I enjoyed being an instructor. I loved it in fact. I had never been a great techie, always blundering along, decent, but not great – however, I found instructing to be my thing.
You know, when you just find out you are good at something? Almost by accident. I mean, I had decided to become an instructor simply for geographical reasons. I had a mother who was getting more and more poorly, and my ex-wife had ‘missed’ the death of her grandmother simply because we had been over 150 miles away from her.
So I applied to move to Cosford and by a stroke of luck (after passing a very rudimentary aptitude test) I got posted into teaching Avionic Equipments…and was given a desk opposite Nick – another Corporal instructor – same trade as me, been in the RAF a few years longer than me, and an experienced instructor of 2-3 years.
Nick was a genius. I won’t say he wasn’t troubled – at times his personal life was a mess, with a very nasty divorce behind him leading him at times to take time off work for depression and stress – but he was the consummate professional. He became my instructional mentor, showing me the ropes, introducing me to instructing and teaching. Telling me what to watch out for; just how to be a bloody great instructor and role model for the trainees we were teaching.
Despite what was going on in his life, as soon as we walked out of the office and into the classroom he changed. He grew a few inches, his chest puffed out and his face changed.
“It’s like putting on an act” he’d say to me. “Almost like stand-up. You have to leave everything behind, and put on a face, otherwise you’d fall apart. It’s not fair on the trainees otherwise. They need to learn this stuff, and they don’t need all our baggage holding them back. This is their future, their careers…”
And he was right. I learnt that and many more things from him. I learnt how to build up rapport with a class of trainees – that to get them to trust you, you have to give a bit of yourself to them. They were like sponges sucking up the RAF, and were desperate for stories, no matter what the stories were about, indeed many of the stories on this blog are ones I told to them in later years. And they loved it.
I learnt to be interested in the trainees too. Where they came from, what they’d done before the RAF, because if you had just a bit of knowledge about them, and talked to them then they responded better in the lessons.
We used to sit at our desk in the office and talk about rubbish. Who would win in a fight between Superman and Spiderman. What Grannie kept under those funny little round hats that they used to wear? The relative merits of drinking larger to drinking bitter. Stories of how we’d screwed up in the past. Stories of catastrophes that we’d had. Laughs we’d had as a result of it. Stupid blokey stuff. But also we talked about relationship problems, real stuff too. But mostly we had a lot of fun…
We taught a Navigation Aid and Weapons Aiming System (that had previously been fitted to the Jaguar when it was in service). It was a fairly cool system, with a rudimentary Inertial Navigation device and a moving map display that was quite cool when we got it working. There was a Head Up Display set up with ‘fake’ inputs to make it seem like we were flying, and so it allowed us to set up faults on the system and to test the trainees abilities to work on real kit and to fault find equipment. Good training for later life – working out which box in a given integrated system was faulty, and then having to explain why.
It could have been very dry. It could have been quite dull. It could have been quite stressful for the trainees – as it was the first time they had touched ‘real’ kit in their training. But with a few stock jokes – that we told to each course as they came through on a three week routine – we made it more interesting for them (well I hope we did!)
Actually I know we did, as last week when I was the Guard Commander, I was called through to help with an incident on the front desk in the Guardroom/reception.
Here a newly promoted Corporal had the job of working a 12 hour night shift (much like we guards did) issuing passes, dealing with simple enquiries and acting as a point of contact for any problems that might arise on station during the quiet hours.
Anyway, I dealt with the problem and stayed to chat to the young lad for a minute or two – remembering the lesson that Nick had taught me – just talk to people; learn something about them.
And the conversation turned to our careers. And then he smiled at me. “You don’t remember me do you? You taught me when I was at Cosford. You did a double act with another instructor, what was his name now…?”
“That’s the fella. You taught us that bombing equipment – the one where we had to pretend that a target for a bombing run was Craig David standing on a bridge.”
“Ha! Yeah, neither of us liked Craig David…”
“Yeah, that was quality that was. Probably the most fun we had on our course was in those lessons with you two…”
Nick is a civilian now. He had a really tough time when he left the RAF, almost having a breakdown. I think he lost the structure, lost the ability to talk to people, almost lost a purpose. We still stay in touch though…mostly cos my name is at the top of his phonebook list in his phone (the curse of having a name beginning with ‘A’) and he calls me by accident when he puts his phone in his pocket, but I m glad to say he is much better now.
And I’d like to dedicate a little bit of what I am today to Nick. Who, whilst he wasn’t a higher rank than me, wasn’t any different trade wise to me, became my mentor and became a role model for me to follow. He moulded me into the instructor I became by the time I left Cosford 7 years later. I like to think I was a fairly decent instructor – and I think that if I was, then most of it was down to the bedrock that was laid down by Nick, in those early days.
Thank you Nick.
Oh, and one final ‘in joke’ between just us – Triangle.