Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Moving Mysteriously On

I have been down in my boots since learning of the death of my blogpal `Neptunus Lex` who died at the controls of his Kfir jet fighter in an incident at Fallon Air Base in Nevada.

I have been moved to silent tears on any number of occasions since, by the reading of so many touching comments and tributes from his amazingly wide circle of readers, brothers in arms and blog followers from across the globe. I traded ribald, good humoured banter with many of them and, through this medium, got a feel for what they were about and I feel for them in their sorrow as I would for any good friends. It is a `first` for me, this `friends I've yet to meet` thing.

Although I started blogging anecdotes from my police career I have always had an interest in current affairs, politics, military history, aircraft plus life, the universe and everything and I found all of the aforementioned in abundance at Lex's place.  I would occasionally correspond privately with him on issues of mutual interest and always received a reply, sometimes in detail, sometimes short and sweet but always with courtesy and great warmth. He paid me a great compliment by flagging up a recent post of mine as a little pot-boiler on his blog, to fill a gap whilst he was away from his computer keyboard. I took this honourable mention to heart. I was chuffed as nuts.

This last week has been a bit of a trial for me. Just a few days before Lex's fatal crash I lost a friend of some 30 years standing. He finally succumbed to the ravages of Parkinson's disease, aided and abetted by that killer of the weak, pneumonia. His wife asked me if I would prepare and read a eulogy at the funeral service and I agreed. Then as the day drew nearer I found out that I was actually conducting the entire service, with his sons and daughters adding personal tributes. That was OK too. They were grief stricken but did a great job. His family are Roman Catholic but one of his sons became a Bhuddist, and was a pillar of calm. The service itself was `humanist`.  As for me, despite the best efforts of my parents in getting me Christened and sending me off to Sunday school every week as a child, I am not a religious man, per se, but I always try to live to codes that good Christians will recognise. I respect religious faith and will join in that of others when invited. Over the years I have received much support and help from the police Padres I've known and, as a senior police officer, found myself on several occasions suggesting a troubled officer could do a lot worse than speaking to `Father Mike`. As for me, I've always felt I was too scientific for religion but I'll admit that I do `feel a force` that I have been unable to explain.

I started this post about Lex and wanted to share it primarily with his friends, because something happened yesterday that involved me and our much mourned brother and I wanted to share it. It was a little shake up call and left me astounded and amazed but ultimately with a smile on my face,  not unlike how many of Hizzoner's posts did. I had driven the delightful-delovely Mrs Hogday to a small estuary town in Suffolk, where she was going to meet the proprietor of a business that she was considering joining. We had never been there before and so having dropped her off outside the Wild Strawberry Cafe I drove to the riverside car park and thought I'd take a stroll.

Woodbridge is a quaint old town with a quiet waterfront, a tidal mill and a nautical history. It was also a watering hole for many American service personnel who were based here during the Cold War years. One of Lex's regulars rattled many a window in the surrounding area, flying F4's out of  RAF Woodbridge/Bentwaters and his successors did likewise with their whispering A10's. I decided that I would take a few snaps on my mobile phone camera and perhaps post them up on the blog sometime, with just a covering story and a few fitting words. And this is what happened, in chronological order:

First place I came to was this pub, "The Old Mariner". `Great sign`, I thought. `I bet Hizzoner would insist we took a sample in there`.  This town is a little maze of side streets and back alleys that were evocative of a different era, of a wood and sailcloth navy, of victuallers and sailmakers that Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr Stephen Maturin would have known. I took my photograph and strolled on up the hill.

I came upon this rather interesting house. Probably 15th century. I didn't have time to enter the museum just down the road to check. I briefly pondered on the souls who were born there, lived there and died there. The air was chilly and the street was quiet, the main shopping thoroughfare being lower down the road. I took my photograph and moved on.

Just a little further up the street was this hostelry. If you cast your eye down the street you can see that I hadn't come very far. I think, by now, this would ordinarily have called for a small Guinness (for strength) but it was before noon and I wasn't in the mood to drink alone. Onwards and upwards.

Aha! A civic building methinks. Yes, its the old Town Hall. I am beginning to recognise where I am. Just behind it is the small square where I dropped off Mrs HD.
I can almost smell the coffee.

 Now that's a place I could sink a pint. Adnams beer is up there with the very best of British, but do not despair friends, the Irish know their business, Guinness is served everywhere (for strength). Thinks: `This could be a good place for Mrs HD to work. For the `Wild Strawberry` is next door, I could come to fetch her as an act of love and devotion, park the car in the square, park myself in the Inn and then she could drive me home. A great plan.

What a place this United Kingdom is. Right opposite the pub, just up the road from the other pub and a little bit beyond "The Old Mariner" they stick this sign! At this point I felt sufficiently amused to take a picture of the sign as I thought some of my American chums who might view this would see the irony of it. But fear not if you want to raise a glass in Woodbridge, for the ordinance will not apply to us quaffing ale at the outside tables of the pub, providing we all keep calm and carry on. Plus, if push came to shove, I'd invoke `the old school tie`.

It was as I was taking this picture that I became aware of a couple standing just behind me. It was a man and a woman, a husband and wife - and British. She was reading the sign and told me, with a smile, that she was curious as to why I was taking a picture of it. I explained that I was killing a little time and also taking photographs of pubs and places that I felt a recently departed friend of mine would have been interested to see but, sadly, I would never be able to take him. I went on to briefly explain the circumstances. I didn't go into fine detail.  They told me that they were just visiting the area for a short winter break and that they lived in Oxfordshire, which is several hours drive away. They too had never been to Woodbridge before.

I mentioned that Lex lived on the West Coast and of how I, and others like me, came to know him through his writing. Then the spookiness started and this is how the conversation went:

"So whereabouts did he come from?" 
 "Near San Diego, though he was a Virginian". 
"Oh, how strange, we used to live just outside San Diego up until a few years ago"
`What a co-incidence that I should meet an English couple, in a Suffolk town, that neither of us have ever visited before - and that you lived near San Diego". 
"Yes, that really is a strange co-incidence". 
"We have Canadian friends who often stay there over the winter months". 
"Yes, it's a lovely temparature then. We were there not long ago visiting our old friends. You'd like it, they have trolley buses. It's very quaint. We always go to an English styled pub called Shakespeare's Bar, you'd really enjoy that".

At this point I had to do a mental re-boot. I was casually taking pictures whilst thinking of a man I'd never met. I bump into an English couple I'd never met before, in a town none of us had been to before, 6000 miles from San Diego, which is where they just happened to live until recently and they'd just recommended I visit sometime and take a drink in Shakespeare's Bar. OK..... 
I took a chance and mentioned the Shakespeare's connection. I got an old fashioned look from them but I managed to assure them that I was not a crazy person. We laughed at the co-incidence. We exchanged pleasantries and bade each other farewell. As they walked off towards towards the quay, I heard a vehicle pull up next to where I was standing, by that sign. I heard the door close but didn't turn to look straight away. Mrs HD suddenly emerged from "Wild Strawberry" and as she walked towards me I noticed that the vehicle that had parked next to me was a Nissan Warrior 4x4 truck. I took a photograph of it.

I like to think of myself as scientific, logical, rational, open minded but whatever I think I am, that morning in Woodbridge, yesterday, was something rather different. It is to savour.


Blue Eyes said...

"I have been down in my boots since learning of the death of my blogpal `Neptunus Lex` who died at the controls of his Kfir jet fighter"

Ah come on, there are far worse ways to go!

I have recently lost two friends way before their time, one in an accident and one by his own hand.

I almost feel guilty putting this out in public but I have been weirdly energised by the shock of these young(ish) friends' departure: because it has made me realise in crystal clarity that there is not a moment to lose.


I keep meaning to spend more time in Woodbridge, it's just fantastic. For some reason I particularly like the main shopping street, perhaps because it is far too narrow and chaotic for its purpose.

England *is* the best country, officially. Sorry America but it's true.

Anonymous said...


It is indeed a small world. A nice post and always a joy to read your thoughts.

Paul L. Quandt

TonyF said...

Never been to Woodbridge, but it does look lovely.
There's always something slightly sad about villages that are near ex air bases. Perhaps its just me. I feel that there's a loss. A lone memorial to many lost young men, fields with remnants of foundations and the odd straight stretch of road.

Hogdayafternoon said...

True dat. Like Parkinsons + alzheimers. Carpe Diem.

Paul L:
Thanks Paul, Smaller by the day and stranger by the second.

On your travels:

aniemyer said...

Hogday, my good sir, Lex would be quick to point out that the 4x4's owner has it wrong. It's "TOPGUN," all capitals, and all one word. ;)

Kris, in New England said...

HD: beautiful and somehow very fitting. Lex was all about connecting people. And I did what you requested.

While it is true that Lex died doing what he loved more than anything, that doesn't make our grief easier to bear. He will be missed for a very long time.

Marcus Erroneous said...


Nice post, one runs into few enough folks that you can connect with, something I suspect has been a truism longer than we modern, contemporary folk realize. The loss of one impacts us all. Losing several friends in a short period of time tends to skew life for a bit, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It helps us to keep our perspective.

Things can happen for a reason. Once is a coincidence. Several in short session? Well, the UK is where Hogwarts is, n'est pas? Not exactly a burning bush as it were, but I think that even Ray Charles could see this one.

@Blue Eyes - It's always good to have pride in your culture and country. I'm glad there are still some folk in the UK that believe as you do. Gives me hope that our cousins across the water may yet muddle through. Having said that, may we agree to disagree? Still, I look forward to the day when I return to visit England. I've hoisted a few pints there over the years. And fully intend to hoist some more yet.



Homefront Six said...

This puts a smile on my face for the first time in a week. Thank you.

John of Argghhh! said...

Where's the "Like" button? Oh, wait. I know where I am now.

Well done, Inheritor-of-Peel!

Hogdayafternoon said...

Yes, I noticed that too and may point that out to the Tattooist next time I'm in Woodbridge. As it's only airbrushed on I'm sure it won't be painful - unless he takes it out on me :-/

Thanks. It was `a moment in time`, for sure. I also agree with the pain of his loss. Dying doing what you love is a bit of a Hobson's Choice and is as final, for those of us who are left behind staring into the void, as dying doing what you don't like.

Marcus Erroneous;
Thanks for taking the time to read and post. I agree with the burning bush, for I wasalso getting very uneasy reading about it, here in my comfy chair.
We can agree to agree to disagree as much as you like! I am also a patriot and I always look for the best in people and am always delighted (and pleasantly surprised) when I find it ;)

Homefront Six;
Welcome to my little part of England. It happened precisely as I wrote it up - and being there brought a grin to my erstwhile miserable face too.

John of Argghh:
(no relation to Joan of Arc, but possibly of the Knights who say "NEE"?):

Thanks for calling in. It's nice to share a real life `happening` with those who care. Every little helps.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Hogday; Thanks, Lex, too, as I believe his hand has brought his admirers closer and made us all more aware.

Mongo said...

Lovely post, Hogday, and sure to bring a smile to Lex' face. Such moments as you experienced, I believe, are guided by a loving force helping us to cope in a difficult time. I believe we all have found our way during the last week in many a unique and comforting way.

As a Faulkner of the Clan Keith, your photos warmed me with thoughts of the land of my forefathers. One day I shall make the trek...and Woodbridge shall be on the list of places to visit. Don't be surprised if an invitation comes to sit for a pint or two.

Hogdayafternoon said...

It would be an honour and a pleasure to sink a pint with you.

SteveC: Look at what this man has done to us all!

Barco Sin Vela II said...

Wonderful story! Love the connection with SD and that ute that pulled up. Twilight zone...?

Doesn't make the future without Lex any easier, though. Big shoes and all...

Personal stuff; I was stationed in London for four years at 7 North Audley. Did all my big shopping at Mildenhall and Lakenheath. Love the pubs!

Btw; Lived at St Katherine's Dock onboard my sailboat for three of those years...

Anonymous said...

Hogday, Very nice post. I've enjoyed your comments and hope that some day we might meet in person. On Lex's place yhou know me as Marine6, but I've had a somewhat checkered career including five years with the United States Capitol Police. I suspect that we might have a great time swapping sea stories.

In case you might not be familiar with the term I might tell you that fairy tales all begin with "Once upon a time..." and all proper sea stories start "Now this is no $hit..."

Old AF Sarge said...

HD, lovely post. Feeling better now. Would love to visit "Jolly Olde England" again as it's been a long time. Spent a great week back in the '90s at a youth hostel near St Paul's in London. Nice pub just down the street where I was wont to have a pint (or two) of Guinness (for strength natch) in the waning hours of the day with my mates. Greetings from across the pond.
Old AF Sarge

Hogdayafternoon said...

Barco Sin Vela II:
Ahh, North Audley Street! I had a hell of a crash in a police car just round the corner! I'll post it up sometime if my lawyer gives me the OK! Drank in TraderVics too - had a gf with money once ;)

I would gladly rv. I'd bring my old pal who is a RN sundodger, but not sure we could deal with so much bullshit in one go!

Hogdayafternoon said...

I can't tell you how good you guys are making me feel tonight. As for drinking in the City of London.......don't know what your talking about, but will be happy for you to explain it all in person someday - bring money.

Bou said...

I love this post. There are no such things as coincidences. I'm thinking all this was provided to you to give you comfort. Which... I think it did.

MissBirdlegs in AL said...

I love this post, too. Made me grin along with some of the other Lex Folks. We need all the reasons to grin we can find these last few days, so thanks (and maybe thanks to Lex, too).

Dust said...

HD, read this post earlier today but being at work, like, couldn't comment. Dittos to what Bou said. My words exactly. There are no coincidences when Sky 6 is involved. Will visit more often your place more often. Always appreciated your contributions over at Lex's. We grieve together, brother . Today after reading the preliminary National Transportation Safety Board report I find myself extremely pissed (in the American sense not the Brit sense) with the circumstances Lex found himself in. My anger isn't directed in any one direction. Just pissed off that it had to happen at all. Had any one of the contributing decision points in the accident chain been different, Lex would probably still be with us. Expletive, explitive. Just venting. A new phase of the grieving process.

Otherwise, as Marcus said above: Cheers!

bizjetmech said...

I would have been tempted to stop for a pint after that, it seems as though Lex was with you after all.

SCOTTtheBADGER said...

That was a wierd string of coincidinces. Especially the Shakespeare's Pub part. That would have made me step back, and let out a squeak.

Did Mrs. HogDay get the job? What a pretty business district! I love brick buildings, that have more character than cinder block ones.

Is the plane at the top of the photo a SeaFire? I know some of them had clipped wingtips, so the wings could be folded in the hanger deck.

MMC said...

My first thought was the same as aniemyer's (I have a feeling I should know who that is) ...
TOPGUN. One word. All caps. Don't ask.

Made me smile, which was a good thing since I, too, just finished reading that preliminary report. How can one short paragraph elicit such grief?

But it's high time I made it over here, isn't it Hogday? Considering you were nice enough to drop by my place once or twice. And then, when I get here, it's kind of like old home week.

Oh yeah, Blue Eyes, sorry to tell you, but you're going to have to compete with The Great White UP (aka Canada) for that honour. Yeah, let's not go there ... ;-)

SBT B said...

A VERY interesting synchronicity, to be sure... I see Lex's hand in it...

And "Thanks" by the way for the wander through the town. Towns are towns, but there is something so wonderfully "British" about a British town... (You can ken what I mean.)

Best to you,


-flatlander- said...

Hogday, first time visitor, and I'll be back. Synchronicity - not just a song.

Old AF Sarge said...

Nice line with "drinking in the City of London...don't know what your talking about". Would be happy to explain it all in person someday and would at least spring for the first round. (So glad you lot stuck with the pound and didn't go the "Euro" route. Nasty funny money!) Whether it's in Old England or New England (my current stomping grounds), would love to hoist a pint with you someday. We Lexians should stick together. By the by, I like referring to all of us as the "Lexian Nation", sort of has a nice ring to it don't you think?
Old AF Sarge

TonyF said...

HD, thanks for the link. I had a good read. I live in the middle of what was RAF Lincolnshire, fairly close to the 9Sqn memorial.

Hogdayafternoon said...

Hi again, from the land of (I'm near the aircraft icon on the map).
Glad you loved that post - it happened to me precisely as I wrote it and I have great pleasure in sharing it.
This was no co-incidence. My maths on the odds of those sequential happenings, all within minutes, doesn't extend that far out!

To share that experience is pure altruism. `Twas a wondrous thing.

Thank you. I too am pissed in the American sense. I know people talk about dying doing what you love etc but Hizzoner died trying to save his arse, against bloody terrible conditions, a micro-concept within the macro. I hurt all the more for the curt statement of the NTSB, but expect more of the same. Zane told me recently that `pilot error` will always feature somewhere in their reports, but went on to point out that in the world of the NTSB/FAA that failing to eject can be construed as pilot error, so I'm ready for that. I think the word is `pragmatic`. But it is, still, to weep.

Cheers to you.

She's fussy and in demand. I'll let you know in due course ;)

I carry two passports - one of them is Canadian :)). I'll point out the error to the tattooist if I meet up with him. I think his ink emporium is in the town somewhere,at least he can airbrush it!
Thanks for dropping by.

We also have more than our share of architectural vandalism! Thanks for leaving a message. Cheers!

Your moniker would suit my neck of the woods. There ARE hills around here, I've climbed both of them.

A nice ring it has.

Quartermaster said...

I like Lexian as well as Lexosphere.

Hog, I agree with you on the way Lex went. he did go doing what he loved, but no one, in any profession, like wrestling with snakes.

There is so much to dislike about NTSB's preliminary report. Of course, poor weather guessing on the Navy's part (centralizing such was a lot of the problem and not just Navy's problem. Bill Tuttle told me they used to get Iraqi weather guesses out of Scott AFB which is not far from St. Louis. They normally got them after their expiration).

Lex went down fighting so he could keep doing what he loved and go home to his lovely, and beloved, bride of 30 years. Lex was one of those rare birds you meet once in life.

"...and so soon they are gone." - John Denver singing about his father

The coincidences are amazing.

xformed said...

HD: Wow...just Wow...nothing happens by chance or coincidence....IMHO, and by observation. Great story.

QM: I personally would enjoy "Lexonauts." Has both a nautical and aviation related ring to it...and even if we are many ground bound readers....Lex took us up with him, and out to sea as well, many, many times....

JuliaM said...

"This last week has been a bit of a trial for me. "

Bad news does seem to come in 'clusters', doesn't it? But BE's comment it apposite - there are indeed far worse ways to go.

Hogdayafternoon said...

I do take your pragmatic point. Reminded me of how nurses I've known and loved used to see things.

I love motorcycling, but I use everything in my skills and experience box so as not to die doing it.

As my pal the Quartermaster said,

"...he did go doing what he loved, but no one, in any profession, likes wrestling with snakes".

virgil xenophon said...

Very Nice set of posts about Lex, Hogday. Coincidences can be weird things, can't they? Who knows, but what your couple might have actually rubbed shoulders with Lex w.o. knowing on at least one occasion? Small world indeed.

I must say I'm sorry to be late, but have been far too engaged in wrestling with personal family "snakes" than a person of my age in retirement should be. Funny, as I write this thinking of Lex's use of the term "wrestling with snakes," I'm lol reminded that--at Woodbridge at least--I WAS a snake--the flying kind--as a member of the 78thTFS "Bushmasters" our Squadron call-sign being , appropriately, "Snake" (with the appropriate individual ac numerical suffix such as Snake 01, 02, etc.)

(BTW, If memory serves and I'm not wrong, that untitled picture you took with the structure sticking out over the street from the bldg is the very historic "Old Bell & Steelyard" Pub--the mechanism being a weights & measures device, iirc. No?)

Hogdayafternoon said...

VX: Hey, thanks for dropping in. Yup, your pub i/d is good. My first trip around Woodbridge, so you probably know it better than I.
A few yrs ago my dear wife bought me an hour in this

I was helped by a very good ground controller/pilot and he managed to talk me onto a flat top as well as off again. I got one wave off and almost went into the drink. He was saying, `I didn't know a Phantom could do that`, so I have much regard for that big old beastie! Sure like to see them over here again.

Families, esp adult grandchildren, do tend to keep retired's on their toes!

Hogdayafternoon said...

Virgil X: You might find this of passing interest: