In work today, it’s all been about the Block.
Junior members of the Armed Forces who are single (or separated or living away from their wife/husband) mostly live on base in what we call Single Living Accomodation.
Or what is known as “The Block”.
And each block has a management team that is charged with looking after the block – in terms of the repair and maintenance, cleaning, general day-to-day management. I am lucky to be in charge of one of the oldest here at RAF Benson. Today I have been checking up on works outstanding, updating room lists, checking for future inspection dates, general admin sort of things.
Built back in the 1930’s when the station was first constructed, it is a classic “H” block, with four wings of accomodation with a linking corridor containing “Ablutions” (such a military word) and Utility rooms. Originally the wings would have been open plan, housing about 15-18 men in each, with an NCO’s room at the end for the Block Cpls to live it. Now each wing has 7 rooms in it meaning that a block originally for more than 100 now has about 50 in it.
To be honest, back then – with that many people in it, it must have been a bit grim – certainly by todays standards. And it got me to thinking about the sort of accomodation I’ve lived in over my time.
When I was back in training I lived in an open plan multi-man room; some 17 of us in a large room at Cosford, and it certainly made for an interesting time. It had hard wood floors, with little brass screws holding the wood down. The windows were original 1930’s single glazing – again with brass all over them. We had to clean the room every Monday night – polishing the floor to a nice gloss shine, and Brasso-ing all the screws.
Eventually we moved into 4-man rooms with CARPETS! Very modern for 1988. And after I graduated from training I moved to RAF Coningsby into a single room. This was about 20 foot long by 10 foot wide (Give or take) but had a sink. This was a major step up for me. I still had to use shared showers and toilets, but it wasn’t a bad place. It did me well for what I expected at the time.
I moved out of the block shortly after to get married and live in my own house. I spent the next 15 years in either my own place or in a Married Quarter but I ended up moving back into the Block when I was divorced and working as an Instructor, back at RAF Cosford.
This was about 4 years ago now and I moved into a fairly new “Superblock”. This was a fantastic room with loads of storage. Still about 25 foot by about 12 foot, it also had it’s own en-suite shower/wet-room. It was a fantastic little place, showing how far the services had come. It was well maintained and we all had responsibility for our own space. It wasn’t much – but it was my own space. I could decorate it how I wanted. Put in what furniture I wanted. Have it how I wanted it…as long as I put it back to the standard magnolia walls when I left.
I had a phone line in the room, with fast internet, and although I thought about it, I never went as far as a couple of the lads did and get Sky.
I loved that room. I loved that place. It was a good time – and I had a good time in it!
The problem is, that I was spoilt really. Whilst a lot of units DO have Superblocks, a lot don’t – and the block I look after at Benson certainly isn’t . I knew it wouldn’t last and eventually I would be promoted and posted away and my accomodation would change. That happened last year and I am where I am right now.
I moved out of the Superblock and into the Mess…into a room 20 foot by about 10 foot…with a sink. But in this case it is not my home – it’s just a crash pad for four nights – because at weekends I am back home with my family so I get the best (and worst!) of both worlds!
(As a bit of interest, I was visiting Coningsby recently and when I arrived on camp – I noticed my old block had been demolished and a nice new huge super-superblock has been built on where it stood…)