Part of the Union

It was pre 9/11 of course but I still thought it was a bit of a breach of security. Our dear friend Neil Sturrock was in 29 Commando at the time and they had been given block leave. Most of his colleagues had gone away. Somehow Neil wangled it so we – that is he, me, Steve Knaggs and Mark Pyatt – could stay in his barracks for a few days. The barracks being the Royal Citadel in Plymouth; this was a pretty cool, free hotel.

Tradge etc

I can be quite accurate with dates and facts too as for some reason I decided to keep a diary. Well either I did or the Big Brown Bear who accompanied us did. You know about the Big Brown Bear don’t you? No, well you soon will.

So at 5.40am on Tuesday 5th August 1986, Neil arrives home from some trip to far flung parts only to depart within the hour leaving his poor mum a quick note saying “Gone to Plymouth”. Fifty minutes later the others arrive in Mark’s blue metro and pick me up. The party is complete and we can head in a South Westerly direction. The first part of the journey is uneventful and we eventually stop for breakfast at a Little Chef around 9am. Unfortunately this particular restaurant appears to be having some menu difficulties i.e. they haven’t got much. This leads to the chain being renamed the Shit All Left, pretty much for the rest of eternity.

My own disappointment is short-lived when at 9.30 precisely (Damned good idea to keep a diary) Steve and I crack open a couple of Red Stripes. For some reason this was our canned beer of choice for a while in the mid-80s. And thus, with a stop or two for further refreshments, we advanced westwards and arrived at the Citadel at around 4pm. We toured the battlements of this 17th century fortress before heading down to the Hoe for the first round in the traditional holiday golf (Pitch‘n’Putt) tournament. The diary records the fact that Smudger ‘creamed’ the opposition. Bear in mind that I (Smudger) wrote the diary so whilst the facts are indubitably true, the telling of them may be spun with beautifying embellishments.

I note we included the tournament rules within the diary and particularly liked Rule 3.

In the event of one person running away with the tournament, it is legitimate for the other players to join forces in trying to stop the leader by blocking his path with their balls etc.

Double entendre aside, I liked the fact we were not only prepared to cheat but were happy to enshrine the willingness to cheat into the rulebook.

And so, to the 19th hole. On this first evening we decided to sojourn in the rather civil and pleasant environ of the Barbican at a pub called the Three Crowns where blow me down we just happened to bump into Marion Root, a Goffs Oak girl of our acquaintance. Small world innit?

Anyway, we later moved on to the Abbey, a pub quite typical of any English county that contained its own English looney who I managed to attract. We made our excuses and headed to the Noah’s Ark (Empty but a video Jukebox containing Joy Division lifted its score considerably) and then to the Two Trees. This pub would soon become an integral part of our stay in Plymouth as it was generally the first pub on ‘the circuit’. The circuit being a carefully conceived crawl of Union Street. Oh wait, regular readers are screaming; Union Street, that wicked place that Auntie Joyce warned us to go nowhere near? Why yes, dear readers, that Union Street indeed.

The principle of the circuit was simple enough. Buy your drink in cans or be fearless about stealing glasses. For when the leader of the party calls upon you to move on, you immediately depart the pub you are in and head for the next one on the circuit. I can assure you that the idea of buying Taunton Special VAT in cans received no objection from me. This cider was to become my chosen poison for the next few days (and indeed some years after when I could get it).

Special VAT

It was at the Two Trees that night that we met Sumo. A colleague of Neil’s who had also forgone leave, we would spend a lot of time in Sumo’s company over the next few days. A formidable fellow he was too.

Now the diary is thick and gushing so I think we can get a couple of decent posts out of it. This first one then will be concluded with the rest of Day One’s activities. And the next bit is a little embarrassing but we were only young and foolish. For my part, alcohol was an integral part of everyday life. And though I liked to keep a tally of what I was drinking, it was more in the way of measuring my disease than some machismo boasting. I tried hard not to be a boorish, lad who liked booze, football and fighting. The latter was quite easy to avoid as I had no interest in violence at all. Football was a tribal dance I liked to tango, and as I have said beer was just part and parcel of my life. Since Lady Alcohol dominated my whole life (Love-life included) I could at least stay out of the final sport of the holiday. The burning of witches or being rude to the local females.

Basically, adopted from classic Month Python, the local female population were addressed by us as witches and nightly my friends descended on Plymouth’s nightclubs to ‘burn some witches’. It was a gross and vulgar sport and I am glad I can state I took no part in it. In my friends’ defence, all I can say is those West Country ladies gave as good as they got and Mark, Steve and Neil ended up with a few slaps over the next few days.

I though, whilst they all went clubbing, slipped back to the Citadel around midnight. I smuggled a small bottle of vodka in with me to carry on my own party. I woke in the morning to find my pit surrounded with shoes and other small objects. These were things thrown at me in the night when my snoring had been so intense the metal fireguard had apparently vibrated in sympathy.

Irrespective of whose snoring had been the worse, one thing was clear. The Big Brown Bear had been to visit us all. You still don’t know about the Big Brown Bear of whom I speak do you? I mean the one that visits you in the night after you have been drinking. It rips your clothes off you and throws them about the room; it steals all your money; and shits in your mouth! Yes, that Big Brown Bear.

This story will definitely be continued.

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