If we’re ever in the same place at the same time, I’m the quiet one standing in the corner, keeping his own council, people-watching, shy (or even just plain rude). I might be in my own little world, maybe planning another far-fetched chapter for an iffy memoir.
Friends tell me that I‘m five foot nine, blue eyes, number one or two haircut (to disguise my baldness), ‘willowy and boyish’ despite the years. And yes, a friend, who I hadn’t seen for many years, an old room-mate from a lifetime ago, really did say that. His wife was standing next to him at the time which makes it either worse or better, you decide.
After decades of hard work and service that friend’s CV includes ‘professional gentleman’, ‘family man’, ‘big Australian’ and ‘an honest man and a good writer’. Thanks to his off the cuff remark, next to a startled wife, mine now includes ‘willowy and boyish’.
To make sure it’s me, a closer inspection is required. Look out for the right cheek bone being out of shape, couple of broken teeth, stitches about the left eyebrow.
If I’m stark naked then call the police, but first look out for a long scar on the lower right leg. I would say it might have taken twenty stitches but it was wide rather than deep and across bone rather than a vital organ so it was just left to itself. On different days it was caused by different things, depending upon my audience. I’d probably tell you it’s a shark bite or from tangling with Tommy Smith or Dave McKay during my footballing days. Although I’m not sure why those two illustrious sporting gentlemen athletes would be slogging it out on a ploughed field, half way up a hill, in front of wives, girlfriends, a bus queue and somebody walking the dog.
Previously it was a crocodile bite (bad day at the office), until I was horribly caught out when a chap standing next to me in the swimming pool changing rooms overheard the tale and replied,
‘Really? When I was in Kenya, we used to go swimming at Miappa Falls. Every now and again one of the men would be nipped by a croc, let’s have a closer look.’
A very long silence ensued after which, your honest author, whose face couldn’t possibly tell a lie, was shamed as a booming retired colonial Military Policeman damned me with,
‘Are you sure?!’
I was also disembowelled. Honestly. Don’t worry, everything was put back in again and I was stitched up but in those days the stitching was rather crude. It’s disguised by something even worse, my hairy stomach.
Also, I twice chopped off the end of my right thumb but, because I was born the day after an atom bomb test, it grew back again twice. You don’t believe me? Now that’s something I can actually prove and, if we ever meet, I can show you a complete right thumb, so well healed you’d never know it had been chopped off (twice).
As for those head injuries, some of them were friendly fire. Not so much ‘blue on blue’ as ‘instructor on cocky pupil’.
I can remember tell of a chap who was in the Special Forces. He was an ordinary looking, average man but was the right type, very tough and physically much stronger than his physique suggested at first glance. His cover was to tell everybody he was in the Special Forces as no one would believe him. I understand it worked a treat.
The powers that be sent me on a self-defence course and such a man was our instructor. We formed a line, he introduced himself to us one at a time, shook each man by the hand, put him in a hold and threw him over. When he reached me, he clutched my outstretched palm, gripped it harder, shifted his body weight to one side and nothing happened.
‘That’s because you’re double jointed’, he explained.
‘No, it isn’t’, I replied, contradicting him, ‘it’s because I’m harder than you are.’
Now, that was a big mistake on my part.
‘Harder than me, are you? How many press ups can you do?’
‘One more than you’, I replied, another mistake.
After he’d slaughtered me at press ups, he used me as a ‘volunteer’ for every new beating up that needed to be demonstrated.
Of course, he did me a favour, teaching me a number of important lessons which might no longer be on the syllabus at your local welcoming and inclusive, safe space school.
Don’t be too cocky, learn to roll with the punches, don’t let them know when they’ve hurt you and don’t throw your weight about. There’s always somebody bigger and better than you in the parish and they’re bursting to meet you and prove it. Excellent advice if you’re standing in cage, in the dark, in the searing heat of a Philippine prison while two thousand pairs of pin prick brown eyes wonder if you have any money concealed about your person and why they never got any of those pain killers you were caught smuggling?
And, in passing, when a big Australian tells you’re ‘boyish and willowy’, take it as a compliment, put it on your CV, sympathise with his wife and then run.
At the end of the course I had a little certificate to hang on the wall and the powers that be had the excuse that they were looking for to never pay me any compo for anything that ever happened to me. They’d invested fifty quid on an ‘everything there is to know about martial arts and self-defence’ weekend. I could look after myself.
Which reminds me of another ‘crash course’ story. A friend in the Navy reminds me that the men alongside were dragged out of the engine room and given an hour-long course on how to be a fireman (of twenty years’ experience). They were then herded into Green Goddesses and dispatched to the nearest town to keep the good citizens safe from harm during a fireman’s strike. Something they hadn’t been told was that the Green Goddess had one big water tank, with no divisions within it, meaning that the water sloshed violently from side to side, making the thing un-drivable. Consumer advice: if you are saved from a fire by the Navy, wait until you are safely tucked up in bed before thanking them. As, on the walk home you may be squashed to death on the pavement by a sideways moving fire engine, anticipating a corner a quarter of a mile ahead.
Meanwhile, the nuclear reactor on HMS Armageddon has been left to boil away on its own for a bit.
Further consumer advice, if the Army are organising this (a friend at the MOD recalls), they will rescue you, wait until January, volunteer you for the next strike, send you to Aberdeen and house you in a tent. You have been warned. Am I allowed to prefer the Navy to the Army? For safety’s sake, being less cocky these days, I shall read through as many un-read comments as possible before allowing myself permission to develop the theme.
These things and more cross my mind as we return to our story with myself incarcerated in that Filipino jail. I’ve been caught taking pills to the prisoners and have been put in a cage. I’m not quite sure how the Feng Shui of the ‘pain killers’ will play. On the one hand, grateful prisoners may make a fuss of me, on the other, if these things have been bought and sold around the prison, those who feel they’ve lost out may put my ability to roll with punches to the test.
I clench my fists, especially the left one. There is an escape plan. I have been a visitor at the prison before and have noted that it doesn’t run as efficiently as the Swiss railways in the nineteen eighties.
Biding my time my time, I pretend to be invisible, looking at the ground while hiding at the back amongst the other prisoners. I wait a reasonable time, until after the guards have changed, and then approach the bars and call one of the new guards over. I unclench my left fist, showing a previous week’s visitor’s pass stamped in indelible ink just above my wrist. Without speaking, he unlocks the cage and lets me out. I walk through the prison, at the main gate show the pass again, walk down the steps and disappear on foot, without too much undue haste, vanishing into the traffic.
The next part of the plan is to head for a nearby Dunkin Doughnuts. Alongside its fortifications, which include sandbags and taped up windows, big men with machine guns growl ‘enjoy your meal’ and ‘please call again’ as you enter and leave. Security is always very tight and preparations for the Holy Father’s visit have made them tighter still.
Between visiting times, inside the restaurant, is an A to Z of Manila’s crime families, catching a doughnut between seeing loved ones at the prison. I buy a tray full of ice creams, go around giving them out for free, pull up a pew, and trust them with my predicament.
The consensus is that it is no great shakes, not to worry, lie low for a while and then re-emerge as though it never happened.
But where to go?
‘Hide in plain sight mister. Look as though you’ve gone abroad but stay here. Buy an airline ticket, but don’t use it. It’ll be resold, still in your name, and it’ll look like you used it to go away.’
‘Buy a fake driver’s licence, California? Texas?’, a little girl produced a wad. Some better than others, ‘use a photocopy mister, no one can tell.’
‘Any friends at the airport, sir?’, someone asked.
‘The Brigadier General in charge of it,’ I recalled his letter of permission that myself (and my business associate Gisele’s) sponsor Senator Webb had arranged.
He spread his palms and laughed.
‘Any other friends in high places?’
‘A Senator and his family’, I replied.
An arsonist’s granny choked on her ice cream,
‘Why you in Dunkin Doughnuts, Joe? You should be in his kitchen while the chief of police writes you an alibi.’
They asked me if I knew a good lawyer, I mentioned Issa, Gisele’s sister. One or two of them had seen her on TV.
‘Forget the escape mister’, someone joked, ’sue the prison for keeping you in. If you lose, sue them for letting you escape. Win, win.’
I asked if anybody could give me lift. I needed to get to my lodgings at Issa’s house quickly and get busy-busy with moving on, lying low and setting some kind of a false trail. They all shouted across the restaurant to big, serious looking chap dressed all in black. He had a big, fast FX with smoked windows. His taxi fare was extortionate. I hunkered down in the front passenger seat listening to the police short wave band on the dashboard radio.
I made a lame attempt at small talk,
“Have you travelled far?”
“And what do you do?”
To be continued….
© Always Worth Saying 2019
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file