Saturday, 30 June 2018

Keeping Records with Memory Difficulties

I've recently started keeping tabs on job seeking and my investigations into Marketing and PR as a line of future work. Back in 2007, before I got my current job, I was doing this using Excel, but I remember having distinct problems with this.

At the time, my Excel spreadsheet covered dates, company names, contact names, and other details. This was a searchable list that allowed me to check who I'd contacted and what I needed to follow up. There was one problem, though: when it came to printing the document, the info spread to 3 landscape pages, which sort-of looked better in portrait, only the document wouldn't convert to a decent printable form.

When it came to printing, my computer would only give me the second page. So I was going to the job centre, sometimes to sign on, sometimes to sign off after finding some short term work, sometimes to sign back on again. When I presented the jobseeking record I'd claimed I'd made, I only had old information that they'd already seen. They had to take my word that there were more records at home, and that I had in fact been looking for work since I last met them.

More recently, my DLA has been scrapped and a meagre PIP allocation has been put in its place, plus my Working Tax Credits were stopped for an issue that's still debatable and under review with Citizen's Advice, and I've subsequently been lumped with a £400 bill (which I still haven't paid). I've decided it's time to purposefully look for work again.

This time, however, I've made a table in Word, made it landscape and given it 3 headings.


Here I can detail when I made an inquiry, who this was with (a business or public body) and what was discussed. In a day off, I might visit an organisation, talk to a manager or advisor and make notes on our conversations. Once home I'll then type up any notes straight onto this form, taking only a couple of minutes from my day.

This then means that whenever a further meeting occurs with any employment advisors (for example Get Oldham Working is a department of the local authority that I'm currently meeting with), I can print off the relevant pages (whatever was put in after the last meeting), and show them exactly what I've done. There's no need to try to recall anything or root through diaries to see where I was on certain days.

It's a fairly straightforward method of keeping a track of what goes on in your life. It could be that, for yourself, job seeking isn't what's filling up your time but meetings with the NHS (particularly if you've recently had an acquired brain injury). It takes a little time to transfer notes from paper to computer, but unless you're carrying a very fast-loading laptop around with you wherever you go, you can't have everything 100% digital. But then, that's why I tried to learn shorthand- so that I could take quicker notes and could ask more questions in what little time public services, like doctors surgeries, would give me.

So, Word, not Excel, for keeping written records, is always much more beneficial.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

VIP Graffiti in 1930s Egypt, Exotic and Not-So-Exotic Dancing

Demoiselle Crane, 47 Squadron's crest

The next installment of my grand-uncle's eyebrow-raising war memoirs.
In June 1939 we were alerted to prepare to fly the Vincents up to Egypt to the depot at RAF Abu Sueir. With the overload tanks full we took off for Wadi Halfa, cruising at about 120 knots. All arrived safely and immediately refuelled the aircraft, covered up and picketed the aircraft down.

The 'drome was about five miles north from the town of Wadi Halfa and the journey was undertaken in in about six open V.8 fast taxis, across open desert tracks, with a reward for the one reaching the hotel first. Fifty miles an hour, we were airborne off hour seats half the time.

The aircrew were housed in the beautiful hotel and ground staff given cabins in the Nile steamer moored on the river adjacent to the hotel.

Before take-off the following morning we were warned by the pilot that, prior to setting course for Egypt we would be flying at 'nought' feet over The Nile, in front of the entrance to Abu Simbel's Temple, in order that photographs could be taken.

This we did and is now a photograph that can never be taken again, due to the fact that the temple has now been cut into huge sections and moved bodily to higher ground to prevent it being submerged when the High Aswan Dam was built in 1966/67.

Airborne again, and after about five hours flying we arrived at RAF Abu Sueir, a few miles from the Suez Canal. A total distance of about 1100 miles.

Parking the aircraft, we immediately got aboard three-ton lorries and drove north about 15 miles to RAF Ismailia, where we were fed and billeted. We were to stay about 10 days while the aircrew familiarised themselves with the Vickers Wellesley. Similarly the ground crew went into the hangars to get to know the aircraft.

Ten days later the Squadron took off once again for Wadi Halfi and Khartoum. The fitters were warned that the aircraft on long flights drained unevenly and that it may be necessary for them to open a zip fastener in the fuselage wall, reach into the root end of the main plane and manually turn off certain fuel tank cocks to even up the aircraft.

The tunnel of the aircraft was filled with aircraft jacks, covers, modification kits and desert equipment to the roof, with a short space left for the fitter and myself, the rigger, to sit behind the pilot's seat.

After about three hours flying a hand was seen waving behind the pilot's seat with a note on which was written 'Turn off the Starboard Outer Fuel Cock.'

Another, my fitter, immediately started an argument as to which side was Starboard and insisted that he was finally right and turned off the port outer cock. And this was only after moving all the equipment away from the port side zip fastener. The fuel system was his responsibility and he was adamant.

Fifteen minutes later the pilot's hand, waving forcibly, passed another note with 'What the hell are you doing?'

Finally, agreeing that I was right he turned on the port outer cock and after us moving all the equipment again finally turned off the starboard outer cock. I think the Sgt Pilot at the end of the flight had a lean to one side for a number of days. The fuel system was neutralised later on arriving on Wadi Halfa.

The Squadron Commander had previously decided to overfly Wadi Halfa and make Khartoum in one trip. Passing over Wadi Halfa the aircraft ran into an extended high level sand storm and after half an hour the aircraft returned to Wadi Halfa. Once again we were billeted as previously.

We were given the following day free and as Wadi Halfa is situated on the 2nd Cataract of the Nile a boat trip was arranged to the hill edging the rapids and on climbing it was found to have dozens of VIP names scratched into the rock face, one of whom I will always remember was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who wrote the Sherlock Holmes series. He died in 1930.

Trying to sleep on the Nile paddle steamer was impossible. Tens of thousands of frogs were croaking all night. The din was incessant, only broken momentarily by the heaving of empty beer bottles in their direction. A few seconds later they were off again.

The next day we landed back at Khartoum with our new, but old, aircraft. We settled back to our routine, once again getting to know the Wellesley.

Later in the year one of the aircraft force landed with engine trouble about a hundred miles out in the desert. A lorry was loaded with a new engine, shear legs, tents, and rations. Cpl. Fife, six engine fitters and myself travelled about 5 hours and finally located the aircraft. Tents were pitched ready for work in the morning. Metal was found in the filter. As the aircraft had landed safely it was decided being a metal rigger that I would be the cook. One of the first things the gang did was to suspend a tent bag in the roof of one of the tents and then fill with water. Very warm water. Then a couple of dozen bottles of beer were put into the water. About 5 hours later the water and the beer was quite cold. The sweating tent bag acted similarly to a 'chatee.' A perfect fridge. (No suitable explanations of 'chatee' online.)

The fitters set to work at first light. The shear legs were erected and a block and tackle hung. The prop was removed and the weight of the engine taken. More weight, then calamity. One of the legs collapsed like a bent elbow.

The pilot had already left the wagon, having already spent the night in the aircraft since he had landed. Operating the radio, contact was made with the squadron and an Indian Army Recovery lorry was dispatched to us. It arrived late in the afternoon. On backing up to the aircraft it was found that the small rear jib had insufficient height to reach over the top of the engine to lift it out. The engine was two feet higher than the jib. So the shovels were produced and gradually a sand ramp was built, higher and higher until when the lorry was backed up it, the jib had clearance to enable the engine to be lifted out successfully.

Finally, the change was made, the engine oil primed, turned over by hand and started. After a few adjustments everything was declared satisfactory and the WT used to request a pilot.

Being the cook, I do not think that I have ever worked as hard in all my life. They wanted a mug of tea in bed, porridge, eggs, bacon, sausage and tea for breakfast. Have you ever tried keeping five old fashioned Primus stoves operating at once, pumping, pricking, pumping, filling. Anyway, they did not starve!

With the aircraft ready, awaiting a pilot, it was decided that we had time to visit a small village that we could see way in the distance. Leaving one man on guard, the remainder trudged across the sand to the mud huts. We were met by nearly naked Sudanese and taken to the Headman's hut. He greeted us and invited us to a compound at the rear of the hut. We sat down in a circle with him on a huge mat and women brought out big bowls of what looked like dried grass and oats. These were passed around the circle with Cpl Fife insisting that we try both bowls to insure we did not insult our hosts.

One of the natives had a good smattering of English and we were informed by him that the headman had laid on some entertainment for us. We were taken to another hut and once again sat in a circle on the floor. In came a rather attractive Sudanese girl of about eighteen, naked to the waist, with very long greasy ringlet hair. To the accompaniment of a drum, she danced in the centre of the ring, in front of each one of us in turn, gyrating and finally with a quick flick of her head wrapped her hair around the face of each one of us. None escaped even though we tried to duck. Her greasy hair smelt like nothing on earth. The dance we were told was connected to the dancing habits of the sexes.

Finally, we were taken to a clearing in the centre of the huts to find that about fifty natives had assembled. At one side sat a dozen old-ish women, on the floor, with drums in their laps.

They sat us down and shortly afterwards the drumming and dancing began. The men were leaping into the air at amazing heights, and every now and then the young teenage men suddenly stopped, placed a stave in the middle of their backs, leaned back on them and the others whipped them harshly on their bare bodies five or six times. The youngsters did not flinch and immediately the women with the drums made their high shrill trilling sound of appreciation. This leaping, jumping and whipping went on for a good half an hour then they came to us to reciprocate. They needed a rest. It was an initiation dance or ceremony to show the bravery of future young warriors.

So we had to follow on. We borrowed their staves and moved into the centre ring and tried to copy their acrobatic leaping. Fat Nash, with his belly hanging over the top of his shorts, managed a jump of about six inches. The natives were in stitches, laughing their heads off and after five minutes, when we could leap no more, the women drummers also gave us a high shrilling warble to thank us. We sat down. Water was passed around. No whipping had occurred!

The men repeated their leaping again and after ten minutes sat down once again requesting us to repeat our act.

We were still not ready for a second session, so after a quick 'conflab' we decided to do the London Palladium opening number act of 6 all differently dressed airmen coming into the centre ring, 1 behind the other, right hands on the chap in front's right shoulder, high kicking our legs alternately. Not quite like thirty fit beautiful girls.

At the side of the ring we reversed and retraced our steps, reversing again and again. Finally, we finished up all kicking each other up the backside around the ring, especially the corporal. Once again the audience were in hysterics and the women gave out their shrill trilling sound.

It was now time to leave, and after we had a collection for the new drums they were saving for we said our happy farewells and returned to the aircraft. Mad dogs and Englishmen!

In the morning we found that the pilot was on his way so we struck the tents, packed up and gave away unused food to the 'chichoes' who had been with us on and off the whole time we were there.

Midday the pilot arrived, carried out his checks, took off, did a short air test and overshot us, waggled his wings and flew off.

We loaded up and in fifteen minutes were on out way back to Khartoum and the Squadron. A smashing experience.

The Squadron, about this time, was presented with a newly designed crest which contained a Demoiselle Crane. This bird migrates from Southern Russia to the Sudan every year. It appears that it was selected due to the fact that 47 Squadron had served in Southern Russia in 1919. The story goes that the Squadron complained about the cold weather so much that they sent it down to Khartoum in the Sudan to a warmer climate. From the sublime to the ridiculous.

The Squadron was also presented with a beautiful solid silver model of a Vickers Vincent in gratitude for rescuing a VIP and his wife from the jungle. This is now resident in the Officer's mess at RAF Lyneham.

A visit to NAAFI one evening resulted in an unusual sight of four white bald 'eggs' sitting at a table drinking beer. One of them had been pulled up by the Station Warrant Officer for a 'haircut' and had decided to have it all off. The three others followed him in sympathy. Four very brown faces and bodies topped off with four very white bald heads looked very funny and strange.

Sunday, 24 June 2018


So, this week, I asked Georgia Harrison from last year's Love Island, who she thought would win in a fight between a baboon and a badger. (Baboons, as they're more 'aggy.')

Other than that, I grew some balls and read out a poem about depression at Orton's Writers Circle. I got some great feedback on it and I'm now ready to knock it into shape before churning it out to a few magazines. I felt a little awkward reading it out but the group were understanding and supportive.

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Saturday, 23 June 2018

A few steps forward this week.

I've had a phone interview with Healthy Minds, Oldham NHS' therapy unit. I've been on a waitlist for some time, and have a little more time to wait before being put with someone. I've updated them about Andy's Man Club, and asked them if they would pass on the suggestion of the support group to other male patients waiting for assistance with depression.

I've received 2 CDs from HMRC with the transcripts from calls that I've made to them. In the 7 calls recorded, there has been no mention of the TC108 form that they sent to me, which I admittedly misplaced (I didn't even open it). In fact, in the 1st call I made the operator told me the request for £416, which HMRC still say I owe them, was based in 'incomplete information' and was 'no longer valid.'

More recently it has been sent to a debt collector.

The case is on hold while I sort this out. I've emailed TJ at Citizen's Advice to update her and will be dropping the CDs off for her on Monday.

I tried to buy Nytol, an insomnia remedy. The chemist in Tesco asked if I was taking anything at the moment. They were fine with antidepressant Sertraline, but wouldn't give me the sleeping pills because I was on Fexafenadine for hayfever. The antihistamine would have reacted badly with Nytol apparently. So I've struggled through.

Decent weather, though. Things could be worse.

Friday, 22 June 2018

I've been eating clean for a month...

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A month ago I cut out all junk food in an attempt to shape up. I haven't shaved, nor had a haircut, since then. I've hammered the same movements at the gym: 10 min cross train, 10 min run, chest press, horizontal dumbbell fly.

I've just been filmed for something- details later- but by this time my hair and beard were becoming hobo-ish and thoroughly unmanageable. Hence, last night I shaved off the beard completely and this morning got a no.2 haircut and got home just before the camera crew turned up. It just so happens it's exactly a month since I started the project.

I was 83.6kg when I started this project. Today, after a hard session, I weighed in at 81.6kg.

It's time for a short break with clean eating.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Elephant Watermelon Bombing, Cannibal Sudanese, Killer Sorpions

Vickers Vincent

Another passage from my grand-uncle's WWII Memoirs.

Khartoum: February 1939

Two weeks after joining the Squadron a detachment of Vincents returned from a tour of Southern Sudan checking on the emergency landing grounds. It appeared that wherever they had landed they were met by the local Sudanese chief and the District Commissioner. Small tents were erected and talks were carried out with refreshment. In one instance the flight was presented, by the Sudanese Chief, with dozens of large sweet watermelons. They were duly shared and loaded between the aircraft.

Before taking off, the Flight Commander had decided that as soon as the aircraft were out of range of the landing ground they would be thrown overboard. It just so happened that the timing was such that the aircraft were over flying the Bor elephant herd and it could have been the only time when elephants had been bombed with watermelons. Suffice to say, none were hit, the aircraft were the odd thousand feet up. It was not very safe to have melons rolling around on the fuselage floor.

It should be mentioned that the Squadron had also in the adjacent hangar 'A' Flight, six Fairey Gordons which at certain times of the year the wings were folded and the aircraft manually pushed down the road about a mile to the River Nile. There, floats were fitted and the aircraft operated for a number of weeks on the Nile. 'A' Flight also had on charge a Walrus for the use of the CO.

Plenty of sport was played: hockey, football, tennis and swimming. The squadron were in the final of the local cup with Sudan Railways. The Sudan Railways XI turned out in full kit, but within fifteen minutes boots and stockings had been discarded on the touch line. They were hitting the ball just as hard as our lads without boots in their big bare feet.

Each flight had local labour help. 'B' Flight had five natives. One of them was called Bendas and his top front teeth had been filed to points, similar to the teeth of a saw. A generation ago it was understood that he had belonged to a cannibal tribe in Southern Sudan.

In the centre of Khartoum was a beautiful statue of General Gordon mounted on a camel. He had been instrumental in the fight against slave trading, until he was murdered on the Palace steps by members of the fanatical followers of the Mahdi in 1885. He was well-loved. Streets, buildings and shops were named after him. An incident concerning the statue will be reported on later, at the period of Christmas 1939.

Across the Blue Nile Bridge was the 43 Club, a native brothel, controlled by the Army Garrison in the city. It was understood that from those who used it, it only cost ten piastres, two shillings.

The tour of duty of the overseas posting at that time was four years. Two years in the Sudan, because of conditions and heat was counted time and a half, i.e. three years. The last year was spent in Egypt.

Twice a year, Valentias from 70 Squadron Egypt flew down to Khartoum to take rest leave parties back to Heliopolis, Cairo, for leave. At Wadi Halfa they slept in and under the aircraft before undertaking the second leg in the morning. The Valentias were jokingly called 'Flying Pigs.' The pilots always wore a flying topee, being in an open cockpit, at the mercy of the beaming sun when flying. The Valencias were very large bi-planes.

It was not long before the time-ex chaps we were replacing were notified that the troopship on its way home from the Far East would be calling in at Port Sudan to pick them up. Once again a NAAFI party was organised with barrels of beer voted and granted by the PSI.

This time things were even more hectic. With an extension of NAAFI closing hours to late in the evening I watched every piece of wicker furniture thrown over the balcony onto the ground below, formed into a bonfire and set alight, and a few minutes later members of the squadron, completely naked, running and jumping through the flames. The squadron could certainly work and play hard. The following morning they said their sad farewells.

Insect life was present, invariably of nuisance value, but one had to be aware of the danger of scorpions. An engine cover on the ground for a day or so often finished up with a scorpion or two. One airman could not be roused at 18:00 for dinner. A scorpion was found inside his shirt. His bed mates thought that he was having a good long afternoon's siesta. Regrettably he had been stung a number of times and died.

Large spiders often came through the open windows at night and when seen were chased until killed or escaped. We called them tarantulas, incorrectly, but they were easily as big. Mosquito boots or any footwear were always turned upside down before pulling on one's feet. After dusk it was compulsory to wear slacks and long sleeve shirts and use mosquito nets on the beds.

Glengarries were worn for work up to 8:00 and after breakfast until 16:00. Temperatures were sometimes up to 120F (49C) in the shade and 130F (54C) in the sun. Metal parts of the aircraft had to be tackled with rag in the hand. Winding up the inertia flywheels to start the aircraft was a tough operation, especially when the pilot had an abortive start and it had to be repeated.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Tom Zanetti, Daisy, Google Garage

This week, dance music producer Tom Zanetti liked my tweet. It was a pun on his lyrics, only I got his lyrics wrong in the first place. Fail.

I've been on leave all week, and have largely been typing up my grand-uncle's war memoirs. Stay tuned for those.

I've also met with a local social media company and may be arranging some work experience with them.

Thursday: I dropped onto the Manchester Digital Google Garage on King St, a public workshop offering free courses on a range of IT related subjects. I sat the Writing for Social Media course, designed to help bloggers, marketers and anyone with their own business looking to promote themselves better online. I got chatting to a few people on the course and made a contact in a local nightlife venue's Marketing team. Hopefully something will become of these new meets. I've put a lot of effort into being confident enough to approach people and say hi to them. It's not easy for everyone.

The Digital Garage will be in its King St unit until 1st November, when it will move to a different city in the UK. Presenter Asar Norman described how, as well as taking over shop units in various cities, we may also spot a big white 'Digital Garage Bus' making its way across the country.

We covered values, audience demographics, language choices (what words to use and which not to), guidelines for your marketing campaign, 'writing for goldfish' (i.e. grabbing someone's attention in 3 seconds), features and benefits, handling complaints over social media, and different apps and programs you can use to improve your output.

Well-presented, informative and delivered in a clean, friendly setting. They also teach how to use selfie sticks.

Give it a shot if you're free. The courses change frequently and the garage won't be in Manchester for much longer, so act now to get involved.

Saturday night: dropped into the Northern Quarter with Manchester Cool Bars, to Daisy on Tib St (hard to find but charming and quirky inside. It's accessible from inside Evelyn's).

We moved onto Science and Industry (a fun venue looking like a cross between a taxidermists and a meth lab). Bizarre bar accessible from inside Cane and Grain.

Manchester is quiet at the moment. I'm assuming it's due to daytime sessions in the sun, the World Cup, and The Manchester Day Parade (happening today).

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Bee You Journal Launch

Luke Ambler, former Halifax RLFC prop and founder of men's depression support group Andy's Man Club today launched his next venture- the Bee You Journal.

People have asked me, why a bee?” Luke presented to a room of people at his offices in Halifax. “Well, I was diving and I noticed that there was a bee in my car. My impulse was to swat it, but if you hit a bee, what's it going to do? It's going to sting you. I realised I needed to 'control the bee-' to control my own emotions.”

A good analogy. I had wondered what the insect connection was.

The book, Luke goes on to explain, should last 3 months, with each page offering a day's round-up, an opportunity to detail what you've achieved. One one side, a bee adorns the cover. On the reverse, a question mark on a black background. Flipping the book upside down gives you space to describe your day in the 'offload' section, on the left side of each double page spread. Here there's a space to describe any bad patches you're going through. You can get go back to the notes the next day and review them. It's designed to give you key focusses, to identify what you want to do and how.

A fun event. I've got my Be You journal. I'll be giving it a shot over the next few weeks.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Potato Fight on The Somersetshire, February 1939

The Somersetshire

My grand-uncle Dick has recently released his memoirs of his time as an officer in the RAF, serving in Sudan, The Eritrea and Egypt. They're too good not to share. Big Fear was a story included in these that occurred way after the war. We start here 7 months prior to the outbreak of World War II.

My Tour of Duty With No.47 (B) Squadron


It was February 1939. We staggered up the gang plank of His Majesty' Troopship Somersetshire, bound for the Red Sea and Port Sudan. We were laden down with suitcases and kit bags, and had recently passed out at RAF Manston, Kent as Metal Riggers. This was a reasonably new trade in the Royal Air Force and was the result of the modern metal aircraft being introduced in place of the fabric aircraft now being phased out.

In December 1938, due to the Munich Panic, the whole of RAF Manston was threatened with, 'No Christmas Leave, until the seventy-odd Avro Ansons on strength had been camouflaged' from their lovely shining silver covering. So our first introduction to an operational aeroplane was not an insertion repair but a two inch dope brush.

So there we were, four decks down hammocks, packed like sardines, Navy, Army and RAF, being fed out to all the stations from Gibraltar to Hong Kong and bringing home the time-ex fellows. Twice a year the troopers sailed, February and July.

Half of our class had been posted to RAF Khartoum, who when we arrived found that we had been allocated to No.47 Bomber Squadron operating Vickers Vincents, a large bi-plane.

Though this epistle is about my tour of duty with No. 47 Squadron in the Sudan and Eritrea, I feel that an account of the ten days on the Somersetshire would also be of humorous interest to the reader.

It was not long before we reached the Bay of Biscay and foul weather. All the 'land lubbers' were visiting the toilets and the side of the ship, much to the amusement of the Royal Navy personnel who walked around with smug looks on their faces.

The 'heads,' the naval term for the toilets, right in the aft of the ship, ran across the ship, port to starboard and consisted of separate cubicles with cowboy swing doors. They had a long connecting trough beneath all of them, flushed with running water feeding out of the ship's side, whichever way the ship rolled.

It was not long before all the 'rookies' were caught. Old Navy Petty Officers were quietly entering empty cubicles, screwing up pages of newspapers, setting them alight and placing them carefully on the surface of the water in the trough, where as the ship rolled, floated quietly under the backsides of the occupants in adjacent cubicles warming, or should we say burning, the cockles of their hearts.

Shouts of pain were heard regularly until the trick was discovered and nobody ever went into a cubicle without watching through a part-opened door for any Navy man entering the toilet area.

By Gibraltar practically everybody had found their sea legs and in Gibraltar Harbour the first batch of personnel went ashore. Similarly at Malta and after a few days we arrived at Port Said.

The Gulli Gulli men were allowed on board. These were Egyptian conjurers using three inverted egg cups, finding and disappearing numbers of chicks with their skills. No chick anywhere, lift up the egg cup, a chick, put it down again and lift up, chick gone. Amazing, even though we knew where they were going. How those chicks must have suffered.

The following day half the ship was taken on a route march around Port Said for exercise much to the amusement of the locals.

Incidentally, fatigues and duties were shared between three services daily and the day we were due enter the Suez Canal it was the Army who were on cookhouse fatigues. On the fore deck a circle of about twenty soldiers were sitting in a ring, on buckets, with potato knives, surrounding a huge mound of potatoes. There must have been a ton there with the numbers of troops on ship to feed. They were part of our lunch.

We were moving very slowly, about two knots, when suddenly the anchor was dropped and we hove to. Everybody wondered why and on enquiring from the Merchant Navy crew were told that a big Italian troopship was coming out of the canal in a few minutes.

Slowly she came past our ship, a beautiful huge shining white liner. Three times as big as we were, only twenty yards away. On its upper decks reclining in deckchairs were a number of senior officers, with their wives, dressed in pure white tropical uniform with multicoloured epaulettes. Italian troops were on the lower decks. It must have been trooping from Eritrea and Abyssinia and it was not long before one of our squaddies had shouted across the water gap “Up you Musso,” and with an immediate response of “Up you Engleesie” from the Italians.

Suddenly, a big potato became airborne and smashed into the side of the Italian Trooper, and then another, another and them within a matter of seconds the huge potato pile was aloft in the air and on its way to the 'enemy ship.' Then The Somersetshire raised their elevation directing it at the upper deck officers. They had to quickly duck into their cabins with their wives and families.

The rain of spuds travelling through the air was likened to the English arrows at the Battle of Crecy. Hundreds and hundreds. Corned Beef only for lunch- no spuds, but one up to the British.

And so we passed into the Canal. Incidentally the world had not forgotten how Mussolini had conquered Abyssinia from Eritrea with the use of poison gas in 1936. They were generally hated. As we steamed down the canal the Captain decided to exercise the troops. It was the only time that I had ever seen a tug of war match where both teams were pulling aft, out of sight from each other, behind the superstructure. A long rope around a big pulley was ran around the bow of the ship.

When the RAF team was losing ground two or three spectators jumped on the rope until, instead of a team of eight, thirty or forty were on each side. The RAF even wound their rope end around a bollard. Still, all good fun.

The day before we were due to disembark at Port Sudan we were told over the tannoy to collect our deep sea kit bags and be ready to disembark in the morning, in No.1 Khaki Dress.

When we took our KD out of our kit bags and changed into it you had never seen such a sight in your life. Nothing tailored, shorts below the knees, tunics too big, black boots instead of shoes, topees too big. (It's possible he means 'toupees.') Dad's army was never in it. (I'm assuming he's retrospectively referencing the TV show produced 1968-77.) The remarks came thick and fast. “Why should Britain tremble?” “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

And when we walked down the gangway and were met by a bronzed reception party from The Port Sudan, RAF Squadron, we realised how awful we looked.

We spent the next eight hours in the Seamen's Mission (chaplain's room?) and finally embarked on the Sudanese train at six in the evening on our forty-eight hours journey to Khartoum.

The next two days were spent, firstly winding our way through the Red Sea Hills and finally out into the desert, via Atbara, to Khartoum and 47 Squadron. Every so often we pulled into small village stations where we were pestered by sellers trying to get us to purchase eggs and awful-looking bread. We had previously been instructed not to buy any native food. We had a good supply of service food, even though the butter and the corned beef poured out of the tins.

Finally, at about 6 in the evening, two days later, we arrived at Khartoum. The railway line ran past the camp gate, fifty yards away. Uncoupling our coach, the train steamed on to Khartoum Main Station.

We de-trained and offloaded all of our kit. A Sudanese came out of the camp gate leading a donkey, accompanied by two others with brooms. The entrance reminded me of the old fort gates and ramparts of the old Beau Geste films.

The Warrant Officer in charge of our party was asked to mount the donkey and slowly he was led in and under the camp gate. All of the time the two Sudanese were sweeping the road in front of the donkey. Later when asked why they swept the road we were told that 'It was to ensure that the donkey did not trip up and that the new draft arrived safely.”

As we walked under the archway we saw the Squadron on the roof and they rained hundreds of beer bottle tops down on our topees.

Inside, we were located by the chap we were relieving and taken to our billets with information to “Get a meal and then up the NAAFI for a big party.”

Later we climbed the stairs to the NAAFI, the only two storey building on the camp, dining room underneath, and were met by the Padre at the door. “Welcome to the Squadron. You'll find it quite hot, but you will get used to it. You've joined a smashing Squadron.”

We mingled with everybody, drinks flowing, piano going non-stop, and in a matter of an hour everybody was well on their way. Then all the squadron songs were starting to be sung and very rude they were. Salomi Somersetshire, the lot. (I can find no reference to this online.) In the corner, with a pint in front of him, was the Padre singing away.

F---- them all
F---- them all
The long, the short
And the tall

I was shocked, but found out later that he was a Cpl. Policeman posing as the padre. He certainly fooled us.

In passing, we found out that a barrel of beer had been voted from the PSI two weeks previous in readiness for the new draft's arrival. Beer was flowing the day we arrived and two weeks ago. And so it went on. Any excuse for a 'booze-up.'

Incidentally, I was still a strict teetotaller. My father, who prior to his retiring, ran a public house, had bet my three sisters and myself that there would be ten pounds for not smoking and ten pounds for not drinking until we reached the age of 21. I was the only one that had stayed 'pure' and my 21st was 3 months away. So I watched everything soberly.

In the morning I joined 'B' Flight, 47 Squadron and was given a Vickers Vincent bi-plane to look after, together with a fitter. She had a crew of 3; pilot, navigator and air gunner. All open to the weather and sun. Powered by a small Pegasus she sometimes carried a 50 gallon long range tank slung under the fuselage. Fuel was pumped up to the header tank behind the engine by a wind-driven propeller pump in the tank's nose. Starting was by a handle which wound up an inertia flywheel which the pilot engaged by pulling a cable. It was tough going winding up the engine at temperatures of 120F (49C) in the shade. Before the aircraft taxied away from the sand apron the pilot checked the engine and magnetos and we, the ground crew, had to hang over the leading edge of the tail plane to hold it down. The sand blast on the back of our legs was painful, sometimes enough to bring flecks of blood to the skin.

The air gunners were tradesmen, fitters, rigger and wireless mechanics and were called Part Time A.G.s. They received extra for flying. Often we flew in the rear open cockpit and over the period of a month also added a few shillings to our basic pay.

Just inside the camp gate was the hockey pitch and the station parade ground. When swimming had finished, about 5 o'clock on Sunday, the contents of the pool were pumped into a channel about 2 feet wide and fed right around the grass pitch and released onto the grass. By Monday morning it was a lake, Tuesday it had disappeared and on Wednesday afternoon we played hockey. It was the Station Warrant Officer's pride and joy and he even had fifty airmen running all over it banging tins in an attempt to ward off a plague of locusts which suddenly appeared one day.

A couple of weeks after I arrived we were given a free cinema show in the NAAFI. Cpl York, the Squadron goal keeper was the supplier. He had been given a cinematic projector and camera by Alexander Korda the film producer. The very first Four Feathers film had just been completed at Khartoum, near the big native village of Omdurman. Cpl York had been loaned to Korda to radio Egypt and UK for supplies. Not being permitted to be paid, this was the way Korda had thanked him. Yorkie used to hire old films from Egypt and give these free shows once a month. And very funny they were. We used to hiss the villains, cheer the heroes and boo when the film broke.

And so we settled down to the routine of the Squadron. Woken up by the billet boy at half past five with a mug of tea and a chunk of fruit cake and work by six o'clock. Breakfast, eight to nine, and with topees, back to work until one o'clock. A light meal, tiffin, and a quick shower and into bed. All shutters of the billet had been closed by eight o'clock in the morning, with six big fans in the ceiling trying to keep us cool. Peace reigned until four in the afternoon when the sportsmen got up to pursue their different pleasures.

Khartoum had a small zoo, two cinemas and on the river outside the Governor General's Palace was moored a small gun boat, used by Lord Kitchener when he reconquered the Sudan with the final Battle of Omdurman. It had been transported across the desert in sections and reassembled further up The Nile.

The big native village of Omdurman was allowed to be visited by parties of six only.

The Squadron was occupied in routine flying, visiting and checking on landing strips in the Southern Sudan. Shortly after arriving at Khartoum three Vincents, with myself in the rear cockpit anchored by a monkey chain, flew to Kassala on the Eritrean border. This was a huge mountainous mound of rock jutting out of the desert and was the first and only Sudanese village to fall to the Italians in the first few days of the war in June 1940.

It was quickly recaptured. Later in the year we camouflaged the silver Vincents with dark green, light and dark earth distempers.

Across the other side of the aerodrome was the Imperial Airways hangar where our mail used to arrive by big four-engined bi-planes. Handley Page HP42. Later in the year the mail arrived by Short Flying boats landing on the River Nile. It was with us within 2 hours of landing.

We had a visit from the engineer running the Imperials Airways Flight requesting help with an engine change. A Corporal Fitter was loaned; they worked all night and the aircraft took off early the following morning on time towards South Africa. He was rewarded with fifty pounds, an absolute fortune on those days.

Come back next week for some elephant watermelon bombing, and further war stories.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Last Night

Far from happening last night, I wrote this in 2014 after a rather weird excursion to Newcastle. The following is based on reality, but you can probably guess where the fiction takes over. I took this to Writers Connect to get feedback, then promptly lost the notes. They appeared again four years later in a giant pile of papers in my lounge. The feedback group encouraged me to 'divorce it from reality,' which I've done only slightly, although as I was drunk I don't honestly remember it with enough accuracy, so I may have made it more true to life.


In a VIP booth, a group of men in late 20s / early 30s sit around a table with a built-in ice bucket, pouring out vodka, bourbon and brandy.


The group congregate outside. One of them, Matt, a slim, short lad, is noticeable more drunk than the rest. One of the larger, bigger members of the group, Jason, speaks up.

Matt, we're not going to get in here unless you sober up.

I'm sorry, and you will do what?

Another member of the group, FERRO, steps between them.

Woah, woah, woah. What the fuck?

Matt, you need to apologise for that now.

Yeah, you do, you dickhead.

Alright, sorry, whatever.

Ferro pushes Matt away from Jason.



Matt and Ferro wake up in twin beds. Matt looks decidedly hungover.


FERRO (chuckling to himself)
Matt that was the most pissed I've EVER seen you. Um, Matt, you might wanna apologise to Jason 'cause you were a DICK with him last night.

What... what did I do?

Jason was telling you to sober up so you could get into that club, and your response was basically, “What are you gonna do.”

Oh, for fuck's sake. Really?

I wouldn't, y'know, make a big song and dance out of it, but just be like, 'Sorry about last night,' and move on.

Oh, I dunno, y'know. A song and dance might be a perfect reconciliation.

Big band music swells. Matt marches down the staircase with a cheesy grin, doing jazz hands and high kicks. Jason sits at a dining table, bemused.

MATT (singing)
I'm sorry about last night

FERRO & HICKS (backup singing)
Last night

I realise that I was a massive twat with you
I'm sorry about last night

FERRO & HICKS (backup singing)
Last night

I might have to work on my attitude
I realise in hindsight that I was a turd
I blame it all on the Woodford Reserve
And now I must make sure that you have heard
I'm sorry about last night

Enter busboys pushing mops in synchrony, wearing aprons and barbershop quartet straw hats.

He's sorry about last night

Yes I am

He knows that he can sometimes be a bit of a dick
He's sorry about last night
He's hoping he can get your forgiveness quite quick
He just didn't want to pay for a lap dance
And he thinks it's a shame you have taken that stance
Now he'll do anything to redress the balance
He's sorry about...

FERRO and HICKS (overlapping)
Sorry about, Sorry about...

Busboys grab ketchup and mayonnaise bottles from nearby tables and spray them symmetrically over the walls, then throw them aside, take off their hats and circle them across their sternums.

Last niiiiiiight!

Matt drops to one knee at Jason's side with hand extended. Busboys gather behind him in formation. Jason mouths a forkful of hash browns and shakes hands with Matt.

Alright mate.

He chews on. The room is silent.

Did I really say that, though?