We all need fire as long as it’s under control, however there is fire and fire. One incident that comes to mind is when I learned to use a Bren gun. We were on the two hundred yard range, which had a nice cover to protect the gunners from the weather. “Should your weapon jam,” yelled the instructor, “you will draw the bolt and pull the trigger twice, if the weapon remains jammed you leave the weapon on the ground and leap to your feet yelling ‘weapon jammed.’ Now is that clear?”
We all agreed and the ammunition was handed out. The guy next to me was, how should I say it nicely … Well how about not very good at taking instructions. Ten of us lay there each with a light machine gun in front of us and now they were loaded and ready for action. “At your targets in front, FIRE.” Yelled the instructor.
Oh boy! A few short bursts from my weapon when the guy next to me leapt to his feet with a 14 pound loaded machinegun in his arms. He screams, “Gun jammed.” Pulled the trigger and blew the roof of the range. Glass and splintered wood flew in every direction.
Another time I lay in my bed and swore I heard artillery firing. Boom – kar-thump. This repeated several times. It sounded as if the artillery piece was fairly close. Puzzled for an explanation I got out of bed and walked to the window. Nothing, nothing at all. Even the sound had ceased. Back in bed, is started again. Boom – kar-thump.
“What’s that?” asked the wife.
“No idea. I couldn’t see anything.”
She climbed from the bed and drew the curtains for a look outside. “Good heavens!” she exclaimed astonished by what she claimed to have seen.
Reluctantly I arose again and looked out the window. Now I’m sure I know what the resurrection will look like. The entire horizon was lit up and flames from hell were reaching into the sky. We dressed rapidly and at three in the morning went to investigate. An entire factory almost a mile away had erupted with oxygen bottles acting like firecrackers – an amazing sight to behold.
As a child I had a similar experience looking out the window in the middle of the night I saw the entire horizon lit up like a grand summer evening. This time it was a large wood storage yard that burned beyond control.
One summer we decided to take a look at all the castles in Britain – not really practical. However, myself along with my three sons set out on a six-week jaunt to visit as many as possible. We surely had loads of fun, but two extraordinary things happened along the way. We started out on the south coast of England with a first visit to Pevensey then worked our way round westward and up into Wales.
Caernarfon Castle was our first really big and almost complete castle with many towers, rooms and displays. The staff has a set practice when closing. A bell rings continuously warning visitors to evacuate the premises. One member of staff is sent to each tower where they climb to the top and as they then descend he or she locks all doors after shooing out the stragglers. In this way over a period of about thirty minutes the entire castle is secured. The guests are then ushered out the main gate and then it too is secured for the night.
I was with my youngest son when we heard the bell. It took us about fifteen to twenty minutes to reach the courtyard where we saw crowds of people exiting through the main keep; my other two boys were nowhere to be seen. I sent the youngest to see if the lads were already out in the street. By the time he returned it was clearly closing time and only myself and a couple of workers remained. The Castilian came over to me and said, “I’m sorry, sir you’ll have leave now.”
“I’m not moving until I know where my boys are.”
“There’s no one in the castle, sir, all the doors are locked, you’ll have to leave.”
I stood my ground determined to go nowhere until I found my boys. With a sudden inspiration I stuck my fingers in my mouth and whistled very loudly. Sure enough I was answered by my second oldest lad, who could whistle as loud as myself.
“Goodness, me,” exclaimed the Castilian. “There’s someone in the Queen’s Tower.”
If I hadn’t been so stubborn the boys would have had to spend a cold night locked in a castle tower.
The second unusual thing that happened on that same trip was at Brody Castle in Scotland. The manager of the campground suggested we visit the place. Brody Castle was at that time owned and operated by an order of monks. They were a little spooky but otherwise pleasant and accommodating. There were no guided tours, you merely paid a donation and wandered about unhindered.
Somewhere on the third floor I found myself alone wandering through a somewhat Spartan room with unknown paintings on the wall. As if the devil himself was chasing him, my youngest came rushing into the room exclaiming, “Dad, Dad, I’ve found a dead guy.”
I mean, as if. “So where’d you find him?”
He led me through a couple of rooms and stopped in front of a huge fireplace. There was of course no fire. Beside the grate on either side was a walk-in cupboard. Stephen opened one cupboard and pointed in. Unbelievably there in the depths of the dark closet lay the remains of a long dead person. I walked in and examined him, it was real enough.
Moments later I found one of the monks and reported the find.
“Oh,” said the monk, “it’s no problem, he was there when we moved in.”
The castle in now owned by the Trust and they have removed the unknown sleeper.
I like to visit odd or peculiar places. Throughout my life I’ve made a special effort to see it, go there or experience it. For instance, have you ever been to the Men-an-tol. Most people have never heard of it. When I was in the Caribbean I met a person from Zenor. “Oh, I said, I’ve been there, did you ever visit the Men-an-tol?”
“The what?” she replied.
Hmm. I ask you, some people. The Men-an-tol is a hole, literally. Thousands of years ago some enterprising ancient Brit found or made a hole in a rock. It looks like the world’s largest doughnut – probably a metre or three feet plus in diameter and with a hole through it. Legend says; pass through the hole and it brings luck. Needless to say I climbed through and immediately fell in a mud puddle. How about Logan’s Rock? Another oddity – it’s a huge bolder on top of a stack at the very edge of the coast, several hundred feet high. It’s special because it tilts with the mere push of a human hand. It’s hard to find and even harder to get to, but it’s worth the trip.
The Wookey Hole is another oddity. It is in reality a dried up ancient underground river, but in places it’s not so dry and has a raging river running through it. I’m not a potholer, but again this place is well worth the visit. Then you have the Boggle Hole, another odd place. It’s a cave on the seashore close to Robin Hood’s Bay, Yorkshire England. One place was a little too much for me it’s called Grey Cairns and all it is, is a stone version of the West Kennet barrow. However this one you can go in through a little hole just large enough to accept a medium sized dog. I don’t like closed spaces, especially that old. I crawled in the first couple of feet and backed out again. Another one that made my pulse race at close to three hundred beats per minute was Unston Cairn on one of the Orkney Islands. It’s something like a pyramid and dates back to about 3,500 BC. It is an ancient tomb that has a small entrance followed by a long, narrow corridor with a very low ceiling, which eventually leads to the actual tomb.
They do say, “A man is the sum of his experiences.” I would suppose women are included. It’s difficult to write about something if it is purely imagination. Sometimes reality is totally different to what you would think. In the mid 1960’s I went to East Africa – my vision of Africa was what I had seen in the Tarzan movies. I expected everyone to live in grass huts, and there would be jungle and wild animals everywhere, and of course it would be stinking hot.
We landed at Embakasi Airport, a very modern place with no grass huts, now it is known as Kenyatta International. Nairobi is on a hilly plane just above the Rift Valley. The scenery is breathtakingly beautiful – vast open spaces with occasional trees or thorn bushes. The temperature hovers around 70 F or 20 ish C. – all day every day.
Another surprising experience was when I went to the Caribbean. We visited some five different islands. Oh, I’ve been to the tropics before, what would be so new there? Island people are not like mainlanders, they have a different outlook. On the Island of St Kitts we took the Sugar Train; it’s especially for the tourists. A narrow gauge railway that was originally for hauling sugar cane from the farms to the mills, it’s now decked out to carry passengers and travels roughly halfway round the island. The centre of the island is the massive Mount Liamuiga, a 1156 metre (3750 feet) tall extinct volcano and dominates the entire trip.
Not wishing to be an advocate for travel, but wow! I truly recommend the ride, with beautiful scenery, a fabulous look at the entire island, gorgeous Caribbean singers and free rum. But at $107 per person, it’s not something to do every day.
The second and probably the most profound was when we visited Barbados. From Bridgetown we took a boat out into the bay, just a couple of miles and there we met a miniature submarine.
As soon as my wife saw the sub surface close to us, she stated flatly, “I’m not going on that thing.”
By the time we had safely moored alongside I’d persuaded her to go. I think it was me that needed the encouragement. We walked along the sub’s deck to the conning tower where with the aid of a sailor we descended into the inner sanctum. At that point all fears fled. It was just like entering any ship, or even the lower deck of a double deck bus. We sat and glared out the windows at the bottom of the vessel that brought us. The trip was wonderful. One little fish followed us for miles and occasionally looked in the window at all the funny looking occupants of the sub. There were magnificent shoals of electric blue fish they swam in perfect synchronisation. A giant school of Horseeye silver fish passed by.
“We are passed the reef,” said the intercom. “and will be descending to 150 feet.”
I saw my first sunken ship as the ghostly image drifted slowly by my view port. There was absolutely no fear, no sense of depth or danger. A beautiful world of mystery and strange animals. The soft hum of the sub’s engines seemed comforting. I strongly recommend it, but at $126 per person, probably once is enough.