Do you realise? , 5

Victorian values
As far as the working class, and the lower-middle-class were concerned, things had changed little in the early 30s, from what they had been in Victorian times. There were of course considerable social changes as a result of the vast number of men having been killed during the war. There was a high percentage of unmarried women in consequence. In my own case I had three aunts, one never married, one married when she was 40, and the other one married when she was 60. The majority of people in these classes lived in terraced housing, with a small or no front garden, and possibly a small patch at the back. Every kitchen had a range, fired by coal, which provided hot water, heating of a kettle or saucepan on a trivet, and an oven. Children were bathed in front of the range, everyone washed at a washstand in the bedroom, using hot water provided by a large enamelled jug. Adults would make regular trips to local swimming baths, which had individual bathing facilities. In the majority of cases, while radio was in its infancy, only those who were able to make their own crystal set, or knew someone with that capability, were privy to the king’s message, on Christmas Day, listened to by the whole family from headphones in a bakung bowl in the centre of the Xmas luncheon table. Subsequently valve operated sets, powered by a large dry-cell battery, and a 2 volt liquid accumulator, became common, ever increasing in the quality of the cabinet and the price, while the technology improved at a snail’s pace

We were a nation of hoarders, even to the extent that when a pan became thin in the base, many people would get a gypsy to repair the pan while seated on the footpath kerb. Where possible everything was repaired, and the general saying was, ‘ keep it for a rainy day’. Above all we were stoical, a leftover from WW1, and ‘nice’, a word which covered practically every condition, from gossip to behaviour. When an aunt of mine was proposing to marry a divorcee, the whole matter was discussed when I wasn’t there, and when she was ultimately married, I was not allowed to go to the marriage ceremony, because he was divorced, and consequently, not nice. I consider that was the epitome of the way life was conducted, if it wasn’t nice it was not banded about, but talked of in hushed voices. How you were viewed by others was seen to be important, something that I believe we inherited from the Victorian era, and, in most cases, was still in vogue by the end of the 30s. It wasn’t a case of keeping up with the Joneses, rather what the Joneses might be thinking about you.

Obviously, there were changes from the 20s to the 30s, but they were very slow, partly because of the effects of World War I, the state of the economy, and probably to some extent, that the man in the street was happy enough with his lot. In general cases he had a job for life, ambition was not as prevalent as it is today, and generally only the man in the household went to work. From my perspective the high point of 1935, when I was about 13, was that austerity by this time had diminished, middle-class people were beginning to own cars because they were in semi-detached or detached houses, and consequently had room for a garage. Municipal sports grounds were beginning to be made, enabling the population to keep fit, if they were inclined. The cinemas had become more sophisticated, and the quality of the films was of a much higher standard. People were once again going on holiday to the seaside, although it was only the wealthy who holidayed abroad. The way I remember that the era was as though the sun shone every day, and every day was a holiday. This is clearly absurd, but it was a sudden awakening. I believe schooling was more liberal, and facilities such as museums, boat rides on the River, and fanfares doing the rounds of the country added to this feeling of a load lifted off one shoulders. But this was not to last long, within four years, we, the children at school would be hustled off to become a burden to families in the country, and when I say families in plural, it was generally the case that the evacuee would have more than one home, even as many as four, before going back to his own home. This was a level of disruption which was felt right across the south of England.

On the day the war broke out we had air raid sirens, which startled quite a lot of people, but that was the beginning of the phoney war, but it wasn’t long before we would be faced with the reality.

Do you realise? , 4

The aspects of education
If you go to the search facility in this blog, and type ‘ caining’, you will see a number of items that I have written concerning corporal punishment in schools by teachers and prefects, over the years. You will discover that some of the teachers behaved in a disgustingly criminal manner, which has ultimately brought about the situation of today, where corporal punishment is anathema both in school and the home. My wife, a secondary school teacher, would come home in recent years, and tell me of some young teacher who was crying because she could not control a class. If you read what I said in these other items you will find that I was beaten more often than most, for less than most, and it had no effect on my psyche. I was caned at school caned at home, and took it as part of my existence. There were times when I resented it, receiving it from boys only a few years older than myself, but with the authority to do so.

On a broader aspect, watching my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren grow up, I have been able to assess the increasing rate of assimilation that each generation has been capable of. Part of this is because the quality of the technology that surrounded them was increasing at a fast rate, and they took this revolution in their stride. However, by the same token, this increase in technology has had the reverse effect as well, it has made entertainment more readily available at the touch of a switch, with the result that the children today are more prone, in a high proportion, to use the electronic advances in preference to the more simple pleasures that I knew. This I believe is a retrogressive aspect which requires national consideration, if we are to maintain the physical fitness that we enjoyed from the 20s to 60s.

There is another reverse effect engendered by the way in which children have become more sophisticated, and capable, and inconsequence demand more from life. The effect is that they expect to go to university as of right, when in fact they would be better off being articled or apprenticed, in some way of work, as so much of the academically trained, are finding it increasingly difficult to find work, and thus a loss to the nation of a failed potential. There is a level of snobbery that has crept into people’s concept of what they want for themselves and their children. With the result we are employing foreigners to do the work that these people feel is beneath them. This attitude is not helping our economy, or the level of employment, when you see so much also being sent abroad in one form or another. A typical example is the fact that so many call centres are now established in the subcontinent, with the result that firstly, the average English speaking person finds it difficult to carry on a conversation, and also their personal information is now being leaked abroad, with the result that scams concerning bank accounts are now becoming a national problem.

I have always believed that education did two things, one was to give one a groundwork from which one could understand and learn more about different subjects. The second thing that education does, is to teach one where to find the knowledge that he needs, and this is where I think the educational system needs its own revision. People are having to enter into examinations which require knowledge of complicated equations, or similar information. As this information under normal circumstances is readily available, I believe that it should be readily available in the examination room. At the risk of telling you something that you already read, I want to explain how we, instructors in the Royal Navy of highly technical material, set our exams. We allowed the examinees to take in anything that was written that they wished, but they were not allowed to talk during the examination. We then, knowing those who were likely to do well, took their papers, marked them, gave the best man or woman a mark of 95, and then we were able, having marked all the papers, to grade the rest proportionately. These people like anyone else in any form of employment will be able to research anything they needed in future life, and forcing them to remember material which was basic, but essential, and complicated like formulae, at a time when they were under the maximum stress, is unnecessary. The system always seemed logical and I never understood why it was not implemented across the board.

Do you realise, 2, and,3

Do you realise, 2
The E U.
One of the most serious, far-reaching, and controversial revolutions was when we joined the European market. A large number of us could never see the reason why, even when people suggested that it would improve trading. If we were producing products that were better than those produced elsewhere, whether they were paid for in pounds, shillings and pence, or some foreign currency, they would still have been bought. Instead of which we have been forced to suffer regulation designed to help people in countries that have neither the climate, the density of population, or the tastes of us in the UK. Furthermore Maggie Thatcher did her best to limit the amount of contribution that we would be paying, but I don’t think that today, with the advent of so many poor nations subsequently joining, we are being fairly treated. It has been a thorn in our side, ever since.

Do you realise, 3
Aspects of children’s lives.
There have been incredible changes right across-the-board for children and adults alike. The greatest change, I believe, has been the way in which children have assimilated technology, in play and in school. I suggest that this is to do, to some extent, to information being transmitted from generation to generation in the genes. Clearly the parents’ experience depends largely on their age, their ability and their environment, at the time of conception, and so the information transmitted will vary from child to child. Children of my generation played very simple games, with things like hoops, spinning tops, and whipping tops. Much of our play was physical, as well as make-believe. We had scratch teams playing seasonal sport on Commons, which dated back hundreds of centuries, where people once grazed their livestock. Much of those Commons were lost in World War II, when we had to grow our own vegetables, and not replaced. Something similar is happening today, where schools are selling off playing fields as building sites.

We were fortunate that there were very little, if any, vehicles that were not horse-drawn, in which case we were able to play in the streets, in small groups, but not gangs. There may have been some gang warfare in some parts of large conurbations, but I never remember any in my part of South London. Many of us would help a local trader or roundsman, as much for the fun of riding on a horse drawn milk cart, or getting a few sweats for running an errand. Group by group, we were innocent, childish and unsophisticated by present-day standards, and our interests at all levels were equally simple, and uncluttered. In the winter months, and in bad weather and dark evening we played simple card games and board games. Apart from some youngsters who had fairly wealthy parents, the majority of us had very little pocket money, it never seemed to worry us, we were more interested in what we could do, than what we could buy. Our Stockings and our presents, at set times, were generally equally simple, with probably one prize item. We never felt denied because we didn’t know any better, and we were happy as we were. It is true, that at Christmastime, we breathed on a lot of shop windows, more with hope than expectation.

Do you realise? – 1

Do you realise that you are part of a vast revolution, which has changed, and is still changing the way we live? We are partly responsible, because we are influenced by razzmatazz, spurious advertising, and laziness on our own part.

The corner shop has almost totally ceased to exist in the main conurbations, and is replaced by supermarkets and franchise stores . We are no longer the customer that is always right, but puppets dancing to the supermarket’s impersonal tune. When we go to a shop, we just have to select from what is on offer. We can no longer nip round the corner for something we are short of. We no longer have any control of what is on the shelves, as we did in the past, when our individual needs were considered by the shop-owner. This revolution in shopping, has first of all reduced the number of people in the retail trade, and changed the look of the High Street. It is now more like a market, where’s there are some shops empty, and are only used for high days and holidays, and a large number of the other shops are fighting a losing battle with the supermarkets. Unfortunately things have gone too far for us to be able to turn back the clock. Out-of-town shopping is here to stay, making the car an unavoidable necessity, because public transport no longer fulfils the need.

In the very old days, when I was a young man, everything was done with pen and ink, which meant that you had time to think what you were writing, and others had time to read what you were putting down, and respond in like manner. Now with the Internet, the computer, TV, not to mention the iPod, everything is instant which translates into ‘ knee-jerk’. I believe that politics today consist of a series of knee jerk responses to every eventuality, without careful thought. I am constantly complaining that the government paints with a broad brush, without careful thought and without experience, resulting in mistakes, serious misjudgement, and irredeemable reflects from bad decisions and inept legislation. The credit crunch, and the way with which it was dealt is a prime example..

There seems to be a trend that problems can be solved by sweeping changes, without scaled-down modelling to see where the traps are. This latest effort of moving the boundaries with respect to how the electorate votes, is another example where they haven’t considered the cost that this is going to involve. Any change of this type involves considerable costs because new environments often demand new controls, which in turn often involves changes in location, paperwork, and the loss of valuable records. I firmly believe that this move is another one of these knee-jerk reactions which will only benefit a very small proportion of the electorate, and it appears the percentage of those will be for people who have come to live here from other countries. There is a constant perception that the majority, in this country, is disadvantaged by the needs of the few, which are often spurious.

The Northen Ireland Troubles, 8

I have already told the story of not being able to buy black market eggs because, with an English accent, I was thought to be the ‘Ministry Man’. An accentless, or near accentless speech was, in my experience generally the trigger for suspicion. I remember when I first joined the City Council and English reps came to the counter at our office, I was always sent to attend, with the postscript, ‘You talk to them, you speak their language.’ In other words, one might be with the Irish, but, with friends and relations excepted, no matter how long one has lived here, one is with the Irish, but not of them.
This was best illustrated during a political discussion, which had broken out in my office among the younger elements. I generally stayed clear of politics but on that occasion, because I felt things might get a bit heated, I put my oar in.
One of the young men, a more vociferous, belligerent and forthright participant, and one who had only just joined us and did not know me very well, listened to what I had to say for a few seconds and then interrupted.
‘What do you know about the Irish situation, you’re English.’ For a moment there was what is called, in novels, a pregnant silence, the others, like me, were taken aback with the virulence of the attack.
“How old would you say you were when you became politically aware?’ I asked. He thought for a second and then said twelve was about right. I was sceptical, but any figure would have done.
‘Right,’ I said. ‘That means you have been politically aware for twelve years, but you reckon you have a good grasp of Irish politics.’ I did not wait for his reply but ploughed on. I did notice a gleam of amusement in some of the eyes of the others present, they could see where I was leading.
I continued, ‘I have lived here as an adult for thirty-four years.’
I had made my point and although it was seen to be reasonable to some of those present, I am equally sure there were others, including the young man, front and centre, who instinctively believed that Irish politics came down through the generations, in their genes.

The Northern Ireland Troubles, 7

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. The result was that they lived as we had in the warships, something which we accepted because times were harder in those days, but with the availability of more money, pressure groups, reducing recruitment, and the greater choices open to young people, the living standards in general of the armed forces would be 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 that 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 with dustbin lids in their hands, and 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.

The Northern Ireland Troubles, 6

The Royal Ulster Constabluary, Part 1 She was married, she was young, she was pretty and she was a clerk, she was also a police woman. What she was not was a threat to anyone, any more than the poor old cleaner of a police station who was also killed just because he was unsuspecting and therefore an easy target for a coward. The report of her death was the trigger, I suppose the release valve really, the excuse to go and do something, anything, to get back at the senseless killers. I was working hard at the time, running a big staff and a large number of contracts, but I had to do something, I could no longer stand by. Fighting for a cause is one thing, soft targets, and women to boot, are beyond the pale. I obtained permission from the Department and became an elderly constable in the RUC Reserve.
I did the training, a sort of basic run through on the Law as it affected us, I learned to shoot and care for a gun all over again, I wanted to go to the Springfield Road Station, which was in the thick of it at that time but I finished up in North Queen Street, second best.
Obviously I could only operate at nights and weekends and my duties were to carry a Sten gun and do as I was told. Dressed in uniform, with my personal weapon in a holster, a flak jacket, the Sten and a truncheon, I either stood at gates, sat in huts or rode about in a Land Rover for two years. In that time I discovered a number of things, I rediscovered the tedium of the armed serviceman, the effects of adrenaline, the weird notions of Authority, yet again the irrational behaviour of the terrorist, the philosophy of when and when not to carry a gun, and that level of apprehension I had experienced at sea and later in the sewer.
There was a period when I had to sit in a hut in the garden of a Judge, sometimes with another copper, sometimes alone, from seven o’clock until near midnight. We had a walky talky squawking away, but as we could only hear one side of the conversation it was pretty uninteresting.
On one occasion when I was guarding a Judge’s house by myself, a car with two young people in it pulled into the drive. I admit to apprehension. I got up and stood with my gun pointed at them. They neither looked surprised nor afraid, all they did was put the car very quickly into reverse and depart at speed. Whether they were terrorists I never knew, what they were doing there otherwise is unfathomable. All I know is I was relieved to see them go. I reported it on the radio, but never heard any more.
I had always thought it my duty to shoot if I saw terrorists brandishing guns and with this aim in view I went everywhere with my Walther in its hidden holster. WRONGGG! Guns, calibres, ranges, shot sizes, makes, any damn thing at all to do with guns was a constant topic of conversation during those long night vigils and it was then an old hand put me right about carrying a gun when in civilian clothes. His thesis was – say one was in a pub and a terrorist came in and held up the place, the natural reaction of the off-duty constable would be to pull out his weapon and shoot, or at least warn before shooting. A minute later, a soldier or another policeman comes in and sees a man standing there with a gun in his hand, the chances are he too shoots and ask questions later, by which time the off-duty copper is dead. QED. I stopped carrying a gun off-duty Strangely that is exactly what happened at a petrol station in North Belfast only a few weeks later. Soldiers shot the copper.

The Northern Ireland Troubles,5

The Royal Ulster Constabluary, Part 2 At that time I was a member of Fortwilliam Golf Club, and not entirely innocent of drink driving. We, a mixture of Regulars and Reservists, would shoot off in the Land Rover and at the whim of the Sergeant in charge, we would stop, set up a control point, ostensibly be looking for terrorists, but I always suspected it was more a case of increasing the drink-driving arrest statistics. This left me with a queasy feeling of being poacher turned gamekeeper, and as many of the points we set up were blatantly on the route home for carousing golfers, I took the precaution of being the first out of the car with the Sten and into the hedge, where I hid as back-up, while the others questioned the motorists. I had no wish to have to choose between duty and friendship.
One day, when we had set up on the entrance to the motorway, I had, as usual shot off to be back-up and the others were doing the questioning when I saw a woman passenger, seeing the police check-point, cover her face with her hands. I realised something was up, nodded to my comrades who went to question the car driver. The latter put down the foot and roared off down the motorway, the rest rushed into the Land Rover and after him, leaving me, on my own, stranded on a motorway, with no back-up. It turned out they had quite a chase and he was drunk, not a terrorist. Ultimately, when all else had been taken care of they remembered they were one short.
I never really managed to understand the strategy of the terrorists. They must have had access to technical knowledge and yet they seemed never to get the best out of any situation. I used to stand at the gate of North Queen Street Station on guard, and I could see several vantage points where a good sniper could have picked me off and got away Scot free and yet they didn’t. One night, when I was part of the Land Rover crew we were having a break for coffee and sangers, round about midnight, when there was a call that there had been a shooting in North Belfast. In fact, we were legitimately off-duty, but the degree of boredom was such that we all tumbled into the Land Rover and with siren wailing, cornering on two wheels, adrenaline high, we roared off to the scene to find a police car, another Land Rover and an Army unit there before us. The police from the car had the matter well in hand. The rest of us all stood gossiping under a street light, an ideal target for a sniper less than half a mile away on the Cavehill slopes, there was no way he could have missed and no way he could have been caught. If it had been a set-up, it would have been an unqualified success.
There were times when we suspected terrorists in a vicinity and had to creep as quietly as we could down dark alleys, in my case, full of apprehension, there were occasions when we roared off siren squealing, adrenaline high, on a false alarm, but mostly it was tedium, the same as I had experienced with the Guards and the Navy – not surprisingly.
Having worked peripherally with the RUC, I know that apart from the odd idiot, in every sense, and odd in a ratio of about five percent – a natural aberration, and taking into account it was an almost totally Protestant force being whittled down weekly by a sectarian organisation bent on mayhem, there was a level of even-handedness and compassion I found not so much surprising as reassuring. They are not the thugs they are painted, they are mainly average young family men doing a unique job in difficult circumstances. There is no doubt that in the heat of an engagement, no matter what form it takes, that adrenaline will run high and it is inevitable under those conditions some degree of indiscipline can creep in to those of a more volatile disposition, but the RUC is normally not singular in this respect, and examination of all the World’s security forces will not only substantiate this, it will show there is above average restraint, because there has to be.
I resigned after I considered I had paid back the cost of the uniform because I considered we, the Reserve, were being used as a cheap alternative to either recruiting more regulars or paying the current Force overtime. The edge had gone off the emergency and they were standing some men down in preference to the Reserve doing onerous security duties, added to which the pressures of nights out and all day at work were beginning to pall. Nonetheless, with hindsight, it was an experience I would have been sorry to have missed.

The Northern Ireland Troubles, 4

THE THEFT OF THE DRAWINGSAt 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 site.
My daughtee borrowed the car to go to the Queen’s Film Society and while she was in 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 which was vital to the life blood of the area -the high pressure gas mains, 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. This new eventuality 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 keep the whole sorry story to myself 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!
ONE CAN BE PUSHED TOO FARPrior to the Troubles, to my mind, among the general public, there was a distinct easing of the tensions between the two factions in Northern Ireland. Whether this presented a threat to some people’s political aspirations, I shall never know, but I always have James’s theory of the grass in the Queen’s Road in my mind.
As the years went on, the Prods thought they were more and more under pressure both from the IRA and sources outside the country, coupled with the political and subversive interference of the Irish-American Lobby in what we considered British politics. Slowly many people, people who, like myself, were immigrants without the background of internecine hatred and who had no axe to grind, became both frustrated that no one seemed to see their side of the argument and no one seemed to care that we were trapped in a situation not of our making, year after bloody year.
There is no point in labouring the matter, it has been well documented but a comment on one aspect might stress what we, the common, apolitical man and woman in the street suffered and its reaction psychologically. At the time I was permitted to carry a Walter Automatic Pistol for personal protection and I soon discovered I could walk through body searches without it being uncovered, hence the body searches were a complete farce.
To cut a long story short, a searcher wanted to run his hands over me even though, because of a heat wave I was only wearing a thin nylon shirt, which was transparent more than translucent. What he thought I had concealed I can’t imagine. I hated being searched and when it was unnecessary, and the man clearly had no intention of searching my car, which could have contained anything, I lost my temper. At that time, around 1971 attrition was taking its toll and everyone was becoming tetchy. The barrage on body and mind had been going on long enough to become more an irritant.

Northern Ireland Troubles, 3

THE LUDICROUS GIFT I have referred to the ‘liberation’ of articles by the terrorists. One which happened on a contract I was engaged on, took place a day or two before we stopped for Christmas. We had a gang laying pipes down a main road in the City . On the morning men arrived in a car and one approached the men on the site with a gun held in his hand, not pointed at them , just there, an implicit threat.
“I want to borrow your lorry,” he said with no preamble.
The ganger nodded, what else could he do. The man smiled, thanked them as if he had been granted a favour and he and another drove off. The theft was reported and we heard later in the day the lorry had been seen between Belfast and Ballymena going hell-for-leather down a motorway, filled with booze. Still later we heard a vintner’s wholesale store had been raided. The men were never caught. Next morning the lorry was found parked beside the pipe-track. When the driver opened the door of the cab he found a dozen tins of beer on the seat with a note thanking him and wishing him and his mates a merry Christmas.
Is a question asked in Ireland an Irish question? In this case the question had been asked of the workmen and the questioner had answered himself – What a question!!
* * *
THE ROYAL MARINES – GOD BLESS ‘Em. 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. 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 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 Marine 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. Chummy (the officious Marine), 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 Sophie, my beloved wife, came 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!