Labour MP Kerry McCarthy reveals the love notes she was sent

 

 

When we choose our members of parliament we have a number of expectations of them which must be fairly common to all MP’s of all parties. They include that they are fairly robust characters who can handle themselves in most social situations; that they have some experience of life and all that life can throw at you; that they know, from the history of the world, that politics is a dangerous profession, full of intrigue, conspiracy, malice, back biting and ruthless ambition; that they will be thanked for little and blamed for much. That they appreciate all of this, can deal with it and are not, to use a fairly new appellation, “snowflakes”

They will be aware, from common knowledge that a good looking young woman, or a good looking young man will, attract attention; attention that is often unwelcome. They will be chatted up, complimented, treated; there will be come on’s, chancers who fancy themselves as Lotharios, seducers and unpleasant men, or women, who under the influence of alcohol, or perhaps without the assistance of alcohol at all, who will cross the line, put a hand on the knee or a squeeze on the buttock. Or worse. Much worse.

We would reasonably expect the type of person elected to be an MP, man or woman, to be confident enough and wise enough and robust enough to take such matters in their stride. To say NO with sufficient assertiveness to bring such unwelcome attention to an end. To say, if necessary “piss off” “no chance” “get lost” to slap, to punch, even stub out a cigarette on the unwelcome straying hand,, to reject in no uncertain terms any such unwelcome approaches.

We must accept that there are, of course, men and women, many men and women, who would not be so confident or assertive, who might be in a position of being subject to the power of he or she who makes unwelcome approaches. They are unlikely to put themselves forward as members of parliament.

Mr. Hopkins MP is one who made, according to his colleague Ms McCarthy MP, such unwelcome approaches. We followed with suitable horror the unfolding allegations against him and waited with baited breath to be appalled by the gruesome details of his offences. Ms McCarthy, as one would expect of a public figure, a political figure, is skilled in the art of the press release and the embargo and she warned us to expect the disclosures as being bang to rights evidence of Mr. Hopkins sexual predatory instincts and behaviour. It was going to be bad, very bad, for their relationship, as fellow members of parliament, was not characterised by one being in a position of power over the other. They were equals and yet the predator had still struck.

And now it has come. She has, Ms. McCarty, the usual familiarity of members of parliament with the ways of the press. A full set of press emails addresses, personal contact with selected journalists; daily contact with armies of reporters seeking scandal and stories. And she put them all to use.
And the great disclosure was a set of letters and notes, ancient notes, from a time before emails and texts, from a besotted Mr. Hopkins, framed in flirtatious language, designed to be a chat up, an attempt to be more if she would be willing. Nothing more. Not even a hand upon the knee.

She had kept these notes and letters all these years without ever telling Mr. Hopkins to get lost. Denis Healy would have called Mr. Hopkins a silly billy. And he would have called Ms McCarthy a silly billy too.

The average young woman at Tesco’s would have told him to get lost. The woman on the Clapham Omnibus would told him to stick his letters up his nose and that he had no chance. Go away, they would say. Perhaps in a more vernacular style. They would take this nonsense in their stride and get on with their lives. Had it been something more serious, an unwelcome hand on the knee, a crotch rubbing then Mr. Hopkins would deserve to be in greater difficulties and advising him to get would not have been enough..

There is something else. Ms McCarthy claims she makes these traumatic disclosures because she was emboldened by the bravery of another woman who has made allegations against Mr. Hopkins.

There is widespread coverage of the other allegations. Most of us will have read of them and most of us will have seen the response of Mr. Hopkins. His defence may or may not be correct but in all justice and fairness it demands that the allegations against him be subjected to cross-examination in an effective investigation before they are accepted at face value. His response and the written evidence he proffers in support of the response suggests the allegations will not survive an effective cross examination. But of course in the new culture no one must throw doubt on sexual allegations. The victim must be believed.

It is only in the adversarial domain of the witness box that real questioning of both sides can take place. And that, in the new culture, is not necessary, not to be allowed.

Ms McCarthy, as a member of parliament should be, it is suggested, more alert to the needs of fairness and justice than the ordinary mortal. Yet she did not even tell Mr. Hopkins, at any time, of her alleged distress at the notes. More important still, she did not tell him of her carefully prepared and circulated press release of the letters and notes
Some great British sense of fairness is flooding out of us in this new culture and we are now urged, even commanded, to believe allegations of this nature without question, without investigation, without cross examination.
There used to be a similar culture in the United States of America. It was called McCarthyism.

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A child of the Army of the Rhine

Viersen. It must have been a small agricultural village at one time. Set in vast acres of open fields of sugar beet and potatoes which ran all the way to the Dutch boarder. It became a satellite village, or a town, to Monchen Gladbach but I suspect it retained its primary agricultural nature until the coming of the railways. A major permanent way was built across the fields to the south east of the village, with sidings and sheds and workshops and a very handsome bahnhof. The rail line ran all the way into Belgium and Holland and North to the industrial Rhur. It was undoubtedly this that attracted the attention of the occupying British forces at the end of the second world war. It became, with its easy rail access to the ports at Antwerp and Ostend, the perfect place to locate a forward supply depot for the Army of the Rhine. Initially they took over the railway sheds and workshops but eventually built a vast depot that employed hundreds of local German civilians and lots and lots of soldiers.

For the soldiers families, they built a series of terraced married quarters, clustered fairly close to the bahnhof. They were not at all unpleasant, not the kind of terraced housing of coronation street or industrial England. They were of good quality with a mix of local German civilian housing, both social and private, with large gardens and well-kept parks and open areas. Being military, they were of course, all painted the same colour with the same coloured doors and the same coloured curtains and the same inventory of furniture inside each property. But we children wouldn’t have noticed such things. For us it was a wonderful place to live. There were five children in our family so we got an end terrace, right next to an open park, 32 Lessing Strasse.

We would go down to the Bahnhof area to watch the trains and to play on the wooded banks of the railway lines. It was the age of steam and the German trains were handsome black beasts snorting and steaming and chuffing and clattering along the tracks, some at high speed others, towing long industrial wagons and cattle trucks of cargo, crawling along for what seemed like hours. On the wooded banks, we would play at soldiers. And why not? All our fathers were soldiers. In fact, most of the regular soldiers, Sgts and so on, had fought in the second world war and had chests full of medal ribbons. Some had been here as occupiers and were now, no longer occupiers but defenders of democracy and the western way of life. The Germans had so recently, within the past 10 to 15 years, been the greatest enemies known to civilisation. It was natural for us to play at soldiers killing imaginary Germans on the banks of the Deutsche bahn. We had picked up, mostly from a regular diet of Commando comics, the
necessary bits of German language with which to play war games. “Achtung!”; “Donner und Blitzen”; “Mien Gott”; Kamerad!” Yawholl mein Kapitan”: “for you Fritz, the war is over” “Britisher tommy, Kamerad Kamerad!”.
We would play for hours, with wooden stick tommy guns and bazookas, ambushing each other and killing Germans until tea time. The elderly Germans tending their allotment gardens at the base of the railway banks would pause and look at us at play and perhaps wonder how the hell it was that they lost the war.

There was a baker’s shop just around the corner from Lessing Strasser, on Schiller Strasse, and my Mum would send me there each morning to buy some freshly baked bread rolls. It was of course, an ideal opportunity for one to practice and display ones increasing command of the German language

“Achtung!, funfh brochen bitte mien Frau” The lady behind the counter would always smile and say “Ahh, Englisher kinder, you would like five bread rolls? “Yawholl mine frau” You see she understood me immediately and without the slightest difficulty.  Supplied with my fresh and warm bread rolls, or brochen, in a brown paper bag, I would then cross the road to the butcher’s shop on the other side, always busy with rather stout German ladies buying sausages’ Again I would display my command of German, “Achtung! Ein viertal shickenwrust bitte” The butcher would smile and say “Ahhh, Britisher kinder, you would some slices of ham sausage like” “Yawhol mien Herr” And he would go to his slicing machine and would often say, for he liked to practice his English “Zee weather is not so gut, ya?” “Yawhol mein Herr” “You zink it rain might?” “Yarwhol mien Herr, vielendank mien Herr”

I am a modest enough chap but I do think they appreciated and were impressed with my attempts to speak their language, certainly I was myself, although I admit to some surprise when, many years later, I failed my German ‘O’ level exams. Back home we would have a warm brochen with butter for breakfast, we were obviously quite sophisticated, we were having continental breakfast before continentals were even invented. And we would have another bread roll mit schinkenwurst, to take to school for lunch. School was in Rheindalen and there was a military school bus to take us there each morning, driven by German civilians, usually ex-Wehrmacht types who all wore old rather shabby field green Wehrmacht uniforms. Getting on the school bus was another opportunity to practice your German. “Achtung!, Gutten Morgen Fritz” “Miner name ist Hans” he would say, and touch the soft peak of his Wehrmacht forage cap and wonder how the hell they managed to lose the war.

There was a rather superior house, a private German residence, on the other side of the small park. There lived therein a fierce German lady who often complained about the noise of the British children playing war games in the park. She ran a business from the house selling overcoats. I know this because my mum bought a coat from her and I went to the house with Mum to choose her coat. The front room was full of rails of overcoats. They were all pretty much the same as far as I could see. Long heavy lengths of woolly material that hung straight down, like a tube, to just above the ankle. I don’t think fashion had been invented then. The German lady was a walking advertisement for her coats and would move around the area in a long tube of material looking terribly fierce. If we saw her coming we would ambush her with our wooden stick tommy guns. “Achtung, donner und blitzen, here Kompt der mantle frau” and we would riddle her with British bullets. I suspect her coats were probably bullet proof. I suppose it might be helpful if I was to put in a footnote or two translating these odd German phrases into English. Especially for those who never picked up the language. However I don’t want this piece to be too academic and if I may be so bold as to suggest that if you are having difficulty then you might just type them into Google translate.

For my thirteenth, or maybe my fourteenth birthday my Dad bought me a bicycle. It changed my young life. It was second hand. The army were closing an accommodation block in Viersen town, used since the war. It was a billet for the National Servicemen, it was on the hill as you pulled out of Viersen en-route for Rheindalen, Anyway the soldiers had the use of these bikes and now, National service was finishing and my Dad had bought one of them for me. It was a Raleigh racing bike, with drop handlebars and a long uncomfortable leather saddle. It had a crudely hand pained white WD  008 serial number on the black frame. I suppose it is possible it was previously owned by one of those 00 M.I.6 agents, but in truth that is hindsight for I do not recall that for the period I am writing about that James Bond had yet been invented. It was a little battered, but for me it was as if it was solid gold and encrusted with diamonds for there was never ever, since the beginning of time, or for all eternity a better present for a boy than a racing bike! The world became our oyster and we would ride through fields and orchards, woods and forests, lakes and rivers and to Monchen Gladbach, White City, Wildenrath, Krefeld and Wickrath and Rheindalen and all over the world. Of course, most German roads had dedicated cycle paths so it was quite safe, and predatory paedophiles had not yet been invented so we always felt secure and happy, our bikes, a brochen mit schinkenwurst and a few deutschmarks to buy a bottle of coke or an ice cream.

I had a lot of friends in Rheindalen and would often cycle up during the school holidays. It was about 10 miles away. We would meet friends in the woods and forests that edged the garrison married quarters. It was there, with, I think, Teasdale and Griffiths and a few others that we discovered bomb making. Tin cans filled with a mixture of sugar and weed killer and detonated with cheap bangers from Brooks fireworks boxes. We spent a glorious day or too blowing up every can we could find, until we ran out of bangers. Proper little jihadists. Of course today we would probably come under surveillance and our every movement tracked by computers and satellites, but then, well, boom boom.

And it was the bike that conveyed me to my first ever date with a girl – of the opposite sex, you know.

It was Janet, who was in my class at Queens. Her dad was in the RAF and she lived out in Bruggen but I met her for a date at the Astra cinema in Rheindalen
for a Saturday Matinee. We snogged in the back seat. My first ever snog. Janet’s too, I think. It had a strange physiological effect upon me, all that kissing. I got the most enormous protruding erection. Didn’t quite understand why. Nor did Janet. Sex education hadn’t been invented then, but we knew it had something to do with all that kissing. It was all a bit embarrassing really. When the lights came up for the intermission before the main feature came on I left Janet to go and buy a couple of tubs of ice creams from the cinema usherette. The physiological phenomime would not subside and I walked down the aisle with an awkward projection beneath my trousers. At least it was pointing in the right direction. Today, whenever I see those Hagen Das ice cream adverts I tend to have erotic thought about Janet. Not that we licked ice-cream off each other, although there was rather a lovely cold vanilla kiss, it just that, well, ice-cream, Janet and the Astra cinema, in some respects life doesn’t get much better than that.

I said goodbye to Janet with another snog round the side of the Astra, by the bike shed where I had parked WD 008. Again, that strange reaction. Janet was rather small and I may have given her stomach or possibly her chest a rather difficult to understand sensation. The reaction would not subside, even when I got on my bike to ride home it persisted. The first two kilometers or so were rather uncomfortable on that hard leather seat. But at least I was pointing in the right direction. I never saw Janet again. Her father was posted out to Singapore and suddenly, she was gone. That tended to happen quite a lot with service family friendships. Made you a bit wary in the end Another advantage of the bike was that it enabled me to take up a paper round. Each Sunday the guardroom at the big supply depot would send a car to Rheindalen to collect the English newspapers. We would cycle to the guardroom and select the newspapers as ordered by each married quarter. All the other rank houses took the News of the World. The officer’s houses also took the News of the World but they liked it inserted inside the Sunday Telegraph or the Sunday Express. Off we would go to deliver the Sunday papers. The tips we received were extremely generous for the soldiers and their families loved getting the English papers, it was really important, there was no telly and news from England was so welcome and they were just delighted to see British schoolboys doing such an English thing as a paper round.

Once a week the estate, if I may call it that, was visited by a mobile NAAFI van. An occasion of great excitement for the families. It was if a relief column had reached an isolated group of survivors under siege in a foreign country. The mobile shop brought us a bit of England, real English products, boxes of Kellogg’s cornflakes, Scots porridge oats, jars of marmalade with golliwogs on them, Marmite and mars bars and packets of spangles. And of course tea. Teabags hadn’t been invented then and tea came loose, if I recall correctly, in small oblong red boxes. It was the highlight of the week for quite a few rather lonely service housewives.

And once a month a mobile library came. It was run, I think, by the WRVS it was there I discovered the famous five novels. I’ve still got one that I perhaps ought to return.

My neighbour, a few doors down, Orwell, had a fantastic collection of dinky toys. All military dinkys. Great rows of tanks, armoured cars, jeeps, trucks, artillery pieces, tank transporters, bren-gun carriers. He would line them all up in the front room. His father was a Sgt in a big vehicle depot in Monchen Gladbach which had acres of real military vehicles drawn up in endless lines, tanks, armoured cars, jeeps, trucks, artillery pieces, tank transporters bren-gun carriers, motorcycles. He was obviously trying to recreate the vehicle depot at home. Practicing I suspect. Orwell may have become someone important in car-parking when he grew up. He used to come to my house with some of his dinkys. I had the most amazing model trainset. A German make, Marklin, yards and yards of track with electric points and signals, model train stations, tunnels and bridges, carriages and wagons. He would blow up my trains with his tanks or we would put the Dinkys on flatbed wagons and watch them go around and around, under the settee and the dining table, into the kitchen and through the tunnels. I think service children did very well for toys. We usually inherited them, really cheaply from soldier’s families who were being posted elsewhere. That’s where I got my train set from. When we left it was all sold to some other family much to my despair. I have this fantasy that when I retire I will buy another railway set, just for me. Of course now that Brexit is here it will have to be a Hornby set rather than a Marklin. But if that is the price of sovereignty, then I shall face it bravely. Another neighbour was Billy Carter with whom I had a fight about Manchester Unitised. I knew nothing about man united or about English football. But
Billy was a fanatic. I must of said something derogatory about them and he cracked me across the head with his arm that happened to be cased in plaster of Paris. I’ve been planning my revenge ever since.

And there was the Hartly girls. The freckle faced Hartly girls. I really fancied the eldest one, Anne I think she was, we got quite close to a snog on the school bus. But after the experience with Janet in the Astra I was a bit worried and it all came to nothing. Its one thing to have a physiological reaction in the dimmed lighting of the Astra cinema, it would be quite another in the broad daylight of the school bus, with Fritz keeping his eye on us all.

I eventually signed on for the Army at the great supply depot where my father worked. I was fifteen and a half!. There was very little else for a service family to consider in the way of work. I did have a spell at the NAAFI shop in Rheindalen before I finally left for my Junior Leaders regiment. Quite enjoyed that. They put me in this small section which sold duty free booze and duty free cigarettes to service families. Very busy as service men seemed to drink and awful lot of booze and smoke an enormous amount of cigarettes.

Going Home – The hanging, exhumation and return to Ireland of the remains of Roger Casement

Pentonville gallows. Many a villain had dropped to their death from its strong oak beam, honed and fashioned by the prison carpenters, sturdy to take the weight, to absorb the drop. The gallows came to Pentonville, second-hand, from Newgate prison, when that prison’s time came to its end.

A view of the Execution shed as it appeared in Newgate prison

It was dismantled at Newgate, by the carpenters, not just the beams, but the very room: the shed, the execution shed, in which so many had already met their endi. It was rebuilt, again by the carpenters, in Pentonville, to continue is service to the crown, dropping murderers, breaking the necks of villains, arsonists, wifekillers, until August of 1916 when it would receive its most distinguished neck, as directed by the crown: its most famous victim, Sir Roger Casement. He would not spend long in the condemned cells of Pentonville. Sentence of Death had been pronounced for the crown by the black capped Lord Chief Justice on the 29nd June 1916. His appeal, both against conviction for High Treason and sentence of death, was dismissed by the Court of Criminal Appeal on the 17th July 1916 and his execution date confirmed and fixed for the 3rd August. Just 18 brief days on Pentonville’s death row. Those days would have been spent quietly, kept apart from the general prison population, under constant watch.

He does not sit with silent men

Who watch him night and day;

Who watch him when he tries to weep,

And when he tries to pray;

Who watch him lest himself should rob

The prison of its prey”ii

He received visitors within his cell: his lawyer, for he must put his worldly affairs in order; his priest, for there was a lot of prayer; and he penned some letters to those he loved. And Ellis the hangman came to him. Summoned from his barber’s shop by telegram to perform for the crown his contract of death

. He travelled by train from Rochdale, with his bag of straps and rope, his tape-measure and his cloth masks. He would watch the prisoner as he walked in the exercise yard, and again, through the peephole of his prison door, measuring his height, estimating his weight, watching the subject of his contract, for he must measure him well. He carries a table of the heights and weights of men. He must get the drop right. Too short a drop and he will strangle his prisoner, too long and there might be a decapitation. So, he watches his man, confirms the height of him and the weight of him and measures out his rope.iii

And Casement prayed, and wept. Drew strength from his cause and awaited the hour. It would be early on the day, that he is aroused. To pray, to be received into the catholic faith, articulo mortis,iv to take confession and communion. His first and last of each. He will thank his priests, in the Gaelic “Beannacht Dé oraibh go léir. Míle buíochas as an méid a dhein sibh ar mo shon.” v

And he will walk between the prison warders, proudly, bravely, an Irish felon, with his priestly friend, 25 long yards, from the cell to the scaffold, the final 25 yards on his journey from Banna Strand to what he always feared would be his destiny and fate, to the room, the shed, from Newgate, set now in the Pentonville yard, with its large window so that those charged with witnessing his death would see him swing, see him drop into the pit below, witness the rope, taught and straining. Ellis would strap his legs for should they stretch apart they might catch the trapdoors of the drop, and he will strap his arms for they too must not frail or inhibit the performance of the contract. And there will be a cloth mask, a hood to pull down across his face. It is then that Casement will utter his final words upon this earth,

“I die for Ireland.”

A moment of silence will fall, quiet will descend, and witnesses will hold their breath as Ellis steps to the lever, pulls— and what sound will then occur. How can you describe the noise of a man, hooded, bound with leather straps dropping, dropping?

Ellis must now go to him, recover his straps, for there will be others to bind. Retrieve his rope for there will be more to drop. And a doctor will search for a pulse, in vain, and confirm the completion of the hangman’s work. And then, his lifeless body taken now with its broken neck to the autopsy room where the corpse will be inspected to confirm, to their eternal shame, with science, the malice of their words, circulated to all the world, by the crown.

He will be carried now, wrapped in a shroud, to a fresh dug grave by the prison wall. Quicklime spread and the hole, the pit, the grave will be quickly filled. His name, no, not his name, only his initials, will be etched in the bricks above the grave, with the date of his death. His tombstone is the prison wall. It is over now and forgotten and now he will lie there and rot, with quicklime, rot into the English soil.

And the prisoners will know the hour. And will know that outside the prison walls are gathered those who are free, but who will choose to gather, so to say to their children that they were there when a man was killed, Some will weep and some will pray, many will clap and many will cheer. Inside, the prisoners will know the hour and hear the cheers and feel the shame and thank God it was not one of them.

Pentonville, Pentonville, he rots away in Pentonville. In June of 1917, De Valera is a prisoner there, of the English. He will find the grave and he will pray for him, honour him, grieve for him, remember him, for all the Irish, and he prays that one day he may be taken home.

For nearly 50 years he rots away and those that hanged him, hold him and will not let him go. Most who knew him have now passed away but still he is recalled, as only those who are loved are recalled and the Irish, sovereign now, seek each year, to bring him home.

In February of 1965, It is done by telegrams and letters, by ambassadors by secret correspondence, by persistence, by, perhaps, acknowledgement, at last, of a wrong. He is to be allowed to go.

On February the 23rd 1965, in the night, it is done. Prison officers dig deep by the prison wall, into the soggy soil, lit by electric lights and watched by the ambassador’s men, by prison governors and English civil servants, stamping against the cold night air, a burning brazier to comfort them from the bitter cold.

A sketch by Mike O’Donnell of what the exhumation may have looked like

In turns, the officers dig through the night. They are respectful of their task, they know a wrong was done. Down through the sludge and quick limed soil, searching for those bits that might be left of him, to be taken home.

A coffin has been arranged, a casket of mahogany, purchased that very day, by the ambassador’s men, in London, from Dugdale Brothers Funeral Home. It must have a lead lining to receive and seal his bones. And handles of strong bronze that he may be carried home with care. And it is secret. Dugdale must bring the casket to Pentonville in a plain unmarked anonymous van.

With pickaxes the prison officers loosen the compacted surface soil and with spade they go deep.

Seven feet down, they begin to find him. First pieces of his thumb, some ribs, some vertebra, a hand, an arm, a fragment of jawbone with teeth, shoulder bones, pelvic bones, femurs, all encrusted with soil and lime, and still they dig. 10 feet down the grave is deep and wet with lime and sludge and water from the river Pen, but still they search for what remains of him. Officer McKay, knee deep in water sludge and lime, feels with reverence and care beneath the water, blindly sifting sludge, braille like, feeling for what might still be found of him. He lifts from the sludge and lime a skull,
lifts it high; there are remnants of the shroud still clinging to the bone, and there, there, traces of scalp and black black hair.

The bones are washed with care. A doctor helps identify each fragment and they are placed in the casket, lined with lead and the lead dressed in white satin, carefully placed, as if they had the whole of him. The skull, with its black black hair, is set upon a satin pillow. And they fill the casket with charcoal to keep still the fragments in their allotted place, and fold over the satin, and seal the lead with fire.

The officers, the prison officers carry him, shoulder high, to the prison chapel where he is laid before the altar rails to serve his final hours, his final night, in the English Gaol. And in the morning, the same officers wish to bear him from the chapel, they carry him with grace, from before the altar rails through the stony prison corridors to Duddale’s waiting plain blue van.

The van and the cars leave Pentonville, heading South, down the Caledonian Road, and west to RAF Northolt. It is still secret, and the High Streets of Kings Cross and Grays Inns, of Euston Road, of Marylebone, Hammersmith and Ruislip, will not know that in the passing plain blue van is Roger Casement going home.

And Harold Wilson tells the Housevi and Sean Lemass informs the Dail.vii

At Northolt, there awaits an Aer Lingus aircraft, dressed in green, a shamrock on its tail and “St. Patrick” painted on its nose. He is lifted from the plain blue van into the cargo hold. And then, and only then, for it had been thus agreed, can he be draped in a flag of Orange, White and Green. And he is carried home on Irish wings, across the Irish sea.

At Baldonnell, strong soldiers grip the bronze handles and lift him to the sovereign soil, of Ireland, and a hundred Irish soldiers, Όglaigh na hΈirean, salute and present their arms. He is borne by the soldiers on a gun carriage, first to Arbour Hill where his executed comrades lie. From Arbour Hill to the Pro Cathedral, no secrets now, he is for all the world to see.

The Irish for whose future he had dreamed and died, gather in their hundreds of thousands to watch him pass, to witness him returning home Céad míle fáilte romhat ar ais go h-Éirinn..viii

There is a poignant powerful pause at the GPO, and all of Ireland in that moment knows how right it was to bring him home. On a cold morning, March the 1st,

At the graveside, at Glassnevin, bare-headed in the bitter cold, stands the ancient Dev Valera, rebel, warrior, felon, statesman, chief, to honour his return and see him home. Soldiers gently lower him into the Dublin earth. There is no quicklime here, only Irish blessings and Irish tears. His grave is dressed with sods of earth from his beloved Murlough Bay, and he may rest now, in peace, almost contented, honoured to lie amongst his own. Back home.

 

 

i Newgate Prison was demolished in 1904 an the site used to construct the Old Bailey Courts. ii The Ballard of Reading Gaol – Oscar Wilde

iii Brendan Behan in “The Quare Fellow” had the hangman at Mountjoy prison recite part of the table “Every half-done lighter would require a two inch longer drop, so for weight thirteen and a half stone-drop eight feet two inches, and for weight thirteen stone – drop eight feet four inches, now he’s only twelve stone so he should have eight foot eight, but hes got a thick neck on him so I’d better gim another couple of inches. Yes, eight foot ten” Act 3.

iv At the moment of Death. Casement had asked to be given instruction to convert to the faith but the curia of the Diocese of Westminster would only allow him to receive instruction if he signed a document apologising for any scandal he had caused. Casement initially signed but then tore up the document. As a result he did not receive formal or approved instruction into the faith and the prison chaplains invoked the doctrine of Articilo Mortis to convert him to the faith on the eve of his execution.- WS 588, Burea of Military History – statement of fr. Cronin..

v Blessings be upon you for all the help and support you have given me”

vi 23rd February 1965: For the Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Wilson) With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will now answer Question No. Q16.
Her Majesty’s Government have now completed their examination of this matter and in response to a request from the Government of the Irish Republic have informed them that they are agreeable to authorising the removal to the Republic of the remains of Roger Casement. The Government of the Republic have informed Her Majesty’s Government of their decision to reinter the remains in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, and of their intention that they should rest there. Arrangements have been made with the Government of the Republic for the remains to be transferred to Dublin today. Hansard

vii 23rd February 1965: The Taoiseach: A Cheann Comhairle, I beg leave to make the following statement, for the information of the House. I am very glad to announce to the Dáil that I have been informed by the British Prime Minister that his Government have recently decided to meet out request for the repatriation of the remains of Roger Casement. As Deputies are aware, it was Casement’s express wish that he should have his final resting place in Ireland, and it has long been the desire of the people of Ireland, shared by successive Irish Governments, that this wish be fulfilled. Mr. Wilson has generously responded to my representations in this matter, and I wish to record, therefore, the Government’s deep satisfaction at his decision, which will render possible the fulfilment of Roger Casement’s wish. This decision, coming as it does so soon after the centenary of Roger Casement’s birth, will, I am sure, be universally welcomed as yet another step towards the establishment of the closest and most friendly relations between the two countries. Arrangements have been made with the British Government for the transfer of the remains to Dublin to-day. The Government have decided that the remains should be re-interred in the burial plot in Glasnevin Cemetery selected by Roger Casement’s sister, Mrs. Newman – Dáil Éireann Debate – Vol. 214 No 6.

viii A hundred thousand welcomes back to Ireland.

I could have been Mr. Universe.

I was a skinny kid. You wouldn’t believe it if you saw me today. But I was  real skinny, a proper seven stone weakling. I was forever getting sand kicked in my face. Even in kindergarten, in the sand pit, the other kids would kick sand in my face. And when we lived in Blackpool, well you can guess what happened on the beach. It was the same at Southend on Sea, and Skegness. We lived in Libya for a bit, it was painful in Libya.

Got to the stage I avoided sand, avoided going to the beach. It was too traumatic. Reckon I was suffering from Post Traumatic Sand in the Face Disorder.

When I was about 13 or 14, I saw this advertisement, probably on the back page of one of my comics, or maybe in the Reader’s Digest, but wherever, it seemed to me to be the answer to all my traumas. I clipped the coupon and sent off for the Charles Atlas bodybuilding course. Many a youth did the same, thousands in fact. . Me and Arnold Schwarzenegger for example, who was about the same age as me, and probably clipped the same coupon in the same comic, although, to be fair, he probably took it a bit more seriously than did I.

But the course cost something like Twelve guineas and I didn’t have 12 guineas. I was as weak in the pocket as I was in the body. Of course, these advertisements played upon and exploited all the inadequacies and lack of confidence so common amongst teenage boys, and they knew that somehow such teenagers would find the money, without telling their parents, and take up the offer. So it was that after some diligent saving which included searching for and gathering empty bottles and collecting the 3d refunds thereon, I raised the money. Only by that time it had gone up to 15 guineas.

Charles Atlas claimed that he himself had been a “scrawny weakling” before he discovered the secret of “dynamic tension” and “isotonic exercise”. I never fully understood dynamic tension. Or isotonic exercise. It involved putting your muscles under some stress, pretending to push a wall down, for example, or lifting a stick with pretend weights on it. In fact, I was pretty good at lifting a stick with pretend weights on it. Was a bit disappointed I did not quite develop a Mr. Universe physique by lifting such a stick. I ought to have checked with Arnold Schwarzenegger to see what kind so sticks he was using.

The course was supposed to last about 30 days and there was a money back guarantee. I suspect the guarantee was a bit of a scam. The course did not work for me. I was still getting and kicked in my face after 28 days and I reckon that if I had asked for my money back I would have been told to “Piss off!  year weakling punk, ask for yer money again and I’ll come round and kick sand in your face” Consumer protection laws were not very strong in those days. Yeah, it was probably a scam.

There were other entrepreneurs exploiting teenage boys feelings of angst and dread, their unfocused fears of their inadequacies and the state of the world in general. I clipped a coupon, in the superman comic I think, to stop my hair receding prematurely. And there was a book coupon I clipped for a book on “How to Develop a Super Power Memory” Only thing I can remember about it is that I left it on a train. Can’t even remember where the train was going too. And when I was in the army, training as a recruit, I sent away for a book on “How to win Friends and Influence people”. Someone in my barrack room stole it from me. I know who it was. It was easy to tell. He became the most popular bloke in the regiment.

They all had money back guarantees. All a scam.

I kept up the dynamic tension isotonic exercises for most of my life. The sticks with pretend weights might have become shopping bags that I pretend are quite heavy, but I still try, now and then. And it still hasn’t worked. True I am no longer a seven-stone weakling. More like a 15-stone lazy old git. Had sand kicked in my face in Torremolinos last year. I wonder if that guarantee is still valid?   “Dear Mr Atlas, kindly return my postal order as I am still getting sand kicked in my face”

Sky Q Box review.

The Sky Q box has, in the trade press, received some very favourable reviews, rave reviews even, But me, I’m just a user of the product, not too technically savvy and never before have I reviewed a bit of technology, although I like a gadget as much as the next bloke. But I don’t and won’t take sky’s shilling, and they don’t advertise on my humble blog, so therefore this review is real, for the Sky Q box, contrary to the trade press reviews in publications that rely heavily on sky advertising, is a pretty poor product. In fact its rubbish.

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It is designed to replace the Sky + box and it is perhaps as as well to begin this review by reminding us all of just how good was the Sky + box. Sky has hundreds of channels and a multitude of multi-channel products that you can buy. Scrolling through all those channels looking for the programme you want would be tedious and would produce a very unsatisfactory viewing experience. So they invented the rather fabulous favorites button. On a radio you might well call it a pre-select button. You could chose up to a dozen or so favorite programmes and save them to the little yellow favorites button. Once saved you could flip through your favorites at will, backwards and forwards, up and down, they were always there for you. A wonderful feature, a complete treasure of viewing convenience. It also enabled you to switch between channels with the utmost ease, so if you were watching the History Channel you could quickly switch to the Sports channel and check the score on the match and switch back again in a couple of seconds.
The Sky + box would also record programmes. Another wonderful feature and I, as I am sure many others, often wondered why radio manufacturers hadn’t taken up such a feature so that you could record and pre-record favorite programmes on the radio. Anyway the record feature had a couple of drawbacks. Firstly the storage for recordings was fairly limited and secondly you could not watch one programme and record more than two others at the same time. It was to address these limitations, amongst others,  that they came up with the Q box.
The Q box will allow you to record up to four programmes while watching a fifth programme. And the storage has been beefed up to 1000 hours which, by any measure, is pretty assume.
It is important to note that the Q box does not improve the quality of the picture on the screen. That remains the same HD high quality, unaffected by the new style box.
But. And it’s a very fucking big but, Sky have abandoned the favorites or pre-select function of the old Sky + box!! It is frankly unbelievable that they should do such a thing.
Now you have to scroll through a fairly complex menu of hundreds of programmes to find the one you want. You can’t save the chosen channel to favorites or to a pre-select function. So every time you switch on you have to go through the same menu of sculling channels. Nor can you flick between the channel you are watching and some other channel, for example, for a quick look at the soccer match to check the scores, or perhaps a flick over during advertising to check the news headlines. Well, actually you can, but to do so involves engaging the complex menu and sculling your way backwards and forwards whereas on the Sky + box it merely involved a couple of hits on the yellow button.
It might be difficult to explain. If it was a telephone system, then it would be like one of those corporate answering services. “If want news select 1, if you want documentaries select 2; if you want children’s programmes select 3; if you want movies select 4 etc etc.
So you select movies and press 4. Another menu appears: if you want drama select 1; if you want children’s, select 2, I you want romance select 3; if you want comedy select 4.
And you have to go through this every single fucking time you switch on.
Sky, obviously think such telephone menus are wonderful and have imported the idea into the new Q Box.
I cannot tell you adequately how much this endless sculling through menus reduces the Sky viewing experience. Of course if you knew the channel numbers of your favorite programmes you could just key the number in. But who the fuck knows a dozen numbers, or possibly 500 numbers. You would need a board set up beside the TV with your favorite numbers on it so you could remember them, each time you wanted to watch them, key them in. Now, that is a real advance in technology is it not?
So you watch less of Sky. And you question whether the subscription to Sky is worth the money anymore. And you start looking at the alternatives to Sky and you say fuck you Sky, if you put such a rubbish backward stepping product on the market then why should I bother.
It’s a bit like a buying a new car with all the latest gadgetry on board; sat-nav, heated seats, electronically adjustable seats, self-parking, video cameras front and rear, head up displays on the windscreen, enormous boot and storage space, warning signals for tires and lights, voice controlled central air conditioning, blue tooth super store systems, automatic boot opening and closing sensors and all the rest of the wonders of new cars, but without a fucking steering wheel!
You know they should take out 1 in ten of Sky’s engineering department, and 1 in ten of their sales department and have them shot for putting such a poor product on the market. In fact if the did that it would make a good documentary for the Sky History channel. Trouble is if you wanted to watch it on the Sky Q box you have difficulty finding it.
Oh I know it’s a trite complaint given what is going on in the world. Famine in Africa, incoherence in America, disintegration in Europe and on the Archers, they can’t even muster a cricket team. And here I am complaining about how to select a TV channel. But so be it. It needs to be said. The Q box without a favorites or pre-select function is a piece of junk.

Traffic Warden Hancock and the Union

jk3Traffic wardens can be rather grumpy sods.  It’s a job that attracts the grumpy.   In the early days, and it probably still is the case, they were employed by Police Authorities.   Which is almost certainly why they adopted the blue military style uniform.    Being grumpy sods they often had more grievances than the norm.   And therefore, for trade unions, they were fairly easy to recruit and to unionise.   Trade unions also attract the grumpy sods of the world.  they also, of course, attract committed labour activists, good socialists and defenders of the working class.  Like me.  But there are quite a lot of grumpy sods in the unions as well.  The employers of the traffic wardens, usually local Chief Constables, were not quite used to dealing with uniformed grumpy trade unionists making grumpy demands.  Relationships were therefore often quite fractious.

Traffic warden Hancock was the very essence of the grumpy uniformed officer that we all think of whenever we think of traffic wardens.  Which, thankfully, is not too often.   His patch was West Bridgford in Nottinghamshire and it ran from the city side of Trent Bridge across to the Nott’s County Cricket ground and out into the suburbs of well-heeled well-to-do West Bridgford.    He was a legend out there.   Tall, in his mid ‘50’s, probably about 15 stone, carried his weight well.  Ex-military I think for he had slashed the peak of his traffic warden cap so that it looked like that of a Sgt major in one of the regiments of guards, rather than like, for example the cap of a friendly bus conductor.   He wore fierce looking steel rimmed glasses and he had, this is the absolute truth, a small black toothbrush mustache.   It couldn’t possibly be a coincidence, nor an accident or a fashion statement, that he chose such a mustache.   West Bridgford motorists, or at least some of them, would wind down their windows, stick out their arms and salute him as they drove past.  I may have done it myself. At least once.  He had the most fearsome reputation and you just did not overstay your parking limit in West Bridgford.   You just didn’t do it.

I first engaged with him in rather strange circumstances.  It was nothing to do with the union.  I was at the time, a police photographer and would drive around the county in a blue ford van loaded with photographic equipment, visiting various scenes of crime.  Van had a blue light on top for we often had to get to road traffic accidents in a bit of a rush.    I was driving back to the Central Police Station in Nottingham, from a job in West Bridgford, body in the Trent as I recall.    Driving over Trent Bridge I saw, on the other side of the bridge, coming from the city, a mini car with the bonnet open and smoke pouring from the engine with the occasional lick of flame.  There was a woman in some distress taking stuff out of the car.  Now Police vehicles are quite rightly fitted with fire extinguishers, so I stooped the van on Trent Bridge and leapt out with the extinguisher and ran across and fired the contents into the engine.  There was no doubt I prevented it from developing into fully fledged ball of flame.   Oh I know I’m a hero, but let that, for the moment, pass.   As I stood on the pavement reassuring the distressed female up strolled, hands behind his back, traffic warden Hancock.

 

“Is that your van over there, you can’t park there you know?”

I explained to him that I was a hero (I may have blushed)  and had just put out this fire, that this lady was in distress and that it was an emergency.

“Trent Bridge is a no stopping zone sir, you will have to move that van, you can’t leave it there you know”

I looked him more carefully.  “ I’m a fucking hero you pratt, can’t you fucking see, this fucking engine is still fucking smoking you fucking pratt”  I did not blush.

“No need for that sir, I must ask you to move the van or I shall have to issue a ticket”

“You fucking what?”  I said.  And I considered hitting him with the now empty fire extinguisher.

I didn’t of course.  I left the scene muttering oaths and shaking my head in disbelief.   I had to fill in a form when I got back to explain why I had discharged the fire extinguisher and wrote on it that I nearly got a ticket from traffic warden number, well I can’t remember his number now, but I put in the form.  But nothing happened.

Trent Bridge looking towards the City. The red X marks the spot where the mini was burning.

Trent Bridge looking towards the City. The red X marks the spot where the mini was burning.

I have to admit that I dined out on the story for many years in many a Nottingham pub.   And it might have got a bit enhanced along the way, but it was true.

Many years later.  I mean very many years later, I had moved on form police photography, been to Ruskin College in Oxford and was now a full time trade union organiser for the National Union of Public Employees.    Nottinghamshire was my patch.  If you were low paid and in the public-sector, you were probably being organised by my office.   I loved it!

 

So one morning, I am in my stately offices at Sherwood Rise, busy organising away, when there is a knock on my door and who is it but traffic warden Hancock, who it turns out, was a member of NUPE.    He had been sacked from the traffic warden service and turned now to his Union for help.   He had handled the internal procedures himself, to disastrous effect, and now wanted us to represent him at an Employment Appeals Tribunal.

 

I did not tell him that we had met before!    I thought it discreet not to.  And anyway, if we did well for him at the Tribunal it would assist us in stealing more traffic warden members from our arch rivals who also recruited wardens, the National and Local Government Officers Association.   We were not of course supposed to poach each other’s members,   it was against TUC policy.    But the completion for grumpy traffic warden’s subscriptions was pretty intense.

There must have been great celebrations in the public houses of West Bridgford at the news that traffic warden Hancock had been sacked.   And I would  not have been at all surprised to hear that the Chief Constable had broken out the champagne.      The story was, as he told to me, that he was watching, “observing” was the word he used, a motor car parked in a disabled parking space, complete with disabled parking badge,  waiting for the driver to return to check if he was really disabled.   Upon observing said driver he noted in his book that said driver did not appear to be disabled.   He approached said driver and it was alleged by said driver that he said something to the said driver along the lines,

“You’re not a cripple sir, you can’t park here”

It turned out the said driver had a genuine disability and was highly offended. He and the local disability action group complained traffic warden Hancock to the Chief Constable who duly, and rather hastily, sacked him for gross misconduct.

 

The Employment Appeals Tribunal met in the Birbeck House building on Burton Street, and traffic warden Hancock’s case ran over three days with a lengthy adjournment after day one.  Traffic Warden Hancock wished me to press upon the tribunal that he was a very diligent and efficient traffic warden, that he had sixteen years of unblemished service behind him with a level of productivity in issuing tickets that was un-matched by any of his colleagues.   He told me he had records of every ticket he had ever issued since his first day of employment as a traffic warden and he produced a great box, in fact two boxes, full of black notebooks recording in his neat uniform handwriting, all such tickets;   time; date; car registration; type of vehicle; place parked, limitation period: excess period.   If any of his tickets had been challenged then there was a note about it in red.    The notebooks had a healthy scattering of red entries recording that nearly all such challenges were not upheld.

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My advice to him was that the notebooks should not be entered into evidence as they might be misunderstood and possibly not be very helpful to his case.   But traffic warden Hancock was quite insistent and so, upon his instructions, I advised the tribunal, at the end of the first day, that traffic warden Hancock had, in his time as a traffic warden issued, well I can’t now remember the full number, it was tens of thousands of tickets, and that he wished to put into evidence on the next day of hearing, his notebooks confirming this figure, as evidence of his diligence, efficiency, high productivity and his unblemished record as a traffic warden.

By the time the case came on for the second day of the hearing, some two weeks later, word of his diligent proficiency and his notebook record and his intention to put them into evidence had spread far and wide.   No news editor worth their salt could resist such a story and when we re- entered Birbeck House there was a sizable scrum of news reporters, photographers and TV film cameramen.     We held a brief and impromptu press briefing on the interior staircase of Birbeck House, the main question was a cacophony of “how many tickets?”     I counselled traffic warden Hancock, who was now glorying in his fame, just to say “quite a lot”, but they pressed him, charmed him, encouraged him –  and he couldn’t resist giving them the full number, possibly, for my memory is not too clear, it was 60,000.     They loved him!  They loved his little black mustache!  And there were lots of photographs taken with traffic warden Hancock looking stern through his little mustache holding a small stack of black notebooks and with the light of grievance in his eyes.

I did in fact persuade him that this was not all good and he should re-visit his decision to put the notebooks into evidence.    He somewhat reluctantly agreed.   Given my previous encounter with him on Trent Bridge then I would have enjoyed as much as any motorist, a public humiliation of an over zealous traffic warden.  But in the end he was a union member and I knew where my duty lay.   So the notebooks never went in.

To my astonishment, and to the astonishment of almost everyone in Nottingham, we won the tribunal.  They found the dismissal unfair and  directed he should be re-engaged.   Only person not astonished was Traffic warden Hancock. He absolutely believed, from the very beginning, that he had been treated unfairly and that justice would be done.

There must have been utter despair in the offices of the Chief Constable, they probably broke out the anti-depressants; and in the public houses of West Bridgford there would have been copious weeping into beer.    But it would be tempered by the interpretation of what re-engaged meant.    There was no way in hell that the Chief Constable was going to re-engage him as a traffic warden.  No way in hell.    After long and difficult negotiations during which the representatives of the Chief Constable were showing clear early symptoms of PTSD, they offered him re-deployment, on protected wages, as a boiler man, up at the new police headquarters in Sherwood Forest, which he reluctantly accepted.   If I had any sympathy, and I did not have much, then it would be for the boilers.

And that was it really.   He disappeared into the bowels of the police headquarters, shoveling coal.    I moved on, left the union and became a barrister here in Dublin.   Many years later, I mean many years later, I returned to Nottingham with a friend, a very senior person in the Irish legal profession, for a five day break, to watch England play Australia in a test match at Trent Bridge.    We didn’t have tickets but due to my nefarious contacts from the old days we managed to be made members of the Nott’s County Cricket Club which entitled us to free admission and the use of the member’s pavilion and its rather fine restaurants and bars.

Armed with our newly minted membership cards we approached the reserved entrance for the members only pavilion.   On the door, wearing a long white coat, checking the membership cards with officious scrutiny, was a tall, well-built, familiar looking man with a little grey mustache. Traffic warden Hancock.  He took my card.

“How long have you been a member sir?”

The correct answer was about half an hour. But he did a double take at the name and looked up

“Mr. McGuiggan!   How nice to see you, how the fuck did you get this”

“Hello John” I said “enjoying your retirement?”

“Oh, its good to see you” he said, giving me back my card, “enjoy the cricket”

We walked into the opulent comforts of the member’s pavilion and my friend asked if I knew that chap.

To my surprise, for it had been a banal enough conversation with Traffic Warden Hancock, I found myself rather moved and feeling quite emotional.

“He used to be the man round here for tickets” I said

“For the cricket?”

“Get me a glass of glass of champagne” I said, “and I’ll tell you all about it”

 

 

 

 

The little sods from the !st Monchen Gladbach Scout Troop

scouts-threeIt must have been the summer of 1961. Certainly before the Beatles. The music that year was all Dean Martin and the Drifters, or itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini.* And I recall being in love with a girl in the 4th form at Queens’s school in Rheindalen, Carol, and constantly singing a song to her called “Oh Carol”.** And there was Elvis of course. Anyway, I was in the boy scouts then. Moved on I had from the cubs, left behind all that Akela and dib dib, dib, dob, dob, dob stuff. Cubs had sixers in charge. I had been a sixer when a cub. Born to command I was. Now, in that summer of ’61, I had graduated to the scouts and I was quickly made a Patrol leader. Sometimes I even wore long trousers.

They would meet once a week, Wednesday evening, in St. Georges School in Monchen Gladbach. It was set within the perimeter of Ayrshire barracks,  a huge British military vehicle depot with acres and acres and acres of military Lorries and armoured vehicles and jeeps, motorcycles and trucks of all sorts and sizes, all kept in a high state of readiness for a possible soviet invasion. The school building was possibly the oldest building left in post war Monchen Gladbachscouts-school. It had a chapel at the very top where we would go for Mass on a Sunday, presided over by an elderly Dutch Priest shipped in from Venlo. He had very little English and conducted the Mass in Latin with a Dutch accent. It was an endurance test those masses. No joy, no reflection. Nothing. The school was on the next two floors below. Headmaster was a Mr. Denton. He would laugh a lot, always telling stories and encouraging the children to do the same, he delighted in their company, believed in them. He was perhaps more important a teacher than all those that followed in the fractured educational experience that came the way of service children. He had a gorgeous daughter, Valerie, with whom all the boys were in love. The scouts and cubs met in the basement which was a vast beautifully vaulted space of columns and arches.

We would be taken there in army Volkswagen cars or vans of which the authorities had an inexhaustible store of, and would go out their way to provide them for service families. They were driven by ex-Wehrmacht German soldiers. They still wore they field grey or was it green uniforms and caps. Without, of course the SS flashes or Iron crosses or indeed any insignia or badges at all. They looked rather scruffy and forlorn. Defeated. The Volkswagens would tour the estates of married quarter’s and pick up the children of the service families, convey them to scouts and take them back home afterwards.
We wore a badge on our left shoulder, or perhaps our breast pocket.scouts-badge The same regional badge as the regular army. A Saxon war- axe, which we were told, was modeled on a real axe found by archaeologists when the British Army was building its headquarters up the road in Rheindalen.

Perhaps supervision was a bit of a problem. We found in the vast vaulted basement a large stock of red paint. It was, I think, for painting fire engines. We painted all the vaulted ceilings, the arches and columns in bright red. Even the floor. And possibly a boy scout or two. We were very proud of our extensive work and achievement and reasonably expected to get a painting & decorating “proficiency” badge to wear with our uniforms. Merit badges the Americans call them. But things didn’t quite work out. I was demoted from Patrol leader, busted to simple rank and file boy scout. A rather bitter blow, from which, to be honest, I have never quite gotten over. Thereafter we met in an old Nissan hut and never again graced St. George’s School.

Each summer, and sometimes at Easter, we would go camping. Oh what fun! We camped once at a seaside resort in Holland. We made quite an impression and If there had been a merit badge for shoplifting we would all surely have got it. And we camped up in Paderborn in the mountains. But the place I remember best of all was the forests and hills above the Royal Air Force base at Bruggen near the Dutch boarder.
The tents were of rough green canvas. Six person tents, or in those days, six man tents. scouts-tentsBut you could get eight boy scouts in a six man tent. They would be sited in neat rows and between the rows there were two or three campfires which were kept burning all day and night and upon which we cooked sausages. Lots of sausages. And beans. Lots of beans. And occasionally a fried egg ala twigs. They were set in a valley, the tents, and up at the top of the valley was a wooden hut, about two kilometers away, which served as a tuck shop. One or two afternoons a week a volunteer from the RAF Bruggen scout troop would open the hut to sell confectionery to visiting scout troops, who came to camp from all over the British Army of the Rhine area.

The hut was in truth,  a very tempting target. And we boys, with more merit badges than common sense, highly trained in field craft and rather partial to confectionery decided to raid the tuck shop hut and liberate some of the sweets therein. It was done with military precision. Lookouts posted at strategic positions to warn of any approaching adults. The warning was to be an owl hooting. Terwit terwoo, terwit terwoo. (bird impersonation/merit badge) We had swag sacks to carry away the loot, in reality the sacks that the tent pegs and mallets were stored. There was a signalling system set up with torches. (Morse code/merit badge) The simple lock on the door was prised open with a wood cutters axe. (woodcutting/merit badge)  And suddenly, we were surrounded by all kinds of boxes of sweets.

The sweets and confectionery were divided on a strict basis of equality. Packets of spangles and refreshers, liquorice pipes, scouts-pipessweet cigarettes, Pontefract cakes, Chewits, scouts-cakesImperial mints, wine gums and pastilles,scouts-spangles-2 all religiously distributed regardless of rank age and I suppose, although it didn’t quite figure in our then underdeveloped minds, sexual orientation, there was no merit badge for sexual orientation, although had there been a badge for the philosophy of equality we would all have surely qualified. I might mention the crisps. Two boxes of packets of crisps held in the hut were found, upon being tested, to be not fit for purpose. The crispiness had gone out of them and the little blue bags of salt were a bit damp. Crisp packet technology was not very advanced in those days. We left the crisps behind.

It was late in the afternoon the next day that the RAF Bruggen volunteer tuck shop man was observed approaching the hut (observer/merit badge). He was seen in an agitated condition and shortly afterwards left, only to return sometime later with a landrover following his vehicle in which there were three RAF military policemen. Snowdrops they were called. Now it wasn’t of course the crime of the century and it didn’t need a Sherlock Homes of the Snowdrops to work out who had committed the offence. A wooden hut in the middle of nowhere. Nobody around for a twenty-mile radius except for the green tents of the 1st Monchen Gladbach scout encampment, some two kilometers down the valley. Towards the late afternoon the three snowdrops and the tuck shop hut man began to walk down the valley towards the tents.
We had an early warning system in place with camouflaged observers watching their advance. (camouflage/merit badge) The wooded valley, rather suddenly, filled with the hoots of owls as a mild panic set in amongst the hardy boy-scouts as they desperately attempted to destroy all possible evidence. One of the campfires suddenly burst into fiery life as various packets of sweets were fed to its flames. Some tried to scoff the evidence. I tried, in fact I succeeded, in scoffing a whole box of Pontefract cakes, an act I was later to regret on the primitive latrines of the forested campsite. I recall another of the patrol leaders with a mouth full of sweet cigarettes. By the time the snowdrops special investigation team reached the tents they found a sizable group of scouts gathered around a suspiciously blazing campfire vigorously singing “Ging gang goolle goolie whatcha” with  a rather over the top exaggerated emphasis on the chorus “Shally wally, shally wally, shally wally, shally wally,Oompah, oompah, oompah.” ***
But it was to no avail, they were not impressed. The snowdrops found abundant evidence of the looting. Scouts had pockets full of chewits and spangles wrappers. There were liquorice pipes hidden under pillows and one of our swag bags stuffed with fruit and nu bars and milky ways, tied with a reef knot and a woggle was discovered hoisted half way up a tree. (knot tying/merit badge)
For some reason the German police were not called in. Perhaps because it was Ministry of Defence Property, or was it War Department in those days? Was there a jurisdictional problem, or did they just want to cover it up and avoid all the embarrassment of misbehaving British boy scouts. There was certainly consequences. Reparations had to be made. We had all been told to bring to the camp at least 15 shillings’ pocket money. We scouts-5-bobhad to hand it all over, any shortfall being made up from scout troop scout-10-shillingfunds. And in fairness, they recovered a fair amount of the loot.
Our parents were informed and several scouts, including myself were expelled from the troop and were never again to be allowed to participate in scouting activities. But there were no prosecutions, no arrests, just the eternal shame of it all.   I regret it. Of course I do. I have never again, in all the years since that summer of ’61, never again, sat by a campfire, beneath the stars, the smell of wood-smoke drifting upwards to the open skies, mixed with the odor of burnt sausages, and the scout master strumming his guitar, sitting in the companionship of the best friends you will ever have and singing late and softly into the night, the immortal words of Lord Baden Powell:   Ging,gang,goolie, goolie, whtcha, ging,gang,goo, ging gang goo. ging gang goolie, goolie, goolie watcha, ging, gang goo…… 

Note:  They don’t write lyrics like that anymore::  http://bit.ly/18TKrlJ