Ready to go on

Friday, 18 February 2011

Young men and war

Yesterday I saw the King's Speech. My brother sent me a message about our dad and it reminded me of something he once told me.

I was about 17 at the time and we both sang in the church choir together. I didn't have much time for church by then but kept up the pretence because I enjoyed the singing and spending time with my dad. The stroll to church was a twenty minute period that only the two of us shared and has always been precious to me.

One morning, I believe it was November 11th and therefore would have inspired the conversation, we were talking about the outbreak of the Second World War. And he described himself as a 17 year old.
Now normally when dad's say things like "when I was your age" to their children they deservedly lose them straight away. I was a strange 17 year old. Still very idealistic and quite naive. And I had this hidden passion and determination to become an actor, even though I didn't have the faintest idea how and was merrily going along the route of becoming a lawyer, like my dad.
My father's description of himself as a 17 year old was so poignant enthralling. Idealistic, determined, in love with the idea of learning but without the real training or guidance to attain it. And above all, absolutely certain that right would win out in the end. He said he couldn't wait to jump in to uniform and go and teach old Adolf a lesson. He described walking through the docks area of south London and the sirens going off. But he strode on confidently to work. Nothing could touch him.

I don't think this lasted? He did apply for the RAF but apparently told the interview board that he didn't want to kill anyone. He eventually volunteered for the Dental Corp which, lets face it, is not the Marines. I don't think he fired a single shot in anger.

Now, the point of this story is that shortly after this I went to Oxford for an interview at what is now known as Oxford Brookes and I walked from the station, across the town, past all the gorgeous colleges, and up the hill to Headingly. It was a beautiful sunny day and I remember feeling like my dad. Nowhere near the same circumstances, of course, but I was full of the confidence, romanticism, determination and just bloody thrill of being a young man about to burst out on the world. I walked past the halls of residence and thought, "I'm going to be there in September". I hadn't even had the interview but I just knew.

If I could have seen myself six months later having got falling down drunk because a girl I fancied had ignored me (or so I thought - she told me years later she was playing it cool and had been hurt that I had left the party and seemed to be ignoring her - typical!) throwing up in the downstairs loo of said Halls of Residence and mumbling the words "help me mum"; if I could have seen the idiot I was to be until my wife slowly sorted me out, I doubt I would even have made it in to the interview room.

There are things we are better off just not knowing.

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