Monthly Archives: July 2016

The graves registration unit . . . (episode 96)

Veteran soldier (war in Burma, 1943)

Veteran soldier (war in Burma, 1943)

1A The Hole
Hope End Street
CARPOOL C87 4AZ

July 24 2000

Hello Auntie

I have just been over – after quite some hiatus – to see Granddad and Grandma, who are resident on a housing estate on the outskirts of Carpool.

The hiatus occurred subsequent to a conversation that I had with Granddad on the subject of immigration. Granddad is dead set against it and wants to ‘send them all back.’ And I, as you know, have a rather all-embracing attitude towards the nation’s newcomers.

So I said to Granddad – some moons ago now – ‘Well Granddad. You are one quarter Belgian aren’t you? When are you going back?’

Granddad, of course, went rather puce about the chops and retorted, ‘I FOUGHT IN THE WAR.’

The story he then related was rather an interesting one. He had apparently served in the Royal Berkshire regiment and, at the age of 18, had been sent to Burma, where he formed part of the Graves Registration Unit. The job of the Graves Registration Unit was apparently to depart up river – the Irrawaddy and tributaries – with the purpose of enquiring about the location of any British dead languishing in the vicinity of hill villages. Once they had ascertained the location of dead bodies, their job was then to mark the position of those bodies – with white crosses – before returning down river to Rangoon. A separate unit then went to collect the bodies for burial in military cemeteries.

Granddad ably described the suffocating heat and humidity in the Burmese jungle and the soldiers’ endeavours to sleep on simple charpoys fitted with mosquito netting. He also rendered up a rather rapt description of the virtually-naked Burmese women bathing under water falls in the Chindwin hills. ‘Ah. Those were probably the days,’ he said.

I didn’t actually know he’d done all that Auntie. Maybe he thought I was too young to cope with the graphic description of the stench from the rotting corpses he also spoke about.

On this visit to Granddad (and Grandma) however, things were a lot more pacific. We studiously avoided all mention of immigration and Granddad treated me to a tour of his garden shed instead. This environment was a virtual Aladdin’s cave of lathes and woodworking tools, and I have enclosed a couple of snapshots of them:

GRANDDAD2016 051

Granddad is somebody – as you can tell – who has a real shed with a collection of tools going back for nearly a century. But although his lathe is still standing proudly, in one corner, I don’t think it works now. Granddad says that they don’t make the narrow drive belts any more and the ends of his, I notice, are connected together by pieces of wire.

WALLYANDDAD2016 052

Anyway. I’d actually rattled over there (on the bus) in the hopes of securing some funds for tailored clothing to wear about the hospital. (It had occurred to me that I might better secure the romantic attentions of Thule, if I was able to promenade up and down the corridors in natty bow ties and fine woolen suits.) Sadly, however, neither Granddad – nor Grandma who, sadly, is camera shy – mentioned funds, and I had to make do with a plate of fish and chips instead!

Your loving nephew

Ralph

P.S. How about you Auntie? I couldn’t touch you for a tenner could I?

Mole intelligence: EPISODE 95

Completely irrelevant image of penguin from zoo

Completely irrelevant image of penguin from zoo

10 Forsythia Grove
Outer Hamlet
CORSETTSHIRE ZY6 4GT

July 10 2000

My Dear Harriet

Thank you for your enthralling epistle on the subject of chicken care. I am relieved not to have any chickens – and especially cockerels – in my own life. And please don’t – ever – put yourself down. You are becoming exceptional, and that is life’s largest skill of all.

It is Sunday morning here in Outer Hamlet and I have risen early with the purpose of attending the swimming pool. As my feet – clad in white plimsolls – padded along the pavement, I became conscious of that rather sweet smell redolent of warmth and rain and the slow composting of organic material which has fallen to the ground. A faint mist of rain was falling and the world was as quiet as any human being could wish for.

As I trekked across the recreation ground – and all the beheaded white clovers – I thought of how different swimming pools have become since the war. If you recall, Harriet, I was but nine years old when the war ended and, by then, had only experienced the occasional immersion in freezing cold municipal baths (for they were baths then). It is only since the Great War – when male recruits were deemed to be lacking physical fitness – that the emphasis has shifted from keeping clean to keeping fit. And indeed, before then, swimming baths were thought to be positively dangerous places harbouring the organism thought to cause polio. My own experience, as a child aged eight or so, was that the swimming baths were likely to be closed owing to the impossibility of obtaining an essential part – customarily made by men then fighting in the navy, air force, or army.

This morning, however, I have pushed and pulled my way through heavy doors, decked myself out in a rather appealing-looking turquoise swimming costume, and headed for the water. I have enjoyed my recent experiences of kicking through the water on my back, kicking through the water on my front, and treading water. It has also been most wonderful to exhale air at the ‘deep’ end, exhaling bubbles, and kick back up to the surface from the bottom. But something has been lost, I feel, from the ambience of the modern day swimming pool compared with that of earlier times. Depth for a start. It now would seem virtually impossible to drown in a contemporary pool as the water is so shallow and the pool dimensions so short and narrow. And do you remember the time when it was possible to actually dive into – the really deep – end from a spring board or a gradually ascending height of boards? But most of all I think I miss the blue, or green, ceramic tiles which lined the pool itself and the walls of the great buildings which housed them.

With love as ever

Mum

We need to talk about Kevin . . . (episode 94)

rooster crowing (retro (circle) Image by 'vectorolie' www.freedigitalphotos.net

rooster crowing (retro circle)
Image by ‘vectorolie’
http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

3A Hyde Park Terrace
LONDON W2 5PH

July 6 2000

Hello Mum

I know I have been gone a bit quiet recently, I’m sorry. Sometimes it feels necessary to recoup one’s forces and try to regain a sense of Life’s direction. I seem to be meandering about somehow. Perhaps I have become one of the world’s many dilettantes? A woman of no particular skills . . .

The only recent event of slight note has been my acquaintance, Kimberley’s, request to look after her chickens while she went off on holiday. I met Kimberley while out walking Ferris in Hyde Park and she seemed like a splendidly capacious woman, adorned in any number of brightly-coloured scarves originating from countries all over the planet. I agreed, anyway, to the chicken care – despite knowing that I would have to trek over the park twice a day, owing to the squeeze of traffic pressing on her residence and the fact that her own garage would be locked. No parking of my own Triumph Spitfire Mk IV therefore!

It all seemed fairly straightforward (initially) Mum. Kimberley’s neighbour, Basil, would let the chickens out and all I had to do was feed/water both the chickens and the plethora of hanging baskets suspended above the decking out back. However, there was a slight mention of Kevin (the cockerel) before she departed. The slight mention alluded to the fact that Kevin could play up and that ‘playing up’ would take the form of flying at you – talons bared – and beak agape – in an attempt to drive you away. Barry, Kimberley’s husband, actually demonstrated the grabbing of Kevin – and the whirling about of him above his head – while clutching hold of his feet! And Kimberley informed me that, in the event of difficulty, a stick would be left inside the run for me to use. I certainly didn’t feel up to the whirling of Kevin above my head option . . .

I have to admit, Mum, that I arrived before dusk (at 2150) on the first night and, do you know, chickens do not want to go to bed until the last gasp of light. I stood there, and they stood there, and it was very clear who was in charge and it clearly was not me. Eventually, the lower status chickens cleared off up the ramp and I thankfully dropped a plank against the door of the coop. Kimberley had, of course, been most conscientious in her mention of The Fox. The fox, apparently, lingers – just out of sight – at dusk, waiting to tear apart any unwary chicken who has not gone to bed in time . . .

Guess where Kevin and the Big White Chicken were Mum? Still running around the run, or at least, they were running away from me. Also, Kevin seemed very intent on getting his ‘leg over’ so-to-speak and this caused somewhat of a pang in my own breast, for even a cockerel gets to have more carnal congress than a recently-divorced woman aged 41!

Eventually, however, they did retire to the larger shed at the end of the run and this set up a further set of questions in my mind. I had not been the person to let them out of the coop/s in the morning and so I didn’t have the faintest idea where Kevin and co. laid their beaks to rest at night. Were they usually in the shed? My unease increased when I realized that there appeared to be no means of locking the shed for the night. There wasn’t a bolt or padlock on the door! In the end Mum – and in somewhat of a panic – I wired the door shut and leaned a full watering can, a spade, and a plank against the door as further obstacles to the ingress of The Fox.

I didn’t sleep well at home that night! I had terrible visions of this magnificent cockerel – and the Big White Chicken – being torn to pieces in the jaws of the local chicken predator – and just finding feathers and the remnants of a few limbs and wings scattered around in the dust when I next appeared.

However, the good news Mum, is that I only have to keep them alive for another five days!

Best Love (as always)

Harriet

Gazing into the abyss . . . (episode 93)

iStock_000021621315Small

1A The Hole
Hope End Street
CARPOOL

July 2 2000

What ho! Auntie

You sounded decidedly more chipper on the telephone the other night. So your plaster cast is finally off! How are the ‘kicking sets’ going down at the Outer Hamlet swimming pool?!

I am writing to report on my latest attempt to engage the attentions of Thule. Despite a certain amount of loitering around the corridors of Carpool District Hospital, I never seemed to bump into her. And, then, just before last weekend I observed her in the act of appending her name to a list on the ‘Outdoor Activities’ notice board. I naturally waited until she was out of sight, before sleuthing up to see what activity she had signed up for . . . It was a trip (that very weekend) to Sunless Pot in the shire responsible for the Kendal Mint Cake. Auntie, I added my name, before galloping back to my bedsit to see whether my wet suit was in sufficiently good repair for me to pack in a bag. It was. Only one or two holes in the rubber!

The following morning, along with quite some motley crew of around ten people, I arrived in the canteen car park, prior to climbing into the mini van. Thule was there but, disappointingly, she seemed to be hanging about the person of a character called Dan: the potholing team leader. Dan, as I’m sure you can imaging, resembled – to my jaundiced eye – the sort of chest-beating gorilla that you tend to see on episodes of Tarzan. AH – AH – AH – AH – AH goes that yell, doesn’t it? She did manage a rather cursory hello to Yours Truly, but that was it. I slumped into a seat and proceeded be harassed, rather irritatingly, by the only other female on the trip. I don’t want to appear unduly prejudiced on the subject of appearances Auntie, but she did have buck teeth and, every so often, she gave out a sound of loud slurping. Uncontrolled salivation I think – not necessarily of the lubricious kind – but more related to some physiological anomaly or other. It was only by dint of changing seats after every motorway service station that I managed to shake her off.

It was certainly a long haul up the slopes of Sunless Fell to the pot, particularly as I was assigned to the carrying of about 200′ of electron ladder. This is the sort of ladder, Auntie, that is metal, flexible, and narrow to the point of only accommodating one foot on each of its rungs. At this point, I was rather wondering what I was getting myself into – particularly as, by then, heavy lead acid cell batteries had been allocated to each person, in addition to helmets clad in a sizable light. I think I had been envisaging a little saunter along minor horizontal tunnels!

Sweating, and doubtless puce about the chops, I finally toiled over the rim of the fell and the opening of Sunless Pot yawned before me: vast and black and apparently descending into a void without bottom. Frankly Auntie, I was all for throwing in the towel – especially when I saw the ladder, all 200′ of it – being rolled over the edge, but I couldn’t as Thule would definitely have noticed my ignominious scampering back to the bus. There was also a loud growling sound to be heard and this – peering slightly further down into the chasm – appeared to be coming from a waterfall in full fall. Black and white water was frothing from a ledge.

‘Surely we aren’t climbing through that?’ I chirruped from my vantage point.

‘It’s no problem mate,’ said Dan, flexing his biceps. ‘You can take a breath from under the rim of your helmet. I’ll just rope you on.’

God only knows Auntie, how I didn’t turn and run – craven – back down the slope, but all I can say is, that terror had me rooted to the veritable spot.

I submitted to being roped on and gaped down at the ladder.

‘It’s easy mate,’ said the irrepressible Dan. ‘Just keep your body straight and close to the ladder. It might flex a bit above and below you.’ And then he gave me a bit of a thumbs up and a bit more of a push.

Well Auntie. What can I say? Down I went, foot after foot, breathing from the small interstice of air beneath my helmet rim, as the water roared down upon me. The beastly ladder certainly does flex about and it took all the strength I had to cling on as I descended through the zawn.

And if you are asking me if Thule was worth it, then I can only say ‘Yes,’ in a way, because she patted me on the back later on – in the ‘duck’ section – and before the ‘sump’ section – and actually said that she’d seen me about the wards from time to time.

I will tell you about the ‘duck’ section and the ‘sump’ section in future reminiscences!

Toodle pip

Your loving nephew

Ralph