Many moons ago I was young and foolish, now I’m old and foolish. Not far from where I lived was an area of the shore where the Royal Air Force practiced live firing. They would tie half a dozen empty oil drums together and anchor them. When the tide came in the thing would float. This was the target that fighter planes would attack with live ammunition. Being children, inquisitive and daring we often cycled to this forbidden place and when the tide was out collect unspent ammunition. Airplanes have electric guns and to prevent awkward jams whilst in combat the gun loads a shell and fires it then ejects it whether it fired or failed. Walking over the sands we found dozens of 50 caliber cannon rounds, complete and un-fired.
Without getting deep into the science of ammunition, the 50 cal, is literally huge and has three explosive regions in the cartridge alone. The percussion cap when struck by the firing pin would discharge into the primary, which is Mercuric Fulminate. The fulminate then sets off the main charge, which in our cases was some black crystal stuff that looked like black sugar.
As ingenious kids we had a use for all the components of the cartridge including the missile. The percussion cap was fun to place under someone’s chair leg, which resulted in a large bang when some poor unsuspecting individual sat on the chair. The fulminate was useful for making small bombs. You merely place some in a nut and screw a bolt into each end. Tie a string to it and launch it into the air. On hitting the ground it would explode most violently. The black crystal was neat stuff for making homemade fireworks, just add iron filings or magnesium, or copper and you could create a marvellous display.
All sounds simple enough, but the problem was dismantling the weapon to extract its glorious parts. On this particular occasion I was with a friend who will remain nameless. We were in my father’s workshop where I had a 50 cal neatly restrained in a metal vice in order to perform the usual operation of extracting the goodies. To start with a very special flattened and sharpened nail was used to ease off the brass cover and expose the percussion cap.
I remember suddenly finding myself on the floor, my hands and chest felt as though a million bees had stung them. The room was filled with smoke and all the windows had vanished. Somehow I managed to walk out of the building though I don’t remember it. I looked at my hands and found that a stream of blood poured from each finger like a miniature tap.
My next recollection was the grinning face of the doctor who removed some three hundred pieces of brass shrapnel from my arms and hands. The only lasting damage from the explosion was a fractured eardrum. I did however learn one lasting lesson. Never tamper with explosives.
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.
I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone at one time or another displayed a tendency to madness. Neat though, all grist for the mill. I remember when I was a young lad only a few years after World War II, I went on a bicycle ride with my friends. We loved to visit the airfields in our area, of which there were many. On this occasion we visited the aerodrome of Feltwell in Norfolk. There were three airfields within a five-mile radius, but this one was deserted.
Little did we know that Methwold, which was only a couple of miles away was still active in air training. Oblivious to the danger we cycled down the middle of Feltwell runway. Suddenly a red flare lit up the sky only a short distance ahead of us. It was then we heard the roar of aircraft engines. Five Harvard trainers were about to land on top of us. One passed over my head so close I felt the prop-wash. There again we were only children.
Many years later I was in the Royal Air Force working in air traffic control. The controller come over the squawk box that the Decca (Radar) was out. I quickly checked and sure enough there was a problem, but it appeared to be at the head, which was the other side of the runway.
“Go take a look at the Decca head,” I told airman ‘H’.
He nonchalantly wandered off and I thought nothing more of it. That’s when the panic ensued. The idiot walked unconcernedly across the live runway while a transport plane was making a landing. All but for the grace of God he might have been killed. I got the rocket because the idiot was under my charge.
The same idiot, who will still remain nameless, let me down on another occasion. The chief air traffic controller came into the radio room and appeared somewhat annoyed. “What happened to the Eureka beacon,” he snapped in a non-too friendly tone of voice.
I had no idea there was a problem with the Eureka (Identification beacon) and commenced to examine the logbook. The controller was annoyed that no one answered his question. “The Eureka, Eureka, Eureka,” he bellowed.
Airman ‘H’ grinned and replied, “You don’t smell so good yourself.”
Another time we needed a radar mechanic on the marine craft unit where I worked. A volunteer turned up. We took him out on the tender to the TTL which was anchored out in the Straights of Johore. Boarding the TTL in a light swell was second nature to us.
“Just wait for the wave to lift us up,” we told the volunteer. “Only step off when she rises, okay?”
“Sure,” he replied with confidence and stepped out into midair on the down stroke. That was only the least of his madness, the idiot could not swim.
When I was a young lad I was terrified of dead things. Once the schoolmaster brought a dead baby pig to school. I fled from the class shrieking with fear. Some years later I had a real and terrifying experience. I was playing with my cousin on the beach when a fisherman brought his boat in and beached it. My cousin, a year older than me ran off but I stood and watched. The three occupants of the boat off loaded a net with what I thought was the day’s catch still in it. It was in fact the body of a littler girl who had become lost at sea several days earlier. She looked so horrible – all swollen and discoloured, I was frozen on the spot by the horrific sight. When the men put the net down on the sand the girl’s body burst and millions of shrimp gushed out. Since then I have had a strong aversion to seafood.
Later I joined the St John’s Ambulance Brigade and there I learned to tolerate imitation blood. We did exercises where makeup experts made people look like they had been in a terrible accident. Very realistic, but being fake it had no effect on me. Later I joined the Royal Air Force where I had to undergo a hardening course. Not all that different from the St John’s. One not so nice aspect of it was we had to spend a day in a mortuary helping the professional staff. I guess it must have worked, and I thank my lucky stars that it did. On my very first manoeuvre – that’s playing soldiers usually at night. My friend was accidentally shot in the face with a 303 rifle. It was exactly like the St John’s, blood everywhere and lots of screaming. Some of the tough guys fainted. Somehow I managed to control myself and act near to normal. The shaking and sickness came afterwards. I was posted to an operational station where I lived out and rode to work on a motorcycle. One very early morning I noticed a small sports car propped up against the railway gates. (The gateway to a rail yard.) I stopped the bike got off and investigated. Fortunately I had been on a hardening course for there before me sat a dead woman. Somehow in the accident she had sliced her throat on the broken front window. There was blood everywhere. My worst experiences, I cannot bring myself to write about, but when I write a story these horrible images come flooding back.
When I first came to Canada I’d just left the RAF where I earned £20 per week and a free house. In those days £20 would have been about $40. The land of opportunity, huh! Everywhere I went I got the same answer. “Sorry your over educated for the position.” I couldn’t find anywhere where they were hiring rocket scientists so in desperation I put my ignorant suit on and tried for work any and everywhere. Believe it or not I got an offer of employment at a lumber factory. They made just about anything out of wood.
“So you’re a wood machinist, are you?” said the foreman.
“Sure,” I lied.
I figured if I was over educated then it can’t be all that difficult working with wood. A keen eye and a little common sense, nothing to it. I was rumbled immediately.
“What’s that?” he said pointing to an enormous thingy that had an electric motor attached to it. I could think of no possible use for the thing, and shrugged my shoulders.
“It’s a router.” He was a gentleman and showed me what to do with it.
Fabulous, I was in and working for $1.87 per hour. A 45 hour week – that adds up to a massive $84.45 per week about £42.00
Now you have to realize that cigarettes were $1.60 for 20, and gasoline was 47 cents a gallon. You could buy a hamburger, fries and a milkshake and get 5 cents change from a dollar. The job lasted three months when I managed get a position working in a munitions factory repairing radar gun sights at $3.45 per hour and only a 40 hour week. When all’s said and done it’s insanity. I retired around the turn of the century leaving a job that paid $22.00 an hour or the equivalent thereof. But now a milkshake costs $2.50 and a hamburger’s around $4.50, and gasoline has gone up a little too. Now it’s around $6.25 per gallon. At least one thing has gone down. A pound sterling is now only $1.55.
I daresay there are many instances that I have been insolent, particularly when I was young. One day our squadron was on active duty, some thoughtless Indonesian soldiers had captured Borneo and our squadron was the first response. It was five in the morning and I was running as fast as I could across the airfield to get to the pan, (The parking area for planes.) Halfway across the grass I met a group of individuals in uniforms unknown to me. The presumed leader of the group stepped out and hailed me.
“I say, airman. I’m looking for an aircraft.”
The man was obviously a twit. “You came to the right place.” I said and hurried on my way. Turning my head toward him I yelled back, “There’s loads of planes over there, mate.”
Next morning on routine orders (A sort of camp published News.) Headlines. “Good work men,” ‘We have the enemy on the run. Our planes delivered 600 Ghurkhas and tons of munitions to Borneo. One new order – It is not recommended for staff to address the Commander in chief, Royal Navel Forces Abroad as “MATE.”
Another time I was elected to spy on Prince Philip. He often visited major airfields and usually did a thorough inspection. My job was to keep out of sight and using a walky-talky keep headquarters informed as where the Prince was headed. Suddenly I spotted him, his entire motorcade was heading my way. I hid behind a bush and waited for them to pass. “Red Four,” I reported. “The Prince is passing Hangar two and heading for the electronics centre.” With that I arose and walked to the corner of the building to observe as they passed on the other side. Nothing in sight. Hmmm! Where could he have gone?
Suddenly a voice behind me said. “What are you doing there?”
I turned and almost fainted. It was Prince Philip standing only five paces from me. “Sir,” I said and saluted. “Security, sir.”
He nodded and smiling said, “Tell them I shall be visiting the Control Tower.”
My own stupidity aside, Once in the Far East we were inspected by the C in C FEAF. (Commander in chief Far East air forces.) Due to fighting on the Indo China border the shifts or watches had been rearranged. Air Vice Marshall Headlamb popped into our communication centre. The inspection went well until he stopped at one of my buddies and smiling benevolently said in his very posh accent, “Airman, what do you think of the new watches?”
My friend who shall remain nameless, replied. “Bloody sight easier to carry than clocks, sir.”
Some things in life are too much to be used in a fiction novel. As a classic example one particular day I was on my way to work. I worked in air traffic control at that time. As I walked across the aerodrome towards the control tower I was stopped by a military policeman.
“Hands in the air,” he said gruffly.
While I stood like an idiot with my hands skyward a second military policeman searched me.
“What you looking for?” I asked in all innocence.
“Just be on your way,” he grouched.
I left and only minutes later again I was accosted, this time by no less than three military police.
“Hands on your head and stand still.”
Again I complied and two of them this time went through my pockets and thoroughly searched me. Eventually and with no explanation they let me go. I reached the tower.
“Sorry I’m late,” I apologized to Flight lieutenant Holland. “But the snowdrops searched me twice on my way in. What on earth are they looking for?”
He sort of grinned and said, “They have lost an aeroplane.”
Of course its obvious, someone tucked it under their jacket and smuggled a 16,000 pound machine off the airfield without anyone noticing. Military intelligence is most certainly an oxymoron.
A friend of mine was hitchhiking to work and became stranded only five miles from his destination. The time was five thirty in the morning. Passing a lonely house set well back off the road he noticed a bicycle more-or-less discarded and lying very nearly out of sight in the ditch. Obviously the thing had been stolen and thrown away. Recovering the vehicle he gazed around – no one in sight. It represented the perfect transport for the last leg of his journey. He decided to use it and later in that day hand it in as a foundling.
Only a mile to go and a police car pulled him aside. The constable was very polite and asked why he was bicycling on that particular road.
“I’m on my way to work.”
“I see,” said the cop. “And do you mind if we have a look what you have in the panniers?”
He hadn’t even noticed them. “No, of course not. I found the bike, you see.”
“I see,” said the policeman with a grin. “And these burglary tools just happened to be in the pannier when you found the bike?”
“Yes,” he replied weakly.
The Judge didn’t believe him either.
Experience is the mother of inspiration. No one can write about that which they do not know. Having had the experience and seen it and been there using it becomes easy.
“Oh yeah! So when were you last in space, or how about the last ocasion you time traveled?”
Worthy question, glad I thought of that. Well, I’ve never actually killed anyone, at least not close up, but I do write about such things. So where’s the experience? I was beside my friend when he got his face blown off with a 303 Lee-Enfield rifle. He did of course die. It’s something you don’t forget. I was working in air traffic control when we lost a helicopter in the Malayan jungle. We sent another out and they brought the bodies back. The sick quarters were not able to assist at 3:30 in the morning so we kept the mangled bodies at the tower until their removal could be arranged. Gruesome, I know, but experience is experience. As for space, well we can only add what we know to what we can imagine. If you’re new at writing, I strongly suggest you stick to what you know about. I count myself fortunate as I have been all over the world and seen most things, and done a good amount of them personally. Recently I added a new one, I descended to 150 feet under the sea in a miniature submarine.
Fortunately I am of strong mental and physical constitution. One day Wing Commander Barthol came to our billet and asked, “Anyone want to go flying?” Everyone except myself shrank back.
“Wonderful,” said Bathplug, as we affectionately knew him. “Come with me, son.”
I did. His plane was a De Havilland Chipmunk, single engine, low wing monoplane. How that poor aircraft managed to stay in one piece is a miracle. The man was a flying maniac; it took three days for my stomach to catch up with me. Fortunately I have never been seasick, airsick or travel sick in any way. But now I refrain from accepting flights from pilots who grin a lot.
My son bought an electronic book reading device. Ridiculous – who in their right mind would buy a device for more than a hundred dollars to read a book that costs only a few bucks? Then my publisher put out a couple of my books on Kindle; that’s the Amazon version of an electronic book reader. At first I downloaded them to my computer with the “Kindle app.” I don’t like reading from a computer screen, it’s akin to reading constantly changing graffiti.
Luckily and purely by chance ‘Source’ had a deal on, ‘yes, you guessed it,’ a Kindle. Reluctantly I purchased the detestable device – purely to read my own books, you see.
Only an idiot would buy a paper book when you can get it on Kindle or any other electronic device – WHY? Man I’ve never had so much fun. You can change the size of the type; it will even read to you if you’re too lazy to do it yourself, and would you believe you can carry several thousand books in your pocket. Best of all there are thousands of free books out there. Oh, and did I mention that the kindle comes with a dictionary that would have cost you almost as much as the Kindle if it were made of paper and it would have weighed several pounds.
I love the word search feature on the dictionaries, yes now I have four on my Kindle. It’s ten times quicker than paper, easier to carry, and you can even have your favourite French-English dictionary, or any other language.
“I would never buy an e-reader.”
Boy, the times I’ve heard that, from people. Now I laugh, they are the ones missing out on the greatest invention since rubber tyres (Or if you’re Canadian, ‘tires.’)
Oh and by the way, look for the rest of my books coming out as e-books.
My mother said I was born with a leprechaun on my shoulder. Kind of an odd thing to say, but it’s true. The little devil leads me and delivers me to where the action is, but he always manages to arrange an escape for me. I would imagine this is why I love to write. You see, I’ve been there, seen it and almost always came away with only scars.
Once I fell over a cliff; it was only sixty feet, but the beach was rock strewn and dangerous. My leprechaun arranged it perfectly; I landed on the only spot that had no rocks and flat on my back. The net result was a short amnesia and two black eyes. Even to this day, if there is an event, somehow or other I managed to be there just in time for the action. During the raid on Arnhem in World War II, the gliders for the forward assault flew directly over our house. Of course we all stood outside and watched; it seemed the whole sky was filled with planes towing gliders. Suddenly one released; quickly it circled loosing altitude at an alarming rate. It crashed beside some council houses on Badgeney Road less than a quarter of a mile from me. How many times have you seen a person bail out of an airplane? Hmm, well I was watching a Super Sabre over my house, and poof, the ejector fired and the pilot emerged. The plane rolled over and crashed only yards from Doddington Hospital. Another time I was walking towards the town of Chatteris and looked up, there was a Canberra bomber in trouble, with smoke coming from one engine. As I watched, right over my head. Poof – poof, and two parachutes emerged. The plane pitched forward and dived into the ground, exploding like an atomic bomb only a quarter of a mile away, and would you believe in the grounds of Doddington Hospital?
Yet again I was minding my own business on my way to work walking passed number two hangar on Wyton airfield when all the windows burst outwards with a rumble like thunder. I went to help, and found the entire inside of the hangar ablaze with aircraft still inside. I pitched in to help but dope barrels began exploding and I decided it was time to leave. There have been far too many unusual events to recount, sometimes they happen in threes. For example my wife went to do some baby-sitting, I thought I’d have myself a coffee and doughnut. On leaving the house I found an unconscious woman on my front lawn. With the help of a neighbour we called an ambulance and tended to her. The poor old girl had fainted and on coming round was a little delirious. I just arrived at the coffee shop and as I walked across the parking lot, “Whamm,” a car drove through the window, right by my favourite seat. On the way home I crossed Strathcona Street, minding my own business and “CRASH,” only two feet behind me two motor vehicles collided head on.
On my last vacation in England with my son, we saw a truck fire, two car fires and a head on collision, and I was only there for two weeks. A famous steam Locomotive named the Fenman came off the rails just once in its entire service life, guess who was standing only fifteen feet away and witnessed the entire event.
Oh well! I suppose I should go out and see if anything else has happened.