The Joy of Hitch-Hiking in the Seventies

in the late 70’s Victor was posted back to the UK, to the Royal Military Academy.  In those days it was much more often that people would hitch-hike across the length and breadth of Britain.  Nowadays many employers ban their truck drivers from picking up hitch-hikers.

In the 70’s Victor would often hitch-hike from near London to the Yorkshire Dales, usually alone, occasionally with one son, aged 9, once with both sons, aged 9 and 10.  The time he brought both sons with him, his luck was in.  Only two lifts needed, both divorcees, wanting to rant on about their ex-wives.  I think they both wanted an agony aunt, as well as three passengers.  The second trucker dropped all three of us at Leeming Bar Motel on the A1(M), five miles away from Grandma.

The final stretch had to be paid for.  Simple.  Taxi.  Twenty minutes later, three tired but cheerful males arrive in Grandma’s village.  Now the fun begins.  It’s 11pm.  The late night Hammer House of Horror film is on.  Grandma and Auntie B are watching the film.

The military training came in useful.  Creeping, crouching forward, opening the garden gate slowly, father and sons approach the house.  Bend down a bit more.  Squat just below the living room window sill.  Three pairs of eyes look at each other.  The sergeant gives the nod to his two troops.  Slowly three heads emerge over the window sill.  Sudddenly two women jump out of their skin in their armchairs, not expecting any late night visitors at the window.

Have a scare-free day, won’t you!

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Honour your father and you mother

In the Ten Commandments, God commands the Israelites:

Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

Exodus 20:12

Yet, does that mean,

Thou shalt slavishly, unquestioningly, do everything your parents tell you to do.

I doubt it.  I leave that to the theologians to discuss.

I had intended to write about saving: piggy banks, savings books, rainy day funds, etc, but then I remember back to the not so good days of being a pads brat, besides the day trips into the Harz Mountains, Saturday matinee down the barracks cinema, the Army helicopter landing on the school field, etc.

Until the mid-80s my paternal grandad used to work abroad, earning decent money.  Generous to a fault, ever time he used to see his grandchildren, he’d give each of us a crisp, brand new £5 note in the days when £5 was a lot of money, especially to a 10-year-old.  Within a few weeks of coming back to the UK in 1978, my late Granny had taken me down to the local post office and helped me to open a savings account, with just £1.

Sooner or later, with birthday money, pocket money, etc, I had saved £25, not a huge amount, but not bad for an Army NCO’s child, and enough for a particular toy I was saving up for.  I had my heart set on it in a way that only an 11-year-old can.   Bruv, too, had saved a similar amount.  I think he was after a train set.  (£25 in 1979 is equivalent to £100 in 2015.)

So, back to Exodus 20:12.  Sunray had shortly after arriving at his latest posting in the UK somehow decided to get a cute, cuddly family pet, namely one ex-police dog, a German Shepherd.  The idea addition to a family, when you have a small yard, the size of two or three garden sheds, in the back of your married quarter.  Sunray was never very good at budgeting.  His priorities were:

  • me, me, me
  • mess (sergeants’, to be exact)
  • drink, drink, drink
  • getting nice clothes (for himself) with his new storecard.  Offspring… hmm, probably a bit of a nuisance, especially the two boys.

British Army NCO’s are very good at giving orders, and they expect them to be obeyed without question.  Sometimes, like lots of people, they take their work home.

Sgt Sunray to his JNCO’s sons:

Let me look in your savings books.

GingeInGermany and bruv:

Yes, Dad.

We both knew where this was leading to, and we knew it wasn’t going to be for Sunray to say:

My word, well done, you two, for having saved all that pocket money for a rainy day.

Next order was:

We’ve just bought a bulk amount of dog food.  Go to the post office, both of you, and give us what you have in your savings accounts.

Even at the tender age of 11,I knew that was an order, not a point for discussion.  Bruv and I duly marched off to the local post office, took out the full contents of our savings accounts, closing the accounts, and handed back Sunray his sons’ rainy day funds.  Not even a thank you.  Dog food duly paid for.  “A pleasure doing business with you,” I’m sure.

Did we ever get our money back?  Nope.  (Come, on did you really expect there to be a happy ending?)

Sunray is now a lonely old man, surprise, surprise.  He hasn’t saved enough money for his own funeral.  That means he’ll almost certainly get a pauper’s funeral (called these days “public health funeral”).  Sorry, Sunray, I didn’t put my money into a savings account for your dog’s meat to be placed in a freezer, and I’m not saving money for your flesh to placed in an oven, when you get taken to the crematorium.

Have an honourable day, won’t you!

Open mouths let in flies

Open mouths let in flies.

I’m told that this is a Spanish expression.  That’s what it literally means.  What would it mean in good, idiomatic English?  A good question.  Let me take you through a case study by way of illustration before I come to the answer.

The year 1980.  One late afternoon in an Army married quarter in the grounds of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.  Sunray walks into his living room “after a hard day at work.”  (No, please don’t laugh!)  He’s obviously in a mood about something.  Anger management was never his forte.  Surveying his wife and three children, he tells his wife, oh so lovingly and tenderly:

There’s you with you f…ing bad eyesight and buck teeth, Ginge in Germany also needing glasses, Bruv and his f…ing asthma and hay fever, Sis with her epilepsy.  I’m the only healthy one here.

Ah, shucks, Sunray, you say the sweetest things.  BTW, Sunray, you commented on physical health, but omitted to comment on mental health.  What about that time you spent in the psychiatric ward in the military hospital in 1974 because you got so boozed up in Cyprus, that you ended punching someone so hard, you nearly killed them.  Oh… that incident, you mean.

Fast forward to the year 2014.  Sunray is now in his living room.

  • No wife
  • No regular contact from his offspring
    • No 1 son lives abroad and sends Sunray a postcard once a fortnight, more out of pity than anything else
    • No 2 son lives 5 minutes up the road and is sick and tired of Sunray bombarding him with 10-20 SMS’s per day, pleading for a visit: “I’m lonely”
    • Only daughter has been estranged from Sunray for 10 years
  • No self-respect
  • No friends
  • Plenty of regimental photos on the walls
  • Plenty of empty whisky bottles on the floor
  • Plenty of empty fag packets to accompany the whisky bottles on the floor
  • The stench of stale urine
  • A dirty, unwashed and unkempt ex-squaddie

Sunray, do you regret proclaiming:

I’m the only healthy one here.

To quote the song by The Stylistics, I betcha by golly, wow.

So, how best to translate the expression into decent English?

Engage brain before mouth.

Have a healthy day, won’t you!

Sunray down – not long now

So, the latest sitrep on Sunray (from A1 source, for those of you familar with G2 terminology) does not make pleasant reading.

His house:

  • Stinks of stale urine
  • Has empty bottles of whisky everywhere
  • Has empty packets of Benson & Hedges lying everwhere

Sunray:

  • Is dirty, unkempt and unwashed
    • Hard to believe that we are talking about an ex-22-year SNCO of the British Army
  • Has been banned from three pharmacies in his area due to his “anger management issues”
    • Losing his temper like a two-year-old not getting his favourite sweets in the supermarket because the shop assistant took ten minutes to process his prescription:
      • Find his tablets
      • Count them
      • Get them checked out by the dispenser and pharmacist
      • Hand them over to him

Am I beyond caring?  No.

Am I beyond worrying?  Yes.  I can do no more to help him.  Yes, I could:

  • Fly over on the next available flight from Düsseldorf to Teesside
  • Sit with him 24/7 (“I’m a lonely old man.”)
  • Keep him company, listen to “all his war stories” (insert barracks name, rank and unit to create a Sunray war story, eg:

    At Osnabrück in 1964 this WO2 in the Green Jackets…

and still achieve nothing.  Instead, I’d be employed as his gopher (“go for this, go for that”) all hours of the day to nip down to the shop and get his daily fix of intoxicating liquor.

His catchphrase the morning after the night before is:

I am NEVER, EVER drinking again.

One day, probably within weeks, not months, he’ll stick to that promise.  When he dies.

Meanwhile, life goes on for the rest of planet Earth, including his offspring.

Have a sober day, won’t you!

Like Lenin Wrote…

Lenin once wrote a pamphlet called Chto Delat? (Что делать?). For those of you who are Slavonic linguists, the verb is in the imperfective, and the question appears a bit more wishy-washy than using the perfective aspect, which would imply focus and achievement. In this article I need to used the perfective: Что cделать? What do I do about my Dad? What can I do about him?

So, “Sunray,” an ex-22-year man from the British Army. No longer in the Army, but still a soldier. Allegedly.

All of Sunray’s adult life, he has been a heavy drinker. In the macho, testosterone-packed ghetto that is the British Army, despite this trait, he would remain “under the radar” and not stand out. Likewise, his fondness for alcohol and spending more time and money down the corporals and sergeants mess than with his family made him a far from outstanding father and husband.

Who is really going to expect much sympathy from his offspring in their middle age after years of leaving his family so hard-up, that his children could only afford one fried egg sandwich out of their daily dinner money… while their Dad never went without down the sergeants mess, running up a £80 (sic) drinks tab in one month in 1981, on top of what he’d paid cash for during the month.

“That was then, this is now. Forgive and forget.” Isn’t that what being a Christian all about?  After all, what about Matthew 18:21-22?

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

 

But this is not about forgiveness.  This is about the principle of first aid: don’t become a casualty yourself.  Can you always rescue a drowning man?

Remember this one?

It rained for days and days and there was a terrific flood. The water rose so high that one man was forced to climb on top of his roof and sat in the rain. As the waters came up higher a man in a rowboat came up to the house and told him to get in. “No thank you, the Lord will save me!” he said, and the man in the rowboat rowed away.

The waters rose to the edge of the roof and still the man sat on the roof until another rowboat came by and another man told him to get in. “No thank you, the Lord will save me!” he said again, and the man rowed away.

The waters covered the house and the man was forced to sit on his chimney as the rain poured down and a helicopter came by and another man urged him to get in or he’ll drown. “No thank you,” the man said again, “The Lord will save me!”

After much begging and pleading the man in the helicopter gave up and flew away. The waters rose above the chimney and the man drowned and went to heaven where he met God.

“Lord, I don’t understand,” he told Him, frustrated, “The waters rose higher and higher and I waited hours for you to save me but you didn’t! Why?”

The Lord just shook his head and said, “What are you talking about? I sent two boats and a helicopter?!

So, fast-forward 32 years.  Alone, estranged from some of his family, few real friends, a grumpy old man, overweight, type 2 diabetes out of control, and a bottle of Famous Grouse to glug down his neck two or three times a week.  (Is that an attractive profile for http://www.e-dating.co.uk?)

Early July – Diabetologist:

Mr  Sunray, if you want to see Christmas, stop drinking now.

 

Will he stop?

Horse feathers.

Is he an alcoholic?  ICATQ (I cannot answer that question.)  He clearly has a psychological dependency, maybe even a chemical dependency.

How do I feel about Sunray?  Am I heartless, in not flying to him to hand-hold him?  Give him a pep-talk?  Pay for him to see an addiction counsellor?  Do I care about him?  What is caring, anyway?  What does caring look like?

My answer: motivation is etymologically linked to the word “motor.”   Where do you find the motor on a car?  Answer: on the inside.  Likewise, motivation comes from within, not from without.

You see, the strange thing about love is, whatever love you give out is paid back – with interest.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on Sunray, the sinner.

Amen

WF – WTF????

So, all in all, a most enjoyable trip to Wolfenbüttel last weekend, visiting childhood, pads brat haunts in the days when the British Army of the Rhine (BAOR) (“Besatzungsarmee”) were resident at BFPO 33.

More later as I warm up into reminisce mode.  But first of all, switch on rant mode.  Stand by for the next bit to sound like a clip from That’s Life.

After settling in at our hotel, I asked reception to order me a taxi to Danziger Strasse, where our family’s old pad was.  The miserable, sullen taxi driver from Altstadt Alt-Twat Taxis (turned up ten minutes later, barking orders at someone on his mobile.  He drove me and the Lovely Doctor C to said destination.  €20.  The journey seemed a bit longer than the last time I visited WF in April 2001, but I was aware of the road closure.  Maybe that was the reason.  Anyway I was more interested in visting the old married quarters, strolling round the old barracks, enjoying the glorious sunshine, etc.

Return journey – somewhat shorter, fare: €7.40.  The Lovely Dr C and I were amazed.  We told the taxi driver what we had paid on the outbound leg, €13 more than “on the flip-flop” (early 80’s CB radio-speak).  He, too, was stunned.  So, too was the taxi driver who drove us back from the cocktail bar that evening.  Who needs the internet when you have taxi drivers?  I’m sure tongues will be wagging back at the office.  Guess who I told about the incident?

  • A whole regiment of online 16th/5th Lancers
  • The driver who took us back to Braunschweig on the Sunday morning, who apologised most profusely for the Alt-Twat Taxis’ driver’s action
  • The cocktail stand owner, who is going to tell a group of 40 old soldiers (who come every year to WF for a reunion)
  • Last, but by no means, οὐ µή (ou ), least, hotel reception, who immediately placed Alt-Twat Taxis on a black list.

Herr Taxifahrer, you may have fleeced me of €13, but the last laugh is on you, my friend.

(To quote Esther Rantzen, “Cyril…”)

Dance, Dance, Wherever You May Be, for the Scarlet Lancers in Germany

Not quite Ostalgie, but on the border, so to speak. This song became the unofficial theme song of the 16th/5th the Queen’s Royal Lancers, my Dad’s regiment, in 1978, when it was stationed in Northampton Barracks, Wolfenbüttel, Germany.

Quite an Ohrwurm, even now.