I mentioned in a previous blog post that I was inordinately proud of being eaten by a snake. I know of no one else, alive or dead, who can boast that. Eve had a tough time with a serpent, now accepted as a snake for reasons that escape me at the moment, but no one suggested she had to fight it off. Quite the reverse in fact; she formed a relationship of trust with it. So there I am, at the top of the human/snake interface pyramid.

I have two other claims to fame: I had to escape from an inverted helicopter that was underwater, and I earned the highest score for spacial awareness up till then at the RAF officers’ training centre at Cranwell. Compared to being attacked by a snake it might seem a little less exciting but I am well chuffed by these two accolades, despite not being 100% certain that I could pick spacial awareness out of a barrel of apples.

I put myself forward for the post of inspector in charge of the helicopter unit in my force, this despite knowing, as surely everyone did, who was going to win. Out of the number of those who applied for the post, there was just me and three other inspectors. Being put on a shortlist when those in authority have already picked their man (as in this case) is a bit of an insult. They don’t go for the ones who will put up a good case. But I’ve weathered worse insults.

There were various tests that we went through, none particular arduous as they did not want to exclude any aspirants, especially their choice. I passed the fitness and medical tests. Then it was aptitude

We were going to the RAF Officer Training College at Cranwell for psychometric testing and to be inundated in a helicopter mock-up from which we would be required to escape when it was inverted. It seemed like good fun.

But first the testing.

There was a whole series of tests which were computer based. We were not told what each was testing, but in many cases it was more or less obvious. One, which included an unwrapped cube, was too obscure to me.

I’m competitive. It’s my ugliest trait and one I regret. At times I’ve managed to conquer it but if I’m tested in a group, it becomes difficult. I end up concentrating on the task with no brain capacity left to be nice.

I’ve heard it suggested that being competitive is a positive character trait, but all it means is that one does enough to beat those around, and not one’s best. Being part of a team, working for others, is so much more useful. I, on the other hand, wanted to be faster and cleaner than everyone else.

We were given a time limit on all the tests but told that it was unlikely we would finish any. I found them fairly easy, although one confused me. I started again, reading the poorly written instructions with care, and managed to salvage a score. I wondered if it was a test to see if one could understand directions created by someone whose first language was not English.

Then onto the cube.

From memory there were 50 questions with a two minute bogey time. I felt relaxed as I’d not found anything particularly stressful. Off I went, clicking the answers as I went. Less than 50 seconds into the test I’d finished. No one else had.

My immediate assumption was that I’d misunderstood the question again, the story of my life, so I reread it and then checked my answers. 30 seconds before the buzzer, I put down my mouse. No one else finished before the signal.

I thought I made a right mess of it but if I was going to be taken to task over it, I was going to point out that I had followed the instructions. I was going to make the question-writer question their ability.

Exams finished, we were being briefed on the underwater helio bit when one of the airforce guys came into the room.

“Who’s Smith,” he demanded. I reckoned it was Fight Club time. I put up my hand and corrected him by saying I was inspector Smith. The chap said, “You got the highest score for spacial awareness we’ve ever had.”

He smiled at me, gave a sort of nod, and then went out.

I was over the Moon, as anyone would have been, even someone not as competitive as me. The fact I had no idea what spacial awareness was didn’t dull my enjoyment in any way, not then and not since. I put on my humble face.

A minute or so later another airforce chappie strode into the room. He was obviously of higher rank and pleased with it. He asked the same question and I gave the same reply. He said, “That’s the best of non aircrew.” He gave me a stare, then left the room.

Yeah, I bet.

(The upside down and sodden helicopter escape will be covered in a later blog.)

 

Special awareness

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