Saturday 9 December 2023

The Saturday List #424 - Ten things my father taught me, some of which are no use at all

 I grew up in awe of my Dad. I've always thought he was one of the greatest men who ever lived. I'm not entirely sure he was the greatest father, his views on parenting were, shall we say, not particularly modern. The last proper conversation I had with him, a loving conversation that spanned a curry, several pints and a game of snooker at The Mill Hill Services Club and half a bottle of scotch in the front room. I was 24 and the year was 1987. He explained several things that had troubled me, I don't really know if he convinced me. He told me that he believed that he had prepared us for a vicious, unforgiving world, given us (the boys in the family) the tools to survive as best he could. At the time, I was working for BT, setting up the network that supported the LINK ATM network. He told me that I had surprised him, he had always thought I was too indisciplined and argumentative to amount to anything. He also confided that he'd come to realise that my commitment to the band was a positive thing and that the band were actually very good. This surprised me. It was possibly the only affirmation he ever gave me. He told me that he thought people who didn't smack their kids were idiots, as the children would not realise that if you upset people, you might get a slap. He said this was a vital lesson when being a young adult in a pub. I've been thinking a lot about him recently, I often do at this time of the year. 

As I grew up, he taught me all manner of things, some of which were very useful, some of which were positively dangerous. Here's a list

1. How to make nitro glycerene and to fashion this into what we now call an IAD. He believed that being able to know how to blow things up was an essential life skill. I've never really used that skill. I did enjoy making bombs with him as a six year old though. He also taught me that if you put a sliver of nitro glycerene in a cigarette, it won't blow the ciggie up. It will just burn and give the person smoking the ciggie a really bad "nitro" headache. I've never been inclined to try this. I have to say there have been times when I've been tempted to use these skills, but Dad also taught me that if you plan to do something nefarious, the most important thing is plan how you can get away with it in both this life and the next. On balance, the $h1tbags I may use these skills on are not worth a stretch giving His Majesty pleasure or eternity in hell. 

2. How to sabotage the engine of your next door neighbours car. This was another essential skill. He said that if ever I needed to disable German tanks, this was the way. My Dad caught one of my mates trying to do this to the car of someone who had not paid him for a job. My Dad gave him a stiff lecture on how to do it properly and berated him for his amatuerism.

3. How to conceal a weapon, so that you could evade a search. When he was in the prisoner of war camp, he nicked a Mauser pistol from a German Officer. He had it in his possession the whole time and evaded numerous searches. He told me that if ever you carry a concealed weapon, the only time you ever show it to your enemy is when you actually kill them. He said if you wave it around, you will be  disarmed and your enemy will kill you. A friends brother became a policeman and did training in how to disarm a knifeman. My Dad said "Come on show me how its done". The policeman said "Right, pretend you have a knife and I'll disarm you". My Dad immediately put his hand on the policemans stomach and said "Your dead". The policeman said "You are meant to wave it around", my Dad laughed and said "When I was trained by the Australian Army, they taught us how to stay alive and that means to expect the unexpected".

4. How to build a Gudgeon trap. My Dad loved fishing for pike and used gudgeon, caught by Hunton Bridge in Watford, as live bait. I didn't really like decapitating small fish to catch big ones, much to his disgust.

5. How to disable and assailant with a baseball bat. Now this may sound like a stupid thing, but he said if ever you hear a burglar or other intruder in the house, get a baseball bat or a crowbar and hide crouched down. When you are in range, whack them as hard as you can on the knee, then break the other knee. You won't kill them but they will be in excruciating pain and unable to move. Any court would deem that you'd used reasonable force. Fortunately, touch wood, not had to use this either.

6. How to make Sloe Gin. My Dad told me that the only time he'd ever hallucinated on alcohol was after drinking Sloe Gin. It sounded horrific, he told me that he'd never touched the stuff again. He then took me out, got a load of sloe berries, made some and a couple of weeks later we tried it. Neither of us hallucinated and it was quite nice.

7. Never to trust people in authority. My Dad told me that when he was in the RAF, he soon realised that the 'top brass' were not your friends and not on your side. He said that you are expendeable to them and they simply can't ever give a stuff for you, if they did, they couldn't do their job. It is up to you to figure out how to do your duty and survive. He told me I'd never have made it in the RAF as I was too indisciplined and argumentative. He said you had to learn when to pick your fights and when to hold your tongue. I saw a bit of Boris Johnson on the COVID enquiry, I could feel may fathers words burning in my ears.

8. If you know a foreign language and are involved in business or in a prisoner of war camp, never let on that you do. He was fluent in German, but he never let on. That meant he could evesdrop on the guards in the POW camp. He knew that there were snitches in camp, he just pretended he had guessed right. When he was working in the Middle East, he learned Arabic. He told me that the Arab translators assigned to him would be saying the worst things, ripping him off etc. He never let on. He knew that if he did, then no business would get done. He just made sure they were only taking a reasonable cut when they ripped him off. Sadly, I don't have his aptitude for languages.

9. Never give a mug an even break. This was my Dad's motto when playing cards. He loved poker and three card brag. He was very good at them, He made a lot of money at it and was merciless. He said that if you take pity on your opponents, you are not doing them a fabvour as they will never learn. I recall one Xmas, one of the blokes who worked for him spent his Xmas wages at the bookies. The man's wife appeared on the doorstep as he told her he'd not been paid. My Dad realised what had happened. The poor woman and her family would have nothing for Xmas. Dad bought them a turkey and the rest. He told her that it was his present to her, but there was one condition. In future, he would pay her the wages and if she wanted to give the fella pocket money for the bookies, that was her business. After about three months, she told him that she genuinely hadn't realised how much her husband was earning. She'd paid off all the family debts and their marriage, which had been on the rocks, was back on track. Dad explained that people who have a problem with gambling will throw anyone under a bus for bet. The only way to stop them is to not give them cash in the first place. I told him that I thought he was generous giving her the Xmas shopping. He said "Not really, most weeks I'd been taking most of his wages off him at three card brag on a Friday afternoon after he'd been paid". Dad explained that he considered it better in his pocket than the bookies.

10. Tell your wife/girlfriend she is beautiful every single day and never tell her she's ugly. I, rather stupidly, asked what if she is ugly, then thats a lie. He said "If you get yourself a girlfriend you think is ugly, then you are a bigger mug than I thought you were". I'm lucky, I've never had to lie!

Wherever you are right now Dad, God bless you. Here's a little video I made about him

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