Catch Up Crumble!

Nine Million Bicycles........ I fear, I've rather missed out.

Back to Desert Island Discs and last Sunday Kirsty Young presented the show with castaway, Nadiya Hussein, a young lady famous for being a bit useful in the kitchen and for being what the BBC appears keen to portray, (in a rather patronising way), 'a good next-door Muslim.' Mrs Hussein is indeed, an engaging lady and I rather enjoyed her selection of music. Now the famous Crumble playlists are, on the whole, at least 40 years behind current music trends and have a habit of going further back and loitering around the twenties and thirties with the occasional foray into the forties and fifties rather than into anything more fashionable. This may be why I had never heard of another lady called Katie Melua until she turned up on Mrs Hussein's DID playlist. I like Katie Melua and fear I have rather missed out. We're going to put that right. She wins immediate promotion into my 'Best Ever Dinner Party Playlist,' and my 'Going To Sleep,' playlist. It's iTunes-download-frenzy-time and thank you to Mrs Hussein; you're more than a cook to me.

I also note that Katie Melua is going on tour and is playing in Guildford in November. As luck would have it the show is sold out. I'm not surprised. I've only ever been to two concerts, (both to see Katherine Jenkins, once at Wisley and once at Hampton Court), and was thinking I might make this a third. Perhaps next time then. Still, the girl is a shoe-in for the 2016 Thinking Man's Crumpet list; that's for sure and for certain.

The Real Americans

What with the Donald and Hilary show in full swing, our American friends are getting something of a bad press internationally. "Surely, a country like American can produce better presidential candidates than these two clowns?' the cry goes up. To be fair, most Americans are asking the self same question and of course they will produce better candidates, eventually. As Winston Churchill famously observed, 'Americans will always do the right thing, only after they have tried everything else.'

Despite the tub thumping political rhetoric, only an idiot would assume that the current candidates are a true and fair reflection of the American people. Of course they're not. It is easy to forget when watching the news that the United States is a country of small towns and villages rather than big cities. The cities catch the headlines but the beating heart and soul lies in the vast stretch of land between the east and west coasts. Small towns but big hearts.

Two recent examples of the true spirit of America touched me and I think they are worth sharing with anyone who may be losing confidence in what still remains the leader of the free world. First, the actor Tom Hanks recently appeared on Desert Island Discs in a 30 minute show which revealed his very ordinary start in life, his humility and compassion and an enduring optimism which is so characteristic of Americans. Then, I came across this clip of Florida farmer Johnny Georges appearing on a television programme called Shark Tank, (similar to Dragon's Den), on which he pitched a simple but effective water saving idea. If you could bottle decency, integrity and humility this is what it would look like. For as long as the United States produces men like Tom Hanks and Johnny Georges the world is going to be a better place and believe me, there are more gentlemen like these in the US than there are the muppets in Washington and media land.

Winkle Flies Away

'Legend,' is something of an overused word these days. Not when used in the same sentence as 'Winkle' Brown it isn't.

A real old school hero of the 'they don't make them like that anymore,' class of gentleman passed away over the weekend.  Capt Eric Melrose Brown CBE DSC AFC, better known as 'Winkle,' Brown has died at the age of 97.

The Fleet Air Arm's most decorated pilot, his story is one that defies all odds. No-one has flown more types of aircraft (487) or performed more carrier landings (2,407) than Capt Brown, who met Hermann Goering at the Berlin Olympics in 1936… and then interrogated him after WW2.

His fluency in German meant he also questioned some of the senior Nazis at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, which was liberated by the British Army in April 1945.

The year ended with the test pilot becoming the first person to land a jet aircraft on a carrier – a de Havilland Sea Vampire on to the deck of HMS Ocean at the end of 1945.

If you want a treat, you can hear his story on the Desert Island Discs archive on BBC iPlayer. Capt Brown did the programme's 3,000th edition. 

Tales from the Lines; Whisky Galore 2

Listening to Norman Wisdom on Desert Island discs, (recorded in 2001) the other day, I was struck when he said his six years in the Army in India were the happiest and most carefree of his life. That was true for many of us and some of the experiences, well, you just couldn't make them up…… 

Way back when, well; 1974 in fact was the year of the protestant workers strike against the Sunningdale agreement in Ulster. They were turbulent times. A million workers went on strike and the Province very quickly ran out of foodstuffs, fuel supplies, and even more drastically, heaven forbid; booze. Spirits were still plentiful but beers and lagers, draught or cans/bottles quickly disappeared from pubs and clubs and more importantly, from the soldiers 'Choggi-Wallahs,' (the equivalent of a roadside burger van inside the security bases in Northern Ireland run by Pakistani gentlemen under very trying conditions but who served the soldiers needs at all hours). Here then, is a story from those days of the strike and the resultant drought, passed on by a friend from the Pipes & Drums of the Royal Highland Fusiliers and participant in events.  

 “This would test resolve to the limit as Regiments throughout the Province reported a massive rise in church attendance, as thirsty squaddies sang their hearts out in the hope of receiving a wee wafer and a glug of wine. Our very own Jock Regiment, (1 RHF) felt the "drouth" more than others, and a bunch of "Blue-noses" from the 'Soo-side' changed their name from the Thornliebank True Blues to the "Thornliebank Temperance Tank-Rule Loyals" 

The lack of public services, especially rubbish removal was causing problems in the security bases, and the CQMS's (Company Quarter Master Sergeant), had to find ways to sort out the problem. Many things were tried but proved to be of no use until someone decided that 'incinerating' the rubbish in a skip would quickly get rid of the problem. Our support company CQMS soon became a 'dab' hand at the 'Towering Inferno' lark using keroscene to jolly things along, until one day.....one day, he took his duties to new heights.

 The CQMS was going about his business, standing by watching our rubbish going up in smoke. Our foot patrols were out and about our area chatting to the goodies and the baddies, just letting everyone know that we were there, and our mobile patrols were doing their thing further afield, mainly ’snap’ VCP’s between Woodburn and Twinbrook.

With the rubbish well ablaze in the skip there he was, standing by, perhaps adding a few pieces of cardboard here and there, when…………”BOOM!” “Whit the fu?!” First thoughts were that we were under RPG or mortar attack and everyone stood to. Now, just after the explosion, there was a period of complete silence. No shouting, no running about like headless chickens, just complete silence. Then it started, slowly at first; Clang!....Clang!.... Clang!... Clangety –Boing!-Boing! Kerplunckety.. Clang! As, from the sky there fell all around the base, Stewartstown road, Blacks Road and the homes across from our base, hundreds of empty beer cans.  I kid you not, the whole area around our base was littered with empty cans. Long Life lager, Tennents Lager, McEwans beer and lager, Carlsberg, Tuberg and many others. No-one was hurt, but remember, the whole province was dry and had been for many weeks.

Where did we get the booze? We kept that to ourselves until we were leaving (the P&Ds had to leave early for KAPE tour), then we passed the location on to the ‘Chunkies’ (Assault Pioneers), but the Mortars had eventually ‘found’ our source themselves. I will never say where it was, although it was 40 years ago. Things did go ‘quiet’ on the ‘booze,’ run for a few days but thirst became a priority again after nothing was found in any of our accommodation blocks (but no one could ‘search’ the wee “Tea stop” I had right across from our base). I had the back door key to the house, to use at any time day or night. So there you have it , yes, we were ‘dry’ after the “Big Bang!” but only for a couple of days. 

CONTACT! Wait out!

“Hello zero, this is 55c CONTACT Blacks Road wait out!”
“Hello zero, this is 55c, we are being bombarded with missiles from the sky over!”
“Hello 55c, This is zero, we seem to be under attack also, take cover, and go firm where you are, over”
“Zero, this is 55c Wilco, out”

Ops officer shouts for CSM. “Sergeant Major, where is all that smoke coming from?”
CSM: It is coming from our ‘rubbish’ skip sir”
Ops Offr: “Why is our rubbish skip on fire Sergeant Major?”
CSM: “Today is the day the colour sergeant ‘incinerates’ our rubbish sir” Due to the workers strike, we do not get our rubbish uplifted, so the CQMS just, sort of, sets it on fire.”

OC: Sergeant Major, we have never had this problem before, so why now?”
CSM: “Once we put the fire out sir, we found the remains of a Calor gas cylinder. I know the troops were told not to put them in the skip, whether they were empty or not, but someone slipped up this time.”

OC: “Er sergeant major, where do you think all those empty beer cans came from?”
CSM: “I don’t know sir, but I will be having words with our ‘choggi-wallah’ ASAP sir”.

55c: “Hello zero, this is 55c, things have gone quiet out here and we only have one injury, sustained when one of my section thought he would ‘show off’ to the local kids, by trying to ‘head’ one of the empty beer cans as it dropped from the sky, but unfortunately for him, it was not an empty can, someone had mistakenly thrown away a ‘full’ can. Is it OK to RTB?”

Zero: “55c, return to base now and after ‘clearing’ your weapons, report to the CQMS stores where you will collect brushes and shovels and help clean up our part of “Andytown!”

55c: (without transmitting) “Clean up Andytown, fur fexsake the only thing that would clean up that shithole would be an A-10 Tomcat or a B-52 dropping bucket loads of Napalm!”
“Right lads, after we finish this ‘clean up job’ report to my room for a wee ‘swally!”

“Yeehaw, let’s hear it for 55 Charlie”……….”Cheers”..….psssshhhtttt (that is the sound of a cool can of lager preparing to disappear.)   

I often wondered what the RHF NIREP (daily Battalion report), would have read like up at Brigade HQ in Lisburn. I can just see the Brigade commander chatting to the Brigade Ops Officer. "Clarence dear boy, what is this nonsense from the "Jocks" in Andersontown?" "The company based at Woodburn Camp Belfast, came under attack from 'Airborne' frigging BEER cans, are you having a laugh Clarence?" Anyway, how come when the whole province is 'gasping' for some light refreshment, the only people with access to any booze are some musical "Bootlegging" Jocks!" "But sir........!"......."Never mind the 'buts' Clarence, get your backside up to Andytown and source their 'supply', I am fed up at "Mess Nights" with the PMC ringing the bell, and all we can frigging pass is bloody MILK!"’’



Pick Me!

My new ruse for making the commute more bearable has been to listen to old Desert Island Discs downloaded from the BBC iplayer thing. They have been enchanting. Like most listeners I often play the "what would I choose" game but I find it impossible to drill down to just 8 records and as for the chosen luxury......... where's a fellow to start?

.I especially enjoyed Fred Dibnah (1991) but Jimmy Edwards (1952), Dickie Bird (1996), Hugo Gryn (1994) and Kenny Everett (1993) all had golden moments. Amongst others Louis Armstrong (1968), Field Marshal Montgomery (1969), David Niven (1977), the funniest Englishman ever born, Willie Rushton (1984) and another favourite, Douglas Reeman (1983) were all good value.

The all time winner though is the 16 mins only left of the recording of Col AD Wintle in 1962. This is the man who, decorated for bravery in the Great War described the inter war years as being “intensely boring,”  ("Great War peace signed at last." diary, 19 June 1919 / "I declare private war on Germany." diary, 20 June 1919).  Imprisoned in the Tower of London for threatening an RAF Air Commodore in France in 1940 ,who strangely would not accede to his demand for an aircraft to “rally the French Air Force,” he then admitted to the act at his court martial and helpfully produced a list of other people who he would have cheerfully shot to help the war effort including the secretary of state for war. His hunger strike when later a prisoner of war in protest at “the slovenly appearance of the guards,” and other displays to maintain English standards led to the entire Vichy French garrison going over to the resistance according to the then commandant.

My favourite line of his is this, spoken when standing unsuccessfully for Parliament, "Guy Fawkes was the last man to enter Parliament with good intentions. You need another like me to carry on his good work."