As I lay there a second away from death once more, I pondered on life’s big question. Are men really incapable of listening – or is it just me?
In fact I wasn’t thinking anything other than how I was going to get out of this mess. I’d done it again, somewhere along the way I’d failed to listen to somebody and wound up here, pinned to the floor and wishing I was fireproof. This was 1989 and I was still 17. I’d been given the instruction to fix a faulty communication box and for once I was happy. I’d worked on these boxes before and felt confident. This was a chance for me to have some success and prove that I’m not completely useless, I’ve stated before about my engineering prowess so to have a chance to impress for once was great.
H.M.S. Ark Royal sailed on in the sunshine, I had a toolbox, a mission and I’d not listened to a word of the safety brief we had all been given about working near the flight deck. The faulty box was in the ‘cat walk’ which is the open walkway that runs parallel and just below the flight deck on an aircraft carrier. I bet it’s obvious to anyone reading this – no matter how little knowledge you have of aircraft carriers – that working somewhere so close to where Harriers and helicopters take off, requires some degree of procedure and protocol being observed to keep it safe. I’m sure my young brain spotted that too but failed to take action on it. Excited at the chance to redeem myself for some earlier mess ups, I headed straight out onto the catwalk without following a single one of the rules that were in place. I swiftly fixed the problem but following Navy rule #6 (“if a fault takes only a minute to fix, it can’t have been difficult so make sure it takes 20 minutes”) I sat back to enjoy the sun and watch Harriers take off – very exciting.
Had I once looked directly above my head I truly hope that my immature head would have made me stop and think for a minute, but that is probably a bit too hopeful? I heard a slow droning noise start up and looking to my left and right (but never up) I could see nothing so I ignored it. Suddenly I was pinned to the floor! Directly above my head was the rear end of a Harrier and the ground crew were firing it up. Ground runs are where the jet is strapped down and the engines given a thorough test, and this is what they were doing now. I couldn’t move as the deafening noise vibrated through me and the heat built up on my back. I genuinely shut my eyes and said goodbye to myself – hating myself for being so stupid. It seemed to go on forever, the fierce heat, shocking noise and sheer pressure making my head spin. In real time a few short seconds later it was over, the jets powered down and for once I had the presence of mind to move fast. I grabbed my stuff and ran, I knew full well that the break in the test would only be short and sure enough as I slammed the door back shut I could already hear it firing up again.
I found a quiet room and hid. I hid until the colour came back to my face and the shaking stopped. The problem with hiding so long was that any plaudits I should have had for fixing a ‘difficult 20 minute job’ were lost as it had taken two hours instead. The praise was lost even further two days later, when a similar job further along the cat walk came my way and I had to ask what the procedure was! My confused Chief was not too impressed when I explained what I’d done previously.
So I ask you again, is it just me that never listens, just the young or all men everywhere? Actually don’t bother answering – I probably won’t listen.