"IF I CAN HELP SOMEBODY . . ."

By Willie Keays.

It was in late June 1977 that my second tour at Halton commenced. After OCTU I had gained a Teacher's Certificate from the University of Manchester. As an educator my commissioning had been benevolently back-dated four years so I had only a further couple of months as a Fg Off. That meant I was in line to do Orderly Officer at least once, a duty I faced with mixed feelings remembering my persecution by Flt Lt Sturgeon at Maitland Guardroom in 1956 (See Journal No. 6).

It was on the Saturday of the August Bank Holiday weekend that I was tabbed as the OO. Nothing much happened until the afternoon when the OSgt contacted me at the Officers' Mess. He said that a sergeant's wife from a Trenchard Avenue MQ had been giving him a hard time. She said her husband was in Germany. The oven in her cooker was u/s and as she had bought a large turkey to feed her four kids she was demanding action to fix it. The OSgt had contacted somebody from Works and Bricks who firmly told him nothing could be done until Tuesday. He then suggested she ask one of her neighbours to cook it for her but it seems as if she was not on good terms with any of them. Could I help?

I went to the lady's MQ and checked out the cooker. The oven was tripping the circuit breaker in the consumer unit in the hallway; probably a short circuit in an element; one of them was showing signs of that. Following the OSgt's lead I suggested that she approach a neighbour to help her out; NFI. I said I would ask on her behalf pointing to the next door quarter. 'That's empty', she said. 'There's no-one there!' An empty MQ with a cooker and serviceable elements? Hmmm.

On Nimrods "robbing" had been a way of life. Then I thought of what Works and Bricks would do if somebody not qualified to fix cookers had intruded into their preserves and replaced the defective element with one he'd robbed. Well, six years of day-release at Inverness Tech had gained me a sheaf of paperwork including a HNC in Electrical and Electronic Engineering. During my Teaching Practice at Rochdale Tech I had had to show Special Needs students how to wire up a ring main (!) and, after all, I was in charge of the Electrical Power Lab in Comedy Hall. I reckon I was qualified. It would be a breeze compared to changing a Belvedere engine up the ulu. So, suitably emboldened, I headed for the Guardroom and got the keys that let me into the Families Office. There I found the key for the empty MQ. I visited my lab in Comedy Hall, picked up some tools, an AVO and a Megger.

When I got into the empty MQ I checked out its cooker. It was fine but before I worked out how to rob it of its element, the penny dropped. Why mess around changing elements? Just change over the cookers! That hardly took an hour. I deposited the u/s cooker in the empty MQ without connecting it and left a suitable note for Works and Bricks. Taking my leave of the "Lady of the House" I could see she was very pleased with her new cooker but didn't once look me in the eye. Her kids were excited.

On the Tuesday, first thing, I went to tell the Families Officer what I had done. He was a civilian, a Retired Officer. He looked somewhat dumbfounded, stood up and went to look out the window.

'You weren't to know,' he said with exasperation in his voice.

'Eh?'

'She's divorced. Her ex-husband is now stationed in Germany. She's in illegal occupation of that MQ. We've been trying to get her out for months!'

'Oh dear!'

'And anyway, what's an officer doing going round fixing cookers?' he asked sharply.

'Well, you see, I had thought of taking the turkey up to Halton House and asking the chef there to cook it.'

'Christ!' he exclaimed. 'I'm glad you didn't. What would people think?'

Yes, indeed. What would people think?

On the way back to Comedy Hall I was feeling a little chastened, but when I thought of the happy drooling faces of those four kids awaiting their roast turkey, my step lightened and that song came into my head . . . 'If I can help somebody . . .'