RAFairman's Blog

An RAF Airman's Blog

Digitalis Purpurea…

I like to pride myself on my general knowledge. I may not know a lot of important stuff, but I do know the sort of stuff that means I can rattle off answers on the General Knowledge rounds of Mastermind, and even get the odd point or two on University Challenge.  And this is down, I guess, to my father who loved facts and documentaries and the news.

That love has stuck with me through my life.  If I get a chance (which isn’t often with a three year old around) I’ll switch the TV over to the documentary channels and have a good old geek out.  All in all it has meant that it gave me a good general knowledge – even if that means I don’t have a very good specific one and one of the reasons I loved my time instructing was because of the opportunity it offered to try and share my love for general knowledge…

Instructing can, at times, be a bit of a dull job.  Especially when you are teaching a small equipment that fills a two weeks phase in someone’s training course, on a three week rotation.  This means that every three weeks we started a new class on the same equipment, over and over and over again.

Now the equipment was a Navigation and Weapons Aiming System (NAVWASS) that used to be fitted to the Jaguar aircraft, and was pretty out of date…however, the reason it was used was because it was a real aircraft system – albeit built into wooden mounts in a classroom at RAF Cosford – and so it gave the trainees a real (but safe) hands on to a real set of aircraft boxes, doing a real job.  It gave them their first view of systems thinking and systems fault-finding.

And most of the time it was great fun.  Made even better, as ever, by the people I used to work with.  Two of us, both Corporals at the time, would spend about 4-5 days in a classroom doing the ‘Theory’ of the equipment, which was then followed by 4-5 days of ‘Practical’ in the labs – with hands on time.  Finally a day or so would be spent on two exams, one 20 question theory and  a 45 minute practical.  But, as I said, doing this over and over and over again could get a little dull, so for our own interest we would throw in lots of anecdotes and stories. Sort of imagine this blog, verbally…

When the theory instruction would get particularly heavy, we would throw in a break for the lads and lasses to get some fresh air, and then on their return to the classroom we’d not talk about NAVWASS, but instead just ask some general knowledge questions.  Stick up a picture of a flag and ask for the country, when was a certain king crowned, what is the Latin name for the Foxglove.

Yeah, Latin name for Foxglove.  This became a standard question, asked several times during each course, and indeed we even worked it into the theory and practical exams…’Ok AC Jones, so can you tell me what THIS symbol is for on the Head Up Display, and what is the Latin for Foxglove?’

And I thought very little of this in the grand scheme of things until a few weeks ago, when at a function somewhere I met an old trainee of mine.  Now, teaching so many trainees, so long ago, meant that my dim memory for names had left this chap anonymous to me, but I did recognise his face from a distance, and I racked my brains for his name when he came up to talk to me.  Eventually, after about 5 minutes of conversation I had to ask him for his name, and when I taught him.  His name was Mike and he was one of the first classes I taught back in…2001! Just about 11 years ago…I felt very old. Even older when he told me that he’d just been Commissioned as an Officer in the RAF, and now outranked me. I felt like an under-achiever…until we came to part…when as we’d shock hands and turned to leave he turned back around and said two words…

‘Digitalis Purpurea.’

‘What?’ I said slightly incredulously.

‘Digitalis Purpurea. The Latin for Foxglove. I’ll always remember that. Can’t remember much about NAVWASS, but I will always know the latin for the bloody Foxglove. Thanks’ He smiled and walked off.

I smiled too.  I am not quite sure what the ‘Thanks’ was for; for teaching him in general, or for teaching him the specific, and yet useless fact that Digitalis Purpurea is the Latin name for Foxglove.

But I didn’t care. It didn’t really matter. It didn’t feel that much of an under-achiever any more…


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5 thoughts on “Digitalis Purpurea…

  1. Suzanne Dando on said:

    Wonderful! Throws a whole new light on that old cottage garden favourite!…

  2. How is it that some of the prettiest flowers are the most toxic? Mother Nature’s SOH is definitely twisted!
    I’ve recently been educating my son and his friends about the largely innocuous but highly dangerous Hemlock; so common in our wild hedgerows and often touched by people who carelessy run their hands through the pretty flowers. Beautiful, but potentially deadly. Scarily, a member of the parsley family.
    So like mushrooms, be careful what you pick!

  3. Lovely vignette. But you don’t really think of yourself as an underachiever do you?

  4. And that, Alex, is an example of why so many of us enjoy reading your blog. You make us laugh. We have by the way just got back from a road trip in our motor home to Scotland and growing by the roadside in colourful profusion are: have you guessed it yet? Yep, digitalis purpurea!

  5. Alison on said:

    I’m going to be really sad now, but did you know that due to the presence of cardiac glycoside digitoxin, everything about this plant is poisonous. However, it is this very compound which is used as medication for heart failure. You could probably answer all sorts of pub quizes that..

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