Monday, July 20, 2009

Q-Tip, cakes, wines and other dining events

Q-Tip was the call sign of an A-7 and F/A-18 pilot, Pete Schwab.

Real good guy. One who will be missed.

The last I talked with Pete Schwab, he was asking me to mail a package filled with cookies from the UK; Hob Nobs. His daughters loved those cookies, and I was glad to send them out.

Commander Schwab said he would be sure to look out for the Wildebeest III while he was flying, and would be sure to buzz us if we ever came near.


After our return to normal life in London, we carried on with our jobs and routines. We would wake up about 0530, trudge up to the St Katherine’s Dock offices for a shower (Hoping that there was still hot water!) return to the boat and I would prepare my suit and tie for wear. (Read as ironing white shirt)

At 0700 I would walk to the Tower Hill bus stop, grab a 15 or 7 bus and read while passing all of the tourist areas of the City of London. By about 0725 I would hop off at Oxford and North Audley and make way to the Building. There, I would use my striped ID card to go through the turnstiles and go up to the first floor where I would show my ID again to the sentry. I would go left through the double doors and slide my card in a reader and punch in a five digit combination code. If no one had beat me in, I would have the fun of using the dial combination to open a outer door, then slide my card into the card reader and push the five digits.
Otherwise, alarms would go off and rifle-armed Marines in Combat gear would come rushing up from the basement looking to defend my office from intruders.

Not like that had not happened five times. Maybe seven times.

Once inside, I would prepare for the Navy Day. Sometimes, I would be required to give the daily European Theater Brief to the N-Codes in the Command Center, to be followed by re-giving the same Brief to the Four Star in the Ops Telebriefing Room.
Afterwards, I would return to the Double Secret Music room and pretend to do something useful. Like ordering boat supplies from a West Marine Catalog, or putting out some sort of emergent tasking from other folks higher up than us.

Mostly I passed info along via faxes or by computer, while maintaining various personnel rosters.

For entertainment, I would mess with the Commander. Pete was a very nice, professional officer who had about eighteen years in the Navy and it was clear that he was about where he was going to be. O-5 and done. He had been an A-7 and F-18 pilot back in the Fleet, and his most recent flying had been in Key West with the Composite Squadron there.

He had also flown F-5’s and F-16’s.

CDR Schwab might have liked me because I had been a Helicopter search and rescue swimmer, and that I had been qualified as an Air Warfare Specialist and wore the Surface Warfare pin. Finally, I wore the gold wings of Naval Aircrewman. So those pins made me interesting to him, especially in a world of Cryptologic Technician weenies who rarely saw sea duty much less venturing away to other disciplines of the Navy.

Not that being a Crypto Tech was so bad. If I could do it again, I would want to be a Cryppie. They got promotions.

I think Q-Tip also appreciated my endless cockiness and my undeserved sense of entitlement.

After all, I owned a forty three foot boat in a foreign country.

As an Enlisted Man.

Why do I mention all this?

Because it was a fun time for me. My job in London was ten times better than bouncing around the ocean on board a Frigate or Destroyer. Not that serving on a Man O’ War is always a bad thing; it’s just that my hours were better.

Here is a good sea-story;

The good Commander was having a tonnage issue, seems his uniforms were shrinking in the closet.
The Lt and I would visit the gym downstairs; sometimes do a five mile run in Hyde Park. This kept me svelte and ensured long lunches.

Well, the Commander never had time for anything more than a 30 minute visit to the gym, maybe 2 or 3 times a week. Add in all that great home cooked food… You get the picture.

“Hey LT, check this out.” I said.

I brought up a Sara Lee Coffee cake, you know, the kind with 6000 calories and no cholesterol. I placed the open cake on the conference table, with paper plates and a knife for all to eat.

The Lieutenant says, “You can’t do that, that’s disrespectful.”

“Oh, shut up. Watch the fun as the Commander eats the entire cake.”

“Man, that is so messed up; I don’t want any part of this.”

The Good Commander comes in, immediately notices the baked goody on the table.

“Hey, is this for everyone?” The Pete’ster asked.

I tried to look as bored as possible.

"Oh, sure thing, Commander." “Have at it.”

I kept my snickering down as the good Fighter Pilot took a respectfully small piece, carefully places it on the plate and walks to his desk and picks up his phone and eats while talking on the phone.

The Lieutenant gave me evil looks for my jackanapery.

When Pete walked out, I said, “This is going to be funny as hell; “I guarantee he will eat the entire cake.”

The LT said, “Bullsh**”.

Lunch came, I went and did my run and came back at 1300.
The cake had another inch, or two missing.

1400- Another inch takes off. The cake is now 2/3rds gone.

I surreptitiously watch as the power door opens, it is the LT, who also looks at the missing cake.

“I guess the CDR has been snacking,” he snickered.

1630 comes around, and there is a one inch wedge, looking decidedly lonely on the plate. The power door opens; I am changing into my travel-‘cross town clothes as the Commander walks in.

“Hey, do you want anymore of this cake? “ Says he.

“Oh no, Commander. I had all I could eat, today!”.

"Well, have a great rest of the day. Thanks for bringing the cake in, it was excellent.” As our portly boss devours the last piece and throws the pan into the trash.

The LT was over in the other corner, putting on his civvie shoes, shooting me his “Oh no, you didn’tlook”.

I walked out giggling and snickering, it was a small victory, but a win for the enlisted side just the same.

Helo’s versus fixed wing, baby.

Another day:
Norman Hummerstone calls me one day, and asks if I would be good enough to come over to the site of the Queen Victoria Rifles drill hall, by Oxford Street and Davies Street. Bring your Captain and Commander Schwab, we will have lunch at the Officers Mess. Be there at 1100, sharp.

I pass the invitation to my boss and his boss, we accept and a few days later we arrive as advertised.

After we make the introductions, Norman has us move next door to the Running Horse Pub, to have a pre-lunch Bitter and chat about the Regiment. Now, Norman had been a member of this Regiment, starting in 1937, so there were some great stories about that particular neighborhood and all of the changes he had seen in sixty years.

At 1130 sharp, we were motioned to enter the Mess where a Corporal showed us to the lounge and we were given Gin and Tonics. This is called “Elevenses” in the UK and for that matter, the entire British world and apparently was very popular way before the Empire had become a distant memory.

At Noon, lunch was announced and we formed a line to the Roast Beast which was being carved by the Corporal and his Assistant. We were then seated at a large antique table that was at least one hundred and sixty years old.

Lunch was the normal roast and Yorkshire Pudding (A biscuit fried in beef tallow) along with potatoes, rolls and two kinds of wine; a Bordeaux, white and red.
Whenever a bottle was emptied, a soldier would come and replace it; whether it was water or wine.

The Cheese and Biscuits were brought out for dessert. You could have cake but everyone went for the cheese. Then a decanter of Port arrived.

Norman gave the story of how the Army would have Port and that there was a ritual for drinking it; First, each glass was charged, and the “Loyalty Toast” was offered.
“The Queen”.

And another person would say something like, “Long may she Reign”. We sipped our Port.

Another toast was made to the “President of the United States”.

To which we politely replied “The President”. Where we sipped again, the half filled Port Glass.

Norman continued with, “Now the Port Decanter is passed to the left and not rested until the decanter is empty.”

So we filled our glasses and passed the bottle to the left. Drinking slowly as this happened, after all; Port is a fortified Wine, and at 20% is quite powerful. We passed until it was empty, and rested the decanter at the end of the table. It was now 1330.

I hear our host, Norman start to snicker when the Corporal brings over another decanter.

Captain L**** saw what was happening and sussed it out, immediately. He offered his gratitude and regrets, and prayed that he be allowed to leave; For he had business at the office.

Norman thanked him for coming and as the Captain was leaving, the Captain told the Commander and me to stay, and be sure to keep the pride of the US Navy by continuing our participation in the Lunch activities.

It was Norman, a couple of elderly Chelsea Pensioners, another Army Officer and Commander Schwab and Yours Truly, being the only enlisted dude in the Mess.

Norman says, “Once again, the Port Decanter will be passed to the left…”

So, in the interest of maintaining the Pride of Naval Aviation, both Fighter Pilot and me, (representing the Helicopter side of Aviation), we continued our drinking of the Port.

We went through a second bottle and it was now 1500, the Mess Corporal was begging us to call it a day!

Norman insisted in taking us to the Running Horse Pub for post lunch pints of bitters.

At 1630, the Commander said we needed to get back to the office, and we bid Norman adieu, and thanked him for one of the most memorable lunches, ever.

We limped on back to the building, three blocks away, and went up to the first floor. I returned to our secure office and logged out and locked safes. I decided I needed a pit stop, so I walked down to the head. There were some puking noises, emanating from the locked head.

I felt like the little kitten in the “Sylvester and Tweety “ cartoons, where he is wailing about how his father was such a failure because he can’t catch a little mouse.

Of course, I had to loudly mention that F-18 Pilots never show that they can’t hold their liquor… Why, any Helicopter Aviator could and would!

The Commander came out of the head , wiping his face and replied, “But they never try to keep up with their British Hosts! That was the most I have ever had to drink in years.” He was laughing.

Pete Schwab was a real class act.

That lunch became a quarterly routine, and I would make sure to bring guests. The other thing I made sure of was to schedule these lunches on a Friday.
Liver is bad and it must be punished; Just not on a work day. One must give it a weekend to recover.

There are no pictures, cameras were strictly forbidden at my work so there was no opportunity to catch photographs when we did these events.

Other regular social events that we enjoyed was Little Ship Club nights, which are held on Tuesday evenings. It helps break up the week. There is a grip and grin from five o’clock to seven, a Boating Lecture from seven to eight and finally dinner. After dinner there are drinks and it all wraps up at ten o’clock.

We would usually stay until eleven, if the Club President was visiting. Then we would catch a cab back to the boat and call it a night.

In October, the Navy would hold a “Navy Ball”, celebrating the Navy and all who served. This would be a Formal Ball held at the Park Lane Hotel, across the street from Hyde Park. The Honorary Host would be the United States Ambassador to the Court of St James, Admiral Crowe. The current Admiral would also be there, and it was the “thing” to be there. All ranks were invited, uniforms were encouraged, but Black Tie was minimum dress.

The Spousal Unit and I would always bring guests from the community, Norman Hummerstone being first on that list, followed by Roger from Beaujolais.

1997 has us all present, each had brought a date. I brought my wife, instead. (She gets mad if I ask to go out on a date.)

I’m not joking. The other fella’s got to bring dates. Why do I have to go with my wife? (I really wouldn’t go with anyone else)

We really had fun on these formal nights. I think we would go to an average of six formal occasions a year.

On the boating front, we would sail to Queenborough on a regular basis. There was also sailing on the East Coast with friends on other boats.

One does what one must when keeping up with the locals.


Buck said...

Heh. Suspicions confirmed about Navy London, and all that. We always thought of you as "the privileged," when we thought of you at all. Which was quite a bit, in retrospect.

That said... I hear ya about your assignment. I spent the better part of my three years at RAF Uxbridge marveling at my good luck to draw such a plum assignment. It just beat the livin' HELL out of what I'd done in my previous USAF lives, serving as I did on the periphery of the Evil Empire... and the northernmost reaches of the US of A... the radar biz not EVER being noted for the quality of its assignments. In the geographical sense.

Barco Sin Vela II said...

Well Buck,
You were at West Ruislip, so you know the score there. Most of the Navy lived at the old Air Force Housing. Just not us.

As the old saying goes, "Location Location..." We were next to the City, and the Work was near So-Ho, so the social life was there, provided you weren't afraid to spend a few bucks. Having the boat added a giant chunk of wealth credibility, except I didn't have any money.

Most of my Navy friends were busy saving money and complaining about the tight quarters at Ruislip.

Buck said...

You were at West Ruislip...

Nope. I was at RAF Uxbridge, specifically in the 2119th Comm Squadron. We handled all the long haul comm (read as: microwave) for the UK and had an AUTOVON switch (one of two in the UK) in our squadron area. The 2119th was a true USAF tenant unit on RAF Uxbridge, which... at the time... was the home of the Queen's Color Squadron and the RAF Band. Uxbridge is scheduled to be closed in the near future, or so I've heard. I lived on High Wycombe AS and worked in Uxbridge.

I did have occasion to go over to West Ruislip from time to time, as that was the HQ for USAF Civil Engineers in the UK... once again, at the time. I had to liaise with those guys a lot during the bed-down of the GLCM, which I had a minor role in supporting.

JihadGene said...

Loved it! I remember when in W.Germany (83-86) our NCO meeting would once a month be held at a neighboring German Army Depot. If you liked to drink some great beer you wouldn't miss it for the world. Our heaviest turnouts for the NCO meeting was always at the German camp. Gee I wonder why? Heh-heh. Burp.

virgil xenophon said...

Hi! virgil xenophon here. Google has my account screwed up so my email address is showing. Oh well.

"Eleven o'clocks" is how I always knew them--But that name only applied to gin and WATER, I thought--AFAIK originated in the tropics where the quinine H2O would make more sense, but most of the drink books I've read say "water" :1/2 gin, 1/2 water on the rocks in a tall glass. Substitute Canadian Club and they're called Presbyterians--the father of one of my best friends in college used to drink THAT concoction all the time.

Did you're O-5 FA-18 driver retire at that rank, or did he get the "blackbird" just prior? I had a good F-4 friend of mine that avoided ALL staff schools his entire career--was in NOTHING but flying assignments in 4s, 16s, and 15s (was Sq CO of the USAF Red Flag Aggressor Sq at Nellis)and ended up homesteading in New Orleans for the last 15 years of his career as the O-5 USAF liason to the Louisiana ANG, flying 16s/15s until the day he retired--got the blackbird 90 days prior. At least jacked up his ret pay. LOL. Wouldn't give him the courtesy of the Eagles while he was in command cause they were pissed that he had managed to game the system--wouldn't play the standard game of ticket punching staff assignments/schools. Just as well, a GREAT pilot, warrior and leader--TERRIBLE peace-time garrison soldier and staff weenie. To give you some idea of the sort of "street-smarts" kind of guy he was, he grew up in blue-collar NJ and after college supported him-self living in Miami
prior to entering OCS and plt tng by hustling pool for the rent money--for his whole living really... LOL! A great guy and true friend.

Every time I was in London I always fantasized about living on one of those house barges that line the canal on the way to the London zoo. One way to live away from it all in the middle of it all..

Couple of sailing books to recommend, although you've probably read them both: "Away From It All" by Sloan Wilson."---about quitting the executive rat-race and "Wanderer" by Sterling Haydon, who single-handedly sailed a, IIRC, specially rigged Barkentine SOLO (if you can believe that!)around the Horn from New England to SF--ended up at the end of his life living on a barge on the Seine.