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Used to work for AVIVA offshoring IT to India.  Now retired through ill health, writing my life story as a series of blogs chronologically from birth to current time.  At www.jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com

Friday, 21 January 2011

Cakes and Pies, Beers and Beatings - 1983

Back in Germany I had started to venture into town most weekends and evenings. I had hooked up with Mark Cameron, who was in another Squadron at Neinburg and as he had been in Germany some time, he deemed it only right and proper to show me around the local area. Hannover could always be relied upon to provide endless hours of entertainment, starting with the train station itself. The train station (Bahnhof) was a two storey affair, trains came in over the top of the pedestrian area below and the pedestrian area led into the City, under the roads and on into the main shopping areas, with bars and cafe’s lining the walkway and Bars and taverns lining the streets. Back in 1983 Germany, cafe’ culture was already in full flow, whereas in England, you were lucky to get a beer garden, with a shitty little swing for the kids, dog shit in the grass and splinters in the bench seats!

Mark and I would both approach our respective sergeants on a Friday afternoon, and request that we be allowed to sign out early. After some months of being asked the same questions every Friday, they simply nodded as opposed to firing back a series of questions as to why we wanted to leave early. We managed to co-ordinate our preparations and would arrive at the guardroom to sign out within minutes of one another, this was pre mobile phones.

For some while Mark had been going to a town called Wunstorf, a very quaint little market town between Neinburg and Hannover. Mark had a girlfriend called Tina and I was introduced to her friend Monika. For a few months our forays to Wunstorf at weekends would usually result in our crashing at Monika’s in her parent’s cellar. Monika had her own lounge cum bedroom, (a number of mattress’ on the floor) and we’d all (at least 5 couples) dive under duvets and commence banging away like a fiddlers elbow. On one occasion her father, a rather austere looking bloke, walked into the room and started shouting at Monika. We thought we were shit out and expected to see a shotgun materialise from behind his back, turned out he was merely enquiring as to what time we’d be up for breakfast.

Our afternoons would be spent either at one of our girlfriends houses, or in town, sat outside a bar and our evenings would be spent at Formel Ein’s nightclub. On route, we would call into a little bar (the name escapes me), where the barman stood in the centre of the room and the bar itself circled around the room, with only enough room to get a stool and probably one person stood behind it. The great thing about this was that you looked directly across the bar to the other people there and could more or less scan the entire place from your perch at the bar, and that was where I spotted Heidi. From that moment onwards, Monika was an ex-girlfriend, heartless bastard? Yes.

Heidi was stunning. A brunette, with looks not dissimilar to Angelina Jolie’s (if I say so myself and I am hardly going to fancy a minger am I?). At the time Heidi was seeing a squaddie called Sid, that was not his real name but he looked a punk rocker of sorts so was named after Sid Vicious. Sid was not particularly attentive and any opportunity I got, I was round the other side of the bar talking to her. Eventually, she ditched Sid and we started seeing each other. Heidi lived at that time with her parents; her father was Iranian (Persian) and her mother German. She was 18 years old, could speak Persian, German (of course), English, French and Italian. I was something of the cunning linguist myself, a perfect match.

We’d all move on from that bar to Formel Ein’s and proceed to dance the night away, drinking Blue Bols and Orange Juice (Laubfrach (sic). It was neither highly alcoholic nor particularly nice, but was the fashion in that bar and we all drank it, along with lager. After some weeks, Heidi moved out of her parents and lodged with a German academic scientist chap. Deiter was going through a divorce, knew Heidi well and gave her a room in his apartment in Wunstorf. I spent many an evening exploring Heidi in that apartment and explore her I did. She was an adventurous girl who liked to experiment and I was in my element.

Mark’s squadron was posted to the Falklands garrison in 1983 and during his absence I teamed up with Paul Evans and Andrew Cruickshank (in my squadron) – Paul had a Volkswagen Golf. I also made friends of Ginge Anderson and Ginge Rothwell ...who also had cars. I had a tracked vehicle licence (an H licence) but not a car licence, (funny how I could drive a 16 ton tank but not a 1 ton car), but that did not stop me borrowing theirs and spinning over to Wunstorf to be with Heidi. One of the girls from Neinburg, who liked squaddies (if you know what I mean), was called Sylvia. She quickly became known as Syphilis Sylvia for obvious reasons, but Ginge Rothwell saw something in her that others didn’t (plenty of antibiotics) and married her.

With Mark away in the Falklands, apart from regular trips to Wunstorf, I spent more time in camp and Neinburg. One weekday evening after a series of departures from our dorm, (Royal Engineers get new postings on an individual basis, as opposed to other corps and regiments, who move on mass to new postings), I found myself with more bed space and a large piece of furniture that comprised a bookcase and cupboard. I acquired some white gloss paint and started painting the thing. Titch Winder appeared and asked me along with a few others if we fancied a saunter down to Treff Punkt for lagers with a side order of frauleins. I declined, given my ongoing painting and with Heidi waiting for me in Wunstorf!

Titch moaned and whined for a while, went off to find anyone else who would go, then came back and whined some more. Eventually I agreed to go, but it would not be a late one. I changed and off we walked, down the road towards the bar. When we walked in, there were a few people gathered around the tall tables by the windows, a few at the bar and some girls dancing at the back of the room. We got some beers and wandered over to the girls (as you do) and started chatting to them and dancing when required, as Titch felt he was definitely in with a chance with one of them.

The evening went on, more beer, more chatting with Titch becoming increasingly hormonal and me becoming increasingly bored and after a few hours of this, I decided it was time to leave and told Titch I was going back to camp. Titch, assuming that it was probably a lost cause agreed and we walked around the bar towards the door, passing between the tall tables in front of the glass windows and the bar itself. I looked across to Tony (the owner) waved and glanced to my left at a group of men stood at one of the tables.

The feeling when I was struck by the cosh was odd in that it did not hurt. I probably said something like “fucker” and put my hand up to the side of my head, then looking at the blood on my palm, before being struck again with even more force in the same place and staggering towards the door, where I turned to see Titch looking at me open mouthed and this German guy in a black leather coat with two others beside him, walking towards me. It later transpired that Titch was chatting to a girl he fancied, but as I had looked at him on the way out, I was to take the beating. He proceeded to rain blows onto my head whilst Tony and a few others (no bouncers back then) tried to get him off. Titch ran outside, opened a cab door (most cabs in Germany were Mercedes) and ran back to drag me into the back of the car.

My new friend with the cosh was obviously not finished and decided to pull one of the tall tables off its base and threw it through the plate glass windows of the bar and clambering through the doorway he created, climbed into the back of the cab after me. The driver took a look at the demented German, decided he’d seen enough and got out. I was pulling myself across the rear seat, claret going everywhere and Titch was opening the other passenger door and trying to pull me out the other side of the cab, whilst I took a series of blows from Boris. I did not lose consciousness throughout this time and remember the sounds of police sirens and ambulances as Boris finally decided enough was enough and disappeared into the night. Just as I was getting pissed off and was going to have a right go at the bastard as well!

I was laid out in the street, bleeding and bruised, with Titch running around whimpering that it was his fault entirely as he had convinced me to go out that night, too bloody right it was. I was scooped (mopped) up and put in the ambulance and we departed for the Krankenhaus (hospital), Titch by my side (still whimpering) and me offering him sympathy for his poor decision making capabilities. I entered the hospital and was x-rayed, prodded and poked by various people, ending up in critical care, with a series of hairline skull fractures and being put to sleep for my own good. Titch went back to camp with a tail to tell.

I do not know how long I was in the hospital for; I remember various visitors and sleeping for quite some time and being awoken by a sadist doctor who tested my reflexes by running his pen up the sole of my foot, very hard, to which he was told to take his pen and shove it (or words to that effect). I was discharged and returned to camp on light duties (whenever someone is ill, they report to the camp Doctor, who can prescribe light duties or not) and used the time to recuperate. Titch was still apologising mind you and I had to tell him to shut up as I was over it by then.

I was still seeing Heidi, who had no idea what had happened and assumed I had gone on an exercise, fat chance. Ginge Anderson and I, (he was on light duties as well for being fat I think) were given a 4 tonne truck and spent the later part of the summer driving back and forth between Army and RAF camps in northern Germany, picking up and dropping off post, equipment and people and generally getting as much time out of camp as possible. Mark Cameron eventually returned from the Falklands with stories to tell and he and I started visiting Hannover far more. Mark had met a girl called Lydia (Lulu) and along with Heidi, we spent our time visiting various beds and when able to stand, wading through tables of cakes, baked at home by their friends Mums and then more time at either Heidi’s or Lulu’s eating pie!

Friday, 7 January 2011

Mosquitos, Strippers, Mormons and Me - 1983

I settled into life in Germany fairly easily. I mean, what’s so hard about getting up, getting breakfast cooked for you, meeting outside with you mates, and getting orders for the day that usually involved cleaning various bits of kit until lunch, a run, maybe the assault course, some more cleaning, dinner, then the times your own. Someone in the room would have a TV that a number of us would congregate around. Programming was provided by the British Forces Broadcasting Company and was typically BBC fair; they also had a radio station that broadcasted across the BAOR (British Army on the Rhine). One guy kept Piranhas in a huge tank at the end of his bed and would feed them live goldfish, which was usually more entertaining than the TV.

Unless you had pulled Guard duty, then the nights and weekends were your own and that meant exploring beyond the confines of camp and the squadron bar. I was not keen on the squadron bar; I did not mix in with the typical squaddie as I found their more boisterous behaviour a bit heavy duty for my liking. I was not wimping out and played many a game of indoor rugby, suffering a badly damaged ankle one time. There were a few other like minded guys I was to find out later.

Before any personally organised excursions could take place though, we (Mick Hayes, myself and a few other newbies), were taken out on the town for a tour of the local bars and clubs as induction to the Squadron. Chief amongst these were Treff Punkt, Blondies and the Weser Pub. Tradition had it that we had to drink a selection of the local beers, wines and spirits and manage to return to camp. Amongst the drinks taken that night were Ratzenpuss (unsure of spelling) that was watered down with Tabasco Sauce! The better known Jagermeister, served from the freezer and various schnapps such as Apfelkorn , and Asbach Uralt brandy etc. Ratzenpuss (sic) was a truly horrid concoction, drunk only under orders and as we traipsed around Neinburg, I got a terrible feeling in my gut that the night was not going to end well, unless I managed a tactical withdrawal or came up with a plan to reduce the possibility of serious illness and internal injury to my colon.

Treff Punkt had a disco set up and the bar was bang in the centre of the room, there were tables on a single pole leg and stools around them dotted about the bar. The place was usually full of squaddies and we walked in and were taken straight up to meet Tony, the owner. The order of the day was a large Stein of beer and a short, probably vodka, to ease into the evenings activities. We then headed off to the centre of town and the Weser Pub. Beers were ordered and we were then told to line up. The barman took a litre beer stein and filled it with one of each spirit along the bar. We were presented with a glass each and told to down it in one.

My plan, formed as we walked around town, was to down it and then eject it asap in the bar’s toilet. The concoction was foul as it went down my throat; I gagged but got it down. One of the lads ran outside and deposited his all over the pavement. I made it to the toilet, stuck my fingers down my throat and sent the lot off to the sewerage farm. Problem was that no matter how quick you did that, some alcohol still got into your system and I ended the night, eating currywurst, pissed, and sitting on the floor outside the fast food shop.

I noticed that it was a good idea to learn to drive a panzer (Armed Personnel Carrier), APC 432. Why? Well for a start off it was fun, steering a 16 ton piece of Chobham Armour around the Germany countryside, you got out of most tasks on exercise, such as bridge building, as it was your job to drive and cook, whilst the team on board, built and slept. When it came to laying minefields, (practising), a mine laying plough was attached to the back of the vehicle, the door (at the back was open) and two of the team would load barmines (a metre long piece of cardboard, shaped like a land mine) onto a conveyer belt, which laid the mine into a trench, dug by the plough, the thing then covered the mine with soil and two guys walked either side and made sure it was fully covered.

Driving a panzer was a piece of piss really. An accelerator, two tillers for steering, an automatic gear box and a dead man’s pedal, behind the tillers, that cut the fuel to the engine, in case the thing decided to ran away with itself, as they were prone to do. The other sweet deal about the training was that at the back garages, was a car park. Any squaddie who had a car that had passed it’s used by date, simply left them parked there. If no one claimed them, we would drive over them to crush them down.

One aspect of being on exercise in Germany, was that sometimes, the squadron would go on bridge gallops, which entailed driving to a location, by a river, building a bridge, driving over it, along with a couple of other infantry regiments, who we supported, such as the guards and the tank regiments, then taking it apart, loading it onto the trucks and going to the next location. This was knackering work for the guys, as often six or seven bridges would be built over a 4 or 5 day period. Usually, we kept to the training grounds, Soltau and Celle, but sometimes we’d go across farmer’s fields to reach the river. The farmers were compensated for the loss of crops and occasionally asked for us to drive through their field if the crop return was going to be crap, as the compensation was greater than the value of the crop.

In June of 83, we headed over to Canada, to take part in live firing exercises at BATUS (British Army Training Unit, Suffield) in Alberta. It was close to Medicine Hat and we were allowed to nip over there at weekends. The live firing consisted of all the weapons we had at our disposal, including anti Tank weapons, machine guns, and rifles and using live explosives to blow shit up. Problem with BATUS in the summer was out on the prairie, it was a mosquito cafe and we were on the menu. Taking a crap was a nightmare because as soon as you dropped your pants, what looked to be the whole of the mosquito family on the prairie would rise as one and head towards your bare arse. So a juggling act of rubbing mosquito repellent on your bum, whilst squirting the buggers with another repellent bottle, laying cable and wiping your bum took place.

The prairie also had its fair share of snakes and Mick Hayes was scared to death of them. We found a dead one in a wagon rut and when he was taking a kip in the back of the tank, we carefully placed it on his chest, facing him. We then woke him and said “Mick, don’t move mate, there is a snake on you”. He shat himself, sprang up and shot out of that panzer and ran off into the wilderness. We promptly shat ourselves laughing. That’s the last of the poo stories for now!

On the exercise, we had the task of wiring a steel girder bridge with Plastic Explosive. PE4 smells like marzipan, but work with it long enough with bare hands and you get a blinding headache. Using blocks of wood and steel wire, each charge was shaped and attached to the girders; we then retreated into a bunker a few hundred feet away. The detonation was overseen by safety officers from the base and they parked their land rovers just behind the bunker. The bunker was underground, flush with the land, so the jeeps were exposed to the blast. The safety officer gave the order to “wait”, which some joker with the shrike (detonation trigger) took for “blow it up” and promptly pressed the buttons that sent the electrical message to the detonators. A huge boom went off, followed by some highly explosive language as pieces of steel flew past the land rovers and the exposed safety officers above us. For once, I was NOT at fault...............

Medicine Hat City had a water slide park on the outskirts, which we soon got bored of and in the centre of town was the Assiniboia Inn (this place had and has legendary status in the Army). Back in 1983, the place would be crammed as every day, all day, they had strippers on. Canadian laws state that if you order a beer at the bar, you must stay at the bar to drink it. If you do decide to move through the room to a table, you have to ask a waitress to carry your beer for you. We’d order jugs of beer and settle down for an afternoon of free (really) strippers. One stripper could shoot ping pong balls across the room (use your imagination as to what the firing mechanism was), another did a show to the music from the Muppets TV programme, with Animal the drummer as her helper, (he looked pretty pissed off to me) and you could always guarantee that some drunken squaddie would cause or get involved in a fight.

At the end of the tour, we were given 4 days R&R (Rest and Recuperation). Myself, Andy Orton, Titch Winder and Paul Evans (may have been others but cannot recall), jumped on a greyhound bus and went from Medicine Hat, through Calgary and on into the Rockies. We stopped at Lake Louise (fantastic) and drove on to stay in Kelowna, a town on the Okanagan Lake. The town and the scenery was beautiful , our motel was right on the water and we’d spend nearly every day, lazing in the lake, drinking beers held in brown paper bags (yep, you had to hide your beer in public) and generally causing mischief where we could. There were loads of small house boats moored on the lake and we decided that one would make a good diving platform. We were happily throwing ourselves into the lake, when this guy pitches up in his motorboat and asks us what we thought we were doing. We apologised, said who we were and once he knew we were soldiers, took us over to his house on the lake, organised the beers and took us up in his own water plane for a flight over the mountains and the lake.

Whilst in Kelowna, I bumped into this gorgeous girl. She was on holiday with her mum and I asked her out for a drink. Her Mum told me in no uncertain terms that they were Mormons and did not drink nor smoke. That was merely a challenge to me, one I had to live up to and I proceeded to not only succeed in getting her away from her mum, but also managed to help her break both the rules her mum had told me about. She also told me that Mormons did not believe in sex before marriage, but that rule got well and truly busted too as I ended up lying in my hotel bed, drinks by the bedside, ash tray on my chest, with smokes on the go and her lying next to me. Dazed, confused and satisfied (hopefully).

Ah Canada.