Several of the T37 staff instructors learned a salutary lesson about aircraft maximum performance in December 1969 as a result of an entirely innocent suggestion I made. Knowing that I was keen on photography and with Christmas approaching, the Commandant suggested that we flew four T37s over the snow-covered mountains to the north of Mardan. I would fly as passenger in a fifth T37 taking what we hoped would be spectacular pictures of the other four flying in close formation. The best picture would then be used to produce a traditional Christmas card for the Commandant and me and the few other Christians at Risalpur to send to our Christian friends and relations.
After take-off from Risalpur on the photographic mission, we headed due north, flew over the town of Mardan and were soon actually flying in amongst the Hindu Kush mountains, where some of the snow-covered peaks were over 20,000ft above sea level. Below, was the beautiful Swat valley which has been the scene of some terrible terrorist atrocities in recent years. The scenery was quite outstanding and I concentrated hard on my artistic task. After a few minutes, seeking new ideas, I suggested to my pilot that he should fly a large barrel roll around the outside of the formation of four so that, when we were upside down overhead them, I could take a photograph through the canopy of our aircraft looking down on the diamond formation with the spectacular snowy scenery as a backdrop.
Big mistake! We had all temporarily forgotten that aircraft performance drops off dramatically as the height above sea level increases, for reasons that are too complicated to explain here. My pilot pulled up into the near vertical to barrel roll around the other four but our aircraft shuddered violently and stalled as it ran out of airspeed. I had a flashback to my own A2 re-categorisation flight at Cranwell when I had to demonstrate to my 'student' recoveries from the vertical. My T37 pilot had no option but to centralise all the controls and hope that the aircraft would recover from the incipient spin. It did recover - into a vertical dive. On the way down we passed close to the other four T37s. Those four pilots seeing us coming down towards them, scattered in all directions, closer to the tops of the snow-covered high mountains than was comfortable. That was the end of the photographic session. The next day I handed my Agfacolor film in to the photographic shop in Nowshera for processing. When I called back a few days later, the Proprietor told me that my film had been accidentally ruined. I have often wondered if the Commandant gave instructions to have the evidence destroyed.
Above: This was one of the main streets in Peshawar
Many of my fellow instructors lived on base in married quarters with their wife or wives; the remainder lived in the Officers' Mess quarters. I had two rooms to myself, both of them stone-floored without carpeting. One was a large bedroom-cum-sitting room and the other, through a connecting door, was an open area with a shower head, wash basin and toilet. There was a single air conditioner in the main area for use in the hot weather. I quickly discovered, when Malouk presented me with my first monthly bill, that I had to pay for the very expensive electricity it used and thereafter I used the air conditioner as little as possible. There was a fire grate in the living area, which I rarely used even in mid-Winter, and an immersion heater for providing hot water for showering, washing and shaving.
Malouk, my personal batman, was actually the senior servant of the Officers' Mess and he ruled all the other officers' servants with a rod of iron. He supervised the cleaning of my room and looked after my laundry. He woke me each morning with a cup of tea. He laid out my clean uniform or flying suit - clean ones were required every day because they rapidly became soiled in the torrid heat. In the mornings, he set the shower running, ensured a clean towel was to hand, and he placed hot water in the washing bowl so I could shave. I am sure if I had asked him that he would have shaved me himself, or provided a man who would. I had to pay Malouk, my 'servant', from my own RAF salary for all the services he carried out for me: the RAF made no contribution.
It only took a couple of weeks before I started to find Malouk's attentions intensely irritating - and I felt very guilty about that. After all, he was only doing what he had done for military 'sahibs' for decades. I didn't want that sort of personal service but I hadn't the heart to tell him. Instead, I tried to foil him: for example, I started getting up earlier than usual and looking after my own showering and I started gathering my own laundry together and put it in the basket myself. Poor Malouk looked so upset. In the end I tried to explain that I was not like officers of previous generations in the days of the Raj and that I didn't want so many very personal services. I don't think he ever got used to me. The Pakistani officers presumably wanted that kind of service because that was the way they had been brought up.
Food was a bit of a problem at first. The only 'Indian' food I'd had before arriving in Pakistan had been the occasional help-yourself curry and rice at Officers' Messes on Friday Happy Hours in the bar. I don't think I had ever visited a proper Asian restaurant in UK - not that there were many in the 1960s anyway. Without asking me, the Officers' Mess at Risalpur provided me every day with an 'English Menu' for lunches and dinners. It has to be said that the meals were very unappetising but I didn't complain because I was conscious that the Chefs had slaved over a hot kitchen to produce the food for me. Perhaps previous RAF exchange officers had wanted English food. Gradually as the days passed, I started helping myself to the hot chapattis and naan bread that were always available for the Pakistani officers and then, prompted by the other officers, I started trying the various meat and vegetable dishes they had. I found it all very appetising and I told the Mess chef that I didn't require English food to be prepared just for me anymore. Thereafter I ate what my fellows ate and enjoyed it immensely - remembering not to use my left hand when handling food. The Officers' Mess did have an English formal dinner once per month - but that, I was told, was standard practice and not just for my benefit.
Absolutely nothing happened at Risalpur without the Commandant's knowledge. He took me to one side a day after my talk with Malouk and explained that part of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the RAF and the PAF was that English food had to be prepared for the UK exchange officer. As soon as I had an opportunity, I asked Group Captain Johns at the High Commission to try and get the MOU changed and he told me he would. He also agreed to try and get me an allowance to cover my other necessary domestic expenses and in due course the RAF coughed up.