Am I being naïve?

When I question so much of what is being dictated to us by government, and by industry. Harriet Harman, on a television interview, was praising the fact that the Labour Party now has as many women in the Cabinet as there were men. I can’t see the logic of this. Equality under these circumstances is nothing to do with the sex of the people involved. It is their experience, their ability and their wisdom that is important, not the fact that they’re there to make up the numbers. When I worked as an engineer every year I would get graduates coming from the University to join my group. These young men had been trained to design some of the most advanced structures, I suspect because the lecturers were tired of the same old grind. The problem was that these young men were not trained in the basics and that is what I had to do. I therefore question whether the younger MPs. with their shining degrees in Political Science have sufficient experience to warrant a seat on the Front Bench.

It’s only a couple of years ago that we were being lambasted on every side to save the world, and some of the requirements that were placed upon us in order to do so, were nothing short of ridiculous. Now it seems, that the world has got to look after itself. But it is still being mismanaged by industry. In Northern Ireland we have a county which is well known for its production of fine apples, and yet we in NI are importing apples by air from New Zealand thus using up our fossil fuels. By the same token, how long is it since you had a tomato that really tasted like a proper tomato, grown in this country picked and sold once it was still in its prime, instead of imported rubbish as hard as a stone? Also it is bad before it has ever ripened. I would have thought that we could have had tunnel culture in some of the set-aside land to bring on tomatoes which are essential for our diet, and our pleasure. Surely with the financial situation that we have, I would have thought that we can be very much as we were away back after the last war ,when everything was grown at home, you got it at the right time in the season and it was fresh, and what is more it was cheap. I’m not an economist, but I just don’t understand why stuff that we can produce in this country is being brought in from abroad, in a lot of instances by air.

My generation, and the one following me will remember the Buy British Caption that was on practically everything after WW2, to help bolster our economy and it worked. Today we are importing stuff from abroad, probably made by cheap labour, with the result that the standard shops that we used to rely on can no longer compete and we’re getting the modern version of Woolworths, in every supermarket. The supermarket did away with the family grocer, and now the same thing is happening with the shops that sell the items that we only buy rarely. We are no longer having choice, which we had in the old days going from shop to shop, our taste is limited to what the supermarkets decide they are going to offer. It is our fault, we chose to shop in the Supermarket, in preference to the old-fashioned privately owned shops. So now we all dress alike, and a lot of us eat alike, and I suggest that this latter is why obesity is becoming a problem.

We used to be able to buy things like rice in large packets that were virtually anonymous. Now if you want to buy rice, it comes in a tiny bag, which has printing on every facet, telling you the nutritional values. how to make this that and the other, and we’re paying for this little tiny packet that will only provide two meals for four, so we are having to shop more regularly at the behest of the supermarket.

When I was a boy running errands, I found that the shopkeeper in our local grocer’s stocked things that my mother bought regularly and as a result other people tried them when they saw them on the shelf. Today you can’t be sure that the supermarket will continue to stock something that you like, if it is not sufficiently popular it will disappear from the shelf.

Open letter to Spike

Spike is a lifelong friend of my grandson, Steve, and as I have not been able to contact him, to thank him for generously sending me a bottle of Irish whiskey, something that I am very fond of and with which I will be toasting his health, when Stephen and I get together, I am using the blog to send my thanks. In consequence then I thought I would also give an account of how I personally see the changes in the drinking habits of the British, over the last 90 years. However, seeing that we are talking about alcohol, you might find it interesting to use a search engine, typing .’Passing out parade’ on this blog to seek where alcohol was inducing some strange results. In one case I was put in irons and dropped into the tiller flat, an unpleasant part of the ship. To start with I want to say that alcohol is really a social drink, and I find living by myself that I do not have the pleasure I once had, nightly, with my glass of scotch. There is no one to discuss the merits, to talk instances and brands. Instead one is reading, or watching television or dozing, while the glass sits there unheaded.

My experience goes back to when I was in Africa in the British Raj, but my knowledge goes further back as a result of conversations, and expressions of disgust, by different members of the family under certain circumstances when I was a child and a young man. The television has shown the horrors of the 14/18 war, the horrific needless loss of life, and the unbelievable conditions under which those men lived, Introducing words like trench mouth, and trench foot into the English language. If those men became alcoholic, and I believe many did, it would be understandable. In Africa in the 20s, the civil servants in the Colonial service were living well above their means, subscribed by the government, and would meet every evening at five o’clock in somebody’s house for Tiffin, the locked tantalus, would be opened and everyone would be drinking spirits rather than beer or soft drinks.

However the interesting thing that I have found was that drink, and especially the type of drink taken, varied across the social boundaries. Among the general population, leaving aside the Lord’s in their Manors, there were roughly 4 classes in society. There was the working class, the lower-middle-class, the upper-middle-class, and the upper-class, unsurprisingly what people drank in each of the classes depended on two things, habit and money.. I can remember as a child hearing my grandmother give off, when she would see a pram with a child left outside a public house while the mother would be inside drinking one of the regular drinks that women drank in those days, such as ‘Gin and it’,the ‘it’ being Italian Vermouth, Port and lemon, and any other combination that was in vogue.

The working class mainly drank beer, the lower-middle-class, in general, had aspirations to become the upper-middle-class, and they rarely drink at all, except as a mild celebration on high days and holidays. Then, the sherry bottle would come out with a good deal of theatre, but very little sherry. The upper-middle-class sampled the wine list, and if invited to a party by friends in the lower middle class, might be horrified to discover that they were expected to drink ‘Fruit Cup’, made mostly with a bottle of cheap wine.

Then came the Second World War, when young men were introduced to alcohol, the quality of which varied on the depth of their pockets , and the contents of the pub that was on short commons because of the war. Use the search engine on this blog by typing in Southend, you will find a typical wartime drinking session and the outcome. Any time I was on leave I saw little or no evidence of excessive drinking at home. and a trip to the pub on a Sunday was an occasion.

Like with everything else, the 1960s was a time of change when new experiences were the order of the day, but I believe that the level of intake of alcohol, was more to do with money than it was with change. In the 70s, there was a great change, making home-made wine and beer became common, and some of the chemists shops sold ingredients and equipment.

I can remember in the 20s and early 30s it was quite common to see men staggering home on a Saturday night having their one evening’s drink of the week’ .But to repeat myself I have to say that money in the pocket has a great effect on the ability to buy alcohol. We now live in a time when children seem to have unlimited pocket money, and recently in Bangor, Northern Ireland,we had two nights of expensive entertainment by American bands, and it was reported by those who knew, that the excessive drinking and drunkenness by teenage and young people, was staggering to people of a mature age, Especially as it was coupled with a tremendous amount of the most unpleasant swear words taken as part of the sentences.

I’m not a prude, and I work on the principle that everyone is responsible for themselves when they reach a certain age. It’s not up to the individual to dictate to anyone, but what I think is obvious to us all is that there has been a vast change in what Victorians would have called moral standards, in behaviour and our total way of life.

Thank you again, Spike, for your kindness and generosity, yours sincerely John

£300,000 per head

On the BBC news I think I heard, although I have not been able to verify it, that this figure quoted, so unbelievable, as the cost of maintaining soldiers in the Middle East, I doubted my hearing but it was repeated at the time. I in no way believe that I have the answer to anything like those in charge of the army, I can only postulate my own views, from a basis of ignorance, tinged with commonsense. Perhaps what I am suggesting is already in place, but it is not being published to the same extent as the military condition.

As I understand it, the infrastructure in Afghanistan and Iraq has suffered considerably as a result of the wars, and the insurgents are consequently hard to riddle out. I gather the population in these places has been suffering from a severe lack of quality or even a basic infrastructure to a point where there is practically none. In any process of renewal one has to start at the most advantageous point, and then work out. I understand that attempts have been made to bring the basic necessities in some areas of the population, as the military clear the way. The only way of winning over the hearts and minds of people in such dire straits is to make their lives at least a little more than bearable. It therefore seems reasonable if we are spending a third of one million per soldier, that amount of money in the eyes of the resident population would be staggering if it was applied to the infrastructure. That also applies in this country. The logistics of carrying this out are immense, but it would seem that if companies that are involved in agrarian and simple manufacturing, were encouraged and financially supported, while being protected, in the way areas were protected in Northern Ireland, thus generating jealousy, greed, or just pure necessity, it would be more persuasive as a tool.

From my own experience in war and local uprisings of a serious nature, it is wrong to speculate because one is never in full awareness of all the facts. I therefore accept that what I have remarked here could be written off as nonsensical rubbish, but one of the advantages of having one’s own blog, is it allows one to make statements like the above, if for no other reason than to generate a debate.

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Are Presedents for real?

After a lot of thought, but not a great deal of research, I express my views on government leadership. What has become evident is that it doesn’t matter how weak or strong the head of the government is, either the Prime Minister or a President, if those behind him are not cohesive and strong, then the government is weak. By this token, the head of the government must be strong enough and wise enough to hold his own and hence will not make a fool of himself. I think that George Bush had a problem with this, he had a poor memory, and was constantly making gaffes which undermined his authority. A lot of his decisions have been suspect with hindsight. This disruption in Westminster prompted me to start thinking about the role of Prime Ministers and Presidents. There was no shadow of doubt that Churchill during the war, was not only a very strong person with a wide experience, but he had the best team who could possibly be had behind him and one that trusted him. I think the problem in Westminster is that Blair, who himself was strong, persuasive, and egocentric, got rid of a large number of the better and experienced politicians, because they disagreed with him, and replaced them with people more loyal to him in all circumstances but were less experienced. Brown inherited some of these people, and I suspect that some of their loyalties were perhaps then divided.

By all accounts President Bush avoided making decisions where possible, and at times made the wrong ones that caused him to be mistrusted by the public. When he went on world tours of state, one got the impression that it was merely a figurehead doing as he was told. Obama, on the other hand has set off at an alarming pace to introduce himself throughout the world hotspots, and is making elaborate promises clearly intended to change the American outlook in the eyes of the world. The question that immediately comes to mind is how he can keep this up, the amount of boning up that he has to do on a daily basis to fulfil the different circumstances that he will meet as he goes from country to country, or makes speeches in his own country on a variety of subjects. In his case I believe that there are others behind him who are making his agenda, keeping him up to date, because I don’t believe in the short time that he has been in office he could have had the depth of knowledge, and the time in which to absorb all the groundwork that was necessary for him to conduct himself as he does. It will be interesting to see where he is in 12 to 18 months time

I don’t believe the promised change in the whole of our government system will materialise because it is too momentous a task, and at a time when our whole future is going to have to change on practically every level to accommodate the changes created by the credit crunch, there wouldn’t be enough days in the month, budget enough and the people to do it. However if they were ever to do so in the future I think all the parties should ensure that their proposed leader is a man or woman of integrity, strong and determined, and above all experienced in both politics and the world in general. It is not enough to have advisers that are the current commodity, because they inevitably, by their very nature and purpose, will lead.

Do we get what we deserve ?

Do we get what we deserve? At times of political upheaval, there is an old cliche that says the populace gets the government it deserves. Just for once I am not going to talk about the government, but the implications posed by the front page of my broadband. It has a panel of five or six photographs and comments, which are presented, whether you want it or not, mostly depicting celebrities in some guise or another. You have to search elsewhere if you want to find the important things in life’. At the same time, flashing advertisements from all parts of the screen distract your eyes. This seems a totally new approach, and I haven’t the technicality to be able to transform it to just a simple statement of the things that I think are important, such as the weather, worldwide news, domestic news, and perhaps a little humour.

The problem that I see is that we are getting what those who are responsible for our entertainment, our news level, and our general diet on the web and on the TV screen, deem to be most popular, and in consequence the level of our taste. It says more about us than it does about them. It wasn’t as if these celebrities are being portrayed as people to be looked up to. On the contrary every opportunity is taken to denigrate them, and a lot of them leave themselves open to that treatment, and seem to enjoy it, on the principle of any publicity is good publicity. I think it is time that we all decided that if we were going to elevate someone to the status of Celebrity, that person should do something more than just their job, be it a chef with a vocabulary of the gutter, some actress who has a propensity for presenting us a broad view of most of her chest, assuming that is her main attraction, or a notorious husband-and-wife team having a rather messy separation. It seems that quality is no more news-worthy, than the News itself.

Things I don’t understand, part 1

To me, the Prime Minister’s speech was pure electioneering, currying favour in selected quarters to raise his stock. Throughout the speech, I was amazed, in the current financial climate, at the number of references to rising expenditure in so many categories, including foreign aid, In addition he talked about full employment, when professionals and tradesmen are being laid off, because of the credit crunch. In one report I believe he said that he would find additional finance by improving government efficiency. If after 10 years of Labour control this has only now been discovered, need I say more. Some proposals are only going to cost a few million, but I take exception to them on social grounds.

Gordon Brown’s edict concerning providing childminding for two-year-olds, is at the top of the list. Once upon a time, before television, or even radio, people took extended families for granted. Relatives gave the young parents the opportunity to socialise, and get a change of perspective at least once a week. Women didn’t go out to work months if not weeks after a child was born. They nurtured the child and the later children, played with them, trained them and loved them consistently for about seven to ten years. If both parents are working, the logistics inevitably become more complicated and more difficult. In the old days big shopping expeditions were a treat, there wasn’t the choice, usually you nipped round the corner to buy what you needed in no time at all. Today cleaning house, shopping, socialising and the time taken to go to and from work, while at the same time having to care for the children, or earn the extra hundreds of pounds to pay for care, even if it is subsidised, is going to truncate both the socialising of the family, and more importantly the bonding with the children. By introducing subsidised or free nursery care for the poorer parents in our society for two-year-olds and presumably upwards, the PM, is not only condoning, but abetting young women to abandon their children to strangers at the age of two, a time when the bonding, the training, and in truth a most wonderful period in the development of the child, could be lost. It seems to me to send all the wrong signals, and yet might further encourage young women to become single-parent mothers.

Gordon Brown’s proposition to provide free laptops to some families, I find equally ill considered, because the children of today, for a number of reasons, don’t socialise anything like we did as children, when our pleasure was mainly in taking part in scratch games on the local commons and village greens and the cinema on Saturdays. There are too many houses where the bedroom windows in the dark of the evening shine blue from the reflection of the screens of TVs or laptops. With single-parent families, the loss of the extended family, and the current fear, which walks our streets, children are isolated now more than they ever were. Instead of providing high quality play facilities, open fields for scratch games, paying for the provision of evening supervised interests, this proposition will lock up more hundreds of thousands of kids, surfing the net, with parents without IT experience, who won’t have a clue what the kids are finding or are looking for. A few free theatre tickets have absolutely no bearing on the case.

One other thing in the same speech was free medicine for cancer patients. I have had skin cancer, and Sophie has had breast cancer, my mother died of cancer, but when this occurred all of us were pensioners. I haven’t access to the true figures, but I strongly suspect that at least half of the cases of cancer reported, especially those that required severe treatment, have been suffered by pensioners. Pensioners receive free treatment already, so it would seem that the cost of the scheme would not appear to be so shattering, but, as someone pointed out to me, the scheme will open a different can of worms. Some of the treatments for cancer are highly expensive, even up to thousands of pounds, to such an extent that there will certainly be a postcode lottery as to whether you qualify or not, even as a pensioner. It would therefore seem that Mr Brown has allowed his script writers once again to dig another elephant trap for him.

Belfast,69 0n in order,The Troubles, The Irish Condition

A Near National Disaster In the 40’s, you would have thought Ireland was nearer Australia than Britain for all the majority of the residents of Britain knew about the place and, I’m afraid, when I was dispatched there by the Navy in ’42, I fell squarely into that category too. In fact I knew more about France, which is about the same distance off-shore, than I did of Ireland. When I was sent, I had some vague idea I was going to the green and pleasant land I had seen depicted in the cinema. One person who had helped to confirm the British concept of Ireland was Barry Fitzgerald with his portrayal of the Irish as either dotty eccentrics, or slightly oily, very obsequious, forelock tugging, guileful little folk, who, in a minute, would bite the hand that fed them while smiling into the other’s eyes. The myths, too, perpetuated in song and on canvas, of thatched cottages and donkeys with their panniers in the peat cuttings, of this nirvana across the pond with its four million population, have been fostered in the minds of its 50 million ex-pats in the USA. In actual fact one has to search the wilder extremes of the country to find this idyll, which ironically is shrinking with every pound or punt poured in by the same ex-pats.

The media reports during the seventies, eighties and nineties, of the internecine war, so euphemistically referred to as ‘The Troubles’, have changed all that, but only marginally. The real Ireland is none of these, it is so much better and it is worse, it is beautiful beyond belief and in places it is an anachronism, held solid in the aspic of its own myths and prejudices; but above all it is a contradiction. To make the point, take the phrase itself, ‘The Troubles’, a euphemism if there ever was one, and so at odds with what the ‘Troubles’ really represent. It is certainly an interesting reflection on an absurd sense of propriety when one considers that working class women used to refer to their gynaecological ills in the same terms, perhaps they still do – the comedian, the late Les Dawson, used to make great play of womens’ ‘troubles’ in his Northern sketches. When one lives in Northern Ireland, in spite of every attempt to be liberal and non-biased, one soaks up the political atmosphere unknowingly because it enters the pores, like the sun on a Costa beach, until the whole of one’s perceptions become coloured. It may not affect one’s outlook, nor one’s attitudes to individuals, but it is there, like a third eye peering over the shoulder, looking for the bias in others and mentally countering every statement with the question, ‘is that really so?’ This conditioning starts the day one arrives and continues from then on. It was there in the ’70’s daily, and to give a taste of the stress it could produce I write about the theft of the drawings.

The Theft Of The Drawings At the time I was tendering for a large contract, worth enough to bring contractors over from the Mainland to consider pricing. The drawings for the job ran into two rolls of between thirty and forty drawings a roll, and these I permanently kept in the boot of the car so I could meet the contractors straight from the plane and take them to the sites.

My younger daughter borrowed the car to go to the Queen’s Film Society and while she was at the screening the car was stolen. We suspected it was the paramilitaries and this had me very worried because these drawings indicated where so much sensitive material was to be found, vital to the life blood of the area – the high pressure gas mains, feeding every thing including the chicken incubators of County Down, the high octane aeroplane fuel lines, telephone links and so on were all marked and described so the contractors would be able to price for the necessary precautions. The thought of their theft had never been envisaged. What to do? I thought long and hard for most of the night when I heard the news, and came to the conclusion that there was really nothing anyone could do but worry. It would have taken almost the whole of the British Army to have guarded everything depicted there and even then terror might have struck. I decided to stay stum, let the bosses enjoy their sleep, and await developments.

Within ten days the car was returned. There was no spare wheel, my golf clubs and other personal effects were gone, the engine had been tuned like a racer and the old valve was in the pocket to prove it. It had done a thousand miles in those ten days which said much for what it had carried and the drawings were lying flat in the boot, untouched, which in turn said something about the people who had stolen the car and the drawings! The relief was unimaginable – unless one has experienced it!

Belfast, ’69 on, in order, The Soldiers In Belfast

Any right thinking person had to be sympathetic to the young men who were sent over here, whether they wanted to come or not, to become potential targets for hidden snipers. That was not all, their living conditions were apparently appalling and they were not permitted to mix with the Town’ people, for obvious reason – I had the impression it was as close to being in jail as one could get without committing a crime. The result was that they lived as we had in the warships, something which we accepted because times were harder in those days. The rest of the army in Britain, with the availability of more money, pressure groups, reducing recruitment, and the greater choices open to young people, made the living standards in general of the armed forces  unrecognisable to old sweats like me.

When I tried to persuade Gwen, my aunt, to come over here for a holiday, the fuss her friends made was unbelievable and the way they described what might happen to her if she agreed brought home to me, not only the ignorance, yet again, of the English in Irish affairs, but how the parents of the soldiers must have felt and still feel. With the pressure from the job, the pressure from home and the tedium of confined living and no relief, it was surprising the men retained their humour, but they did, if perhaps in a cynical sense. I remember several instances of this, two in particular.

A mature woman, living in a corner house in one of the Republican areas in or near the Falls district, had been annoying a group of soldiers who were supposed to patrol the area by rushing out, as soon as they appeared, and banging the pavement with her bin lid, a general warning signal used to great effect in the area in the 70’s. In the end the sergeant decided to put a stop to it.

‘Everyone bring their mug’, he said and that was all. The men duly climbed into the Land Rover armed with all their equipment plus their mugs. They arrived at the woman’s house so quickly she had no time to get the bin lid and immediately on arrival the Sergeant and corporal went to her door and knocked. While he was waiting he told the corporal to bring all the men who were not on guard to the garden path with their mugs. When the woman opened the door he started to talk to her, but shielded her from view in the street, he then told his corporal to collect the mugs and pass them to him. A few moments later he passed the mugs back, one at a time and instructed the men to appear to drink. Finally he ordered the men back into the Landrover and with a salute and a loud ‘Thank you for the tea!’, they left.

Apparently, they were hardly round the corner when the woman had one of her windows broken by a neighbour. That story was going the rounds, but another along the same lines was witnessed by our Senior Tracer and can be vouched for. She was going to catch the bus to go to work when she saw a sight, which totally mystified her. She waited to see what it was all about.

A lorry full of soldiers had stopped, the men had dismounted, and some had dustbin lids in their hands, they all tiptoed down a long road in the Springfield Road district. They spread out along the centre of the road and waited. On a signal, the ones with the lids bashed the road, giving the well known signal and within seconds a number of doors burst open and men, putting on clothes, ran into the street, into the arms of those without lids but with repeating rifles pointing at where the men’s breakfast should be. A cynical sense of humour? Maybe!. Devious? Definitely!

Belfat, ’69 on, The Troubles, The Royal Ulster Constabluary, Part timers

I intended writing about the RUC sometime, but do so now, not as a rant, but to draw attention to the reports we had at the time of the Gulf War and currently of the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, where my relatives and friends are being asked to fight without the proper means and support. The details are in the Press daily, but there is little action by the Authorities. I can vouch, being at a disadvantage, unnecessarily, is frustrating, dangerous and stupid.

In the 70’s, aged 50, with a large staff, and responsibility for a number of Civil Engineering projects, I would have been silly to volunteer for service with the Police, part time, at night. I was aggravated by the IRA calling shooting old men in the back, as ‘legitimate Targets’, whose sole selection was they performed a menial, civilian task in a police station. – the Press called them ‘soft targets’ – they were unarmed and unsuspecting. I believe, an ‘army’, means fighting head on, not one or two civilians, bombing and shooting indiscriminately. In Armagh a young police woman, merely carrying documents was shot in the back and killed. This was the last straw – the police were under severe stress, working incredible hours and the shootings and bombings were at their height. The police woman, part time, was married with children. I joined up, primarily to relieve one professional at least, from standing guard duty, something I could reasonably do. He could get on with policing.

A new world, new procedures, a new uniform, and more study. We had to understand the Law as applied to policing, shoot a Walther, 9mm automatic (007’s choice), accurately, and mostly stand guard duty at the barracks, a judge’s house, or ride around in an armoured Land Rover, going to ‘incidents’ at speed. The average policeman, unsurprisingly, was like any other serviceman, interested in guns, his job, football and so on. There was, naturally, the odd bad apple. Sometimes I had to stand at the gate of the barracks, checking the traffic and watching all those places where a sniper could shoot me with equanimity – no chance of being caught. I was amazed no one had ever had a pop. One night, we were drinking coffee and eating buns at ‘break’ when there was a call. We shot off at speed, but when we arrived at a house which had been shot up by a speeding car, the Army and another patrol were already there, so we stood in a group, under a street lamp discussing. I wondered if it had been a set-up, and casually pointed out that someone in the nearby wooded Cave Hill could shoot several of us easily and get away and that we should disperse. It was met with derision

Sometimes we sat in a small hut at a judge’s house singly or in pairs, or manned street barriers looking for arms; then I rushed to keep guard in the hedge with the Stengun, my Golf Club was nearby and I didn’t want to nab a friend for drink-driving. Once, a car entered the drive of the judge’s house with two young people in it, when they saw the uniform and the Sten they reversed hurriedly. Another night a regular copper asked me what I would do if I was in a pub and the IRA made a hold up. I said I would have a go. He pointed out that, presupposing I shot the raiders, I would be standing there in civvies, holding a smoking gun, if the army came running, they would shoot first and ask questions after. Some weeks later that scenario was played out in a garage in N. Belfast and a part-time policeman in civvies was killed. The most hairy part of being a policeman, for me, was during office hours when I had to supervise work in ‘No Go Areas’, where the IRA were receiving protection payments and I, a copper, was carrying a gun.

Belfast, ’69 on, in order,The troubles, The Royal Marines

The number of ironic stories attributable to the heightened atmosphere of the ‘Troubles’ are legion, this is just another. While you read what follows, bear in mind, if you will, that I was originally English, also Protestant, ex- Navy and a civil servant working in sensitive areas, and if I had been needed at the time of Suez I would have held the temporary rank
of Commander.

It was just an ordinary day in the early 70’s, I was on my way home after taking site photographs and had finished late. It was well past lunch time, the day was fine and dry and I was in a good mood. Out into the road stepped a Royal Marine with his hand up, I was being stopped – an everyday occurrence. “Park over there,” he said pointing to the other side of the road, I complied. “Get out of the car and open the boot,” he continued. By now his companions were surrounding my car and pointing their rifle at me. Well, why not? They had to point somewhere. I opened the boot. Lying there were two expensive cameras, films, lenses of various sizes, and other equipment amounting to a tidy sum, even on the second-hand market. “Go and open the bonnet” He said, starting to rummage. I am sure that the stories I had heard about the proclivities of the Royal Marines, when I was a sailor, were totally apocryphal, slanderous in the extreme, and Marines are really loveable, almost to the degree of being cuddly – but – as I was on my own with no witnesses to confirm what I had started out with, just to be on the safe side, I refused, politely but firmly.

“I said, ‘open the bonnet'” He reiterated. “Of course I will,” I said quite reasonably, “when you’ve finished here.” While this was going on his colleague was in my car looking through my correspondence, and a friend drove past and waved to me and I waved back. The first soldier repeated himself and I refused, adding “I am supposed to be present when my car is being searched. When you have finished, I’ll lock the boot and then you can look in the bonnet.” The argument went on until he had finished, his companion was still going through the car.

The same friend drove up and wound down her car window. ” My God,” she said, “Are you still here?” and laughed at my wry expression, it had been a considerable time since she had last passed.. “You wouldn’t think,” I said, taking the opportunity to make a point, “that I’m one of the few English civil servants in this neck of the woods.” She laughed, shook her head and drove off. I opened the bonnet after locking the boot. The marine now went to look in there. I got into the car and switched on the radio. By this time the Marine’s colleague who had been reading my mail was on the radio to base, telling them that they had a desperate criminal with a car registration number of XXXXX.

However, that was not the final curtain, there were a couple of scenes still to run. The officious Marine, I thought of as ‘Chummy’, toured the district with three others of whom two were supposed to be stationed away from the searchers to cover them from other directions, but the dialogue between Chummy and me had been so interesting that one, who had been within earshot, had been edging closer and closer, abandoning his position in favour of the drama. At this juncture, probably bored to death, he decided to take a hand and as I sat tuning the car radio he stuck his rifle into my face and said “Get out!” I must admit I was taken aback. “Why, I?” asked, reasonably, “What now, all I’m doing is waiting for your mate to clear me as he will.” “Get out, or I’ll shoot!” he said this time. I think if there had been a witness I would have put him to the test to see if he really would, but one man on his own with no witnesses should never tempt fate. I got out. We had only been together for twenty minutes so I had not really had a chance to build any bridges, we still hated one another, even when I left.

That evening I was seated watching TV when I saw my beloved wife come in through the front door beckoning some men in camouflage to follow her. She stuck her head into the room and said, “I was sorry for these poor chaps, I’ve brought them in for coffee or a beer.” She wondered why I laughed, but she was too busy with her social duties to find out, she had four mouths to feed. That’s right, they were Royal Marines!