The Hand Out

February 22, 2012


In the Army of my day, friendship was based on criteria that didn’t always conform to that of civilian relationships. Take Jock Gillon, for example.

We were well aware that each had faults but could overlook these, knowing that one would always have the other’s back. Jock and I were mates until I let him down and I blame the Sultan of Johore, and his one-handed ape from Borneo, for that.

Jock and I were as thick as thieves, and although he had a cruel streak and could appear unfeeling, we had the same sense of humour and a propensity for seeing a fight through to the finish. He looked like Danny Kaye but with rimless glasses, which he used to extremely good effect, as a ruse ,when fighting. He would remove the glasses to clean them, lulling a would-be opponent into a false sense of security believing as they did that while his hands were occupied nothing would happen. The swiftness, and vehemence, with which Jock could administer a Glasga Kiss with his forehead showed many how wrong they were. Jock would then stand over the fallen, because they invariably went down, and say gleefully ,
“How d’ye like them apples?”.

The Sultan was not, I believe, the richest of the group of potentates who were the titular heads of the various Malayan states in the Fifties. I believed this because, although he had a sumptuous palace, his zoo was a rundown monstrosity of a place.

The cages were not permanent constructions but consisted of old-fashioned wheeled animal cages, used at the turn of the century by circuses. All four sides were open to the elements, consisting of stout iron bars, with a feeding trap on the front side that was a hinged-at-the top nine-inch metal section, opening outwards, allowing the occupant to be fed without the necessity of entering the cage.

In the early days, long before we arrived in the country, the zoo management had placed the Orangoutan’s cage rather too close to that of a Sumatran tiger. The ape had reached between the bars to ‘pet’ the big cat and had lost a hand when the carnivore took umbrage. The monkey was given first aid and the cages were re-located. Now that the Orangoutan was full grown his cage was furnished with two old rubber tire swings, a tattered Army greatcoat for a bed and a pie dish for his meals.

Jock and I would go to Johore Bahru on Saturdays for our drinking sessions but, to pace ourselves, would first go to the zoo, in the afternoon, to while away the time, until serious drinking commenced. Jock always bought a bunch of small bananas for the Orangoutan but sympathy or compassion for the beast had nothing to do with it. His favourite past time was to offer the ape a banana, while concealed in his other hand would be a cluster of ten-cent pieces wrapped in a handkerchief, which he would use to rap the beast’s knuckles when it stretched for the fruit. Jock found this uproariously funny, the ape less so. Eventually, the animal would get the bananas.

One Saturday, when Jock stopped at the stall inside the entrance to buy the bananas, I walked ahead and stopped at the ape’s cage. He recognised me I know because he shuffled forward to the bars to look past me, down the way I’d come. He spotted Jock and I swear he smiled with satisfaction before he scuttled back to his greatcoat. The grin disappeared and he looked particularly mournful. He pretended belatedly to see Jock and then waited to be enticed forward.

When the fruit was offered he reluctantly and slowly inched forward on his behind but front and centre of the cage. He would not deviate and Jock was forced to adjust his position until he was in front of the food trap. He had just reached into the cage as far as he could, with his body tight against the bars, when the Orangoutan shot out his right leg to slam the hinged door up, outwards and into Jock’s genitalia.

Both whooped, but the exultation displayed in the ape’s holler was absent from Jock’s.

The Orangoutan was beside himself with joy and leaped around his cage shrieking with uncontrolled hysteria. He then leapt up at one of his tires and swung himself with vigour towards the other which he reached to grab, obviously forgetting in his mind-bending jubilation, that the hand which should have been there was long gone. He crashed with a bone crushing sickening thud into the iron bars and slithered down to lie prostrate on his Army greatcoat.

I swear to this day that I heard a voice, and I can’t be sure that it was Jock’s, say, “How d’ye like them apples.”

3 Responses to “The Hand Out”


  1. Bob…you excel yourself! This is the best yet!!


  2. Thanks, Bob. I’m holding my sides! Reminds me of a day at the Bronx Zoo watching a family make fun of an Orang. They shouted, made faces, waved sticks, but nothing seemed to annoy the big orange fellow. Finally, when the loudest lout of the bunch made an unseemly comment about the ape’s backside, the ape swung around, scooped up a handful of the morning’s “work” and flung it with the speed and accuracy of a Mariano Rivera, coating the offender with something he’d never forget! Apes are people, too.

  3. Robert Davidson Says:

    I like that. Thanks Richard, it’s always good to hear from you.


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