Celtic Illumination, part 138, Improvise, Adapt, Overcome.
I suppose I was a wee bit like that fellow from The A Team. I had a plan and it was coming together. I admit there were a couple of small glitches but I firmly believed in the mantra, Improvise, Adapt and Overcome. My plan had been simple, as are all the best ones. To spend some time in Venice enjoying my twenty first birthday and to not waste one second of it. I did have a plan B, and I did occasionally look toward it, but never sensed that it would be put into action. Plan B was to go to Rome. There was no definite plan, but there was a possibility. If I had to leave Venice I knew what direction I would be heading. You always had to have an escape route.
Now I found myself leaving Venice but in completely the opposite direction. I was heading North to the Dolomite Mountains, to Trento. Again, I was allowed to carry the bags and buy the train tickets. I was quite happy sitting there watching the Italian countryside whizz past. I had no expectations of what lay ahead, just to be on my guard. Carol, my sister, and Karen, whom I suppose we could now start referring to as my ex-girlfriend, were happy planning their exciting shopping trips and of course Carol’s birthday party.
We arrived at Trento and I felt that we were in just another grey, industrial, Italian, railway station. Had I allowed it, the surroundings may have encouraged a lessening of the mood. As we began to exit the station and cross the main hall, I noticed a group of people standing in the centre of the train station. Notice may perhaps be the wrong word, for these guys stood out and I mean really stood out. There was a group of about half a dozen Alpini standing in the centre of Trento rail station.
Military men like to compare themselves against each other, especially other units but more especially against other nations. The British always claim that their SAS troops are the best in the world; this of course is hog wash. On mountain rescue we had our own pecking order, which came not from media propaganda bandied about in bars, but from experience and we would speak in reverential, hushed, tones About the Alpini. These guys were, I think, the oldest mountain infantry in the world and not only were they the oldest, they were close to being the best.
It was such an honour for me to see a group of them, not that they were in any way secretive. They looked so regal in their green mountain kit, really very smart and all topped off with a soft green felt hat which carried a huge curved feather. I decided there and then that if I couldn’t get back to serve as aircrew I would get back on to mountain rescue where, as well as have a word about a new uniform, I would try to get a secondment to the Alpini. They looked so smart and proud, but so casual and relaxed, it really made my day. In fact my mood may have completely lifted as I stepped out of the station into Trento proper.
I was impressed. Trento was a very old town and there were castle walls and old buildings giving a flavour of its rich history, but there was also a glimmer of modernism which didn’t conflict. It all sat very comfortably together. The roads were lined with mature trees and a wide river ran through the town. I could see the mountains close by and a cable car, climbing away from the town, suggested that adventure could lie ahead.
Carol’s flat was quite small and we settled in. Various people popped in and out and said hello but we eventually faced a standard evening at home. After the evening meal we relaxed and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the wine was nice and it flowed freely. In fact one might say it flowed a little too freely, as I woke up in the morning and discovered that the gorilla had been around again. This is the gorilla who, after a good feed of drink the night before, comes in, steals all your money, throws all your clothes around the room and pees in your mouth.
I spent a few minutes longer than normal the following morning in the bathroom scrubbing the growth from my tongue. At the breakfast table I nursed a coffee and knew that I needed sugar and liquids and that if the two came together then all the better. Carol and Karen seemed to have been up a lot longer than I had. They were dressed and fed and appeared to have planned their day out. With their coats on, a key and some money, about ten pounds Stirling but in Lira, was placed on the table before me.
“We are going out for the day. We’ve taken all your money and you will be given an allowance every day for cigarettes and whatever. As you promised to pay for Karen, I’m going to see that you do.” Then they left. I continued to run through my check list testing that my eyes worked and then my ears, fingers, feet, and so on. I gave up on the rigmarole of making coffee and settled for a bottle of fizz. I checked my double top secret hiding place in my bag and discovered that my main stash of cash was gone.
I didn’t worry too much about the situation; I put it down to an extreme learning curve and sat myself down in the living room. There was a record player and one record, so I listened to it. It was Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks. I especially liked two tracks on the album, one was Simple Twist of Fate, but the one track that I found myself listening to over and over again was Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts. I just sat there listening to it over and over and over again. I still like it today, with or without wine.
That evening the two girls came back, cooked a meal and then spent what seemed like hours getting dressed and ready to go out. I found it very strange that they dressed exactly the same, white trousers or pants, similar blouses and scarves. I was just hoping that they would go and leave me alone. Eventually they did and I settled back in just me and Bob and a couple of bottles of cheap Italian wine. At midnight I wished myself a happy twenty first birthday and truthfully I was quite happy.
I was still on quite a high from Venice and my personal tour of the city from Salvatore. Sure, now I was in the mountains, almost a prisoner, but I was on my very own grand tour, I was on The Big Stagger. I laughed at the thought that I could have been in the Lodge with the chaps singing and drinking and carousing into the wee small hours when instead her I was all on my own, all by myself, in a tiny flat in the Italian mountains with Bob Dylan singing away to me. But I wasn’t worried, not in the least, for I knew that all I would have to do would be to Improvise, Adapt and Overcome, and sure wasn’t I trained to do just that.