LISTENING TO THE SILENCES

 

CHAPTER 2 PAGE 1

Keep right on to the end of the road...
...keep right on round the bend.


Sir Harry Lauder was one of my mother's favourite performers and we had most of his records at home, although, when he sang about 'keeping on round the bend', we didn't then see a potential meaning that now is so obvious. The thrust of the words of the song, the going forward in spite of everything, the taking charge of your life in spite of everything, were an instinctive part of the philosophy of the home. Our parents, my brother and I agree, could not, with the resources at their disposal, have done more for us as children. When we hear or read of the awful things that can happen to kids, even in their own homes, by members of their own families, we look back with gratitude at a childhood where everything was positive, free from abuse (apart, that is, from having a piece of soap pushed up your bum if you were seriously constipated - whatever would Mr. Jung have made of that?)

We were encouraged to achieve our best in everything we did - "Hitch your wagon to a star my son" would say our father. On the wall, hanging below the clock, was a pokerwork motto:

Life's battles don't always go
To the strongest or fastest man,
But soon or late the man who wins
Is the man who thinks he can
.

While on another wall the 'Maxims of the late King George V' daily exhorted us to a life of high standards and caring for others; sentiments reinforced by regular attendance at Sunday School. And thus, by encouragement, example and osmosis, we adopted our parents' standards. So there was no question but that, by whatever means I had, I would go forward. 'Excelsior' my father had sung - the moving tale of the young alpine traveller - onward and upward! Although I must admit that I wasn't consciously thinking along these lines; my main need at that time, an unexpressed need, for I was living alone, was to have my 'wounds' bound up after treatment with a soothing salve, and compassion and understanding - yes, those especially.

How many Western movies have you seen where the hero finds himself well and truly put through the mincer? He gets pistol-whipped from behind; he has someone's fist elbow deep in his middle; several boots are planted in his anatomy; he is dragged by a rope through rocks and cactus and has umpteen bar-room chairs disintegrated over his head; he finally ends up abandoned in a corner, a dribble of blood at the corner of his mouth. But it's only halfway through the film - surely? Of course, the lovely heroine is suddenly there, or the bar-room girl with a heart of gold, full of compassion, who turning modestly away, lifts a skirt and tears strips from a snowy-white underskirt, and with great tenderness cleans and binds up his wounds. Then before you can say, "Swear in a posse", he's on his feet and buckling up his gun belt; the rest you know. Mind you, he never marries the bar-room girl - and the men in black hats always get their come-uppance! But there's always that moment of tenderness, compassion, which softens the plot and tugs at the heartstrings.

Off the silver screen the damage and the hurt are real and intense - yes, I've actually done the one where you are unconscious, trapped by flames in a small cabin in the interior of a blazing ship that is in some danger of sinking or drifting onto a hostile shore. I have no idea what brought me round, but consciousness presented its own problems. Whereas, I recollected, there had been four of us in that cabin, now I was alone, and, strange, the door was a mass of flames lighting up the eerie orange brown smoke which comes from exploding cordite. But this wasn't part of the plot; what had happened to 'before'? Before, we four had been at our Action Stations in the radar cabin; three to operate the radar and me to repair anything which became faulty. We, i.e. the British Navy, had been about to exert the right of free passage through an international channel - the Corfu Channel - that was being threatened by the Albanians. The who? Earlier in the summer, they had had the temerity to open fire with light weapons on a British cruiser as it passed along this Channel, and such things definitely do not go down well in Whitehall.

But this was 1946 - peacetime for God's sake! Ah, but the Cold War had begun and the Albanians were working off a different script. They said that the ships sailed too close to their territory. But Whitehall doesn't negotiate with a barefoot republic, a bunch of Commies. No: if the buggers dared to open fire - well, we were at Action Stations! 'Nuff said. But the politicians had underestimated the cunning of these Balkan peasants. With the aid of their neighbours, the Yugoslavs, they had laid some mines in a channel that our minesweepers had not long before cleared of wartime mines, and they had got us! One of the magazines and one of the boilers exploded, and many were killed, while many others were burned or scalded.

 

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