My RAF Journey Series Part 2
A Harrier Jump-jet pilot
In College, around Upper IV, I had completed every 1:72 scale Second World War aircraft of every nationality and thus hit a dead end with this generation of model fighters and bombers. As luck would have it, I was working Saturdays at Redleys toy shop at Carlton Centre at the time. On the shelf, I was drawn to a 1:24 scale Harrier GR1 in a big box. As soon as I could afford it, I bought it and a whole new sense of possibility sunk in over the three-month build process. The Battle of Britain may have been over, but it dawned on me that there was still a modern reality at play and the prospect of an actual adventure in the RAF for young men to embark upon. That prospect – no matter how remote (and it was technically inconceivable for a whole range of practical, legal, geographical and qualification reasons) bubbled up within me as the only goal I had ever truly treasured.
I distinctly recall, the day after this epiphany, telling Sandy Murray in Clayton Quad that I was going to become a Harrier Jump-Jet pilot. He laughed, of course, but the die was cast for me: nothing else mattered.
The 70s were a miserable time for the UK. Strikes were rife and it was said to have ‘Gone to the dogs’. Unemployment was high and the military could afford to be fussy – demanding a minimum prerequisite of three A-Levels or a degree a before applying for the commissioned officer ranks. But new energies emerged when Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979, with a thirst to re-assert Britain as a global powerhouse on the world stage. This tied in nicely with Reagan’s emergence and his hawkish stance at the same time – along with their special relationship to mutually commit to toppling the USSR system. The Cold War had to be decisively won in the 80s.
But Kippie here was only to gain a matric in 1979 and then attempt to enter the fray. That was the plan, no matter the obstacles or absence of qualifications. However – and this is how the universe works when everything lines up as destiny’s desire becomes obsessive – the divine intervened. As you will recall in those days, we obtained a JMB matric at St John’s College, Johannesburg as one of 12 private schools in South Africa. It just so happened – in this parallel universe – that St John’s College, Cambridge University, UK offered a ‘Joint Matriculation Board’ degree and the RAF recruiting office in Regent Street, London happily got this mixed up!