Postcard from Lille, Part 10

Bones & Watches

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
USS Bigly and Your Author
© Always Worth Saying, Going Postal 2019

Previously I mentioned my ‘backs and forwards’ between the north of England across the Atlantic to North America. You may recall the ‘drink the air fare’ mile high club. These happened between the Pan Am bombing and the end of Gulf War One. In fact my last day ever in the United States was the 28th February 1991. A date you may see on the rim of Gulf War One veteran’s medals.

I was supposed to be in the United States a few years earlier but was refused entry. I was never told officially why, rather handed a piece of paper containing the list of most usual reasons. Suffice it to say that if you’re a Communist convicted Nazi war criminal drug addict with no money and an infectious disease, smuggling plants into the US of A, then your employer, like mine, has wasted an air fare.

Under a different set of circumstances years later, and a few weeks before the end of Gulf War One, I had been in San Francisco. Arrival was by train to Oakland and then by bus across the bridges to San Francisco itself. Alighting at the bus station I couldn’t help but notice a considerable amount of damage. There was stencilled graffiti everywhere insisting upon ‘no blood for oil’ (self explanatory) and ‘find a cure’ (medical research not war). There were broken windows and overturned cars. I enquiries of a police woman standing on the side walk dressed in riot gear. She looked me straight in the eye, without a hint of humour, and with an absence of irony that only an American can muster, told me that, ‘There’s been a pacifist riot, sir’. Welcome to California.

A few years earlier during the Iran / Iraq war a Turkish pacifist on the dockside at Mersin in the Eastern Mediterranean might have chanted, ‘no bones for watches’. Let me explain.

I have travelled across the Balkans and Turkey to Adana near the border with Syria. It lies on a ‘rat run’ between the Eastern Med and Iraq, smuggling atom bomb components to Saddam Hussein via the port of Mersin. And it’s muggins turn to do something about it.

Adana bus station was a ramshackle piece of rough ground covered in buses, domus’s (local name for large taxis) and taksis. Boys ran between the vehicles hawking the routes.

I wasn’t going to Iskenderun or Aleppo, rather I was listening out for ‘Adana! Tarsus! Mersin!’ There was plenty of choice. Numerous old jalopies, many  without a windscreen or, worse still, with windscreen’s pockmarked with head shaped bulges and forehead sized cracks beckoned.

I paid my few pennies and off we set. The last sight I can recall on leaving the city was a butcher sitting in the gutter peeling the skin off a beheaded calf. After that the view was of the fringes of the cotton fields, often bordered by oil pipelines.

From Adana to Mersin is about forty miles, with Tarsus being at the midway point. I’d decided to break my journey there as it is an interesting place of Biblical significance and also might allow, if challenged, a plausible excuse of being in that part of Turkey as a pilgrim, tourist or even historian.

The Turks weren’t all that interested in classical times as it wasn’t Turkey then, their history lying further east with the migrating Turkish tribes of the steppe, and their religion originating to the south in the Holy Places of Islam. Very often, Greek and Christian artefacts were just piled up in a heap, ignored.

Alighting at Tarsus I made for it’s Luna park for a stroll and a think. Sweet tea prices hit an all time low at the equivalence of one eighth of a penny a glass, served in the most delicate glasses and from a silver salver by very noisy and inquisitive children in pantaloons and embroidered shirts. I don’t think I’d seen another white person since Ankara and my blue eyes attracted attention too. Another good reason to break my journey was to kill time and arrive in Mersin more anonymously after dark.

There were a couple of notable attractions to see,  Cleopatra’s arch and St Paul’s well, which is a good excuse to dwell upon that Biblical significance.

Now St Paul was an interesting chap and we are familiar with his story from the Acts of the Apostles. They say that if you throw enough muck at a wall then some of it will stick. Likewise if enough people are inspired by the new and rapidly spreading faith then sooner or later one of them will be a rather difficult, bad tempered and very determined Greek, Jewish, Roman Citizen from Turkey who hates Christians and isn’t afraid to rewrite what God has just said.

Let’s go down that list and see what we think. We can dismiss ‘Turkey’ right away as it wasn’t Turkey in those days, it was under Greek influence, so having understood that, let’s cross that off too, as for Jew, the Holy Land isn’t far away, Tarsus was a port in those days (before the bay had silted up) and Hebrew people of a Israelite inclination do tend to wander. Am I allowed to say that?

As an aside, I can recall a wonderful squadron leader who said the most outrageous things when non-sequitur calling the numbers on squadron bingo night (“four and three, send them back”) and got away with it every time by suffixing it with ‘am I allowed to say that?’ via a straight and innocent face.

We’ll cross off ‘Christian hating’ too as that ended during St Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus.

That leaves us with ‘Roman Citizen’, despite Tarsus being thousands of miles from Rome and Paul being a Greek Jew.

Let’s see if biblical references to Tarsus help. All refer to nothing but location except when St Paul drops it into the conversation in order to ensure that he’s allowed to speak in his own defence at the temple in Jerusalem.

Generations of Biblical scholars have agonised over how St Paul could be a Roman Citizen and why he should be allowed a special status by being from Tarsus. Dear reader, here is what to tell them while picking gnat muck from pepper over the roast swan in an Oxbridge refectory, while a string quartet plays Brahms from the gallery.

Tarsus, and her inhabitants,  had a special status because of an important skirmish that the Romans won there. A bit like wartime Malta or the RUC being awarded the George Cross. I think that’s what a ten year old Turkish boy was trying to tell me while serving my tea on the parched grass at Luna Park.

Back on the bus to Mersin, having flirted with the official secrets act we now hit it like a brick wall. The mighty ship HMS  Postcard from Lille sits marooned on it’s reef. Suffice it to say that Saddam Hussein never developed his atom bomb and the less the courier knows the better. What happened on the way to the docks need not be your concern and I’ve been invited to forget about it ever being mine.

Regular readers will have noticed a clanking handover of material in Istanbul when I bought the digital watches from a spiv (for a subsequent barter) and also hints at a trade in old human bones for medical students.

Let’s just say that I left Mersin without the watches and with a well secured box. It took a bit of getting into and hopefully in the process I didn’t wreck anything. It was too big for my Berghaus pack and very square which made the corners protrude. It was just too obvious that something was being concealed and gave me a very bad feeling indeed. Inside were those ancient, bleached and cracked, anonymous, harmless human bones to be sold to ‘medical students’ in the west. I wrapped them up in my clothes and towel and soap bag and secured them in my pack. I left Turkey by a different route, that this story need not trouble itself with, by an unusual route known only to myself and the mice.

Always Worth Saying, Going Postal
Travelling Companion
© Always Worth Saying, Going Postal 2019

A week later I was leaving a nondescript building, just outside the embassy district of a Mitteleuropean capital sans le bones. Job done.

What follows is speculation based upon an old fool reflecting on life as he whisks through the French countryside to Lille decades later.

As we also established earlier, the less the courier knows the better, but I would say the electronics in the watches were material for Sadam’s project, fed into his supply chain,  doctored to wreck what he was doing. Amongst the millions of connections on the extracted  semiconductors were groups which could instruct the circuit board they were inserted into, to make a component a quarter of a millimetre too wide, run a centrifuge at 50 revs out of 50000 too fast, open a valve a minute early or set a shaped charge off 1/50,000 of a second too late,  and in doing so sabotage Saddam’s nuclear ambition. If you think you know better, for all I know, you may be right.

A friend tells me that entry into the secret world is via the correct public school and college education combined with a pleasant, self effacing, rather anonymous demeanour  and couple of good connections. Obviously it helps to be able to live rent free in central London (one envies those army officers who have nothing left after rent and mess bills, at least they’ve been fed and watered). Beyond that, I’m told, the requirement is to be either too cleaver by half (Intelligence Branch) or frankly a bit dim (Executive Branch). The two can be separated by an exam. I should imagine that these take place in a function room at a ‘Les Mis coach trip from the provinces weekend’ hotel in an unfashionable part of London owned by a friend and former employee of the service who sank (literally) his inheritance and meagre pension into a hotel.

Suffice it to say that the DFG are having a terrible time in the DRC in their fight against the GDF (also allied to the GFD) . Their wavering allies, the FDG have plenty of RPGs but no APCs. Meanwhile it’s high noon at the airport (APT?). The SA3s have been confused with the SA7s which were meant as a swap for the SA9s, with the untrustworthy FGD acting as go-betweens. In a meeting with all these TLAs (Three Letter Abbreviations) our chap on the ground has thirty seconds to decide who to, on behalf of Her Majesty, poke in the eye and who to promise all manner of things to, before, across a period of time, rearranging their expectations.

Believe it or not some people soak all of this up, understand it and extrapolate accurately from it in an instant. Others, including your author (I would imagine) baffle themselves, and get a lower mark than they would have if they had simply picked random answers.

At the other extreme are those who get triple A double plus plus and might find themselves being put on a Middle East desk. Which brings us to the box of bones.

I’m not an expert, and don’t want to be, on the damage done to the human body whilst being tortured to death or of weathering bones to make them look a lot older than they really are but I would wager they were the remains of a hostage mistreated beyond human endurance returned to allow a grieving family to have something to bury in a weighted coffin in a finer, greener place than the blood stained dust of the near east. The barter for sabotaged computer chips concealed in watches being conducted via a web of friend’s enemy’s and enemy’s of friends which only Intelligence Branch can understand and manipulate.

Now it’s fashionable to provide alternate endings, and computer simulations and streamed videos, I understand, allow for such, so let’s not prevent writing and reading from denying ourselves the same. Perhaps with that easy stupidity of a midshipman may I offer you the following endings:

Stopping Saddam Hussain’s bomb saved countless lives by preventing a confrontation of nuclear armed waring factions in the Middle East.

Stopping Saddam Hussain’s atom bomb cost countless lives by removing the nuclear deterrence to war from the factions in the Middle East.

Take your pick.

To be continued…….

© Always Worth Saying 2019

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