In 2016, I wrote a little piece about my semi-colonial life as a forces child in Malaysia back in the swinging sixties. The post – Reflections of an Army Brat – featured a blurry old black and white image I found online of Mountbatten Primary School, the school I attended. It started quite a conversation between ex-pupils, a conversation which continues to this day.
The post from way back also took me to a Facebook group called ‘We are Terendakians’ – Terendak being the name of the army camp originally built for the 28th Commonwealth Infantry Brigade which consisted of soldiers from the UK, Australia and New Zealand. The Facebook group is a place to reminisce and interact. And reminisce and interact they do with some wonderfully evocative pictures of a bygone era. Sometimes it even gets up close and personal.
This might be me aged around 7:
And this is almost certainly my mother on the ladies badminton team:
I’m now officially old and young people in shops call me sir. I’d like to say 60 is the new 40 but who am I trying to kid? Gravity is taking its toll, my bald patch is getting bigger and my pubes are turning grey. Looking on the bright side I now get free prescriptions and free eye tests, potentially saving me a queen’s ransom as, health-wise, it’s only downhill from here. I also get 25% knocked off fruit and veg every Tuesday at the local farm shop.
To paraphrase an old saying to bawdy effect…
You’re only as old as the man you feel.
Well, I’m feeling a 59 year old so that really doesn’t help.
I was born on a Sunday 60 years ago in utilitarian army digs in Canterbury and according to the nursery rhyme…
…the child who is born on the Sabbath Day is bonny and blithe, merry and gay.
I guess that makes me a handsome, carefree, drunken old poof. Well, if the cap fits…
So there it is, my card was well and truly marked from birth. No wonder I developed a liking for anything dashing in a uniform. Now I’m official past my use by date, I’ve decided to become a grumpy old git and shout loudly at the telly whenever someone says something stupid. That’ll keep me busy.
This year, Liam and I jollied in London for our birthdays. A state of the art, hi-tech micro-room in St James’ was the perfect base for our foraging. We arrived on Remembrance Sunday and the centre of town was buzzing with blazers, badges and bling under a canopy of Christmas lights. It was fun being tourists with time on our hands to roam and drink it all in, something we rarely did when we were worker bees on the treadmill.
Talking of drinking it all in, no trip to the West End is quite the same without a jar or two in a local hostelry. As seems to be our habit these days, we ended up at Halfway to Heaven, a gay bar just off Trafalgar Square and the splendid den of iniquity where Liam first caught my roving eye 13 years ago. Quite by chance, we arrived just in time to catch their annual Remembrance Day show.
The pub was rammed with military veterans – men and women, young and old, straight, gay and everything in between, all in their Sunday best – enjoying a convivial mingle with the regulars.
Halfway to Heaven has become something of a safe and welcoming place for ex-military LGBT people. Who knew? But it was a wonder to behold. When we were at the bar ordering drinks, a middle-aged woman was chatting to the manager.
“Thank you for being so nice to my dad and his husband,”
she said, pointing at two old soldiers in the corner.
I’ve moved a lot in my time – more than most, I reckon. I dropped from the womb in utilitarian army digs in Canterbury then on to a central London military tenement, lots of fun in the sun in tropical Malaysia, down with a bump in damp and grey Hounslow (west London) and onwards to civvy street Wandsworth (south London). And all before I could vote. My flight from the nest took me on a swinging tour of London postcodes – W6, W14, W4, SW19, SW18, E7, E17, interrupted midway by a five-year residency in royal Windsor with a moustachioed man called Mike. Then came the Turkey years – Yalıkavak and Bodrum – before finally wading ashore in old Norwich town. I’ve done old build, new build, Charles the First to Barratt box. When Liam and I embarked on the latest move – my nineteenth – it was a fond farewell to the flash city centre micro-loft and a nervous hello to the village micro-cottage. As Liam said, paraphrasing the indomitable Bette Davis in Now, Voyager,
‘Oh, Jack, don’t let’s ask for the moon. We have the stars.’
Once upon a time a long time ago, a pretty girl from a small Ulster town was swept off her feet by a dashing young squaddie in a smart uniform and a devilish twinkle in his eye. Army life on the move quickly followed with babies dropped in married quarters here and there – Ireland, Germany, Malaysia, England, Malaysia (again). Sadly, her military man died young – way too young – and the pretty girl soldiered on alone as a single mother. She recently turned ninety and we had a bit of a do. Apart from being a little mutton and frail, Thursday’s child has still far to go. As they say in the Emerald Isle…
The older the fiddle, the sweeter the tune.
I inherited my Father’s devilish twinkle. I just hope I’ve inherited my Mother’s genes.