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EMBRACING THE SUBLIME
































An autobiography by

Christopher Freeland



EMBRACING THE SUBLIME

or

One man’s journey striving for the harmony that reigns
when the all-conscious heart guides the cerebral conscious mind




On encouragement from my wife and dear companion Catherine, two elder children and one or two other well-wishing souls, I decided, before I become totally gaga, to commit to paper a little of the wonderful life I have known to date. Is it not common sense to believe that in our lives we obtain what is right for us? Whatever the metaphysical system, belief or their combination, that you apply in explaining your lot in life, the bottom line is that you cannot avoid what happens - short of ending your physical existence, which is a mere extension of the spiritual entity and short-lived at that, so why not take a look on the bright side and accept graciously whatever comes your way. That means you are a neither a victim nor incapable of reacting, so long as you can perceive the silver-lining. I was taught such an attitude, it has served me well and I could only exhort all of my dear children to share the same outlook.

1






Chapter Minus I


In 1066, a Norman by the name of Freland, Frelande or Frilande (names were not very specific in those days) came on a one-way ticket to England with William the Conqueror and apparently stayed. John Anthony Russell Freeland, my father, continued the work of his uncle, Rowan, tracing the Freeland family genealogy and that is what he found. There are two pieces of documentary evidence lacking in the long record, one dating from the Black Death period in England when the bubonic plague wreaked havoc among the population, and the churchmen - who maintained the records - were not spared, the other was in the early confusion of the imposition of Norman rule.


It is rather intriguing to see that humans can be so concerned by their ancestry - is it to prove they are from a particular social strata or simple curiosity? - when one knows that very few of our cells have been with us in our body for more than a few years, and yet we relate intensely to a family name! Why aren't we attached to the stardust we come from?


As coincidence would have it, there was a gent by the name of Freland living in Ville d'Avray where I lived between 1988-1992, so perhaps there are still members of the clan lurking about in France!


Just finding trace of these ancestors is sufficient satisfaction for these genealogical sleuths. The records, however, do not recount anything more startling than the arrival and departure dates of the various players, so it is quite easy to find the whole procedure rather boring, unless you stumble across an historical personality - if he/she ever made it to the history books! Apart from one Admiral Henry Bayfield, who reputedly started his naval career as a powder monkey on one of Nelson's ships and then gained fame as a surveyor of the Great Lakes, the Freeland family proved to be rather a dull bunch. Consequently, having completed the paternal line as far as it would go, my father turned to his mother's much more interesting (read adventurous) Scottish roots. One of Charles II's bastards, and he sired quite a few, was a Marshall ancestor, raised in the Laird of Traquair's family (John Stuart was Captain of Mary Queen of Scots bodyguard, the 7th Laird was Lord High Treasurer of Scotland and granted an earldom in 1628). This is why we are entitled to wear the various Stuart (Stewart) tartans: Royal, Hunting and White. We are not very high on the list in our claims to the throne of Scone (Scotland), let alone those of the Sassenach English, who, in any case, decided that they prefer the Germans to rule them rather than a Celtic tribe from north of the border.


My mother, Irene Georgina Jack, was of "humble" extraction, a Yorkshire lass, who obviously determined to rise in the British social hierarchy. She became, thanks to her dynamism and personality, a Captain in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (the women's branch of the British Army) during the 1939-1945 war, and married my father in 1944. Small she may have been in size, but great in heart, a very loving and generous person.



My father was the son of Colonel John Cavendish Freeland, a frequently decorated career officer in the British Army, who served with the 35th Sikhs in the Indian Army for many years. During the first world war he was mentioned four times in despatches. Their unique son, Ant - as he was known to his parents, was born in Quetta, then India, now Pakistan, and was bundled off to boarding school in the UK at the age of six and only saw his aged parents when they returned from India on leave.


Ant came out top from Sandhurst, the Royal Military Academy, winning the sword of honour. At his funeral, I learnt from a regimental colleague of his, General David Lloyd-Owen (the last commander of the British Long Range Desert Group which operated behind German lines in Libya during the second world war), that the only reason Ant won this prize was because he was determined to out-strip his cousin, Ian Freeland, later General Sir Ian, with whom there was a bone of contention caused by a disputed family debt.


Ant's first posting was to Tientsin, China in 1932 or so. The collapsing Qing dynasty was trying to contain the trading influence and territory-grabbing proclivities of the international "powers", so gave them a plot of land to conduct their diplomatic, trading and other activities in Tientsin (the Emperor himself was forced to live there from 1924-31).


No sooner posted to Tientsin than he got stuck into learning Mandarin with the help of a eunuch from the Emperor's entourage. Cantonment life was crowded and promiscuous, his immediate neighbours were the Japanese. They were very noisy, bugling the Reveille as they raised their flag every morning at 6, and to complicate matters they did not play cricket, a heinous sin in the eyes of the British. After many months of early morning calls he decided to take the law into his own hands. A specially crafted flag was prepared by the regimental tailor and slipped into the box at the foot of the Japanese flagpole during the night. The following morning, the culprit and his sidekick, the same David Lloyd-Owen, were atop the dividing wall with binoculars in hand to witness the unfolding scene.


Out marched the squad with a lieutenant in the lead, impeccable drill and presentation of arms until the appalling moment when the officer raises his doting eyes to THE flag, a red chamberpot had replaced the sun in the field of white. International scandal and a demand for blood!


The colonel of my father's unit summoned all the officers, their quarters were the closest to the Japanese parade ground, and asked who had done the deed. As chance would have it, an order had come in the day before requesting that an officer leave for Mongolia to map the surrounding countryside. My father had, of course, left just that morning and unfortunately, for the Japanese but happily for him, was out of reach of radio, telegraph or pigeon!


A competent linguist with a remarkable capacity of synthesis, he would have made a better historian or scholar, rather than persisting in the army with its subsidised alcohol and superiority complex concerning all things British. He was working at the Canadian military academy in Kingston, Ontario when my mother conceived me and they decided it would be better that she gave birth in the UK.


The doctor recommended after ten months pregnancy that my mother go for a bumpy ride in the car to encourage my arrival, which finally happened on June 6th, 1949. I was happy there, but Chapter I had to start.







Chapter I - Early days


My early days were spent predominantly in the south of England and Wales with a spell in Germany, where my father served his final overseas posting as colonel of his British army unit, the Queen's Royal (West Surrey) Regiment (2nd of Foot).


Earliest memories go back to Iserlohn, just south of Dortmund, in the rather bleak days after the war when rationing of basic necessities was in full swing and the Germans were very disgruntled at British occupation. We weren't popular as my mother found out when a shotgun blast fired from the garden gate passed through her specially made up hairdo as she opened the front door at a cocktail party (fortunately she was small).


On another occasion, my father accurately hurled a gardening fork just in front of the nose of fast-advancing shepherd dog as it moved in on my brother and I playing in the sand pit, perhaps to get some bones which were scarce at the time or just keeping in training, sent in by a vengeful German.


The neighbour had turned his garden into an outside sauna, visible over a tall wall only if you stood on the water butt behind the summer house. The young subalterns in my father's regiment had taught us, ready recruits - my seven-year old brother and I, four, how to bring in accurate mortar fire, using fruit from the abundant supply of plums, pears, apples and assorted fruit trees on our side, to bear on the rather large German ladies sunning themselves on the broader slabs of stone. Naked or not, they were no match for us, and we had to beat a hasty retreat as all sorts of incoming, mainly fruit, rained down around us. Not content with having won the battle, a chosen representative was sent to our house to remonstrate with my mother, whose German was not up to much and made even less effective when the nanny interpreted and made matters worse as she giggled uncontrollably while explaining what the two terrorists had done. Of course, we did not recognise the lady, she was fully dressed, but we realised that something serious was up and so it proved. We both received a painful spanking from my father with his dreaded leather slipper, and even the marble wall of the bathroom could not relieve that sting in our battered backsides.


And so back to England after two years on the continent, firstly by the sea in Deal where on very stormy days the sea used to thrust over the road into our sitting room, and then to drier quarters in Horsell, near Woking, Surrey, the town where I was born. After a year or two there our days of ease and content came to a bump in the road when my brother was bundled off to boarding school, and I pursued my explorations of the countryside in the company of the local gypsies and went to Sunday school with my favourite "aunt", Averill Gornold, who had a significant influence on our family. A more loving soul would be hard to find. She devoted her life to Christ and the service of those in need. When she died, she left me a sugar bowl in her will, a souvenir of her affection for the child she never had. One day she had asked me how much I loved her and I replied "As many grains of sugar as there are in that bowl". The start to my career as a philosopher!


From rural southern England to the wind-swept coast of South Wales we moved so my father could take up his new job as personnel manager of the Steel Company of Wales in Port Talbot. New home, new school, new friends, new country with a strange singsong accent. It was at this stage that my father started having an affair with a "family" friend, Dorothy, who was to become my step-mother, and proved to be the epitome of the genre. I had a striking physical resemblance to my mother and that was probably the reason for my getting up her long, aristocratic nose.


The parents maintained a facade of matrimonial harmony, society of the day was not yet used to divorce and window-dressing still had British society in its control. Nonetheless, off we would traipse every year to Scotland for the Glorious Twelfth of August - the opening of grouse-shooting, staying with my mothers' close friend from army days, a great girl who was running her uncle's household, a magnificent 10,000 acre estate and manor, Ledlanet, overlooking Loch Leven, where Mary Queen of Scots had been imprisoned. We were invited up there as a family from 1957 to 1961. Sir James Calder, the owner, had made a fortune in Canada during prohibition, smuggling Scottish whisky across the border to supply the thirsty Americans. He had left the UK as the black sheep of the family and returned with sacks of gold which he wisely invested in Scottish real estate and forest. Marjory, his niece, was Scotland's trout and salmon fly-fishing champion, she was our fly-fishing teacher and a very fine one.


The sentiment of the day was that children should be seen but not heard so we were relegated to the library for meals and to amuse ourselves when the weather was too inclement for us to play in the woods. It must have been on one of those frequent wet days that we, my brother and I, invented a new game, billiard-squash. Standing at either end of the billiard table, a proponent would throw a billiard ball onto the table and the person at the other end would try to return it, by hand, either on the rebound directly from the table or off the wall behind. It was a quite a dangerous game, not just because it hurt if you were hit by the ball but when the ball rebounded high, it sometimes went up to the top of the bookcase, four metres high. It was whilst recovering the ball one day that I discovered how Stilton cheese is made. Intrigued to find the ball sitting atop a muslin frame, I flipped the ball down to the ground and raised the frame to see what was inside. A swarm of flies flew into my face and despite the intense fear I managed to hang on and not tumble down to the floor, in addition the cheese was leaping with maggots. I had just set the Stilton back a few months but felt little remorse as I clambered back down.


It was some years later that I discovered that the small pictures at either end of the "court", which gave added bounce to the ball, were Canaletto's (an example of his work was sold at auction in 2005 for 18.5 million pounds).


Although not allowed to eat with the adults, we were given the same food, it was from that time that I find it hard to eat "salmon", we were given the real thing, freshly caught wild fish, prepared in a variety of ways and what a treat it was. Our paradisiacal holidays were to come to an end when Sir James died and as Scottish law would have it, his estate went to a male Calder. Margery moved to humbler lodgings down the road and Ledlanet was inherited by his nephew, a rather unscrupulous and risqué publisher, who had concealed from his aging uncle the gender of his daughter, named James, in order to convince the old man of a continued lineage.



On the home front, it was a perplexing time for me, privy to the rather vicious fights between my parents, taken as a confidante by my mother and taken on trips into the countryside to try and find the trysting lovers - although of a purely platonic nature as I learnt many years later. All rather unsavoury and probably the trigger of what finally turned out to be an earth-moving event for this nine-year old, but perhaps that is just an excuse for my base behaviour of the time. I was often left alone in the house as my mother was working as a market-researcher for Nielsen, the market survey outfit, I would take the opportunity to go through her drawers and handbags to steal the spare change that she habitually left lying around. So intense was my remorse that after several months, having spent the money on my stamp collection or buying toy lead soldiers, I confessed. She took it with such ease and understanding that from that time onwards, I believe, the notion of honesty and truth assumed another dimension, as if the removal of my culpability solved the frustration, so why bother with frustration if it leads to such an intensely painful feeling of guilt.


Perhaps because of the verbal and physical violence at home, or maybe the desire to protect my mother, which the latter readily fed upon, there was a conscious desire to stay close at hand. That may have had something to do with the ill-health that led to my spending eighteen months or so in and out of hospital over a three-year period. Having said that, it could just as easily have been a severe dislike of boarding school where I had been sent for the first time at the ripe old age of six. It had all started with a knee that jammed in the morning, unable to straighten it out and get dressed, I obviously could not go to school, so to hospital where the verdict was declared, a slipped cartilage. Rather than remove it, a new treatment of exercise was attempted. It failed in two different hospitals in South Wales, so after a year or so, a rather exasperated parent took me to the Great Ormond Street hospital for children in London where strangely enough, they found nothing the matter with me. No doubt a psycho-somatic issue without any neat and tidy medical explanation.


The laying on of hands with oil at the age of seven had made quite an impression, not because of the result which, as I profanely believed, was nothing more nor less than a need to go and wash my hair to get the sticky stuff out! The injections, excruciatingly painful exercises, abject food, strange business hours in hospital had not helped me improve either.


From an early age I have been drawn by Nature, and my great good fortune was to have been sent to schools that were located in the country; one of which even encouraged us to grow things in our individual gardens. What can be more fascinating and delicious than vegetables produced by earth that you have personally tended. This affinity has developed, sometimes slowly, other times stagnating, but a constant awareness of being part and parcel of something immense yet so truthful, so pertinent, which definitely did not come from the wood of my school-bench or pew in church! Who does one ask to learn about flow, movement and reciprocity?


My father taught us two boys a lot about birds, their eggs and habits. His father had started a collection which we continued. Most common bird eggs were already present so we did not need to deprive a mother bird, but if we did find a species that was not yet there, we would carefully take one egg without touching the other eggs for fear of the mother deserting the nest. It was all quite precise and clinical, even the egg was emptied of yolk and white after being pierced with one hole by a specially made drill and blown with a curved test-tube made to order.


As I was the smallest and lightest, I was often sent up to the highest nests or used as a decoy and had many an adventure, being "buzzed" by a tawny owl who fortunately took fright as I clung to a high branch with all my might, chased by a mute swan while father and brother ran to the nest to discover the bird was sitting on a piece of wood, rather than an egg! A game of patient observation and moments of excitement.


School, when I finally got there again on a permanent basis at age eleven, was initially a haven of learning dosed with physical effort, as education should be for a youngster. From the age of thirteen it became a long series of narrow escapes and rebellion, typical of adolescence probably, but England in the mid-sixties was a spicy place and instead of concentrating on the child and his/her manner of learning whilst addressing the issues of day-to-day life, integrating them into the educational process, as one might like to think education should do in the most ideal of worlds, the emphasis was on the easier method of standardization and banality. The mentality of the older generation, just out of experiencing one war, and with the memory for many of two wars, was simply not adapted to confront a more numerous generation which did not know exactly what it wanted but surely not another bout of fighting and austerity. Total misunderstanding guaranteed, although the intentions of both generations were probably the same but with two opposing ways of going about it.


All kinds of distractions, some modern, some repackaged and popularized by means of the plastic arts, were becoming readily available: cinema, alcohol (drugs came later), sex, music.


There were so many restrictions at school and not always comprehensible because contradictory. Cinema was forbidden outside of school viewings, but I often rode a bike twenty miles to see the latest James Bond movie! Alcohol was a major no-no, but if you were a good boy and behaved well enough to become a school prefect, you got to drink a beer at dinner. I managed to brew my own rice-wine and got beaten when the corks popped out and made a most dreadful smell throughout the dormitory! My explanation of experimenting with fermentation saved me from expulsion, rice-wine was far too exotic to be considered an alcohol! I once stopped for a beer in a pub on my way back from beagling, only to find myself face-to-face with my maths teacher, unfazed, "Hello sir, saw your car outside and wondered if I might stop for a shandy." Drank my drink and headed on, no repercussions! Drinking alcohol was, as it still is, a fundamentally accepted component of society.


Yet that same bar-propping teacher, a retired army captain who had lost an eye during the first world war, thrashed me with a bamboo cane for making early experiments in space travel. I had kicked an ink-well out of its recession in my wooden desk, clear over his head as he entered the room, five metres up before it came crashing down at his feet. He summoned me after lunch, as was his wont when physical punishment was in the offing, fortunately he drank a lot and missed my backside twice although the blow across the hamstrings before he hit my rear end was very painful. We must have been quite lucky to have won that war if he did not shoot better than that.


My dear half-sister was at Heathfield, a "girls only" school fifteen miles or so away. What a relief it was to find some anima time and enjoy a little feminine company, when I would bicycle over to see her and friends, or she would borrow a mistress' car and come and visit. That all ended abruptly when she was expelled, unfortunately because of the car. She concealed the fact from her mother that I was involved which surely saved me a lot of stress!

The dormitory where some sixty boys aged from 13-18 slept, worked and lived, was a single long room partitioned off into thirty or so cubicles either side and every student had the right at specific times of the day or night to play their radio, record-player or music machine. Nothing quite like it to develop likes and aversions. The cacophony was complete but the diversity quite unique, Leadbelly to one side, Hendrix across the corridor, the Beatles next door. My favourites were the Kinks, the Who and the Stones, the bad boys, although I only learnt later that Mick's overwhelming desire was for respectability, it was not apparent in those days! Peter Frampton and Bowie were still at school too, so we had to wait. My mother had early on introduced me to classical music which I enjoyed intensely in her company as she would explain what was happening in the various movements and made the moods much clearer. Most of us had started out with crystal sets, often home-made, but transistors were becoming popular and affordable. Music broadcasting was in its infancy but progressed to what must have been the climax in such matters in 1964, Radio Caroline, a pirate radio station located on a ship moored just out of national waters, which played pop music most of the day to beat the monopoly of recording companies and the BBC.


Sports were the saving grace in Britain's "public school" system, some disciplines were compulsory at the time, I like to think that my broken nose at the gloves of a school champion - I had the surprise of seeing him the following day with both arms in slings (one fractured wrist and a broken thumb, the benefit of a hard head!) brought the traditional inter-house milling to an end. Gymnastics, pot-holing, rock-climbing, beagling and rugby compensated for my dismal academic efforts. True to the tradition of British public schools, I learnt how to fight hard to fend off homosexual advances and laugh at pain.


My brother and I were at the same school for a two-year period, and much of our early childhood holiday time was spent together. I was attached to him, as he was and is a charming and entertaining person, very protective of his younger brother, with all the pros and cons that such an attitude entails. His interests, I believe, became predominantly material from an early age, social standing and money were his driving forces. He never forgave my mother for leaving our father - one more messenger bites the dust, and the damage that caused him is intense and is now such an intricate part of his makeup that he is a victim of the self-imposed obsession of the grudge against her. No charge for the consultation, dear brother!


At that time (1960s) in the UK, students were obliged to choose three subjects at the age of fifteen that would be studied over the next three years and determine passage into higher education, the three subjects had to be selected from either the classics, various sciences or modern languages. Being a jack-of-all-trades or a budding polymath if you prefer to be charitable, I loved maths, Latin and French and was moderately good at all three, but no exceptions were allowed, so I opted for modern languages.


I suspect one of my early German teachers was a stay-behind for some Reich or other, if you did not get recital of the lengthy lists of gender nouns right, you were "invited" to go to his house to set matters right by repeating the lesson after learning them by heart. Presumably he thought that the walk through the woods was sufficiently daunting to boost your memory's capacity. It was definitely scary, night falls fast in the UK in winter and three miles through the dark forest on bridleways is not the most pleasant experience, especially in the rain, but the ghouls and gremlins of Crowthorne survived my passage.


If I was asked did I enjoy school, I believe my answer would be, no I was hungry. The dining hall food ranged from plain to technicolor nightmarish, meat with rainbow effect, veggies that if ever they had contained any nourishment, had been boiled to bits; even the beverages were ersatz and weak. To boost my meagre finances and subsidize the school shop, I started providing an exclusive "early morning tea" service, the British find it hard to start the day, at least in those days, without a "cuppa", it lasted three months or so and at last I was eating to my satisfaction due to the proceeds, but the housemaster thought my entrepreneurial spirit was out of place and put an end to it all.


There was a local delicatessen - interesting isn't it that we refer to the German language for good things to eat! - and the lady there thought my culinary adventures should be encouraged. Gently pan-fried black pudding with apple sauce would alternate with the smoked bacon favourite in rye bread; the crowning glory of these budding skills was a haggis, the start to my ongoing enjoyment of nourishing the physical, even though we only obtain a small percentage of our energy needs from food as I was beginning to appreciate.


Punishment was an immanent and permanent reality, right until the time I left school at seventeen. The first time I was caned was the fault of the Rolling Stones, they had just produced a song by the title of "Walking the Dog". My English literature teacher went by the soubriquet of "Dog", and Baker was his name. As he walked along the road below the second-floor window where I was brewing some tea, the irresistible temptation to help him on his way arose in my musical breast. Hardly had I finished the first stanza than the teacher's head swivelled up to search for the irreverent japer, only to see the perplexed face of a prefect whom I pulled by the arm to where I had been standing. I was not able to lie on my back for a week after being beaten by my ex-Chindit (soldiers parachuted behind the Japanese lines in Burma) housemaster who ignored his own strength.


What a gap there was between the ultra-conservative, "character-forming" existence we were subject to and the radical moral upheaval sweeping British and European society of the day. We lived by values which seriously maintained that "fagging" - senior students (prefects) having the right to call on the services of juniors, from making their beds to running errands that might involve substantial time and effort, "Go and buy me a packet of biscuits", the school shop being a mile and a half away - and cold baths every morning, were the norm.


How many of us take our own lives into our hands? Do we even know how to do that? Until the age of sixteen I was fascinated by the life of Christ and read the old and new testaments several times, my religious teachers were earnest and competent, generally open-minded but unable to solve what I finally saw as a dichotomy. How to condone the predisposition of God and man's free will?


Some six years later I was to find an answer from an unexpected source. Religion (of the Church of England variety) was a major fixture at Wellington, a church service for the whole school every morning, a full-blown service with communion on Sundays (sometimes both morning and evening) and a prayer session in the evening held by the house-master. I had a reasonable singing voice, must have been the Welsh influence, and was in the choir until aged 15. One day when replacing the hymn book under my seat I felt a bottle, I ducked my head down and indeed, there was an unopened bottle of what I could only presume to be communion wine and a litre at that - unlikely that someone would have left a bottle of L'Angelus lying around.


It was a Saturday and I mentioned the discovery to one of my more unruly friends who went by the promising name of Hugh Constant. He wisely decided that spiriting a litre bottle out of the chapel would be a dangerous venture, so the alternative was to consume on the spot. We did, under the altar that evening, I don't think we invented the facetious meaning of the word libation, but whoever did must have been in similar circumstances. We heard a noise in the aisle and peering through a chink in the altar-cloth we could see a devout student putting up the numbers in the racks so that we would all be on the same page in the hymn and psalm books the following day. The bottle was almost finished by then and suitably inspired, Hugh started what I assume could be correctly termed caterwauling. It is rare to see such speed. There was some confusion in the service the next morning when hymn numbers were not those announced in all corners of the church!


On the family front there had been a number of changes. My parents' divorce came through on my thirteenth birthday, 6th June 1962, my father married Dorothy in September of that year and they very foolishly took all four children (my brother, two half-sisters and I) on their honeymoon with them to Majorca! We were legally obliged to spend time in the holidays between the two parents and it was not fun at all with my father because of his new wife, who was a very intelligent woman, speaking several languages, well-read and artistic, schooled solely by a series of private tutors, which is why perhaps the social graces that are developed in community living passed her by.


My mother was struggling to make ends meet, she had been the governess of a girl's residence at Aberdare Hall, Cardiff University - she sat at the head table in the dining room with six hundred female students, something of a trial for two bashful boys when that was also our lot in school holidays. She then found a better paying job running the VIP guesthouse for Sir Percy Lister's engineering firm in Dursley, before working as the personal assistant to the manager of a furniture company in Cardiff, and finally met my future step-father when applying for a job in his cigar-making factory!


Our family dog, a very clever dachshund by the name of Simon, sussed out Ivan, the new boyfriend, quite fast and took to leaving "visiting cards" in his slippers, but Ivan was made of sterner stuff, a commander in the Royal Navy who had risen through the ranks since starting as a boy sailor at age fifteen, had survived the war and had held command of sea-going ships for the longest period of any other naval officer, (I would guess to keep him out of everyone's hair on shore!). We learnt all this quite soon and heard it very often as he was very proud of his "education", and wanted everyone to know about it, how he had won his war and knew just what to do with society to put us to rights, was he a bore!


The Royal Navy is renowned for producing clean machines, they would have been proud of this one. Never was there a doubt, a mechanically pragmatic man with scant imagination. But, and that made for a dangerous mix, he was well-intentioned and really wanted to help me see the light of duty, country and Queen and would invite me on long walks through the fields and hedgerows of South Wales in the earnest desire to drum some (of his) sense into me. I was quite impervious to his materialistic approach, devoid as he was of any philosophy, understanding of human nature and little self-control. One day, when we were out for a walk with his gun-trained dog (the dachshund had died, but I don't think he was responsible!), a Springer spaniel, especially neurotic, took off into a clump of brambles to surprise a pheasant, but came out with blood spurting from an artery in its front leg. Panic stations on the naval front with anger, dismay, hysteria and collapse following in close sequence. I grabbed the dog, pulled out my handkerchief - no British schoolboy should be without one - and tied a garrotte around the beast's upper leg, broke a twig to allow occasional flow and headed back home with the dog in my arms, the commander in charge of the twig. The dog survived after a visit to the vet for stitches and medicine. My low esteem went a little lower for my step-father who, to tell the truth, was by that time, behaving badly with my mother - not returning home for two or three days at a time, bad-tempered and sulking when present. What does a sixteen-year old do when you see the same scenario repeat itself on the home front. I steered clear as well as I could but the lesson was quite specific, if you cannot get out of the way of forces greater than one's own, the options are few, either fight and the result is a foregone conclusion - the forces are stronger than you, or, change your attitude and try to see what is driving those concerned to do what they are doing. The philosophical lesson of the day is complete!


A few of my closer class-mates - who had left at the end of the summer term to go and cram in London for their University entrance exams - returned to the school in mid-October and organized a party in the woods to which a school prefect - a good friend and I were invited. We climbed over the rather dangerous eight-foot spiked fence at nightfall and went to join our buddies, make merry and returned at four in the morning, a little the worse for wear. We must have made a little too much noise because the master replacing our housemaster, away on a sailing expedition to Greenland, heard us as we sneaked through an open window just next to his apartments. Summoned the following morning, because he thought he had recognised us both, he asked me who the other person was. I feigned ignorance and was sent to see the headmaster as the acting housemaster did not want a scandal involving the school prefect. I was duly beaten by the ex-army PT instructor - headmasters do not deign to such tasks. I was warned that one more incident would have me expelled and that I was under close surveillance. The prefect went scot-free and was very appreciative.


It was clear to one and all that time and money on my supposed education were being poorly spent, so the decision was taken that I should cram for my French A'-level at home in my mother's and step-father's home just outside Cardiff. It lasted a month and I managed to persuade the parents that it would be much better if I went to France and learnt from the horse's mouth, so to speak. Off, with great relief, I went to Aix-en-Provence, supposedly to improve my spoken French but in actual fact only improved my poker, scrounging and various other dubious skills.


The British contingent at Aix, almost all ex-public schoolboys, old friends such as Roddy Llewellyn (later to gain infamy as Princess Margaret's lover), cousin Kauntze (my godmother's nephew, also commissioned into the Gurkhas), scions from various British tribes, and new, such as Nick Drake - before he became famous and depressed - Dean Popov and other reprobates, needed little urging to experiment with our new-found "freedom". Nick was the most delightful, shy, gangling youth; he had the amazing knack of taking his guitar which we had deliberately "untuned" and he would make melodious sounds appear. I was often allowed to squat their flat, which he shared with another ex Marlburian, not because it was the scene of many a music session, but to discuss the world and its ways. He was an intense individual, a thinker.


He was also a “gifted psychic”. We used to gather at a friend's house in the older part of Aix, mainly because he had a three-legged table and space for the group of six or so of us who met quite regularly to "play". Nick's ancestor being Sir Francis, the Elizabethan hero and pirate, was a natural target for us to try and contact, to ask if he had buried any treasure, he had, in Cep's cave just a few miles from Portsmouth but woe betide anyone who tried to recover it - except for a relation! Nick wasn't in a hurry to do so, so we found other "spirits" to bother. Our game came to a rather abrupt and scaring end when Nick's girlfriend, a very sensitive Dutch girl, screamed and dropped a dish in the kitchen when she saw a very frightening face in the window. She never touched the table again as it had put the wind up her in a big way and Nick, out of solidarity, went with that.


Being permanently short of funds, the allowance my father kindly gave me covered living expenses and nothing more. So, I would take stupid bets in exchange for meals or, even better, cash, which would then be invested gambling. I was too young to access the casino in Aix but card-playing was a favourite pass-time among a crowd of wealthy Brits whom I would join and often improve my financial lot, sufficient to join a friend on a ten-day trip to Paris and a few days at the Institut Britannique sitting in on French classes as it was just next door to my pension.


Singing in the streets with a guitar-playing friend to earn a few pennies to buy a sandwich, I think the passers-by contributed just to keep us quiet, but we did brisk business and could even afford a few glasses of wine and did not have to bother the pedestrians of Boulevard Saint-Michel too much. A memorable evening was spent standing in the windows (we had climbed over the railing) of the faculty of medicine listening to Jimi Hendrix playing "Hey Joe" and other marvels.


There remained sufficient integrity, after three months, however, to tell my father that his investment was being wasted and off I went to Les Sables d'Olonne, a town on the Atlantic ocean, where I had contacted a retired French colonel, friend of a friend of Ivan! A most delightful family who welcomed me as one of their own boys and only spoke French to me, so I had little option except to integrate their cosy society. The colonel was teaching at the local lycee and he smoothed access there for me to study in the mornings. I opted for history, geography and philosophy and was invited to help in English classes.


What an eye-opener to study France's version of history - quite different from the British one I had learned at Wellington, where the French had been soundly beaten in the Spanish peninsula and at Waterloo. Here, there was Toulon, Marengo, Austerlitz and Iena, the genius of Napoleon despite the final loss of all his territorial gains and reputation, Honour had been gained, so what matter?


To supplement my still meagre allowance I worked on the beach in the afternoons selling pains au chocolat et autres gateaux de la même sorte, dressed in my Union Jack shirt, meeting and chatting with students from school who recognised me and wanted to encourage my efforts. I encountered my first love in the nightclub where I occasionally went, finances permitting, a French hairdresser working in Paris but originally from the town where we spent three very intense weeks before she had to return to work in the big city.


During all this period I had been preparing for the UK university entrance exams, but I had unfortunately read the wrong course books. So, on my return to England and Wellington where I sat the exams as a free candidate, I failed dismally, despite a score of 18/20 in the French oral.












Chapter II - Apprentice killer



On return to the UK I was basically forced into the army by my father after the A' level debacle. Military service had ended in the UK in 1957 or so and the military was a professional and voluntary thing.


I had been refused access to the Royal Marines due to my faulty eyesight some nine months earlier so was savvy when the time came for the army medical exam. I was much helped when after lunch a red-nosed doctor colonel told me to close my right eye and read the letters on the wall, his hand that covered my eye was shaking so much I had no difficulty reading with both eyes open and passed with flying colours. Having been accepted for officer training my marching orders came to report to Aldershot in two weeks time. I contacted my father's cousin, who at that time was the Adjutant General (number 3 in the military hierarchy), or to be more precise, his aide-de-camp, as I had requested deferment for one year pleading my youth and the fact that I had a job lined up in Canada working on an oil rig. That was not to be. Either I went with the flow or hasta la vista to being one of Her Majesty's killers.


The next few months were tough, because instead of the standard five, I spent seven months as a cadet. We were treated as very low forms of humanity by directing staff, who literally got away with murder in the name of making "men" of us. The approximately 65% of British cadets who made up the contingent were pushed to the limits of physical and mental endurance. The remaining 35% overseas cadets (primarily Commonwealth but some Yemenis who wanted to understand how we had beaten them in Aden a few months beforehand) were hassled but as they were paying to be put through the school, they fared better. Except for Gabriel Ugba, the most delightful Nigerian Army sergeant, who lost his life on Dartmoor. The most senseless loss imaginable and a very unpleasant introduction to the undertaking we were involved in.


We bussed out from Mons Officer Cadet School one night in November for our first orientation and endurance exercise and were unceremoniously dropped in groups of three at around four in the morning on the edge of a large stretch of what proved to be very hostile real estate with instructions to march forty miles before the end of the day. It rained, snowed, hailed and sunned briefly, before raining some more as we made our way through moor, bog and river with pack, rifle and radio. The radio was a useless deadweight as we found out in the afternoon when meeting up with another squad of three comrades. One of their number was trying to call in help from the top of a hill, we saw him before hearing him on the radio as we switched channel to check whether he was "enemy" or not. We went up to join him and learned that one of their team, Gabriel as it turned out, was unconscious and distinctly blue in colour, the other team member was trying to revive and keep him warm unsuccessfully.



We attempted carrying him on a stretcher made from our rifles, but he measured way over six feet and between the five of us we did not get far. As we thought we knew where we were on the map - and we did - we suggested that we should head as fast as possible to our destination, as we had been told that there was a Wessex helicopter on standby for emergencies. I was the first in, having run the last five miles hoping to reach base before daylight faded. The officer, Major MacPherson, commanding our company of trainees, was deaf to my pleas as I begged on my knees, probably from exhaustion but imploring nevertheless, to send the chopper out, even though I was able to give a very precise grid reference as to where the wretched group was. He refused.


Three of our number died that day. Gabs, another African and an Arab cadet, a board of inquiry was requested in the House of Commons, but, to my knowledge, nothing ever came of it and the incident was swept under the thick carpet. No repercussions, the major continued in his job. Just new instructions on what to do in case of inclement weather and exposure! Of course, we were too busy trying to keep our heads above water to either follow what happened or to learn of the cover-up (only two deaths were actually reported). I had frost-bite in both feet and was allowed time off from certain duties for three weeks.


It wasn't always as harsh as that, but quite stark most of the time, albeit with lighter moments - for some.


We were responsible for keeping our barracks clean and the latrines were a conundrum for some of the African cadets, who didn't use the lavatory the same way as we had learnt. They squatted on the seat but didn't always have their arses zeroed in and would leave the mess for the duty fatigue to clean up. With cousin Kauntze, we decided to put things to rights one day after pinpointing the untidy culprit. Being overgrown children, we risked our future careers to acquire various munitions, including "thunderflashes", grenade simulators that packed a heavy charge. The word came that our man had installed himself and I took out the explosive from its hideaway while Kauntze checked to see that his feet were clear of the ground, we wouldn't want to frighten the wrong man! A seven second fuse meant you kept the thing in your hand, counted and rolled it under the door on five and strolled away. The explosion was huge, rocking the old wooden building, knocking off the door, breaking the bowl in two. Of course, we were on the scene quite quickly to learn what the noise was all about. The uninjured fellow was hanging on to the cistern eight feet above the damage, very distraught as he surveyed the appalling mess below. They never found out who was responsible, although investigations were fierce and suspicion high. Never again did we have to clean up others' mess - the word was out.


On our second big exercise in Cyprus, we were in the sticks for four days of constant war-games, exchanging roles in order to hammer home the duties of each and every member of the team. I was playing at company sergeant-major when we were called into a defensive position and my first duty was to set up a perimeter and post individuals as guards with their interconnecting fields of fire and communications. Some poor Zambian cadet, totally exhausted, did not want to get up and assume his position as I was asking. Having twigged to their way of doing things, I hit him across the head with the butt of my rifle, he immediately did as he was told and I thought no more of it. Only on our return to the UK did I realise that I was in the doodoo, again, and because my deed was deemed outright racism was relegated to start the course all over again.


A brief lesson in linguistics! In British public school slang, we were prone to say "Sod it!", a painful experience (sodomy at the best of times) whereas the Americans would say "Fuck it!", generally a more pleasurable one.


Of the seven and a half months spent learning how to wield arms of all sorts and becoming "worthy" of bearing them, I spent one hundred and eighty-five days confined to barracks, painting things white, sweeping perfectly clean areas even cleaner. It became - in my mind - a game to see who would break whom. I have no idea who, if anyone, won. No matter, sod it!


A typical example from our hectic life where we changed an average four times a day from one form of uniform to another, happened on a very cold and windy day spent learning how to manipulate, conceal and fire vehicle-borne anti-tank guns. Back to barracks with time to get into dress uniform and march two miles to church for some memorial service or other. Exhausted from the day outside, I fell fast asleep in my pew, unfortunately on the seat next to the aisle, in full view of anyone who turned their head backwards, which of course they did when I started snoring despite the efforts of my neighbour to stir me awake. On forming up to march back again, I was instructed to report to the Company Sergeant-Major's office.


At this stage of training, the cadets had selected their arm and regiment of choice from among three options, my fancy was taken by the Gurkhas, Nepalese soldiers officered by British cadre, lip-service Buddhists with a Hindu priest officiating for ceremonial purposes. At attention in front of the irate Guards' Warrant Officer, I was ironically asked which regiment I thought I would be joining in a month's time. "Gurkhas, staff!" came the prompt reply. "What makes you think the Gurkhas need you, sir?" came the ominous retort and sneered “sir”. We had soon learnt to keep eyes focussed straight ahead, and I think I felt the heat from his face rather than saw it, when I replied "Because they don't go to church, staff!" The next two weeks I spent keeping the camp even tidier than usual.


To my immense relief the final days before commissioning were to be spent in the mountains of South Wales. To the very end, the tension was maintained not only because I was a borderline cadet but who should be taking the salute at our final parade? None other than HRH, Princess Margaret, who just the week before had been at Sandhurst, the mainstream officer training school in Camberley, and asked the Regimental Sergeant Major out of what we could only assume was pure mischief rather than curiosity, "Why are this recruit's boots cleaner than that one's boots?", the hapless individual's feet did not even touch the ground as he headed to the guard house and two years of his time went by the board.


She must have been quite a card, when introduced to our company commander, Major Mike Joy, a 2nd KEO Gurkha (Sirmoor) Rifles officer, who had King Edward's crown decorating his cross-belt which was well above her field of vision, she was diminutive in size but not otherwise, she asked him "What's the matter, you don't like my sister?" Without a flinch, he answered that there was no room left in her regiment and he had had to make a second choice. Her curiosity must have been quenched by the incident the week before as she made no waves and we went on our way, the richer for a shilling. (British tradition has it that an officer on commissioning is granted a shilling.)






Chapter III - Parts east


Two months before my nineteenth birthday, in April 1968, I flew to Hong Kong to defend Queen and Empire, commissioned into the 1st Battalion of the 6th Queen Elizabeth's Own Gurkha Rifles. The British army recruits Nepalese hill-tribe people from remote areas, tribes renowned for their toughness, due in part to the hostile environment they live in. For example, it is not unusual to find a village with no water supply of its own, every day water is fetched from the valley, perhaps two thousand feet below and carried back up. The Gurkhas are extremely disciplined in all respects, the men I served with were for the most part from very primitive backgrounds, jovial, spontaneous and would do exactly what was asked of them, without questioning, so you had to get the instructions right!


Every officer in this regiment had an orderly, your manservant and bodyguard if you prefer. The duty of an orderly is to make sure his officer is always impeccably turned out. My orderly, Kharkabahadur Gurung, was twice my age, didn't speak a word of English and was determined to do his job well. The only personal decision in my average day was to choose which shirt and tie I wanted to wear in the evening before going to join the other officers for dinner. One evening, I asked Kharki to put out my new suede chukka boots that I had just had made by a cobbler in Kowloon. Returning from my shower and seeing a pair of black shoes beside my bed, I called him and tried to rectify the situation, he insisted that these were my new shoes, the form was indeed the same, but they were shiny black. It then dawned on me what had happened as his explanation began to make sense. He had shaved the scruffy shoes which could only have been made by an ignorant Chinese (for a Nepalese at that time, who else could have used untreated leather to make a shoe!), and then he had worked hard at bringing out a shine in a very absorbent leather. I stopped wearing suede!


The first five months went by in a flurry of riots and ceremonial duties. This was Cultural Revolution time and the British were not the flavour of the day. Communist action against the crown colony had started in 1967 and continued through 1968, resulting in several hundred deaths and numerous wounded. We were the white pigs and the Chinese police lackeys, yellow running dogs. As a colony, it could not be considered as a war situation, so no medals to reward us for our participation were granted but a decorative tie was available with white pigs and yellow dogs on it, I still have one.


My first riot at Lo Wu railway station was unnerving. I could not speak Gurkhali, so my company commander, Ted Hill, a very decent sort, had to repeat everything, if he had time and as things happened fast, that wasn't always so. We had to wait for our orders which came directly from London because the situation had reached the precarious stage where local command needed to refer to Whitehall.


Tear gas is not fun, as I was about to learn. The Royal Hong Kong Police had fired off their entire year's supply of gas canisters on the practice range, because in the minds of the powers-that-be if you did not use something, you did not need more. Simple, you still have gas, so you don't get more, even if the humidity of Hong Kong made metals and materials degrade quite fast. The inevitable happened, a gust of wind took the whole cloud of gas, up and over the hill from nearby Lo Wu into China and dumped it in the fields where the local farmers started falling about, vomiting and hurting. Quite understandably they came across the border to protest at being gassed, encouraged by their political bosses who used every opportunity to show how bad the capitalist pigs were.


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