The Man Who Played Ross – Chapter 1

Blown Periphery, Going Postal
Jelle Vandebeeck, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This is the final part of the War Crimes Trilogy. The protagonists will go on to a well-deserved retirement, some having made it, while others haven’t. All people who have served on active service and been put in harm’s way, will know the scars, mental and physical that will have to be borne. Many are struggling with their burden and none of these men and women are superhuman. They are simply ordinary people who because of their training and character will do extraordinary things. As Afarin Khan says to Bartlett: “I have learned living with men like them, that they’re not “special” in any way. They have the same fears, anxiety, hang-ups and faults just like everyone. The only difference is their training and courage. They and to an extent, I have certain skills that someone has recognised and the state has exploited. There’s nothing new about that. The Spartans and the Romans did it. There were the Forlorn Hopes of the English Civil War, the trench bombers in World War One and the SOE agents in the second. Even though I know your mob had little time for SOE. Too amateurish. Leave it to the professionals.”

The reason I decided to call this final part The Man Who Played Ross is that although Ross is a minor character in Shakespeare’s ”Macbeth”, he is responsible for delivering messages to the major characters of the play. We first meet Ross in Act 1 of the play when he delivers the news of Macbeth’s victory over the King of Norway to King Duncan. Later in Act 1, it is Ross who first greets Macbeth after the witches tell him that he will one day be king. It is because of Ross that Macbeth realizes the witches’ prophecies are coming true.

In the beginning of the play, Ross is one of the characters who support the idea that Macbeth is a hero. When Ross delivers the news of Macbeth’s victory in battle, he describes his bravery to King Duncan. With this news and the description of the hero Macbeth offered by Ross and a Sergeant, King Duncan decides to offer Macbeth the newly vacant position of Thane of Cawdor, a royal title in Scotland. Once the first of the witches’ predictions comes true, Macbeth wants the prediction that he will be king to become true faster. This is when he decides to murder King Duncan.

Later in the play, we see how quickly Ross changes loyalty. He thinks Macbeth responsible for Duncan’s death, yet he sees Macbeth’s crowning and joins his court. At the dinner scene, we even see Ross make excuses for Macbeth, trying to protect him and ultimately, the secret of King Duncan’s death. We again see Ross change allegiances when he flees to Macduff and Malcolm in England. Finally, Ross plays one last important role in the play when he tells Siward that Young Siward was killed in battle. Your Son, my lord, has paid a soldier’s debt: / He only lived but till he was a man (Act 5, Scene 8). This is the last killing that Macbeth commits before his death.

Some of the events of the previous two parts are re-told through the prospective of Guy Jarvis, who was there but in a minor role. This is his story now, a normal boy and man who finds some things just too overwhelming and eventually events try to destroy him. But He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again. Some readers may be gratified to know that no cats were harmed in the writing of this, well apart from the one down in the Tora Bora caves.

God save the king!
Whence camest thou, worthy thane?
From Fife, great king;
Where the Norweyan banners flout the sky
And fan our people cold. Norway himself,
With terrible numbers,
Assisted by that most disloyal traitor
The thane of Cawdor, began a dismal conflict;
Till that Bellona’s bridegroom, lapp’d in proof,
Confronted him with self-comparisons,
Point against point rebellious, arm ‘gainst arm.
Curbing his lavish spirit: and, to conclude,
The victory fell on us.

Guy Jarvis flew his first solo on his sixteenth birthday. It had rained earlier that August morning as his father drove him to the old V-Bomber base at Gaydon and Guy had been disappointed. Flying that day would be a washout, but his father, more experienced in these things had other ideas.

“It might be raining now, old son, but look at the skies to the west. It’s clearing and you should get the first flights up into the wild, blue yonder around ten-o-clock.”

Guy’s dad may have been around twenty years older than his contemporaries’ fathers, but with the age came his knowledge. Few of his friend’s dads could tell the difference between alto-cumulus and strato-cumulus clouds, few of their dads could help them with maths homework, particularly trigonometry and algebra and he doubted that any of them had been a Vulcan bomber pilot. His mum had told him once that his dad had said to her: “If you hear all the kites going off after a quick crew recall, get the kids in the car and drive up to Scotland, as far north as you can. Avoid the cities at all costs.” Guy knew why.

He thought his dad was an incredibly good sort to drive him twenty-odd miles for Saturday gliding with the Air Training Corps (ATC) and wondered what his dad did to pass the time while he was gliding, before picking him up. He said he visited places of interest in Warwickshire, such as the Edgehill battlefield and local manor houses connected to the English Civil War. Guy’s father was a history buff and had a great deal of interest in the religious wars, particularly the Crusades. Once a programme about the First Crusade had come on the TV and his dad had become quite annoyed, “Total bollocks,” he had said quietly and turned to another channel. Sometimes when he picked him up he smelled faintly of beer and Guy suspected a pub lunch. When he learned many years later, that his father had been seeing another woman, he was shocked, angry and disappointed. But he never stopped loving him.

His dad had been right, wasn’t he always? Just near Bishop’s Tachbrook the skies cleared and the sun peeped from behind the layer of stratus, “Cloud base of around two thousand,” his father observed, “Plenty of room for you.”

They drove through the gates of the old RAF base, past the guardroom and headed towards the hangars. Once the base had been home to Vickers Valiant bombers and later a refugee centre for Asians, expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin. Now it was a test ground for Land Rover and Army vehicles. Ahead of them the early arrivals were dragging out the first of the gliders from the hangar and the grownups were towing out the winch and the control caravan, plus the two Land Rovers and the glider recovery trailers. His dad pulled up on the rutted, concrete pan.

“There you go, Guy. Have a good day’s flying. Will you go solo today?”

“Dunno, Dad. Bit early yet. I’ve only done fifteen.”

“You never know. Don’t forget your lunch.”

“What are you going to do, Dad?”

“I might visit Coughton Court and have a look round,” he lied easily. He would be going to Sutton Coldfield to visit a much younger lecturer at the college who was a recent divorcee, “And happy birthday, son. You can open your presents when we get home.” He was going to open his in the next hour.

At sixteen, such things were totally implausible to Guy, because parents didn’t do things like that, “Thanks, Dad. See you later.”

His father watched his younger son scamper away to help the other cadets and the flying instructors with their chores and smiled. He swung the car round and headed back onto the A452.

* * *

It had been a routine circuit with no dramas and in the front tandem seat of the Slingsby Cadet Glider, Guy Jarvis was on his final approach. It had been a predictable launch and he made just under 1,000 feet. The downwind leg was leisurely as the glider slowly lost altitude and he waited, using the maximum of airspace before turning onto the crosswind leg. He was still a tad high on the finals and applied the spoilers to lose altitude. Guy aimed for the grass strip to the left of the flight launch line and applied the spoilers again and the Slingsby landed a trifle heavily to stop just in line with the launch area. Guy kept the wings level in the gentle breeze while the handlers ran towards the glider. The instructor spoke for probably the first time during the flight.

“Mr Jarvis, there is no need to fly the aircraft into the ground.”

“I didn’t want to overshoot the flight line and save the trailer from having to come and get us, Sir.”

“You may not have noticed, but this is a bloody great big bomber base. It has plenty of room. Nevertheless, that was a pretty good launch and circuit. The landing was passable, just.”

The instructor unbuckled his straps and Jarvis started to do the same, “No, you stay put,” He jumped out of the rear cockpit and re-buckled the straps.

The ground handling crew wheeled the glider back to the launch line, one on each wingtip and one on the tail to keep the aircraft on its single wheel, “He goes next.”
Guy looked at the instructor with shock and the man smiled grimly, “Do try not to break it, Mr Jarvis.”

Guy’s heart was racing and he felt a fluttering in his chest. They turned the glider into wind, the winch unit invisible below the slight hump in the middle of the airfield. Feeling dreadfully self-conscious, he went through his pre-flight checks while the instructor took himself away and nonchalantly smoked a cigarette. One of the ground handling cadets went under the nose and went to connect the winch cable.


Guy pulled the toggle and then let it go. The other cadet pulled the cable backwards to check the emergency release was working and the cable pinged out.

“OK, open again, and close,” Then he tugged on the cable and the glider moved slightly forward, “Ready?”

“Spoilers fully open and in line?” Guy asked.

“Spoilers fully open and in line,” the cadet on the wingtip confirmed.

“Wings level please. All clear above and behind?”

“All clear above and behind.”

“Take up slack… All out!”

The red and white checkerboard painted caravan signalled down the airfield to the winch with an Aldis lamp. The glider jerked forward as the winch cable tightened and then it accelerated across the grass, the cadet on the wingtip running with it to keep the wings level. There were a few bounces then the aircraft lifted and Guy pulled back on the stick, riding the express lift to 1,000 feet. The exhilaration was dumping adrenaline into his bloodstream and he concentrated on the artificial horizon to keep the wings level. At 950 feet the glider levelled and he didn’t want to push it. He pulled the cable release and the cable with its drogue parachute fell away, while the glider’s nose went up briefly.

He pushed the stick forward to gain the gliding angle and let all the instruments settle, tapping the altimeter. Checking all around, Guy made his first turn to starboard and began the first crosswind leg. Above the clouds had cleared and he was warm in the cockpit, alone apart from the gentle whine of the wind through the glider’s bracing struts. Ahead in the ground haze to his left was Stratford-upon-Avon with Warwick to his right. It was strange to see a pair of buzzards circling below him and the little white arrow of the variometer went up slightly as he crossed a heat thermal from the runway.

The second turn was slightly overcooked and he lost about seventy-five feet as the aircraft headed onto the downwind leg. Guy remembered to keep tapping the altimeter and was pleased to note he was maintaining a good glide angle. The sweat was rolling from under his arms, but he had never felt so alive. He would remember this flight until the day he died in his dear beloved’s arms, well arm, many years later. Some things he would choose to forget. Some things his subconscious would blank out to save his sanity, but his first solo flight would be remembered and even in his darkest moments the thought of it would make him smile.

He was slightly high on the second crosswind leg and Guy picked his landing site, before turning onto finals. This time he made judicial use of the spoilers, aiming for an area of the grass well clear of the flight launch line. Ahead and below, he could just make out the instructors watching his approach. No flying it into the ground this time. The glider skimmed across the grass on its cushion of air, as though it was reluctant to return to earth from the element it was built for. The caravan sailed past on his right and finally there was a sharp jolt and a gentle rumble as the glider slowed on the grass. It slewed slightly, settled on one wing and Guy remembered to breathe. He no longer needed the Slingsby Cadet. He was flying on his own.

The recovery Land Rover and trailer came for the glider and took it back to the flight line. Guy was buzzing and looked at his instructor who was standing waiting with his arms folded. He jumped out of the cockpit and blurted out, “I’ve done it! When can I go again?”

His instructor smiled and shook his head, “Not today, Laddie. Other people need to get their launches in and you’re going to have to do some work.”

“Was it all right, Sir?”

“It was OK, Jarvis. It’s still in one piece and you’re alive. Not too bad.”

Guy went to turn away, but the instructor called him back, “Well done, Lad. You did fine. Nice landing, a real greaser.”

Guy could have skipped away like the child he still was. He was so excited that he forgot to eat his lunch. That afternoon he waited for his father, metaphorically hopping from one foot to the other and ran towards the car as soon as he saw it.

“Dad, Dad! I went solo today! It was bloody brilliant!”

His father smiled and envied his son’s uncomplicated life, “Well done, Guy. See, I told you.”

“How did you know?”

“Sometimes you just do. It’s a father thing.”

And by the time they got back to their home near Lichfield, Guy’s father felt as though he had flown the glider himself.

* * *

Two months later, Mr Gardener the English Teacher at Guy’s school pondered on the headmaster’s “really good idea” to run two plays by the fifth and sixth forms, for four nights. One of the English sets who were studying The Merchant of Venice would perform the play on a Monday and Wednesday night. His sixth form group would perform Macbeth on the Tuesday and Thursday night. Mr Gardener doubted that the fifth form would have sufficient gravitas to pull off the complexities of the problem drama, with its length but that wasn’t his concern. Miss Havering could deal with that. He considered that the Scottish Play’s themes were rather dark for the sensitivities of assorted parents, although he knew the kids would love it, the gruesome, little bastards.

He thought about whom he would cast in the main roles. Lady Macbeth was easy. He could think of no more bloodthirsty and power-hungry, manipulative bitch than Melisa Tancock. She would fit the bill perfectly. Macbeth himself was more of a problem. Danny Jales lacked the angst or ruthlessness and could barely string a sentence together, so he decided on Fergus Rannigan. Rannigan was the kind of chap who would knife you in the back and be the chief mourner at your funeral. Most of the other characters such as Macduff and Duncan would be easier, but then he thought about Ross.
Ross was Macduff’s cousin and initially a loyal Scottish noble. He first appears in Act One of the play when he delivers the news of Macbeth’s victory over the King of Norway to King Duncan. Ross’s is a complex character who serves to signpost the changing allegiances of the nobles and he himself is the main messenger who changes his loyalty from Macbeth to Macduff. He deliberated for a few moments and decided that Guy Jarvis would fit the bill perfectly. The boy had a strange melancholy and yet could show exuberance at life’s challenges. Ross would be the bringer of bad news. He had a soft spot for Ross as well as Guy Jarvis.

The Porter was perhaps the easiest of the lot. Steve Fadden had the gift to play things for laughs, often to mask his own shortcomings. He would make a perfect porter. Mr Gardener made a few notes and then thought about costumes and props. The parents would obviously have to dig deep into their dressing-up trunks and he fervently hoped they would do better than some moth-eaten dressing gowns. The woodwork department could knock up some swords and Gardener began to think that perhaps it could work. He would tell the year sixes the good news during their next English lesson.

* * *

Guy was struggling to learn the few lines he had, compared to the superbly confident Melisa Tancock and Fergus Rannigan. The difficulty was the way the character of Ross kept cropping up in seemingly random aspects of the play and he lacked a foil to get his teeth into and feed him the next lines. Since he had been selected to play rugby for the school, his free time had been eaten into and life as a thespian held little allure for him. Two nights a week were spent at the ATC with one at judo classes. Learning the mangled phrases of the Scottish Play were an unnecessary distraction, however, he liked Mr Gardener and promised that he would do his best. They were waiting for the coach to take them to the Birmingham Repertory Theatre for the evening’s performance of Macbeth, which was billed as a brave, contemporary version of the classic Shakespearian play. Mr Gardener was chatting with Miss Havering and Guy was standing with Kumar Patel and Steve Fadden. Fergus Rannigan was out of sight round the corner, mapping Melisa Tancock’s tonsils with his tongue and her considerable breasts with his hands. However, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor they weren’t.
“Hey, Kumar, who are you in this play?” Fadden asked innocently, knowing full well that Kumar Patel was playing Siward, Earl of Northumberland, much to the amusement of the rest of the cast.

“Does Siward own a corner shop?” Fadden continued, beginning to skate on the thinner ice of the Midland school’s pond, “Because why else would a Paki be the Earl of Northumberland?”

Kumar grabbed the front of Fadden’s jacket, half good naturedly, “Listen you thick, Irish Navvy. I have told you many times that I am Indian and not a frickin’ Paki.”

“Will you stop wobbling your head when you talk please?” Fadden said, deciding to change tack, “I see Mr Uphill is chatting-up the lovely Miss Havering, so she will be perfectly safe tonight.”

“Why do you call him Mr Uphill?” Guy asked,

“Coz I reckon he’s an uphill gardener,” Guy frowned, groping for an understanding, “You know, a poof.”
Guy shook his head, “No, not Mr Gardener. Besides, he’s one of the best teachers in this place. And at least he’s not a leftie prick.”

“How come you think that?” Kumar demanded.

“Because he said: Margaret Thatcher was a necessary evil for this country.”

“Hardly a glowing endorsement is it?” Fadden observed, “And she is evil. My Dad hates her.”
Kumar spotted his opportunity to revenge the corner shop jibe, “That’s because he’s a Mick and a Provo.”

Fadden flared up, “He hates the IRA even more than Thatcher! And the fookin IRA are one of the reasons he left Derry!”

“Londonderry,” Guy corrected gently, “He’s pulling your leg, Steve. Because you called him a Paki.”
The arrival of the coaches curtailed further pointless arguments and they trundled south to the Birmingham Reparatory Theatre. From Act One, Scene One it became apparent that the description of this production being a brave, contemporary version of the classic Shakespearian play was somewhat economical with the truth. It was acted on a minimalist set and for some reason the female cast members seemed to have difficulty in remembering to wear their costumes. From the outset the three witches writhed in an orgy of long hair and flesh. The boys sat in opened mouthed astonishment, the girls giggled nervously and tried not to look, while Mr Gardener and Miss Havering wished the dress circle would open up and swallow them.

The male members seemed to have decided that the Dark Age costumes lacked challenge and had opted for what could only be likened to fetish wear. It was like a Gay Pride March on speed. For whatever reason, Lady Macbeth instead of sleepwalking, had opted to engage in a spot of simulated masturbation. The climax at the death of Macbeth was like an evening in a slaughterhouse, Macduff liberally coated in gouts of theatrical blood. Perhaps the teachers should have marched them out but that would have been disruptive, but they shepherded the sixth formers out before the main lights went up and before the curtain call, or “beef curtain call” as Fadden rather scurrilously put it.
As they went out of the foyer in a state of shock, Fadden couldn’t resist winding up their production’s leading “lady.”

“Hey, Melisa. Promise us all one thing. If it was tastefully written and essential to the development of the play, would you consider keeping you kit on.”

“Piss off, Fadden.”

* * *

The first school production of the Scottish Play was nowhere near as avant-garde as the Birmingham production. Some of the lines were muffed and Guy managed to mangle some of Ross’s angst-ridden deliveries, the prompters working overtime. Melisa Tancock strutted the stage like a pocket Glenda Jackson and Fergus Rannigan glowered menacingly like a thinner Gordon Brown. Predictably Fadden brought the house down and there were a few snickers from the audience when the Siward, Earl of Northumberland entered stage right and dropped his sword and then his shield as he bent down to pick up the former. But it went down a storm and Mr Gardener watching nervously from the wings felt a huge sense of pride for the cast, the production and his direction. But most importantly, the kids and their parents loved it.

Guy Jarvis thought it had been one of the best times of his short life, although not up there with his first solo. Nevertheless, he had been bitten and it was a pivotal moment that would shape the rest of his life, much of which wold be an act. He would be Ross throughout his career and Service because that would help him to succeed adapt and overcome. Acting would be his survival mechanism.

© Blown Periphery 2021

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