Celtic Illumination, part 265, Denzil and the Horses Neck
Taunton, Somerset, not a lot more to say about it really. Actually the old romantic in me was woken again as for me I was off to Thomas Hardy country. In his fictional world, like The Mayor of Casterbridge, or Far From the Madding Crowd, Taunton was in Outer Wessex, and known as Toneborough. It was an area of the country that I liked as I had spent plenty of time there at the beginning of my air force career at RAF Locking being trained to be an electronic fitter. Despite knowing the area, and the people, my frivolous mind had me expect to find them wearing smocks, floppy hats, drawstrings around their knees, pitchforks at the ready and a long piece of straw being chewed by every man woman and beast.
The estate agent I had been sent to work for had two offices and an attitude that would make an average Irishman’s head boil at twenty paces. The man was an insufferable snob. He actually refused to speak to me, but I was in a tricky situation. This was my job, I would have wanted to have turned on my heel, while raising two fingers to him and walked, but unfortunately I had no choice but to carry on. At least with him having two offices I was able to go to the other office, the one where he wasn’t, and work from there. I can’t remember the name of the estate agent but I do remember that it was directly opposite a pub called The Telegraph Inn which was at 58 Bridge Street, which is now an antiques shop.
I had spent a morning ringing around, setting up appointments for the remainder of the week and went over for a pint and a sandwich at lunch time. It was quite a basic pub, and therefore suited me down to the ground. Not very many people in, so I was able to enjoy a decent pint of beer and something to eat. I had remained sitting at the bar and had spoken briefly with the bar staff but as I stood to leave the landlord called me over to a corner of the bar. I followed his direction and was surprised to hear him ask if I would be returning to his establishment. This, for someone as good looking as me is not a strange occurrence, although I hadn’t been properly propositioned since my time in Soho. I said that I might pop in the following lunch time to which he seemed relieved, but I explained that this would very much depend on my schedule.
He then explained to me that The Telegraph Inn was the favourite pub for 40 Commando, Royal Marines. They had just returned from a tour of duty in Northern Ireland that morning and were having a party that evening in the pub. He didn’t think it would be very safe for someone with an accent like mine to be around drunken marines. I took his warning as it was meant to be, a friendly word in the ear, and knew that what he was inferring was very true, I had no intention of going near the pub that evening. I did nip over the following day at lunch time and was glad that I had stayed away for it looked as if the proverbial bomb had gone off. The Marines had got themselves into full party mode and were having a great time when an Irish woman bottled one of them and, as they say in the bible, all hell let loose.
I noticed that some marines had come in to the bar and were probably downing the ‘hair of the dog,’ a very effective medical cure for pillow abuse. It was when I went to the toilet to relieve myself that I felt a bit cramped as three marines came in; at least they waited until I had finished peeing before throwing me against a wall and patting me down. I have to say they were not very effective and I wondered if I should show them the method of stop and search I had been taught at Hereford. They began to question me and I understood their concern. I really did, these fellows had been shot at and had bombs lobbed at them every day for the last six months so in order to take the tension out of the situation I asked them to remove my car keys from my pocket which I had attached my dog tags to.
It was something I had always done when travelling to Ireland and was a quick and easy way of identifying yourself as military without drawing too much attention to the fact. Unlike the dog tags you will probably have seen American troops wearing we didn’t have two metal discs, we had a green and a brown disc. Both discs had your name and number stamped on along with your blood group and religion. I understand that one was fire resistant and one was resistant to acid so at least something to identify you would remain if the worst happened. Then one dog tag would be removed and sent for grave registration while the other, assuming both remained, would stay with the body. Once they had established that I was not the enemy we settled back in to the serious business of drinking. I, despite the offer of becoming lifelong buddies, made my excuses and left.
Don’t think that I was being conscientious, not at all, my week, as I hope you would expect, had been planned to perfection. I was taking the afternoon off to go and meet with another Royal Marine Commando, Tim Lort. Tim had invited me to meet up with him at the base where he was stationed, I can’t tell you what it was called, not because as it was so top secret either Tim or myself would have to come around and kill you, but because I can’t remember. It was either Yeovilton or Culdrose. If I was a gambling man I would opt for Culdrose. I found the base and drove up to the officer’s mess where Tim met me at the front door. We immediately made our way to the bar and began to sink a few drinks. Tim insisted that we drank a navy drink known as a ‘Horses Neck.’
Interestingly enough the Horses Neck was an American invention although over there is known as a Kentucky Gentleman. It’s basically brandy and ginger and around the 1960’s replaced the Pink Gin as the British naval officers signature drink. Ian Fleming, in one of his James Bond books, referred to the Horses Neck as ‘the drunkards drink’ despite the fact that he would consume them as if they were going out of fashion, perhaps he was telling us something. Once again I found myself in a strange situation as I tried to buy a drink, with cash, as the bar steward explained that, “We don’t have a till sir.” We were having a laugh and reminiscing about old times when we left and headed off to a civilian pub. What we spoke about and did, or did not do, is no concern of yours, so keep your noses out.
You would not believe the number of people who contact me and ask for more ‘ripping yarns’ concerning Tim and the boys. I’m afraid we have all moved on and some of us have grown up. Even Peter Brown, on his bombing range over there in Saudi Arabia, contacts me regularly and asks me to mention specific occurrences like the best man’s speech at Tim’s wedding, where the best man recalled the time Tim ran out of a brothel in Amsterdam with a prostitute over his shoulder shouting to his boss, who was walking away, “Hey boss look what I’ve got for you!” I checked with John Clancy, the jail bird on the Isle of Man, and neither of us could remember a best man’s speech at Tim’s wedding so that’s one of the reasons I didn’t mention it before. Don’t worry Tim I won’t let these people drag your good name through the mud, even if some people still call you Denzil. In fact we had a very pleasant evening as you would expect any two fine, upstanding, young, gentlemen might enjoy. There was a lot of beer and more Horse’s Necks and the next thing I remember was someone knocking at the door of the room I was sleeping in.
I woke up and quickly checked my surroundings. I knew Tim had booked me a room in the officer’s mess but my recollection of getting back to it was a little hazy. It was a steward knocking at the door wanting to know if I wanted tea or coffee. I opted for tea and like the steward looked about the empty room as he asked if I had a cup. A cup! I was still running through my checklist of legs, fingers, arms, eyes, nose, and teeth. Tim came along and we prepared ourselves and went off to breakfast. With a decent feed inside me Tim and I parted. It was lovely to see him again and to share a few drinks and a few laughs. As I write this I remind myself that up in the loft is the film of us all attending the court case at Valley, circa 1976, and I keep promising to get it transferred to disc. In fact if you’ll excuse me I’ll go and do that now.