Monday, 4 January 2010
A Straw Albatross and what it means, to me, to be British (and Canadian)
A few of the police blogs I stick my nose into had posts today about the recent comments by one of the eminently unimpressive `legends in his own lunchtime` (as that's about how long each one lasted) Labour Party Home Secretaries we've had to endure over the past decade. Normally I rise above such tripe spouted by the likes of Strawman Jack but, strangely enough, a little stroll with my dog nudged me back behind the old computer keyboard. This afternoon I was crunching my way through the latest dumping of snow listening, for a change, to a few of my favourite tunes on the amazingly tiny iPod my offspring got their old man for Christmas. I say ` for a change` as I'm more of a `country sights and sounds` walker these days and reserve the earphones for other times when I really do want to shut out the world. As I rounded the back of the cricket pavilion, standing cold, forlorn and empty on the edge of the green, I spotted the resting place of what was clearly a `six` that was struck out of the cricket field and lost, sometime last summer. There it sat in the snow like a big red cherry, with just a little green grass poking up around it like a hopeful, tempting taster of summer days to come. I took a quick snap with the mobile camera - I'm technology on legs these days. As I stood up from my picture, I picked up the ball and lobbed it into the snow for my dog to pursue and claim for his own. Then I heard a fast jet approaching. My ears and eyes locked on to what I quickly recognised as the latest frontline RAF Fighter, called a Typhoon, but formerly known as the outrageously expensive Eurofighter. I couldn't do it justice with a picture from my phone cam but, remarkably, I found a photograph on the web that pretty much represents exactly how I saw it as it flew directly overhead. Then the lucky Buzz Lightyear bugger who was flying it poured on the coals until reheat kicked in and booted him in the back and thence to infinity and beyond, in a matter of seconds. Our boys in Afghanistan could do with a few more of those covering their arses and sending down retribution and close support. As I watched this technological marvel climb out of sight it got me thinking about Britain and what it means to me. I suppose the Typhoon is Britains 21st Century equivalent of the Spitfire, planes that my father told me he watched almost daily as they fought for Britains very existence in the skies over his back garden in East London. My Gran's nephew Herbert, from our Canadian family, came to England and served with the RAF. Herbie's still alive and kicking and living in Cobourg, Ontario. His daughter is my second cousin, Jane. Dad was too young to fight in WW1 and a little too old to be conscripted at the start of WW2, but by then he was in a `reserved` occupation, a bus driver with London Transport and a special constable in the Metropolitan Police. Dad was a Special in the mid-thirties, at the time Oswald Moseley's fascist blackshirts were strutting through the Jewish areas of the East End causing riots and he told me he was involved in several dust ups and fierce baton charges. Dad eventually joined The Home Guard and was involved in driving thousands of British and American troops into Hampshire prior to the D Day landings embarkation. Other members of my family fought in WW2. Some in France during the D-Day landings and beyond. My favourite Uncle, my Mum's brother Len, was a gunner in the Royal Navy. He was involved in convoy escorts and had two ships (American "Liberty" ships) torpedoed from underneath him in the Med. His daughter, my cousin Sylvia, found a citation of commendation and letters amongst his personal belongings after he'd died in the 1980's. The letters were from several of his shipmates who wrote to him when he was convalescing after his second sinking. They said they owed their lives to Len, who went back into the oily, burning sea again and again to rescue men who were struggling to survive. Len was a champion swimmer in his schooldays. He never told us about this, despite me asking about his time in the Royal Navy when I was a young teen in mid 60's intent on joining. He had a lot of trouble dealing with his experiences and would often awake from the sounds in his head, of the screaming of the stricken shipmates he couldn't save. He would get so upset at these vivid images, which is why he never spoke much about the Navy. My brother in law's brother, Les, was a WW2 Royal Marines Commando. In June 1944 he was a gunner on HMS Scilla, bombarding the Normandy defences of Sword Beach in advance of the Allied landings. HMS Scilla hit a mine just over 2 weeks later. Les was de-mobbed after the war and joined the police. He was my divisional commander in the Met Police in the 70`s. One of the toughest men, and best leaders, I've ever known. He never rated politicians that much. Then I thought of some of the former Home Secretaries I've actually remembered and had chats with, some more than just passing words and some before they were in that post; Robert Carr, Roy Jenkins, Willie Whitelaw, Merlyn Rees, James Callaghan and Leon Brittan. Apart from Roy Jenkins, who didn't like us using sirens to get to his residence when the attack alarm was activated, I thought they all seemed very decent men who tried to understand our plight. I certainly don't ever recall them slagging off the police publicly or making snide and derogatory comments like Straw, either in or out of their high office. Leon Brittan was a very decent man. I single him out because I had closer dealings with him on one of the 3 day counter terrorist exercises all forces undertake from time to time, where he actually attended the command venues at a well-out-of-London location. I suppose that's what I noticed the most, because when Maggie was P.M. and we played counter terrorist exercises, she insisted that she and her ministers played it for real, along with us and the special forces. That was very reassuring and they scored big credibility points for that. As someone else's blog has pointed out, the Straw's were not made of such stuff, although I do have great respect for genuine conscientious objectors and pacifists. One only has to read "The Flag of Our Fathers" to learn a little of the bravery of the unarmed Corpsmen (Medics) of battlefields. So my musings are nearly vented and I have surprised myself in remaining so calm and respectful. It would be a shame to spoil it and end on a harsh word, but I can't help feeling that if Straw gave me the slightest reason, I'd probably.......... the little....... t and then take his........and....... it ...........rse . The harsh words were deleted out of respect for the true Brits I referred to in this ramble. You may add your own words to the gaps if you wish. I hope and pray that I have done my forbears, their deeds and their memory justice during my rather less remarkable life. I am truly blessed to have had such men in my family and I have also worked alongside some remarkably brave, compassionate and conscientious police officers, including special constables who do it for zero pay. I also read about todays officers and their current struggles on their fascinating blogs. Finally, I am so glad that the likes of Straw have been foistered on some other poor sod's family tree, for I would be so ashamed to be saddled with that albatross.