and come the night of the next Disco, I headed towards the girl I had decided would be mine, Angie. She was tall, well proportioned and looked great in cut offs and a tight sweater. What I did not know was that she had been seeing another apprentice named Malcolm (Ozzie) Austwick, who had left Chepstow a month ago and was at Camberley, doing his Combat Engineer course. He had heard from others including Angie’s mate (Shelley) that I was now going out with Angie and he decided to pay a visit to Chepstow one Saturday, to seek out the usurper and if necessary, give him a slap. He came armed, not with knives, but with something far more dangerous, a Black Belt in Shotokan Karate named Mark Cameron.
Fortunately, prior warning was given to me by Angie, that a showdown was imminent and I sought protection from my mates, Rick, Wingnut, Gary and John Steed. We headed over to the NAAFI and settled into our routine of beer, dancing, toasties and more beer. Mark and the Malcolm turned up, the showdown was on. We met in the bar and sized one another up. Then a former mate of Ozzie came over and dragged him off for a chat, I looked at Mark, he looked at me, I said “beer?” he said “yes” and so started a friendship that continues to this day. I might add that it is a friendship that has never faltered, never sought one to outdo the other, has never questioned in its loyalty, never felt forced, never needed to be reassured, never been diminished by distance. It is a friendship that endures through honesty, a shared love of life, it has never been needy, vacuous or insincere and the longer it stays that way the stronger it gets.
We drank ourselves into a friendship that night and I continue to celebrate my luck in finding such a friend. Mark went back to Camberley and I remained at Chepstow, now safe in the knowledge that my going out with Angie was not going to cause any more trouble. There were lads who lived in Bristol and who knew Angie and Shelley who were obviously annoyed at their girls going to the army camp every Saturday. These guys used a pub called The Jolly Cobbler and were know (quite aptly) as the Cobbler Boys. Angie spoke of them in reverential terms for some reason, but when I went over to Staple Hill in Bristol to meet her parents, we went to the Jolly Cobbler and I saw nothing to worry me.
If you were an Apprentice Sergeant and higher, you were given your own room, could decorate it with posters have your own TV and were not subject to inspections. Also, (contrary to rules) you had somewhere to take girls! I had two mates with rooms, Mick Hayes, (by now Apprentice Sergeant Major) and another chap, whose name slips my mind. Both were open to my using their rooms on a Saturday night, Mick more often frequented the Ferry Pub than the disco and had been seeing a sergeant’s daughter, who lived in the family quarters. It’s fair to say that Angie and I made as much use of these rooms as possible; no sooner had the bus dropped the girls off, than we were into the block and only came out when the bus arrived to take the girls back home.
Eventually, I decided to bring Angie home, to meet my mum and brothers and we travelled up to Norwich on the train. Angie was immense fun; she was garrulous and gregarious in equal measure, outgoing and extroverted beyond a care. She fitted in with my Mum and brothers (Richard and Julian) and we went out and about in Norwich. Mum would not have any of her sons sharing a room with a girlfriend and so Angie took the small bedroom over the garage, and I shared the large back bedroom with Richard, whilst Julian had his room over the kitchen. At every chance we got, we were in the small bedroom, whenever Mum went out, we went in. Unfortunately, we became careless and mid coitus Mum walked in on us. She did walk straight out again, but we both got the silent treatment from Mum for the rest of that day, which is more uncomfortable than being told off. One morning, I was downstairs in the kitchen with Richard and Mum when Angie decided she would make me jump, by appearing from nowhere, naked as the day she was born, as I came up the stairs and onto the landing. She leapt up and jumped towards me, only it wasn’t me, it was Richard and I think they surprised one another, as she ran off into her room and Richard came back downstairs laughing his head off.
The next day, I went upstairs into Julian’s room to find Angie in his bed, with him! They weren’t up to anything, Angie being Angie, she simply wandered into his room and to make herself comfortable, had gotten into his bed for a chat, (yea right JW I hear you say). However, Angie and I were starting to drift apart and I remember a horrible argument as she wanted me to spend Christmas in Bristol, and I was dead against that idea. She decided to go back home early and I was quite determined to let her go alone. After she had left, I worried myself stupid, until I knew she was safe back home, and I admit crying to my Mum that I had hurt her a great deal. However, that was that, we were finished and I was soon looking around for someone new.
Being part of the Climbing Club was probably my fondest memory of Chepstow. Staff Sergeant Grenville Christopher, a true Cornishman, was our leader; he treated us as adults, dispensed knowledge, not bullshit, gave us opportunities to learn and make mistakes and was fun. He nicknamed me Willie Weaver (because I got the willies when climbing) and I looked up to him. Every Wednesday afternoon he would take us along the Wye Valley, to climb the cliffs over the River Wye. On weekends, we would go farther afield, to Cheddar Gorge for instance and as we became more experienced, we started to go down to Cornwall to the farthest point, Lands End and the exciting challenges that Sennen Cove held for climbers.
Mind you the lure of the nightclubs in Penzance and the women on holiday was also an attraction in itself. His enthusiasm was contagious and we were enthralled by his ability to climb and to get us to attempt climbs that we would never have approached had he not prodded and cajoled us. He gave us courage to try and it worked, as we began abseiling down sheer cliffs and then climbing back up and I even bought a pair of EB’s (climbing boots) and have since passed them down to my nieces husband, who has now passed them down to his son! One of the civilian trade teachers was into hill walking and approached the climbing club looking for guys to accompany him on a walk through the Scottish glens. It “seemed” like a good idea at the time, so I signed up. The plan was; train to Bristol, train to Birmingham and onto Glasgow, another train to Rannoch Moor, then walk over hills, mountains and around lochs to end up at Fort William, via Ben Nevis, taking in the mountains of Aonach Mor, Aonach Beag and Binnein Beag by way of the Blackwater Reservoir.
All this seemed far off as we clambered aboard the guards van on the train at Bristol, with the instructor asking us to “not wander too far”. As if we could, we were on a train! I ambled through the carriages towards the buffet car and the bar, the others, settled into the seats in the guards van (sitting on their back packs). I bought a can of beer and spotted a seat, bang opposite a very pretty brunette and by Cheltenham we were firm friends. By Birmingham we were sitting side by side and by the time we pulled into Glasgow, we had managed to stop kissing long enough to swap details and we arranged to meet up in Bristol. She was from Oxfordshire and travelled to Bristol with work sometimes, so she’d write (how quaint, no mobiles back then remember) and tell me when we could meet up, which hotel she was staying at etc. Date secured, and much to the disbelief of my chums in the guards van, we set off across Glasgow to Queens Street Station, to catch a train out to Rannoch Moor.
|On the way up!!|
We went past Rannoch Moor station which is a small building; and travelled onwards until we got off the train at a raised wooden platform – nothing more, no buildings and a vast desolate moor stretching out towards the hills beyond. Oh Great! We set off to find a Bothy; these are small basic shelters, usually made of stone, left unlocked for use by walkers and ramblers. They usually come with a few candles, something to hold water and a fireplace for heating and cooking. We trudged along and up the hills we went, lead by this slightly eccentric bloke, amid terrible weather. Soaked through we spent 3 days wandering around getting lost and wetter and wetter, sleeping in Bothies when we would find them (usually well after dark).
|I am second left, looking knackered!!|
|Civvie Instructor in the middle. I am behind camera.|
I meanwhile was still attracting the wrong kind of attention from my tutors and sergeants and I still had to organise a trip to Bristol, once the Brunette on the train got in touch, which she did and which led to one of the longest nights in my life.