Wild Life and other denizens of Special Branch
SB, like any other office or government department, had its fair share of characters. For the most part, they were good people, they all had their quirks but they were decent folk who would help out in any way they could. Of course, there were a few bastards who went out of their way to drown you in bullshit, but fortunately, they were in the minority. I suppose in a place where the pool table was kept ready with a bed sheet and a pillow it was only natural to expect some oddballs.
Some of them had nicknames which were not always accurate. There was SNAB, short nasty and bald, Uncle Festus (from the Adams family) who was so named due to the remarkable resemblance; he was one of the nicest people you could hope to meet and I will always remember him for his kindness to me. One of the ladies, a secretary to one of the hierarchy, was called Shergar (after the famous racehorse that was stolen in the early eighties). I will leave the reader to imagine why.
Then there was Bella. Another secretary to the hierarchy she was known for her hard-drinking, hard-partying lifestyle. At one of the last functions, she grabbed me and asked me to dance, (a pastime I abhor at the best of times and especially as it cuts into my drinking time when there is a free beer to be had). One of the officers helpfully pointed out that the lady wasn’t actually asking me, so I rose to my feet and we danced for three or four numbers. Finally, she let me return exhausted to my beer, went to the table containing the raffle prizes and handed me a bottle of whiskey. I tried to refuse, saying that it was a prize but she shushed me and told me to put it in my bag. (It was only the next week when we found that the liquor cabinet belonging to the Director of Special Branch had been pilfered, but by then I’d drunk the evidence).
As it turned out I had to leave early and in doing so missed a rare treat that made these events so memorable. Bella decided to freshen up so she took her perfume out of her handbag, gave herself a good squirt and dropped it back inside, not realising that the cap had fallen off and the perfume was soaking into the lining. Next, she lit up one of the Café Cream cigars she liked to smoke and dropped the lighter, still burning into her bag. Apparently there was a whoosh and a very expensive handbag went up in flames.
During my service with the Branch, I had the good fortune to work with some of the more colourful characters. There was Mary, who lived for her kitchen. A kind and generous soul, she always had a smile for you and was ready to listen to your problems. Mary had been brought up on a farm and she delighted in telling us stories of her childhood. One day she regaled us with the story of when they had to castrate the pigs and what was done with the bits they cut off. Apparently, they are very tasty when rolled in flour and fried.
Mary was, however, slightly accident-prone as we were to discover. She had long been badgering her husband to let her buy a Chinese style chopper for her kitchen. Wisely, as it turned out the gentleman kept refusing, claiming that Mary would only cut her finger off. Eventually, however, he relented and let Mary buy the chopper and the next day she arrived at the office with the tip of her finger missing.
Then there was Maggy. Maggy was ex Women’s Royal Auxiliary Corp and she continued to live a life of self-imposed discipline. She not only stood to attention, but she also walked and even sat to attention. Fiercely loyal to Great Britain and the Crown, she would not countenance any derogatory remarks about the Royal family being made in her presence.
One day it was announced that HMS Ark Royal, a British aircraft carrier, would arrive in Hong Kong and be berthed at Tamar (Headquarters of the British Forces in the Territory which was located right in front of PHQ).
Now I had been aboard the Ark Royal as a child and remembered her fondly as a full-sized battleship. She was due to dock at around 10:30 in the morning and we were all standing by our windows (which overlooked Tamar) eagerly awaiting her arrival. It did occur to me that it was going to be difficult to dock such a large ship alongside but as it wasn’t my problem I didn’t give it too much thought.
The great moment arrived and with much fanfare, Ark Royal tied up at Tamar. Maggy stood to attention. Then, all we could see was the very end of the ski ramp used by Harrier jump jets to take off. None of us knew that the full-sized Ark Royal had been decommissioned some years ago and replaced with the pocket-hanker-chief-sized short-take-off-and-landing vessel.
Maggy beamed in pride, and the rest of us stood in silence until one of the younger members of the office said, “Erm, she’s a bit small isn’t she?”
Maggy turned a withering eye on him and managing to stretch herself even further to attention said, “Never mind the size. She’s British!”
Copyright John Stewart Sloan – 2007 – Not for Publication