Celtic Illumination, part 248, Tis the season to be jolly.
The Christmas season was rapidly approaching, there would be the usual round of parties and functions to attend but this year I would have one extra, my civilian company, Abbey Life, had invited me to their seasonal bash. Some functions were good, where you could smarten yourself up but relax throughout the evening. Some were quite formal and you would have to wait for the chairman of the mess to stand up and announce ‘gentlemen you may remove your jackets.’ By this time in the evening some people would have been unconscious on the floor. When he would rise and announce ‘Gentlemen you may remove your ties,’ most people present would have been fluent in Japanese.
It always amused me that you could drink yourself stupid and this was acceptable. But smoke one joint or eat a dreamy hash brown and you would be polishing dustbins in Colchester nick before your feet could touch the ground, you orrible little man you. Drugs, or drug use, was so reviled that every year we had to attend a mandatory drugs briefing. It was quite a horrible affair, although all we had to do was sit and watch a movie, there were not enough X’s in the world to grade this movie. I think it was the armed forces heavy handed attempt at aversion therapy. The movie wasn’t very long, only about forty minutes and we were told beforehand that all the people featured in the movie were ex serving members of the forces.
So the premise was that one day they had all been fine upstanding serving members of the armed forces and now they were addicted to hard, class A, drugs. The proposition or underlying claim is that cannabis users would move on to heroin or cocaine, the so called escalation hypothesis or gateway theory, which of course has never been scientifically proven. Each person featured would give a brief talk, straight to camera, reminding us that, once upon a time, they had been decent, law abiding, citizens. Now, for whatever reason they gave, they were sad pathetic creatures that robbed and stole and lied and cheated to get their daily fix. They would each then prepare their fix, which would involve close up shots of dirty fingernails, shaking hands, like delirium tremens. Their whole body would be in a poor state of health as would their clothing and surroundings.
They would then shoot up and there would be a close up of the needle entering the vein. The area around where the needle punctured the skin would be pock marked and scarred. Now the camera would pull away to show the whole person. They certainly did appear to be sad pathetic creatures. Most would pass out as they were injecting and I can remember one person passing out and falling back, leaving the syringe hanging from their leg allowing you to wonder if they were tripping or dead. You can tell that it did have some effect on me as I can still clearly remember scenes from that movie to this very day; unfortunately I am also acutely aware that the whole thing was an emotive venture rather than have any true scientific basis.
At least alcohol was a socially accepted form of drug and Christmas time especially would see individuals consume huge amounts as this was the only way to truly celebrate the birth of baby Jesus. I do remember that after the official function I made the driver go through Ipswich so that we could stop at a fast food outlet and fill up with some junk food, for isn’t it just what you need after a decent feed of drink. For the operations function we went to a hotel in Stowmarket. I borrowed Ben, the post office guys, minibus and took Tony and his wife Mary plus one or two others. We stocked up on booze at a local off-licence before arriving at the hotel; you know the story, every jacket pocket with a half bottle of spirits in and the same for the ladies handbags. It’s a wonder the bar staff never picked up on the fact that a table of people drinking soft drinks could get pissed so quickly. I didn’t touch a drop, I was driving, and it wasn’t the police I was afraid of, it was Ben, for he loved his little minibus.
The air traffic function was held at a hotel on the outskirts of Ipswich. Again Tony, his wife Mary, Irene and myself attended but this time we took a taxi. I did my John Travolta impression during one session of frantic disco dancing. Leaping up onto the end of a long, white tablecloth covered, trestle table, which decided that holding plates and food and drinks was bad enough but a disco dancing Irishman was just too much. One end, the end I was gyrating on, collapsed and I gave the gossips another story to add the endless diatribe of lies and untruths they make up about me. It was a standard military function where the aim was for everyone to get hammered and have a good time, most of us achieved that.
The next party I had to attend was with Abbey life, a civilian company, I had never been to a civilian company party before, this, I thought, could be interesting. My experience of civilians did not have me form a very good or positive opinion of many of them and the Christmas party was no different. A group of us decided to meet up, along with our wives in a local pub. We had a couple of drinks and made our way over to the office where Jack had brought in a catering company to provide a buffet and free bar. It was all quite well behaved, in fact it was so well behaved it veered toward the boring. One of the guys in the Ipswich office, a very serious fellow indeed, was putting himself through singing lessons and was encouraged to give us all a sample of the progress he had made. I don’t know what he was like when he began his lessons but he certainly couldn’t hold a note when I heard him.
As Irene was giving me one of those looks, not the long loving idolising looks but more of the ‘don’t you friggen dare’ looks, I took to the floor. If they wanted singing I would give it to them. Thank you Mountain and Desert Rescue, for I gave them two pitch perfect folk songs before launching in to the more graphic and participatory rugby and squadron chants. The first song I would have given them would have been ‘Whisky on a Sunday,’ allowing them to tune in to my fine voice and encouraging them to join in. The next song would have been ‘Weila Weila Waila,’ emphasising the ‘sticking the knife in the babbies head,’ which would have had them smiling and grinning. I probably would then have given them ‘Sing low Sweet Chariot,’ with arm movements. But the only certain memory I have of that evening is a mental picture of everyone in the office, thirty plus, men and women, kneeling before me, elbows tight together, hands clasped, arses out, tongues jammed down the front of their lower lip, singing ‘We’re all going on a lion hunt, we’re not scared, we’ve got guns, bullets too!’
Tim Hirschman had dropped a couple of bottles of single malt off with Tony so that we could carry out some scientific experiments, making sure that the Scottish distilleries were maintaining standards. All in all it was a pretty fantastic festive season and I’m sure baby Jesus would have thought we had done him proud. Despite this, on the first day back in the Ipswich office, I felt a little apprehensive as I entered the office. Those seated throughout the vast open plan office smiled at me but the receptionist informed me that Jack, the branch manager, wanted to see me the moment I came in. I really expected to get fired there and then, so waited for a few minutes while Jack finished whatever he was doing. He called me in and asked me to sit down. It all felt a little bit formal. “About the Christmas party,” he began, and I feared the worst. “I would like to thank you,” he said. “For what has had to be the best Christmas party we have ever had in this office. In fact,” he said. “It’s probably one of the best I’ve ever been to. Well done.”