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My 'distinguished' army service
Followers of the Signy Story probably know by heart how I learned to drive on the Khyber Pass and was for some while the sole representative of the British Army on the Afghanistan border — but I have never written or boasted about acquiring the Distinguished Service Medal or the Burma Star.
To be perfectly honest, this is only because I only received the 'gongs' this weekend when Mrs S and I went on a trip to Bletchley Park, birthplace of the computer and wartime home of the amazing Enigma decoding programme, with fellow Barnet FC director Graham Slyper, Gill and Alastair.
You can purchase replicas of the medals from the shop there so, as I only received one genuine recognition from the Army, I thought I'd stock up. Mrs S bought some splendid refrigerator magnets for her collection, my favourite being the aptly worded: "Money talks. Mine keeps saying good bye". The lady could shop for Britain in the Olympics.
Bletchley Park provided nostalgic memories of the Second World War, of rationing (two ounces of cheese a week), Spitfires and Austin 7 cars. They have a World Tar Two Post Office from which you can send secret coded messages to friends.
Mrs S and I were in agreement - not bad that for incompatibles! - that we felt that the slice of our council tax that is going towards the Olympics extravaganza in 2012 and beyond would be better used to preserve Bletchley Park. A visit is thoroughly recommended... so is the haddock I had for lunch and a decent cup of chocolate.
Peter Ustinov staked a claim as the worst recruit ever called up by the British Army. I decided not to contest him years ago... but I bet that I'm in the Top Ten.
I did get involved in the Punjab riots post war, and have a scar on my right hand to prove it, but I tell the grandchildren that my main military claim is that we beat Hitler within months of my donning khaki.
I can list my Army highlights in a few sentences:
1) I scored half a mark out of 10 in an ability test - and that only came because I recognised that the item I was trying to assemble was a bicycle pump. This obviously earned me a fast-track call into the Intelligence Corps.
2) I wrote off my motor bike in an exercise at Earl Fitzwilliam's estate near Rotherham when I stalled the wretched machine, then set off in pursuit of my colleagues... and met them face to face going round a tree one way while the rest of them were coming the other way.
3) Shouting "Eyes right" to my squad when I took a parade in Egypt... only to find that the commanding office was on our left.
4) Nearly killing a Lt Ball when doing a Sten gun exercise with targets popping up in front of me... he hollered a remark at me from behind and, as I turned, I kept spraying bullets that had him, literally, hopping mad.
I can't thank the Army enough for taking me to Agra for six months of visiting the Taj Mahal every night and for letting me stay at Earl Fitzwilliam's place, albeit in the stables.
Perhaps the Army saw me as another Enigma.
Footnote: A burst main at Cricklewood left us without water at the weekend. Normally this would not bother me - I only use the stuff with my Famous Grouse. Mrs S insisted that I made a visit to Mr Shah's newsagent's in Church Road, Hendon, at 7.30am on Saturday to buy bottles of water to enable us to have a cup of tea and for me to shave for the Big Match against Morecambe which saw Barnet gain their first point of the season.
When the water had not returned 24 hours later, it was back to Mr Shah's... only to find bottles of water lying on the pavement outside the back door of the Times offices and opposite in Johns Avenue. Bottled water with Famous Grouse just ain't right.