Sunday, November 1, 2009

'One Of Our Boys Is Missing' - Part 2

Charlie 'Terminal' Moraine is a former special forces soldier who served in the legendary (especially since it's now defunct, along with most of the legendary British Army regiments) 53 Assault Reconnaisance Squadron in some of the world's hot spots (well they were hotspots if you were a special forces operative anyway) including Northern Ireland, Oman, Columbia at the height of the drugs war, and Chelmsley Wood in the West Midlands. The Puumaja Crew is proud to present, in serial form, his new book, 'One Of Our Boys Is Missing', covering his life story and over 20 years in the front line of one of the deadliest units since the Ottoman Janissaries.
In part 2 we learn a little about Charlie when he was growing up, including a lesson in how to stand up for yourself that would make your Korean War veteran grandfather sit up even straighter than usual.

We had one of the more comfortable existences you could imagine. I had to watch day after day as friends and other kids in the neighbourhood had to go past on their old, rusty bikes (I had two, a flashy racer and a kind of off road thing that was the antecedent of the ‘chopper’ with gears and pretend suspension and the whole bit). I still remember the hardship of being woken up at about 10 in the morning on a weekend in the winter, as the highest quality coal was delivered to the door, giving my paper round money to my mum, and her giving it straight back to me, with interest, or the day my Dad announced ‘it’s no good. We’re going to have to rein in the expenses a bit. It’s just Disneyland this year I’m afraid, the Maldives are out’.

Primary school was fairly uneventful, just the usual memories spring to mind of the school nativity play, playing rounders every afternoon in the summer, denouncing some of my classmates as communists etc. and it was with some resignation that I looked backward to another seven years of mediocrity.

I was under pressure to pass my eleven plus, especially as Ted had walked it, but I managed to scrape through. Maths and English were ok but I did very poorly on verbal reasoning apparently. So I joined my brother who was two years above me, at the local grammar school, the Henry de Hastings school for boys. I hardly soared academically, though I enjoyed chemistry, and learnt early on to respect the properties of phosphorous, a lesson which I’d come back to time and again in my career. I was quite good at sport, making the Rugby team at fullback. I liked the responsibility and being alone at the back, the last line of defence and having to think on your feet quickly.

We used to get the bus to and from school, and one day I jumped off the bus early. One of my hobbies was making airfix model aeroplanes, particularly from the second world war, in lieu of a life or a girlfriend, and I wanted to check in at the model shop to see if the Handley Page Halifax I’d ordered had arrived. It had, and I was clutching the parcel close to me on the bus home when some lads from rival school, the Thomas Moorcroft RC school got on. Soon they spotted me sitting alone at the back.

‘There’s a boffy boy’ said one of them, as another spat manfully on the floor, and started menacingly pulling one of the seats back and forward, making an intimidating wrenching noise as he did so.

I was starting to get scared, and, knowing my stop was still some way off, thought about getting off early. Then I thought, who were they to dictate to me when I should or shouldn’t get on the bus? I decided to stay.

Soon after some girls from their school also got on and sat behind me, and a monosyllabic, rife-with-pubescent-posturing conversation began between them all. I was getting more and more agitated, particularly when one of the girls said to me ‘my mate fancies you’ followed by the deonuement,
‘no she doesn’t really, you ugly bastard’.

I was feeling a bit like a rat in a trap; actually I don’t think I was feeling like that, a rat doesn’t get humiliated by female rats in this way, and anyway, who knows how a rat in a trap feels. That was a stupid thing to write.

I was glowing a whiter shade of red by now and sweating like the proverbial blacksmith’s butt-crack. One of the lads walked over to me and sat next to me, on the pretext of talking to the girls. Outbursts of four letter words from all parties were grating on me as if someone was runnig a corkscrew down my spine. A couple of old ladies sitting further towards the front of the bus kept turning round and tutting, but nothing more. I was looking at them to beseech them for help, but with no success. Old ladies – they can talk the talk but you just can’t rely on them when action is the order of the day, I guess that’s why we don’t have any of them in the Squadron.

Back to this lad, he’d taken an interest in the contents of my parcel and started asking what was in it. I wasn’t going to say.
‘cat got your tongue?’ he asked
The two girls also joined in this interrogation, and finally he grabbed it, ripping the paper bag as he did so.
‘Ahhh, what a bender’ he shrieked, his adolescent voice running the gamut of pitches audible to the human ear in the space of those five syllables.
‘A model aeroplane – hey, Ozzy, look at what this Boffy Boy does at home, I bet he wanks over it an’ all’.

I tried to snatch it back, and, inevitably, it was whisked from beyond my reach as he threw the whole box to one of his mates. The girls gave a kind of ‘the chase is on’ whoop, as I went to grab it off the other guy, who then, of course, threw it back to his mates. This cruel game of piggy in the middle continued until the box fell apart, scattering plastic pieces, instructions and decal sheets all over the place. One of the girls stamped on one of the plastic frames; it was going to be a crashed Handley Page Halifax, then. Peals of laughter filled the bus and I felt like the smallest person in the world as I knelt down to try and salvage the pieces of the kit. And then BANG a blow to the back of the head sent me skidding to the dirty cold floor of the bus. Amidst the ensuing flurry of blows all I remember was adopting the foetal position to try and escape the worst; I don’t remember much else until I suddenly found myself lying in the mud at my stop. I was in a sorry state, I could hardly breathe as I spasmed with great sobs, the tears obliterating my view (this was before the occurence, when my tear ducts still functioned). I suddenly heard a familiar voice, and two hands grabbed my shoulders and pulled me up. It was Ted.

“What the fuck have you been doing?’
he said, exhibiting the family tenderness to the full. I explained I’d been jumped by some kids from Moorcrofts. He listened impassively, grinding his jaw so the moving bones, or muscles or whatever they are, were visible through the skin, staring into the middle distance. I could tell he was angry, though I didn’t know whether it was at me or them, or both.

'Alright...’ he said after a short, silent contemplation.
‘Do you know who they are?’.
I didn’t and gave a description; Ted thought he might know the brother of one of them and vowed that we’d get even.
‘Let’s get you home and straightened out, thank God the parents are out’. When we got back I saw the full extent of the damage; my eye was swelling up, and my school shirt was ripped to buggery – how were we going to explain that to mum? But the worst part was when I realized I had an RAF roundel stuck to my forehead and another decal saying something like ‘walk aft of this line’ across my cheek. After I’d cleaned up it was time for a fraternal advice session.

‘These people are arseholes’ said Ted
‘but you’re the bigger arsehole for letting them walk all over you like this’.
‘but there were about six of them!’ I reasoned/
‘Doesn’t matter – you should always fight back. Always!’
‘But they’d have battered me!’
‘That’s what they’ve done anyway! Look, I was in a situation like this once when some lads at the tennis club started hassling me to get off the court as they wanted to play. I told them to fuck off, one of them went for my racket, I slammed it into his face and he went home crying; since then they’ve never bothered me’.
I thought this was a little beside the point since he’d used a weapon, and in any case the kids in question were three years younger than him.

‘I’ll tell you what, we’ll find out who it is and get a group together and go and give them a kicking, OK?’
I wasn’t keen on this degree of escalation, I really wanted to forget the episode. But a part of me was hugely indignant as well, and resolved never to get pushed around like this again. In the event we never tracked them down for the promised revenge attack, Ted always was a bit of a gobshite. We blamed my injuries on a fight we’d had with each other, which backfired on Ted when my mother thrashed him roundly for bullying me. But we’d learnt three valuable lessons: One - that you may as well go down fighting, you’ve nothing to lose if they’re going to attack you. Two – watch your back for surprise attacks and don’t put yourself in a vulnerable position such as kneeling on the ground. And three, airfix models are for geeks.

I decided to join the local karate club so I’d be better prepared the next time, and this in fact sparked an interest in martial arts which is still with me today.

To be continued..(probably)

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