Moving Scenes

June 16, 2012

The barrack room was the scene of many pranks. Some could be hilarious and a few extremely moving. One of the latter, devised by Johnny Tebbs, a National Serviceman from Leeds who claimed to have worked alongside Peter O’Toole on the local newspaper, was to booby trap the toilets. Who fell afoul of the trap was not important, but it was virtually guaranteed to be Gubby since he was the only one not present that evening.

Johnny decided to use the contents of a fire extinguisher for his bomb. The main tank of the standard Army issue extinguisher contained a solution of sodium bicarbonate in water, and an inner container of Aluminium Sulphate, harmless or inactive, when separate. When the solutions combined, usually by inverting the unit and smashing the plunger against a solid surface to break the glass vessels, the reaction would create gallons of frothy foam and carbon dioxide gas to douse fires.

With one charge emptied into the cistern and the other into the toilet bowl there would be no reaction at that time. To channel an unsuspecting user to the booby-trap Tebbs climbed over into the other compartments, locked all the doors from inside and clambered out.

Gubby returned in the early hours of the morning, more than the worse for wear, headed to the toilet, unaware that the eighteen occupants of the billet were dogging his footsteps. He disappeared into the prepared cubicle.

The noise of the flush was closely followed, a few moments later by a loud, exaggerated and explosive “sigh”. White amorphous foam blossomed over the door of the cubicle, rolled under it and expanded over the dividing walls into
the next cubicles. Almost a full minute later, the door opened, slowly, to reveal a bemused Gubby, enveloped in the white clinging froth, trousers and underpants lost somewhere in the nether regions under the surface of the clinging bubbles, with his face empty of all expression. Aware of the uproar his appearance caused the lads gathered round him, he looked around and down at the source of the eruption and said woefully, ” I should never have forced down that third Donner Kebab!”

Gubby attracted the attention of the many pranksters and practical jokers due to his apparent gullibility and good nature. During one boxing season, conscripted unwillingly to the unit boxing team, he was the brunt of many jokes. On other occasions he managed to involve himself in such situations without help.

One Saturday morning, the boxing team, because of overweight members failing to reach their designated weights for an impending competition, travelled to the Turkish baths in Antwerp to sweat off the surplus pounds without physical effort.

The Baths were located in the same building as the main swimming pool. On days when the use of the steam baths was reserved for men, the pool would be reserved for women.

Fortunately, for the boxing team that Saturday the Turkish baths were available for males. We went through the complicated system of hot and cold showers, ice-cold dips and plunges into vats of boiling water, prior to entering the steam rooms. Shortly afterwards Gubby found an unlocked door, which opened into the swimming pool area. Assuming that the pool was for use by the patrons of the Turkish Baths, Gubby threw his towel to one side and made a running dive off the side plunging naked into the water only to surface in the middle of a group of shrieking and supposedly shocked female bathers.

One weekend the unit hired a bus and made a trip to Amsterdam. Everyone’s thoughts were not on the picturesque sights and ancient architecture one could see in the Venice of the North but rather on the delights offered by ladies of the red light district whom, everyone believed, were the most attractive and sexiest in Europe. Gubby was no exception.

Within half an hour of arriving in the red – light district, Gubby had accepted a solicitation from an attractive young professional. In response to the questions that go to make up the customary small talk as they undressed Gubby claimed that he was a management consultant assisting Shell Mex corporation on a large new project.

The girl immediately collapsed in bursts of uncontrollable laughter and asked why a presumably highly paid executive would chose voluntarily to wear Drawers, Cellular, Green, British Army and Socks, Grey, Woollen, Worsted?

I would stress that the foregoing anecdote is based on hearsay, I was obviously not present and is not, I emphasise, not, based on any similar personal experience.

Gubby, although not proficient, enjoyed sports. Besides the exercise, he particularly relished the beer that invariably followed an army sports outing. Rugby was his favourite and he was selected to play on a regular basis. One occasion stands out.

Well and truly beaten by another Army team from Germany, we were not too despondent. There is no difficulty in remembering that we had lost that particular game because for the two years that Gubby played we never won a match. After three or four hours of heavy drinking in the Clubhouse at Grobbendonk the after-match “celebration” moved to the Torenhof, a small cafe in the village of Olen. In the pub we continued to sing and perform our drunken rugby songs. We liked the Torenhof particularly because the owner would ring a bell, randomly during the course of the evening, signifying that everyone standing at the bar at that moment was entitled to a free beer.

Probably everyone who has watched rugby has seen the occasion when a player has had to change his torn shorts in what would appear to be full view of hundreds of spectators. In fact, no one sees anything untoward because a ring of players surrounds the individual. We had a variation of this that we used to do in the Clubhouse. The performer, to the accompaniment The Zulu Warrior, sung by the group, would start a striptease, by removing his tie, and another player would dance around him. When the stripper had removed the next item of clothing and thrown it to a watching team member, one more dancer would join the first. This would continue for each item of clothing until the stripper would be completely naked in the middle of the group but unseen by anyone outside the circle. The clothing, item by item thrown back to the “artiste”, would be put back on, as members of the group, one by one, left the ring. Finally, all that would be seen would be the performer putting on his tie. Puerile, I know, but we were simple folks.

Normally we only performed in the Clubhouse but that night at the Torenhof we were fairly “wasted” and someone called on Gubby to do the Zulu Warrior. Gubby got up and things were going quite smoothly until finally he was wearing only a sock. At that moment, however, the barmaid, who had a wicked sense of humour, rang the bell and everyone in the circle dived for the bar.

To give the indomitable Gubby his due, bare-buff except for a grey, woollen sock, he joined the queue with the rest of us for his ex-gratis beer.

A Racing Certainty

June 4, 2012

Based on the belief by the British strategic planners that Belgium would rapidly be overrun by the Warsaw Pact in any future conflict the Vehicle Depot in Belgium consisted of a series of individual camps and sub depots spread over a wide area, in the region surrounding Antwerp. Each site, sparsely signposted, concealed in woods and copses, was difficult to locate. This was true for both newly arrived troops, usually sober, and for soldiers returning from local hostelries, invariably drunk.

“A” Camp, Olen, where the majority of the depot’s military personnel were billeted, was adjacent to, but hidden from, the main road from Herentals to Aarschot. Public transport was negligible and taxis were few. When they were available, the price was exorbitant. Facilities for extra mural activities, such as sports or hobbies were non-existent and cinemas, such as the Olen Fleapit, held no attraction for the single soldier. The troops spent many hours pursuing the age-old pastime of drinking, interspersed with fights with the locals or plundering local orchards and gardens.

There were many cafes and bars in the area, some of which
were only a few yards apart. However, the British soldier, who in the annals of his military history, has demonstrated a much vaunted prowess of marching from one hellhole to another, has a strong aversion to voluntary walking, especially after the consumption of alcohol. This is
evidenced throughout those areas of Europe, where Tommy has served, by the high incidence of bicycle theft. Technically the offence should not be construed as theft since each perpetrator had no intention of keeping the cycle but used it only to reach his billet where it would be abandoned just short of the main gate. This continued until visits by the Gendarmes had become so frequent that Commanding Officers intervened prompting the ‘rustlers’ to dispose of the push-bikes in canals, woods and ditches.

Belgians relied heavily on bicycles for transportation and until the arrival of British troops had no need for security or locking devices. Hence, the tandem bought at a local market, by Lofty and Gubby, was all the more noteworthy, since these two had been the leading “borrowers” in the region.

Soon the tandem became more than a means of transport for the duo. As a vehicle, in a country where the bicycle was king, a tandem was a remarkably rare sight. The Belgians, who at that time, dominated the sport of cycle racing with riders like Rik van Looy, four times world champion, believed no other nationalities could successfully manage a bicycle. This arrogance was the basis of Lofty’s confidence trick which was to work exceedingly well during the long hot months of that summer.

Lofty, a six foot three broad-shouldered Northerner, and Gubby, a ruddy faced good-natured ploughman from Gloucestershire, who deceptively appeared slow-witted, would arrive, expending great effort, on the tandem at a cafe in full view of the local tipplers. Gubby caused the impression of exertion, in the second saddle, by surreptitiously applying and maintaining pressure on the brakes. The tandem would invariably be the subject of discussion, and before long the two squaddies would claim that they could cover a certain distance in a specified time. This would cause amusement and such cynical responses from the Belgian side that wagers were the logical progression. The lap would be defined, the time established, a timekeeper appointed and everyone would gather outside as the duo mounted the tandem and set off.

Since both men were, despite their frequent carousing, physically in good shape, the stretch would be covered well within the stipulated time.

Like all good things, this scheme ended.

Lofty regularly had to steer the tandem home with an inebriated and dysfunctional Gubby aboard but declared one evening that Gubby had to remain sober to ‘drive.’ Gubby agreed but reneged on his promise. In the course of the evening he became totally drunk. He took his place, however, as tandem driver and they set off for home. Before long Gubby succumbed to the alcohol and fell asleep at the handlebars. The tandem left the road, remained upright down a very steep bank, and disappeared into the Albert Canal, just as the two racers fell off.

Unfortunately, patrolling gendarmes saw them and promptly took them into custody for disposing of stolen property. The tandem was never recovered.

Smoke and Mirrors

May 27, 2012

The security forces (SF), are naturally obliged to act within the bounds of legality, while performing their duties of maintaining law and order. The disruptors, who have no such constraints, are at a distinct advantage. Organisers of disturbances have the edge in determining when, where and how civil disobedience will manifest itself. They know they can wear down the resilience of the SF by false starts, bogus reports, and deployment of numerous fake IED, with lethal explosive devices salted among them, much as the IRA was to do so successfully much later.

The protestors, in our case, did it by forcing us to stand ready continuously for days, with just the threat of outbreaks. Eventually, the Army High Command decided to force their hand by fudging the legality issue and making the unrest occur when we wanted it to. Without going into too much detail, on one occasion a Marine sergeant rolled a canister of C.S. gas down the aisle, during a service at the Reverend Paisley’s Ravenhill church.

The soldiers of the British Parachute Brigade have epitomised Kipling’s Tommy over the years. Lionised In times of national danger, and despised in others. The media, which do not always get it right, spawn much of the adulation/vilification. On one occasion, their error provided a welcome morale lift for our unit.

The Reverend Ian Paisley had organised a day of celebration when thousands of his followers would march through the streets of Belfast. It was their open intention to parade through the Catholic neighbourhoods with the obvious risk of conflagration. Early that morning we were already manning roadblocks and searching cars of those heading for the rallying points, for offensive weapons, such as steel piping, baseball bats, wrenches etc.

As the day wore on, tension naturally rose and there were small outbreaks of containable violence throughout the city. At one point, we were deployed in the Montpelier area of Belfast. Along with twelve other paras I was locked in a confrontation with sixty, seventy women, some with children in their arms, while the others threw ice cream tubs filled with human excrement at us – successfully. The frustration of having five rounds per man, fixed bayonets, members of an elite fighting force, and male, I have to confess, was palpable. We were emasculated by our orders not to retaliate, and it was overwhelming. Worse, for our battered pride, was to come, when we were ‘rescued’ by the chance arrival of four members of the RUC who had none of our compunction in ‘explaining’ to the women that they should disperse.

Tails between our legs we left and were re-assigned to ‘protect’ the Catholic canton of Madrid Street, as it appeared the parade was to reach its first point of possible conflict. We arrived and hurriedly formed a line across the road as the head of the parade came into sight. Once again we fixed bayonets and put on our ‘They shall not pass’ faces, knowing full well we were on a hiding to nothing, if not worse.

The crowd, I can’t honestly say mob because, although they were threatening and shouted abuse, they were orderly. Above us, a helicopter clattered to and fro. We learned later that it contained press personnel from the News of the World.

At the last moment, when they were virtually upon us, the head of the column veered right and took the body of the marchers through a protestant enclave running parallel to Madrid. Violence had been averted.

Subsequently, the newspaper had a fantastic headline, and aerial photograph, on an article for the British public that lauded our actions, trumpeting “Thin Red Line Backs Down Mob”.

We, on the other hand, thanked our lucky stars for the professionalism of the parade stewards Paisley had assigned that day, their ability to strictly control their marchers and especially their orders that mid-afternoon was far too early for the confrontational violence to start.

Heads or …..

May 26, 2012

When The Troubles boiled over again in 1968 it was not triggered by any action of the IRA. It was a threat from Protestant militants that they were about to initiate a blood bath. They would attack the Catholic community. Arm caches had been uncovered in protestant strongholds, substantiating the capability, if not the intent, to make good on the threat, and intelligence indicated that there were many more such hoards. The British Government took relatively swift action to insert more troops into Northern Ireland.

My unit at the time was an integral part of the Parachute Logistic Regiment and an element of 16 Parachute Brigade. However, we were not always deployed in support of our parent brigade and in this instance were sent to Belfast to support the regular units there. The majority of the units representing the Airborne Brigade were sent to Londonderry.

Our unit was to occupy four dilapidated, empty cottages at Long Kesh, later to become the site of the ‘H’ Blocks of Long Kesh notoriety, but which was at that time a disused, grass-overgrown civil airfield. Within a short period, we had fixed the holes in the roof, cleaned up the rooms and applied some paint to make the houses into reasonable accommodation.

Our raison d’être was to re-supply the local units with the full range of items necessary to function efficiently, in addition to which we operated a mobile bath unit. We were also on call as reserve foot soldiers to take part in riot control, night patrols etc. During our time there, the on call requirement dominated our commitment. We had the responsibility for security, mainly crowd or riot control, when needed, in the Madrid Street/Prince Albert Bridge area of Belfast.

Initially, when we did night patrols, we would be greeted, in the Catholic area, at say, 3am, by an old lady with tea and potato scones or at 4am by a pensioner offering each of us a cigarette. However, the IRA frowned on this generosity and it soon disappeared. We were to be kept busy during the early days by disturbances, initiated by the UVF/UDA militants, housed in an HQ, whose whole front was a depiction in red, white and blue of the Union flag, opposite the end of Madrid Street.

On one occasion, as the crowd gathered in front of their HQ, we noticed a young guy, festooned with cameras and wearing a blue crash helmet. As Paras, we wanted everyone to know exactly who was there to prevent undue violence, and refused to wear helmets, preferring our red berets. The crowd, as it increased in size, became more vociferous and threatening.

During the build-up, we heard from the cameraman that he worked for Le Monde in France, that he had recently covered the student riots in Paris, where he had found the helmet to be essential, providing all the security and safety he needed. Within minutes, the brouhaha flared up and we parted company.

Despite the seriousness of the situation, several of us actually laughed aloud, struggling as we were, to prevent the crowd rampaging down Madrid Street to commit mayhem, when we saw the young Frenchman being stretchered out by our Medics. Apparently, some rioter, blissfully unaware of the photographer’s philosophy regarding the blue helmet, had cheerfully kneed him in the groin.
(to be continued)

Pretentious? Moi?

May 3, 2012

I spent my boyhood on various farms on the east coast of Scotland as the son of an itinerant, and argumentative, labourer who could hold a job no longer than a few months. Intoxicated, one Hogmanay, he was arrested, & held overnight in the cells for ‘being drunk whilst in charge of a bicycle’.

I joined a boxing club to develop a way of avoiding daily beatings. A spin-off benefit of this was winning the Midlands of Scotland Lightweight championship.I left Caledonia at the age of fifteen, narrowly evading Borstal, to join the British Army where I spent two and a half years in Boys Service. I was then posted to adult service and put on stand-by for the Suez Emergency.

Fortunately, that ended rather ignominiously, as everyone knows, and I shipped out to Malaya, at the height of the communist insurgency there. On the completion of three years, the next port of call was Belgium, then the UK, where, after selection and training, I served with the airborne forces and passed some time in the North, Belfast mainly, during The Troubles. Eventually I went to Germany, where, by the skin of my teeth, I avoided being court-martialled for punching out a fellow warrant officer who had rather over estimated his own physical capabilities.

Hong Kong followed the Fatherland, where I moonlighted as an extra and stuntman for Shaw Bros and Golden Harvest Film studios. I appeared, albeit briefly, in Bruce Lee and I, episode nine of Hawaii Five O, and a myriad of other features produced purely for consumption by the Chinese cinema goer.Returning to Europe, I was recruited by a head-hunter on behalf of the U.S. Government and after several courses in CONUS served in most of the European countries and Israel & Turkey.

I managed at this time to obtain two degrees from the University of Maryland and travel extensively on mainland Europe as a tour manager for a holiday firm concentrating on American clientele.

With the downsizing of the U.S. presence, in the European theatre, a friend offered me the job of convoy manager, ferrying humanitarian aid to the beleaguered cities and towns of Bosnia-Herzegovina, under the auspices of UNHCR, during the conflict in the early nineties in the former Yugoslavia.

Eventually I retired to the UK and took up golf, wrote The Tuzla Run and have offered my body, piecemeal, to medical science, which is currently in possession of three per cent of it, while I retain the rights to the balance — so far. Since then, life has become so boringly uncomplicated and decidedly humdrum, that I’ve decided to write a sequel to The Tuzla Run with a working title of The Poisoned Chalice. Spider and Rath will appear on stage once more but the villain supplanting Colonel Paroski will be Liam McDermot, the older, nastier brother of Calum McDermot, deceased.

Timeline Tuzla

May 3, 2012

An uneasy truce between recuperating IRA assassin Declan Rath and scarred ex- SAS soldier Spider’ Webb, both suffering from possible psychological damage, adds to the spiralling tension as a Tuzla-bound convoy battles through war-tom Bosnia to bring aid to the beleaguered city. Targeted for destruction by Croatian Military Intelligence and Serbian paramilitaries, the convoy,unwitting carrier of smuggled arms, is prey to all sides.

Duplicitous in the extreme Roy Cheatham, the head of the convoy organisation plays his own dangerous game. Prepared to jeopardise the lives of his drivers, while attempting a high-risk double cross against his erstwhile partners, his allegiance is for sale to the highest bidder.

Colonel Paroski, head of Croatian Military Intelligence, is tasked with the destruction of the convoy en route through Bosnia and is the nemesis of all those committed to its survival and, in particular, of Dennis Crowther. The devils, which haunt Crowther, drive the paedophile into the hands of those ruthless enough to use his weaknesses for their own ends. Life is cheap on the Run and Crowther’s is considered cheaper than most.

Calum McDermot, young and naive, has betrayed others in the movement and seeks to escape the long arm of the IRA which he knows is already reaching out to reclaim its own and avenge betrayal.

The action explodes against the ravaged Balkan terrain where conflict is inflamed by the internecine hatred of centuries. The inhospitable landscape provides its own challenges to men who, facing attack from artillery and snipers, must also confront the private fears that caused them to join the Tuzla Run. The treacherous mountain tracks and raging river torrents combine in a roller coaster ride which tests even the most experienced drivers amongst those both brave and foolhardy enough to join the UN relief convoys.

The Biter Bit

May 2, 2012

Captain Andrew McDougall was the Adjutant of the Unit and the epitome of a prissy, prim, puritan old lady from uptown Edinburgh. Rightly proud of his Scottish heritage but extremely ostentatious and pompous about it, he would wear full highland dress to go shopping on Saturday morning. Andrew professed-frequently- a liking for all things Scottish such as haggis, skirley, porridge and white puddings.

He had a Corgi which was the nastiest, most bad-tempered, bloodyminded,fattest, porcine, little canine I have ever known. I hated that dog with an unnatural passion. By and large, Corgis are not blessed with good nature but lacking exercise, and overly spoiled by their owners, they can be positively vicious. This rogue, pampered unmercifully, could hardly walk due to lack of activity. It was drowning in a bottomless pit of misguided love.

The mutt had a highly developed sense of meanness. It also seemed to believe, with apparent good reason, that there was no misdemeanour for which Andrew would chastise it. This coincided with my own opinion. The dog was on to good thing because his master would invariably speak out in support of its attacks on unwary visitors or at least justify its efforts at unprovoked assaults as “just doing his job, the wee darling!” As far as the owner was concerned the dog could do no wrong.

As Chief Clerk, I would have to go into Andrew’s office several times a day to deliver and collect documents and correspondence. The dog would snap and bite at my ankles, even when Andrew was present, but as I always wore heavy boots and anklets it did not draw blood. When the dog actually bit the Padre I was determined that it would get its comeuppance.

The members of Church of Scotland did not have a military chaplain but were administered to by the Reverend McPherson, a mild, sweet old gentlemen in his seventies. He was not infirm but I can remember how translucent the skin on his hands was and I wondered at the time if I would ever live to be that old.

One day he came to visit the Adjutant. He knocked, then opened the door – but Andrew was not there. The Corgi was.

It leapt up and badly gnashed his hand and wrist. We had a fretful few minutes trying to stem the flow of blood without stitches.

Earlier that day, while Andrew was still on the premises, Corporal Leitch had returned from a course in the north of Scotland bringing back, at Andrew’s request, three white puddings. The Adjutant waxed lyrical about the culinary excellence of the “wee, white, timorous puddings” that he would have for supper that evening. However, until he had time to take them to the Officer’s Mess later, the puddings would remain on a side table in his office.

As soon as the Padre had left to get medical attention I went into Andrew’s office to set the scene. I thought that his passion for white puddings just might override the dogmatic assertions that the Corgi could do no wrong. It was worth a shot.

After shaking the dog free from my trouser leg I placed a chair conveniently against the side table, took out the three puddings, ripped the bag, and savaged each of the puddings beyond redemption. I threw a couple of scraps to the Corgi who gulped them down and looked for more. It took only a few seconds for the beast to realise that from the chair it could reach the table and the puddings. I closed the door of the office and went back to my own.

What happened after Andrew’s return was not too clear, since his shouting had a hysterical quality about it, but the Corgi never appeared in the building again.

Canal Walks

April 28, 2012

Those of you, who’ve followed these articles, may recall mention of a friend of mine, Scouse Martin, who passed away recently?

We first met as teenagers, in the Army, but did not immediately take to each other. Both on the boxing team, both light-welterweights, with a similar number of wins and virtually the same level of ability, it was a cause of disagreement that I officially represented the first string and Pat, as those around him knew him, was the second string. With each programme produced, showing our team positions, there would be bad feeling between us. Looking back now, I feel I can understand Pat’s point of view because he had the edge, as a more physical presence in the ring, being a fighter, with several KO’s and stoppages to his credit, whereas mine were point decisions.

Our barracks were located two or three miles from the village of Frimley Green which was our Mecca for meeting girls. The road seemed inordinately long to us young Lotharios but, if one walked along the towpath of the Basingstoke Canal, it did seem much shorter. The waterway had been in disuse for many years, was thick with weed and detritus, and was only about two feet deep in most places.

One bright Sunday afternoon I was on my way to the village, idly dead heading dandelions with a stick as I walked, when I saw a couple coming towards me, accompanied by a large black dog. It was Pat, with Pamela, an ex-girlfriend of mine, and her Bouvier des Flandres, on a chain leash. Pamela was a very attractive young woman, as I recall, with longish dark hair and an eye for fashion, wearing on that occasion, a swagger coat of shocking pink. Her dog, whose name I can’t recollect, was at the top range of size and weight for his breed. He was an active, very playful, mountain of curls, made to look ridiculous, in my opinion, by Pamela’s penchant for tying a bright electric blue ribbon to his top knot.

Naturally, I pretended not to see them and attempted to walk past casually without acknowledgement but Pat stopped me.

“Pam’s been telling me about you and what you’re like,” he said, pulling the dog back on the leash to sit by his foot.
I stopped decapitating dandelions.
“Don’t ‘and’ me,” Pat said, I assumed, in an effort to impress his recently acquired girlfriend,” Or I’ll teach you a lesson.”
“You teach me a lesson?” I knew exactly what would rile him and deliberately set out to bring it to the fore. “You’re with an ex of mine, and you don’t know why you are always second string?”

As Pat stepped forward threateningly I threw the stick to one side, into the canal, to free my hands and get into a position to retaliate when, one hundred and twenty pounds of black, heavily-muscled, cow herder launched itself into the canal to retrieve the stick, taking the self-shackled Scouse with him.

Unfortunately, for Pat, but definitely not for me, the dog’s chain was firmly wrapped around his wrist. And like Mary’s little lamb, wherever Pamela’s dog went, Scouse was sure to go. The sight of Pat, knee deep in dank, green blanket weed trying to restrain the boisterous Bouvier and maintain his balance, caused me to laugh out loud. As opposed to infuriating Pat, he too saw how ludicrous the situation was and erupted into laughter. Pamela just looked bemused.

Many times in the years that followed, when Pat and I would meet up at reunions or funerals, the canal incident would be mentioned. It differed,in one small detail only, when Pat was recounting the event.

In his version, it would be me, who went canine aqua skiing,not him.

I receive a request to send the ‘man who fell off the roof’ along to the Studios where he’ll be working ‘closely’ (there’s an euphemism, if ever there was one!) with the lead actor on a film called ‘Bruce Lee and I’.

The fight co-ordinator turns out to be the stunts manager from the previous film. He seems quite pleased to see me and shakes my hand as he introduces me to a young, athletic Chinese guy wearing a beige, three-piece suit. This is Danny Lee, who is playing the lead, Bruce Lee. He gives me a wide welcoming grin with white even teeth.

Yuen, the fight choreographer, gives my instructions since the director, who asked specially that I be there, ignores me.

I am to be drunken, lecherous and about to molest Ms Betty when a vengeful Bruce half- drowns me in her bath. This is to be my ‘motivation’. I set to fighting Bruce but come up against the new martial art technique, devised by Bruce himself, who proceeds to whup my ass, competently and thoroughly, as I put up a pitiful display of European style boxing, intentionally ineffectual. I am not to look confident but must obviously be in awe of ‘The Dragon’.

Despite my following orders, neither Danny nor the action manager are happy with my performance. I must be more vigorous. I am to be admittedly unimpressive but not, as I currently appear, totally useless. Two or three more go-arounds show no improvement.

It is decided, for the sake of realism and due to my apparent inability to provide a serious threat to Bruce’s wellbeing that I should go all out and actually try to hit Bruce, who, the choreographer and Danny both believe, is accomplished enough to deflect all ‘my feeble efforts’. I like to think that I can absorb constructive criticism but, freely admit, not always with good grace. I should say, at this juncture, these guys are taking all the fun out of this for me. I’m beginning to feel just a little vexed.

We get down to it again but I can’t work up the motivation to go all out and Danny makes it look like child’s play deflecting my straight arm punches with an over the top looping movement, known in the business apparently as “The Snake”, that sweeps all my efforts away.

The director interrupts as he wants to film the scene in the corridor where the drunk passes Bruce on his way to Betty’s room, followed by the part where intoxicated me gets baptised. One take is enough for the corridor but the bathroom scene takes four, which means that many duckings for yours truly.

While waiting for the cameras to be set up for the whupping, the fight co-ordinator decides to have one last attempt at getting an Oscar performance out of me. Danny appears almost bored as he listens in.

“Do no try do much set piece box fight. Rerax. Do you your own ting. Trow punches. You not worry. Danny can stop.” Danny sagely nodded his agreement. We go for one last tussle before we have to film.

I block Danny’s left fist with my solar plexus, and realise that he is rubbish at pulling a punch, before I mercilessly punish first his right and then his left set of knuckles with my face. I throw another right, his left hand sweeps over it swinging it away, outwards to my right, as simultaneously I unleash a powerful left hook, elbow well up, which I have no intention of “pulling”, that evades the snake. Henry Cooper would have been proud of it. Unfortunately, Danny can’t stop it; well, he does, but with three thousand dollars’ worth of bridgework.

Danny leaves to see his dentist. The director and the co-ordinator get into a huddle and, with frequent rather unhappy looks in my direction, decide their action plan. To me it is obvious I am toast, but wait – due to the scenes already shot and in the can, Danny’s time out to see his orthodontist and the lack of time to find someone else, I’ve become ‘indispensable’.

I’m to come back and film another day. Result!

Check it out for yourself on:

Once More with Feeling

April 15, 2012

The lead in this movie can’t weigh more than eighty pounds, ninety max. He is about four feet high. Apparently, the person on whom the story is based was no giant but was petite, which made the mayhem he had caused even more incredible.

I watch with interest as two of the crew fit him up in a stout leather harness and buckle it up with a rather mean looking hook hanging down his back. Another guy, who I learn is the special effects expert, tapes several pieces of ordinary cardboard to Goliath’s bare chest and shoulders, delves into his box and places a minute blob of a putty-like substance on each of piece of carton. But, he’s not finished. He inserts short pieces of wire with brilliant red plastic ends into each daub of putty. He looks over his handiwork, checks the switches on the control panel he has with him and gives a thumbs up sign to the director’s assistant and moves, with his gear, away from the house.

The two men, who fitted Goliath with the harness, attach the hook to a cable that has been pulled out through the front door of the house. Once completed all three enter the house. The director is some distance away speaking on his mobile phone. Nothing will happen until he is available.

After my little tour de force, the crew and assistants seem more friendly and for whatever reason the director’s helper comes to stand beside me. I am now evidently persona grata. I take the opportunity to ask about next part of the story.

He explains that the director wants to try something different here.He will use one camera and for stark emphasis it will be black and white. Also the same sequence is to be shot several times on this camera to provide a continuous loop of the murderous fire power that chops our hero down. Further down the hill, the line of policemen with rifles are getting to their feet and facing uphill to the house. The little guy, Goliath, has been fitted up with explosive charges and linked, by cable, to a system of pulleys in the house. On cue, he will rush out as the policemen advance, firing his weapon wildly. Heavy fire will be returned by the riflemen, the power of which, through means of the pulley, will spectacularly ‘blow’ the hero off his feet.

I think this will be worth watching and get well behind the camera crew. The director is back on set and within minutes “Action” rings out.

Goliath trots through doorway brandishing his shotgun, rather girlishly I think. There are three or four ‘pfiffs’ and feathery wisps of smoke emanate from his shirt. He falls backward awkwardly to sit on his haunches and resembles a small oriental child sitting on a potty.

I’m almost deafened by the vehemence and rage in the bellowed “Cut”. The director screams at his assistant, who in turn screams at the star, who in turn looks blank. Three sheepish looking guys, the pulley operators I take it, come out of the house and stand abjectly in front of the director. He waits until the special effects man joins the three. The director takes a deep breath and then the lambasting begins. Apparently, the scene does not contain the impact and violence required. Everything has to be souped up.

I know it is not physically possible but the four being chastised seem to visibly shrink. They all hang their heads and do not look at the director who is choleric with fury. The victims are far from inscrutable but are very uncomfortable. The director’s phone rings; he dismisses them and walks off to answer it.

Out of sight of the director, far from being cowed, the guys are seething. There is hand waving and shouting among themselves. The three angry pulley men disappear into the house. The effects specialist, muttering to himself, replaces the explosive by the handful in great dobs on to the patches on Goliath’s body and the cable is hooked up by a pulley guy looking like thunder.

The director returns and the action starts. And how!

Goliath rushes out, unsteadily as if he has been pushed and almost falls over, but his shirt suddenly explodes and erupts in several places before disintegrating, each shred bursting into flame as it flies away. There is smoke everywhere and he jerks about like a rat shaken by a terrier but the force of the detonations hold him upright before he is hurtled violently backward, as if in a wind tunnel or a Kansas tornado, several feet above the ground, to slam with a nauseating thud into the door lintel. Incongruously, he hangs there, obviously unconscious, and immobile, except for an occasional twitch, in the doorway.

Totally ignoring him, the director calls for the pulley men and the special effects guy to congratulate them and give direction for the follow-on takes. The specialist is there first. The pulley men are called again and when Goliath crashes in a limp heap in the doorway everyone realizes that they are on their way. The director calls for Goliath to come forward but despite raising his voice to repeat the request,the star remains collapsed and it is soon clear, comatose. He remains in the same condition until the ambulance arrives at which time he was lifted by his arms and dragged, feet trailing to the vehicle. I heard later that the interior of the ambulance stank of cordite for days afterwards.



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