It still brings tears to my eyes!

Watching a couple of young bloods in the gym while I was working out on one of the Abs Resistance Machines brought a long forgotten memory back. The lads were doing standing leaps up on to large padded blocks of some 3.6 feet cubes. I remembered some fifty years back I was in our club, prior to setting out for a some serious rock climbing. I carried out nearly the same exercise that the lads in the gym were doing but I was using our full size billiard table instead of gym equipment. One one of my jumps I didn’t quite make it and crashed my shins on the edge of the table. Serious rock climbing? I couldn’t walk to the ambulance. I sat back on the Abs Machine and stroked my shins. I still have a large missing chunk like a pothole out of my shinbone as an aid memoir!

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You cannot be serious. Oh you are!

As King Harold said, watch those ruddy archers, they could have someone’s eye out!  A re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings was cancelled last weekend by Elf n’ Safety because it was too wet. I need comment no further, so ‘nuff said.  However the news did jog this old chap’s memory and I thought that I might share it with you.

A few years back I was doing some writing work for an event organising company and I got blagged into managing a re-enactment of the Duke of Wellington kicking Napoleon’s French backside.  The battle was to take place on the cliffs around a Martello Tower at Folkestone.

The re-enactors were rather strange fellows who took the whole thing very seriously even to the point of living in true to life 1815 tents and cooking on open fires.

I arrived on the afternoon before the public event and the whole ensemble of troops, horses, female camp followers, even rabid looking curs scrounging around the camp.  The Frog troops were on the other side of the hill.  Both sides were living the whole dream in complete character.  Even though there were no public in attendance.  I was walking around introducing myself as the Event Manager with my jaw dropped.  I don’t think anyone heard me muttering “I don’t believe it, so many oddballs all in one place.

I spoke to a Colonel in the full dress uniform of the 1st Life Guards, I complimented him on his superb turn out and learned that he was a London Transport bus driver in his real life and had paid over £1500 for his outfit.  He pointed me to his leader, an authentic looking Duke of Wellington who even looked like Goya’s portrait of the great man, complete with cocked hat and his own tent.

I organised my part of the show ready for the following day, declined the kind offer from one of the large lady camp followers in her low cut calico dress, to join in the soldier’s supper of tripe and onions, and scuttled off to my hotel for dinner.

Up early the following day I organised my staff and went for a walk along the cliffs.  I stood for a while watching the re-enactors marching their drill.  I learned later that this particular regiment being put through their paces were supposed to be the German Brunswick Corps under Lieutenant General Prince Freidrich, Duke of Brunswick.

I then saw the Duke of Wellington, sitting on the grass leaning with his back against the Martello Tower.  He was in full military dress, his horse was tethered nearby eating grass and the Duke was studying a Filofax while puffing a clay churchwarden pipe.  My first mistake was to say “Good Morning Graham” obviously I ought to have addressed him as Your Grace or Sir or something equally grovelling.

I certainly shouldn’t have pointed to the poor sods sweating as they marched up the hill and then marched down again and said you’ve picked yourself a much better part than the poor bloody infantry.

His Grace cut me dead and snapped “You will excuse me Jake but I am contemplating the forthcoming battle”.

I made my excuses and left without spoiling it for him by telling the twit that Wellington won the battle.  If I’d been an Elf ‘n Safety I would have cancelled his ruddy pantomime too!

You couldn’t make it up!

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Fastnet your safety belts

This is another tale from my memory bank.  I’m not sure if today’s blog falls into the category of another of my sailor’s yarns or one of my lifetime memories of “What the heck am I doing here?”, I do know that I keep finding myself in the same fixes, whether I am at sea or on the mountain, all of my life.

It was Cowes week, thirty three years ago and I had signed on as navigator on a 37 foot yacht, taking part in the legendary Fastnet race.  The competition was a huge flotilla, there were 303 yachts taking part in the 608 mile jewel of offshore racing from the Solent, along the south coast to Cornwall and out into open sea towards the Fastnet lighthouse, Ireland’s most Southerly point.  Ted Heath’s yacht ‘Morning Cloud was amongst the entrants.   We left the Solent in August 1979 heading on the 600 mile course.  Our 37 foot sloop was one of the smallest taking part.   The wind was blowing hard and we were making good time.

The shipping forecast predicted winds of Force 8, nothing for a seasoned, well trained crew of six hard men like us.  Conditions were near perfect for fast ocean racing and we were all in good spirits.  We then heard a later forecast giving us winds of Force 10 and more, and the seas were getting up.  The sunset was a weird mixture of colours a strange, spectacular ochre sky and we could all feel a strange pressure; the sea was being pressed down.  Fortunately my seaman’s instinct kicked in and I managed the talk the Owner/Skipper into deviating slightly into the Western Approaches to get some sea room.  A storm of an unimaginable force got up, one of such power that it brought to mind a seismic sea that I had been caught in on a cargo boat, when I was a youngster in the seas off Japan.  I thought that I was about to die on that occasion too.

Our radio was going mad with distress calls as vessels were scattered in the storm’s path like so much flotsam.  One after another, boats sank or capsized as the storm raged unabated.  The seas got up so big, they appeared to be like sixty feet high cliffs above our mast.  We were making some six knots under bare poles and rolling violently as the seas broke in all directions.  The noise was deafening like an on-coming steam train . . . . . . . here we go again…….What the #@&* am I doing here? . . . . . We thought that we had weathered the worst as dawn broke, when there was what sounded like an explosion and our steering gear gave way.  I looked over the stern and saw our rudder disappearing in the direction of Finistere.

The radio continued though the night, with hundreds of distress calls.  Fellow competitors were overturned, dismasted, sinking, – crews in life rafts.  We realised that we were going to have to be responsible for our own survival.  After a quick ‘Chinese Parliament’ we turned for the Welsh coast after hoisting a storm jib, picked up our skirts and ran before the wind like a scalded cat.  Steering with the Jib sail, thank God we had made the right decision.  There are no heathens in a lifeboat . . . . . All we had to do was pray and keep pumping the bilges.  We scuttled into Milford Haven where we were thankfully met by the Harbour Master and safely berthed.

Listening to the distress channel we couldn’t believe just how lucky we had been. Apparently during the worst of the storm the barometer plunged to the second lowest reading around the British Isles in 150 years.  The 1979 Fastnet was the worst disaster in offshore racing history, with 15 competitors dying along with six other yachtsmen who were not taking part in the race.  Only 83 boats out of the 303 fleet made it back to the Solent.

Our ‘butcher’s bill for the voyage apart from damage to the yacht was light by comparison.  A broken collarbone, a broken finger and a broken thumb.  I whacked my nose on the hatch combing.  When we had tied up safely, the Owner/Skipper moaned at me for dripping blood from my nose all over his charts.  Our hysterical laughter must have confirmed to the concerned onlookers that the whole crew were completely mad.  I confirmed this to myself when less than a year later I found myself skippering another yacht, clawing ourselves off Le Casquettes Rocks in a Force 9 gale thinking . . . .”What the #@&* am I doing here?”……..  The worst of it is thirty three years on, I still keep doing it.

 

 

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Oh Wa Ta Na SIAM! The ‘land of smiles’  

Travel writers are rather like politicians although they don’t lie quite as often!  However they both write to please their paymasters.  Every once in a while a politician, usually once he has retired or has lost his seat, will publish a book that professes to open Pandora’s Box and tell the truth.  Unfortunately the new revelations are usually more about selling the book.  Well I’m not selling a book but I did write myself a lot of notes while I travelled and now I have no paymaster and have relinquished some of the flowery language that were used to sell magazines.  I feel I gave my editors value for money but now my blogs are the unvarnished truth, honest Guv!

Being honest I don’t really like Thailand, the humidity has always got to me, it’s either pouring with rain or the air is full of hot damp air, and no I didn’t only go in the rainy season.  When I was at school Thailand was known as Siam, as in the King and I.  It was changed for internal nationalistic reasons.  Thailand means ‘The Land of the Free’ and reflects the fact that it is the only country in Southeast Asia that was never colonised.  It is a Kingdom and is bordered by Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Myanmar (Burma, but that’s another story).

I’ve been to Thailand on a number of occasions and each time that I manage to return home it has always been with a sense of relief that I got our alive.  Whenever I travel I always do a great deal of research and you have the take your Panama hat off to Thailand, there are so many different ways it can kill you.  There’s all the obvious Southeast Asia stuff like Malaria, Dengue Fever, Japanese Encephalitis and of course Bird Flu.  A lot of scaremongering goes on about bird flu coming to Britain but I reckon you are more likely to fall foul (fowl, get it?) of the dreadful H5N1 (bird flu), if you holiday in a country where chickens are kept in the lounge.

Where Thailand really punches above its weight is when it comes to man-made deaths.  What a glorious array of people there are to be murdered by! Sex-crazed fishermen, jealous fellow backpackers, homicidal drifters, the pissed-off landlords of hostels, trigger happy policemen and malevolent cell-mates in the prison you may find yourself in following your doomed attempt at drug smuggling, think the Bangkok Hilton.

Over the past 25 years the number of attacks, murders, rapes and robberies against tourists is running into many thousands.  It appears that the type of person, who is attracted to the dreamy paradise of palm-fringed beaches and cocktails, is exactly the type to drop their guard in the presence of devious and psychopathic locals. It is also clear, since the devastating attacks in 2015, that tourists in the warm streets of Bangkok are now the target of murderous attack from terrorists

There is no doubt that the reputation of Thailand as a welcoming country with a tourist boom since the 1960s has created hatred and contempt for foreigners and a murderous indifference among many locals, to the millions of tourists who flock to the country’s white sand beaches, picturesque countryside and thriving nightlife each year. If we add to this widespread police corruption, violence and crime which are all blighting this country, once known as the ‘Land of Smiles’.  The country’s much prized tourist industry which accounts for 10 percent of the GDP, is in decay following more than more than 12 moths of political unrest, for as well as the murder of two British backpackers in mid-September, there was a bloody military coup earlier this year.

Leaving aside the number of tourist murders, many which go unreported, Visitors to Thailand are not warned by travel agents, airlines or their own governments that their passports are highly prized in Thailand. Depending on the nationality, a passport can fetch thousands of dollars on the black market, several months’ pay for many Thais.  There are gangs stealing passports to order. European, American, Australian and Canadian passports are particularly prized.  There is an established practice across the country of bike, car, jet-ski and other rental services requiring passports as collateral. When punters return to claim their documents, they have disappeared.

The daily robbing, bashing, drugging, extortion and murder of foreign tourists on Thai soil, along with numerous scandals involving unsafe facilities and well established scams, has led to frequent predictions that Thailand’s multi-billion dollar tourist industry will self-destruct, if we add to all of this the fact that the much revered King of Thailand died at the beginning of this month.  Not only is the whole country in mourning there is also much speculation and unrest as to who is to replace him, I think I will find another country where I can ride a motorcycle without wearing a crash helmet.

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Memory almost full!

I’ve lost my car keys, I’ve searched everywhere.  It doesn’t matter I won’t need them until I remember where I’ve left my car.  That’s a joke rather like my chum telling me that he is modifying his stair lift to speed it up.  That way he can get upstairs so fast that he will be there before he forgets what he went up for.

Memory; It bothers all of us of a certain age, that’s when we remember to think about it.  I was starting to believe that I had cracked it, my iPhone was proving quite a lifesaver, and I can use it to leave myself notes and can either write or leave a voice reminder with and alarm to jog my failing brain.  I also have an App. Called “Find my Car” I can even take a photo if it will help me.  Great, but not a great deal of help, if I have left it in my car, and that’s another nasty habit that I have also developed.

I have tried other ways to improve my failing mind by developing new habits in addition to my nasty ones.  I have placed a large bowl near my favourite chair; this is proving useful for the “I’ve lost it” syndrome.  I routinely use it for my wallet, reading glasses, house and car keys, cell phone and cash change.  I keep the bowl in exactly the same place and am now in the habit of going there first.  Before that is accusing my good tempered wife of moving my lost item, the one that I know I placed in my bowl.  It should work; after all they can train mice and dogs so surely I can train myself.

I have now got so bad that family and friends are convinced that I suffer from OCD; in fact I’m beginning to worry about it myself.  I work out at the gym every day and have got into the habit of going at the same time each day; parking in the same spot if I am able to, even trying to use the same locker.  All of my kit is in its proper place in my gym bag.  All of this would be acceptable of someone of my great age, if it worked.

However in just the past two weeks I have left the token which I use in place of a £1 coin for my locker, on five separate occasions.  I’m far too embarrassed to ask if anyone has handed them in.  I have left my goggles and ear plugs after a swimming session.  Last week I got changed in the dressing room and did not realise that I was going upstairs to the gym in bare feet until I stubbed my toe and had to return to the locker room for my trainers.  On three occasions I have got upstairs without my drinks bottle and gone back downstairs for it.  I’m sure that climbing up and downstairs is great extra exercise. . . . . . . . .

This morning I was on a Cross Trainer before I realised that I had left my iPod in my locker. . . . . . .  I am just wondering how long it will be before I get into the Spa after my Gym Session sans swimming trunks and more to the point if I can convince anyone that it is just my memory that is at fault before I finish up on the sex offenders list.

Surely the Cops would believe me that my memory was the second thing that went once I became aged.  If that last statement missed its mark, then your memory is worse than mine.

 My chums are a sarcastic bunch and so after an early morning gym workout, over breakfast, one asked how I picked a subject to Blog about and I just told him that I just wrote what I was in my mind at that particular time.  A bit like a butterfly flitting between flowers.  Another of the ironic group immediately came back with “More like a blowfly going from dung-heap to cow pat”

As an old guy I often cover up my forgetfulness by saying that my memory is almost full.  However I do have a lot of memories stored in my filing cabinet of a brain.  One such is filed under ‘Sailor’s Dit’ from some 60 years ago.

To set the scene, two very green Royal Navy ‘Snotties’ (Midshipmen) learning to be officers and gentlemen were setting off to go sightseeing on a run ashore in Gibraltar.  In those days all Naval Servicemen had wear their Number One Uniforms ashore.  In fact civilian clothes were not allowed on board.

Gibraltar is a fairly small place and our huge Aircraft Carrier with a complement of 1500 officers and crew, overwhelmed it.  My shipmate Warwick and I walked through Dockyard gates and went into a small stone built urinal close to the gates and were standing at the long very smelly trough.  Before we could perform, in staggered a very drunk, three badge killick, that is a leading seaman with at least 12 years service.  On seeing us he stamped to attention and saluted, neither of us was in a position to return his salute so I muttered, ‘Carry on’.  He staggered forward and joined us at the trough.

As he began to urinate, he was swaying about and muttering in a broad Glaswegian accent.  He suddenly indicated a piece of electrical conduit piping that was sticking out of the wall just above his head.  It was probably where a lamp had been attached.  In his rough Gorbals intonation he challenged us to a pissing contest and began to urinate up the wall flicking it towards the pipe – BANG – the conduit was live.  The Scotsman was hurled backwards across the room to end up unconscious against the far wall.

I saw that Warwick had peed down his trouser leg and all over his shiny shoes.  I left him with the sailor who we found was still breathing, and ran to the Dockyard gate where there was a Police post.  When we got back I found that Hooky had come round and in spite of his charred bell-bottoms appeared to be feeling no pain.  An ambulance took the injured man to hospital.  Warwick and I were taken back to our ship by a Royal Naval Patrol, where we had to explain to the Officer of the Day as to why we were associating with a member of the Lower Deck, especially a drunken one.

The following day my friend and I successfully had a run ashore and went up the top of the Rock to see the Barbary Apes.  Unimpressed by the smelly things we returned back down into the town.  We decided that a cool glass of shandy would be acceptable and went into the first pub that we found.  It was teeming with our ship’s crew, Warwick suddenly said “I think we should leave” indicating a certain very inebriated Scottish Leading Hand who was carefully manoeuvring a very full pint of beer and negotiating through the crowd.

Warwick and I had quickly downed our drinks and we were nearly at the door when we saw our man bump hard into a Royal Marine, covering him with his beer, and to make matters worse said in a loud voice “Iaam sorry soldier”.  Now no-one calls a Royal Marine ‘soldier’ and expects to retain his teeth, I saw the look on the Marine’s face and saw him taking off his belt and wrapping it around his fist while three of his fellow marines were surrounding the unlucky sailor.

We left in a hurry as we saw the front window of the pub explode into the street.  We were nearly back at the Dockyard gates when we heard the bells of the R.N. patrol wagon and we strolled through the gates and smartly saluted the Naval Guard who presented arms as we marched away.

There’s a Little Green Urinal Just North of Waterloo and another a little further up, there’s a member of the army . . . . . . Attention on the upper deck, face aft and salute.

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Possibly our first “Jolly boy’s” outing!

1983 was the year of the “loadsamoney” generation.  Margaret Thatcher in the glow of the Falklands war triumph gave the Conservative party a landslide victory and wiped the floor with Michael Foot, turning the political map of the country blue.

Microsoft launched the world’s best word processing programme called Microsoft Word.  Cruise missiles appeared at Greenham Common along with large numbers of protesters.  Droughts in Ethiopia caused the death of 4 million people which gave Bob Geldorf a great money making idea.

I owned a garage and belonged to a group of local businessmen in Bedford who amongst other things sponsored the Bedford boys Amateur boxing club with some great events.  The group seemed fairly evenly divided with motor dealers and Estate Agents with the odd shopkeeper, accountant and a few solicitors. (If the devil should cast his net!……..) The sub-division of car dealers, motor traders and garage owners developed further into a dining, drinking and general entertainment group and we organised a night out when we took over a local night club for the evening with a caterer, bar and entertainment laid on.  It was that night out when the comedian came on and looked around the room and said “Bedford Motor Crooks” and our group was christened.

Bedford Boys Boxing Club was already quite famous not least because British and British Commonwealth Heavyweight Champion Joe Bugner began his career here as an amateur before turning professional in 1967.  The club had a long history of providing an evening of top quality amateur boxing, hosting clubs from all over the country.  Anyway Bedford Motor Crooks had a table for ten, to wine and dine and watch some great amateur boxing matches.  After the bouts came to an end and cigars were lit, the tradition was that a large number of items donated by local businesses were auctioned off.

The more wine that flowed the more generous the bidding became, with all of the profits going to the club.  I can remember when one local entrepreneur took off his Rolex watch in a drunken gesture to donate to the cause and the even more inebriated bidding fetched about a thousand pounds more than the new value of the watch.  That sets the scene!  At our table one of the motor traders told us that he had just bought a top of the range Winnebago motor-home or as the Americans call it a Recreational Vehicle, it could accommodate all ten of us and how did we feel about an outing.

After a lot of discussion we unanimously decided that it was a great idea and we would all pile in two weeks time, sharing expenses and go to watch the Le Mans 24 hour race.  The talk went something like this, “It’s only 450 miles that’s nearer than Glasgow.”  Quite a few of went to car actions in Glasgow on a regular basis.  “It’s only just the other side of Paris, a piece of cake.”  “Sort of ten hours driving plus time on the ferry.”  “Let’s take it easy and allow three days to get there, one day for the race and two or three days back, perfect!”

A few days before we were due to depart; I got my first view of our holiday home.  What an eye opener.  It was the biggest motorhome I had ever seen.  Think 40 feet long, near double-decker bus size with a ladder up to the roof, a huge air conditioning unit on the roof next to an enormous generator.  In the centre on one side of this juggernaut was an annexe that powered out once the vehicle was parked up and retreated flush with the side to go on the road.  There were as promised, separate bedrooms, some with bunks sufficient to sleep ten people comfortably.  Shower room and toilet, a built in television and VHS player, remember this was 1983.  All of the furnishings including a cocktail cabinet were unbelievably luxuriously finished and would have put some luxury liner’s cabins to shame.  In 2016 a similar vehicle would cost in excess of a cool million pounds.

Come departure day all of us were excited about our luxury holiday and we met up at our agreed meeting point.

First unplanned glitch – Strike one.

Think ten people arriving at an airport with their check in luggage plus carry-on bags – enough to fill a carousel.  Right not a problem, someone has to climb up the ladder and stack all the luggage on the roof rack next to the aircon unit and the generator; it’s the middle of an English summer so of course it’s raining.  This turned into what the Special Forces call a Chinese Parliament with the difference that a SAS patrol is usually four men and we had ten all offering their opinions.  One of the gang disappeared to his business premises for a large tarpaulin to cover our luggage and I went to buy some straps to tie everything down.  Two hours later the cases were snugly secured and we set off.  Naturally by this time it had stopped raining.

Strike two

This was a few years before the M25 opened and before we got as far as the ferry, one of the guys worked out that were only doing four mile to the gallon.  Thank goodness that petrol, yes it was a petrol engine not diesel, cost around £1.70 a gallon.

Strike three

Because of our size we had to load with the Lorries and couldn’t get on the next ferry so we were delayed for another one and a half hours but at least we were in pole position for the next ferry.  Time for a meal, getting back in good time to board; we had left the air conditioning running on our luxury abode and first in line for the Lorries to load.  The engine refused to turn over, the air conditioning had flattened the positively enormous bank of batteries; ten motor crooks were unable to bump start the beast, no-one in the queue behind had a tow-rope but with the help of a couple of lorry drivers we were able to push the monster out of the line.  Did you know that Motor Crooks swear worse than sailors?

Another ten man Chinese Parliament decided that we should camp for the night where we were; not much option really and using the on board generator overnight to charge the batteries.

Strike four

After an hour charging with everything switched of except a couple of small wall lights and the battery indicator showing good signs of life; the generator stopped.  Examination proved that it had run out of fuel.  Another Chinese Parliament decided that we didn’t have a tube to siphon fuel from the Brute and in any case the generator ran on two stroke mixture.  A volunteer was despatched to the nearest garage to buy a can of two stroke fuel; better but two cans in case we need the generator in France.  Our volunteer finally returned having had to get a taxi to travel miles to find an open garage with the necessary fuel and we in due course got the generator running and the batteries charging.

We managed about 4 hours sleep before we woke to check over the vehicle and make sure that everything was working perfectly and took up our position to load on to the ferry.  Thank goodness I didn’t have to drive the Juggernaut up the ramp and into position on the loading deck!

Strike Five

No ten man discussion this time but somebody decided that while we were at sea we should run the generator to really top up the batteries.  Breakfast! And then when we were halfway across the Channel the ship’s tannoy demanded we return to our vehicle.  Oh my word surely nothing else could go wrong!  When we got to our vehicle we found an irate crew member jumping up and down – pointing to our generator shouting Das ist verboten; I’m not sure if he was French or English but he sounded like a Nazi.  He was abusive enough to upset several of the barrack room lawyers among our number,  One of whom insisted on being taken to see the captain to complain of his rude and abusive behaviour.

Because we were such a bloody minded lot we left the generator running and had fully charged the batteries by the time we had docked.  We drove off and parked up to await our representative.  He returned having had his apology.  It turned out that the Captain, ever such a nice chap, was a fellow Freemason.

 Strike six, seven and eight

Nothing else could go wrong other than a puncture just before we got to Paris.  The Monster had ten wheels in total!  It only took ten Motor Crooks around two and a half hours to work out where the spare wheel was hidden, then to work out where the jack was.  How were we to know that it didn’t look like a jack, just a three foot long piece of metal with a ratchet along its length on one side.  Then when we finally changed the wheel and found that the tyre was soft, not flat just a bit soggy and we had to drive slowly to a service area – Aires de service, where we blew up the tyre and checked the others.

Then in view of our history took our two fuel cans to get them filled up with two stroke mixture for the generator while we topped up the ginormous fuel tanks.  Use your imagination. . . . . . . ten English motor dealer with various educations attempting to explain that we wanted two stroke fuel for the generator by pointing to the roof of the Winnebago.  No, we didn’t need the air conditioning topping up, thank you!  Eventually we just filled the two cans with 2 stars and unbelievably one of the guys went into the shop to get a coffee and . . . . Bingo! Found a can on two stroke oil.

We left the Paris Boulevard Peripherique, turned on to the Route A11 when the engine began to overheat.  After finding somewhere safe to park, ten garage owners/motor traders/car salesmen/dealers and a motor auctioneer, checked the cause of the overheating.  You will have heard of the adage about the number of people needed to change a light bulb, well I can tell you that it takes ten motor crooks to find a small leak in the top radiator hose.

“We could wrap some tape tightly around it as a temporary measure, if we had some tape” – We didn’t.  Eventually someone found some baling twine in the hedge and a plastic carrier bag and we strapped it up and refilled the radiator from our on board water tank and we trundled off as far as the next service area where we stopped in a cloud of steam.  We resumed our struggle with schoolboy French to the staff who again responded with their by now routine blank faces.

I then gained Superman status by solving the problem by asking two coppers who I saw were sitting in their car drinking coffee. – They didn’t leave their car but 30 minutes later a mechanic arrived in a breakdown truck, took away our defective top hose and within the hour returned with a replacement.  He fitted it, refilled our drinking water tank, and checked our tyres and we were on our way.  The bill from the mechanic was 500 francs – less than £50.

My pals were slapping me on the back and congratulating on the way I charmed the ‘old bill’ and then began hooting when I explained that I had sorted the problem out in the time honoured way, I bunged them a ‘pony’ that’s £25 or in fact 250 francs and it worked like a charm.  Two hours later we pulled into the Le Mans racetrack campsite just as it was getting dark.  The fairground was in full swing with a huge Ferris wheel and lights and loud music.  Our millionaire recreation vehicle with its centre extension pulled out really looked the business and was the centre of attention.

Strike Nine

Once settled, the party started.  Our cocktail bar had been well stocked before we left but we had also made a few stops on our way down.  Well we were in France and as well as a six case of Courvoisier cognac, we had added a case of Moet et Chandon Champagne and tree cases of Premier Cru wine.  The word went round the raceway and more than a dozen new friends including some fellow campers, a couple of race mechanics and obviously at the mention of free booze a couple of journalists appeared.

I hadn’t mentioned that our ten motor crooks, as well as being boxing aficionados, were all member of the local rowing club and all of us were ex rugby players and we knew how to party.  I sat quietly with a bottle of Premier Cru and a personal bottle of Courvoisier.  I’m not sure if it was me that began singing a few rugby songs, it could have been.  Some of our new German friends joined in with German lyrics to the same tune.  Then some of the French lads joined in their own language.  The night went on . . . . . and on . . . . . and on I don’t recall when the actual race started but we all missed it.  I think I feel asleep on the floor of the motor-home but I woke up lying on the grass in hot sunshine and could hear the race engines but dozed off again.  I woke up in the dark with the fairground in full swing with lots of lights and lots of noise.

I decided to go back to the Winnebago for coffee and would then go to watch the race.  Inside the motor-home there were quite few people slumped around.  I made myself a coffee and sat on a sofa alongside one of the journalists from last night who had also missed the start.  Although a long while ago I can still remember him starting giggling and saying “I know the tune and most of the words, I’ll just put them together in time for the deadline” he fell asleep again.  I’m not sure when or how but I woke up in my own bunk, in my sleeping bag – Result!  I think all or most of the guys were in their beds and someone was using the shower so I went outside and across to use the campsite showers which were excellent as you may expect of France.  It was there that I learned we had not only missed the start but also the finish and the closing ceremony.

I got back to the motor-home and found all were present, when I passed on the news that although we hadn’t planned to watch the free practice or the qualifying, we had come all this way and missed every part of the 24 hours race itself.  One of the guys said “Bugger I know why they call it and endurance race and we all collapsed giggling like a bunch of schoolgirls.  We decided that we weren’t in a fit start to leave until the following morning so our journey home would take two days.  That evening we would go over and have an evening at the fair.  When we got there it was closed and in the process of being dismantled.  We fell about laughing again.  We found a good restaurant and had an excellent meal, sans alcohol.

Strike Ten

We had a perfect drive home and for some reason our fuel consumption improved to over 7 MPG.  We drove unhindered straight on to the ferry and had a lovely drive home.  One of the Crooks owned our local car auctions and a couple of weeks later he had the Winnebago valeted and detailed and advertised it nationally with some sort of story behind it, not the true one I’d add.  The Millionaire RV made a handsome profit for both the owner and the Car Auction.  Between them they covered the whole kitty for our holiday including my bung to the ‘old bill’.

Who says my memory is getting bad?  Some things are unforgettable!  Do you know I’ve been to motor races all over the world but I’ve never seen the Le Mans 24 hour Endurance Race?

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They call tattooing art!

My regular readers will recall that I often dive into my memory bank and even dine out on the tale of my being naked in the gym changing room when a young man, equally naked, accosted me.  After reeling back and before adopting a krav maga defence position, because I don’t swing that way, I noticed that he was covered in Gothic style tattoos.  He pointed to my single tattoo that I sport on my right arm and said “Nice ink matey”. 

Once I realised that he had no designs on my body – do you get that? Designs – tattoos.  I became friendly and although he really was only asking me to admire his own tattoo portfolio and commenced to tell him that I had mine done many years ago in South Africa by a native Zulu who had been wearing an ostrich plume headdress and full tribal dress also that he had carried out the procedure using a sharp piece of bamboo which he rapped with a wooden mallet.  My new friend said “Cor! Were you in the Boer War?”  I turned and strode towards the showers, cheeky sod, calling me matey when he hardly knew me.  End of memory – Well not quite I can remember that it bloody well hurt and it was like being stabbed in slow motion, hundreds of times.

Having admitted to having a tattoo, which is of a Springbok posed in front of the old Union of South Africa flag with a scroll that used to say simply South Africa but is now a dark blue smear as time has taken its toll.  I still subscribe to the rather snooty position that unless the tattoo wearer is ex military especially Navy or Army where tattoos have been the custom since Nelson was a lad, tattooing is still very “Club Chav.  It’s still the preserve of Pole Dancers and people with England flags fluttering from their car aerials.  I was seventeen when I acquired my tattoo, I was a sailor and I had partaken of a few glasses of tikki hock.

Nowadays the law in the UK states that you can’t get a tattoo unless you are drunk that’s why 18 is the minimum age!  I must also admit another snooty prejudice from when I was an employer.  I interviewed a lad who was computer literate and eminently qualified for the job, he bemoaned the fact that he had been applying for jobs for months and couldn’t understand why he kept being turned down.  The fact that he couldn’t see the reason why was enough for me to also turn him down.  He had a spider’s web tattooed on his face and neck.  I didn’t enlighten him and wonder if he ever got a job that didn’t involve emptying rubbish bins or mobile toilets.

Tattoo art is invariably awful.  David Beckham looks more like an Iron Maiden album cover and as for Cheryl Cole/Fernandez-Versini/Tweedy apart from the cost of what she calls her rose tattoo, the pain must have been incredible.  All I can think when I see a picture of it is “Does my arse look big in this tattoo?”  Whatever you call it, it certainly isn’t art in the same manner of the great artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Van Gogh, and Monet.  We know that they would apply their skill and dexterity to just about any surface; walls, ceiling, canvas, paper and often did but not the human body.  Mind you I wouldn’t put it past Tracy Emin but that still wouldn’t be art.

Look at the stereo-typical tattooist, eighteen stone of Hell’s Angel with most of B & Qs stockroom stuck through his ears and nose.  Proper artists spend ages considering their approach to a work, photographing it, looking at views through squared fingers and discussing it.  The Hell’s Angel will give a five minute consultation before producing a very painful, expensive doodle.  I suppose the advantage of having such graffiti on one’s back is the fact that you can’t see it and it is only seen by very good friends.  I have heard of a friend’s wife who had an intense love for her Ferrari that she had a prancing horse tattooed just above her G-string.  Now whenever she bends over people ask her why someone has drawn a donkey on her back.  As usual its rubbish and she is stuck with it for life, as am I with the Springbok on my arm but at least I can relate the tale of the Zulu warrior with his sharpened bamboo stick.

I zigga zumba zumba zumba, I zigga zumba zumba zai 
I zigga zumba zumba zumba, I zigga zumba zumba zai

Hold him down you Zulu warrior 
Hold him down you Zulu chief 
Hold him down you Zulu warrior 
Hold him down you Zulu chief, chief, chief, chief

That’s the South African Boy Scout’s version which made my spell checker go wild.  I also made a promise that I wouldn’t ever sing again’ and as I only know the tune for the Rugby song version which is far to rude for here, that’s all you are getting.

 

 

 

 

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You know that you will enjoy it when you get there!

I had a big boy’s birthday last week, I’d reached such a great age that I didn’t wish to be reminded of it.  All I wanted to do was ignore it and hope that it would pass unnoticed.  What would life be like if parties had never been invented?  Tents would still be used, but now solely for a place for boy scouts and campers to sleep. 

 We are not programmed to enjoy parties that much. Think; when you were little you liked your teddy and you liked your mother and father, but other children were the enemy.  You were forced to go and sit quietly until one of your enemy’s mothers comes up and makes you join in.  Then when you were older going through the “Rite of Passage” and another enemy’s mum finds you face down in her flower bed sometime around dawn.  And then when you are married you get into huge trouble for dancing with the wrong girl, in the wrong way, for far too long!  So there you have it, I’m not programmed to be a party goer but more to the point I’m not happy being old in the first place and I certainly have no wish to broadcast it.  However as I am now so old I am now wise enough to know when I should do as I am told, especially when it is my dear wife ‘Pollyanna’ who is doing the telling.

Then number one son and his lovely wife announce that they would like to honour my great age by hosting a party for me.  In fact it will give the game away as it is to be a “We can’t believe he’s eighty party”.  Is it butter or margarine?  Now my wife tells me “You will enjoy it”!  Well she didn’t say that exactly she said “Come on you know you’ll enjoy it”! But I knew what she meant.  She didn’t exactly lick her handkerchief before rubbing a non-existent smudge from my face before we left for the party but it was certainly reminiscent of long ago parties.  Thinking on the way to my son’s house, I smile and think “Now that I’m old perhaps I’ll get to dance with the wrong sort of girl in the wrong way for too long” without getting a rollicking for it.

When we arrive at the party there are dozens of old friends and much loved relations there and I feel a bit overwhelmed.  One who is part of my extended family and has been my son’s best friend since they were a mischievous seven years old.  He’s now fifty five years old with middle age spread and a teacher at a local public school.  I always call him my second son.  There were some of the ‘Jolly Boys’ from my gym who rather suspiciously appeared to be on their best behaviour.

There was my beautiful granddaughter with her husband and if that wasn’t enough to make me aware of my age there too was her younger brother, my 24 year old grandson.  He was tippling ten year old straight malt whisky and expounding on its depth of flavour and later began tasting wine like a professional Sommelier.  (My daughter told me later when they got him home he was chilling out on the carpet and in her bad books)  I managed to convince her that this was a necessary “Rite of Passage” a ritual that everyone goes through to move on to the next stage of their life.  Been there done that!

There were my late sister’s kids together with their lovely kids and the great thing about that is that those lovely kids have all turned into lovely adults.  Yey! A party without children, someone must have realised that other children are the enemy.  The party isn’t looking too bad now and I might get to dance with the wrong girl in the wrong way for too long!  I’ve been making notes of likely lasses.  Perhaps like my grandson I’ve gone through my own “Rite of Passage” and have gone through a transition and my change of status has moved on from my dislike of parties to actually enjoying them.  I’ve not exactly become a party animal perhaps that will come later.

My celebrations haven’t yet finished because next Friday my favourite Niece has invited me to dine at my favourite Fish Restaurant in my favourite English village and whose menu costs a lot more than a whole book of stamps, all to celebrate my great age.

I keep telling anyone who will listen that old age begins fifteen years from now.  Now where can I find the wrong lady to dance with in the wrong way for too long?

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It’s a bit late for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

This is a fairly short blog because I have had a certain amount of difficulty writing it.  It’s a bit more personal than my usual offerings.  Some people go through life never having seen a dead body let alone touched one.  Some people have never been in a situation so stressful that they will remember it the whole of their lives let alone give them sleepless nights, I envy them!

I don’t know what it is about me but when I look back at my life it seems rather like a broth of chaos.  Before I was sixteen I stood on an armed merchantman in Korea as the ship unloaded equipment for our UN troops while the US fleet were offshore pounding seven bells out of the enemy in the hills above us.  I stood mouth open watching shells that seemed the size of a double-decker bus streaking over our heads before erupting in huge explosions into the jungle.  I won’t say I was scared, I was bloody terrified.

That same voyage I visited Hiroshima in Japan just a few years after it was decimated by “Little Boy” the atomic bomb dropped by an American Superfortress bomber.  That introduced me to man’s inhumanity to man!

Later on, I stood on the bridge of a frigate, next to a shipmate, the ship rolled and a loaded Very flare Pistol slid across the chart table and accidentally fired. The phosphorous/magnesium flare shot him in the stomach.  We helplessly watched him die in agony.  The nightmare continued when we had to relive it through several Boards of Enquiry.

Another time I had to pull a close friend’s body out of his crashed glider.  He had been training for a stunt glider competition and failed to complete the performance.  My life carried on, unlike his.  At one time I had to pick up a severed human head and all I could think of was how heavy it was.  On two separate occasions I have picked up a severed leg to remove it from the road.  I just made ghoulish jokes to hide my horror.

Fifty years ago in 1966 I went with my team to give what help we could to what is now known as the ‘Aberfan disaster’, we got there two days after the tragedy and relieved some of the exhausted rescuers in their hunt for survivors at the Pantglas Primary School which had been totally engulfed by a coal slag heap that had towered over the town until it slipped down into the town.  85 children died in that school, in total 144 people were killed in the town that horrendous day, 116 of them were children.  There were no ghoulish jokes, just anger and blame being thrown around.  I had a few sleepless nights after that catastrophe but my life carried on.

I seem to have developed a hard casing over the years that has helped me put these sorts of memories out of my mind.  I hardly ever talk about them and normally seal them up in my “not wanted on voyage through life” bag, perhaps to be stored in our loft or somewhere equally out of sight and out of mind.  Last week another tragedy occurred, this time it was an earthquake in the mountains of central Italy, where the death toll was 240 and rising.  Modern communications being what they are such scenes are becoming commonplace.  Some manmade like Aleppo in Syria and others natural disasters like this one and we are possibly becoming inured to them.

I was watching on TV at the rescue efforts continuing in Amatrice hoping to find survivors; suddenly I watched the footage as a 10 year old girl was pulled alive from the rubble and I stopped breathing for a moment.  In my mind saw the children’s bodies in Aberfan.  A little boy and girl aged about six years’ old, holding hands even in death trying to comfort each other.  The deputy head teacher was found dead, he was clutching five children in his arms as if he had been protecting them.  I just burst into tears and began blubbing out my memories of Aberfan, just saying “the little boy and girl were holding hands”.  My wife rushed across the room to hug and comfort me as I sobbed.

There are tears running down my cheeks as I’m typing this a week after my breakdown.  Perhaps I should have kept this all to myself but I thought telling you might help to rid me of the Devil.  Can someone suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder fifty years after the event?  Don’t be daft! It’s just weakness in old age.  Age shows no mercy.

 

 

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Blame Brexit

I have had a long love affair with a car, now there’s a confession!  I’ve owned a top of the range V8 Lexus since it was just a two year old.  I call it a Louis XIV model because it has gold badges and bits all over.  I have also given it a name I am embarrassed to say because hitherto all cars have been nothing to me but tin boxes, and I’ve owned a few.  I’ve called my Lexus the novel name of Lexi.  That’s it, confession over and I am red faced.

Lexi is approaching 16 years old; it’s the car that I’d always promised myself when I retired and I’m certain that it will see me out in luxurious motoring for as long as I last.  Did I mention that she also has a personalised number plate which allows her to hide her age even though she is timeless?  The rich widow who I purchased her late husband’s, hardly used car from, didn’t mention the plate so neither did I.  The number plate is probably a lot more valuable than the car is; and no I don’t feel guilty.

On Saturday my local dealership sent me a gold inlaid, embossed invitation to the launch of their latest model.  I don’t need to change my car in fact as at my age, not only could I not justify the cost, my wife tells me that I couldn’t afford one anyway.  In spite of that I couldn’t resist having a look at the specification, just out of interest you understand.

I am also a self confessed gadget freak and tend to spoil myself with the latest boy’s toys such as iPhone, iPod, digital camera, thermal Wi-Fi printer, dash cam, etc, my toy box is overflowing.  You get the picture.  The ‘Confessions of a Shopaholic’ could have been written for me.  Anyway, back to the new model, the specification was chock-full of bait to tempt one such as me.  The lists of high tech gizmos such as multi-contour seats in the finest Connoly hide, with chambers which compensate for acceleration and cornering.  Split screen Satellite Navigation system that made my present one as outdated as a road map and Parking Cameras to the front and rear.  Individual rear passenger DVD players with wireless headphones, even in-car Wi-Fi, Advanced Voice Control for your phone, Auto Windscreen Wipers which switch themselves on at the first spot of rain.  Auto-dip Headlamps when it detects oncoming vehicles.  The car even alerts the driver if it detects drowsiness . . . . . . . and so on . . . . . and so on.

My juices were running, the Adrenalin kicked in and I went on to the dealership’s website. As I logged on someone immediately typed “Hello, my name is Martin how I can help you today?” Damn I’d been caught, sucker!   I typed, “Hi this is only a general enquiry for the price of the LS480, and I’m not really in the market.”  Martin quickly replied “You will never get a better time to buy.  Because of Brexit and the fall in the exchange rate, I am able to offer a one off price of just £71,999!” . . . .   Silence from my end . . . . .Oh my smart mouth . . . . . .  and then I typed “Did I miss something, is that special rate a buy one get one free offer?” . . . . . . . . . . .    Martin had hung up . . . . . .

Brexit indeed he obviously wasn’t aware of my Vote Leave/Grassroots Out campaign credentials.

Anyway what would I do with two cars?  I think that I will stick with Lexi; after all she is the other love in my life.  She is beautiful and in another 10 years she will be a Classic.  We are both maturing perfectly together! 

That’s it for another week, thanks for listening.  As Arnie in the Terminator said “I’ll be back!”

 

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