This was originally written in June, 2014, but never published. Until today! Read on, and enjoy…
What actually happened…
It was the morning of the parade. Not unbeknown to the famed Parachute regiment of the British Army was their spectacular manner of arriving on the parade ground. That is to say, they arrive by parachute.
Now this did take some practice, even for those well experienced in the use of parachutes. Because for an elite regiment to arrive one step out of beat was unheard of. So landing had to be perfect: all the soldiers would land exactly in parade ground formation, and in perfect time. The Regimental band also arrived by parachute, although the kettle drummer had to have his equipment tied to a separate parachute. Nevertheless, they arrived on the ground within the space of a semi-quaver.
This was the plan as the Queen was to review the regiment at Northolt aerodrome which is a little to the north of London. The Army wasn’t pleased at having to use RAF facilities, but the Queen was busy in London that day and no other arrangements could be made as the Proms were being played in Hyde Park which was the only other alternative.
So Northholt it had to be. Glum faces all around, and that evening and what with the news having been imparted to the regiment, they were all to be found in the Dog and Duck. Few of them emerged before dawn, the local police having seen the wisdom in not enforcing calling time.
In the weeks leading up to the parade, several practice drops were made over Northholt. Both with and without the band, who had conflicting duties to perform in a recording studio. However their mascot was always the first to jump. Actually, the mascot was usually thrown bodily out of the aircraft first because he was such a coward and it kept the noise down to an acceptable level. Also it gave the sergeant-major a good idea of the windspeed and direction.
As the day drew closer, the practice jumps became more frequent. The band was hauled out of the recording studio where it was found that they had concealed several barrels of strong beer. The sergeant major put them all on a charge and promptly ordered up a lorry to dispose of the evidence.
The big day dawned and everyone was awake and polishing their boots. The regimental mascot was having his hooves polished, which he didn’t like because it always tickled. Breakfast for the soldiers was a hearty affair with sausages, bacon, beans, chips and more sausages for anybody who wanted them. The officers were fobbed off with kedgeree and scrambled eggs for those who arrived early enough to get some. Because they always ran short.
On the dot of nine o’clock, the regiment was standing on the runway of their barracks. Their breath could be seen in the chill of a bright, still day. The band struck up a cheery march. They’d only got to the fifth bar when everybody drew a sigh of relief as they were drowned out by the aircraft starting up its engines. The colonel patted his mascot on the head and the regimental sergeant major led the animal into the body of the aircraft.
It was only inside that the RSM noticed that their mascot had no parachute. This wasn’t his problem as the animal was listed as being part of the band, and it was their responsibility. The animal was told to sit and be quiet. No, it was explained that the animal would have to jump. Knowing what was to come, it was shaking so hard its hooves were clattering on the iron floor. It was given a shot of brandy and told to keep quiet. However the RSM was not a heartless man and took out his mobile phone. He dialled the administration secretary of the regimental band. Just behind the RSM, the administration secretary of the regimental band put down his saxophone and struggled to get out his phone, which should have been switched off given that they were about to take off.
“WHAT THE HELL DO YOU MEAM BY LEAVING THE MASCOT WITHOUT A PARACHUTE?” bellows the RSM into his phone.
“Hello?” the administration secretary of the regimental band shouts into the receiver. “I can’t hear you for the RSM’s making too much noise.”
“DON’T YOU GIVE ME ANY BACKCHAT, SERGEANT,” shouts the RSM.
“I can’t hear a bloody word you’re saying. The RSM’s yelling at someone,” and the administration secretary puts the phone down.
On hearing the peeps, the RSM is livid and marches off down the middle of the aircraft to find out from the colonel where the administration secretary of the regimental band might be found. Opening the door to the officer’s compartment in the aircraft the officers are all taken by surprise and quickly stuff their assorted whisky bottles behind their backs. Seven pairs of slightly bemused eyes meet the RSM as a lone bottle of vodka rolls slowly across the floor.
“THE MASCOT HASN’T GOT A PARACHUTE,” the RSM says, attempting a whisper.
The colonel unplugs an ear and says “What, what?”
Whereupon the RSM attempts to explain in as quiet a voice as he can – but the colonel is ahead of him and already has his fingers jammed in his ears against the barrage. “Just get on with it, Jim,” says the colonel. He’d gone to the same school but not the same college as the RSM. RSMs don’t go to university, which is why the colonel’s a colonel and the RSM’s only an RSM.
“ALLRIGHT,” says the RSM, who catches the poor colonel unawares.
‘Damn!’ Thinks the colonel to himself, ‘my left ear will be ringing for weeks now!’
The door closes with a clunk that sets the floor shuddering and all the bottles clinking.
The RSM returns to the body of the aircraft to find the regiment looking guilty and trying to hide the fact that they’re tucking things into their breast pockets. The RSM shouts “TAKEOFF.”
The pilot who’s now the only one without earmuffs puts his hands over his ears to stop the noise. “Jesus, Harry,” he says to the co-pilot, “I do wish he’d be a little quieter.”
The co-pilot takes another swig from his bottle of Johnny Walker and turns to the pilot.
“What did you say?” he says as he screws on the top for safe keeping.
“I do wish he’d keep it a little quieter.”
“I can’t hear a thing you’re saying, I’ve got my regimental earmuffs on.”
Realizing that there’s no way out of this dilemma, the pilot puts on his helmet to hear his co-pilot humming to himself. Realizing that communications are now possible, he takes up the thread of the conversation: “Bally bad show, that RSM, what. Now, shall we get this cabbage crate into the broad blue yonder?”
“What, ho!” responds the co-pilot eagerly. “But shouldn’t that be the ‘wide blue yonder’?”
“I say, dash it man! I’m the pilot here. If I say ‘broad blue yonder’, I mean ‘broad blue yonder’.”
“Oh, very well, but it’ll take twenty minutes longer.”
“Stop fussing you cissy.”
“Don’t you call me a cissy!”
“I’m the pilot and I’ll jolly well call you what I like.”
At which the pilot switches on all the engines to full thrust and the co-pilot is waiting for an apology with his arms folded across his hipster of whisky.
“Control tower,” says the pilot into the radio, “clearance for tally ho.”
“Tally ho?” crackles the control tower across the helmet’s speakers. Obviously they’ve been listening in.
“Can’t you hear me?” says the pilot.
“We thought ‘tally ho’ meant getting into the wide blue yonder.”
“Does it matter?”
“Well, actually, yes it does. The correct term for the broad blue yonder is ‘take a leap at it’.”
At which the pilot heaves a deep sigh of resignation. “Clearance for taking a leap at it, what.”
“Clearance given for the broad blue yonder, flight 08HR34 at oh-nine twenty-three hours GMT.”
The pilot sticks his head out of the window and waves to the ground crew. They’re all sitting on one of the wheels in the shadow under the wing. And of course, tipping up bottles of scotch. One of them cheerily waves a bottle.
“You want to come down here and join us?”
“Chocks away, chaps!” says the pilot excitedly and expecting an eager response.
“What, and spoil our party?”
“What party? Chocks away!!”
“But we’d have nothing to sit on if you took this wheel away.”
“Bloody well move those chocks! We have to be in Northholt within the hour.”
“Oh,” shouts one of the ground crew. “Can we come?”
“Sounds a nice day out,” says another.
“No you bloody well can’t,” shouts the pilot. “Who’d take out the chocks if you weren’t there?”
“We could give you the strings and you could pull them yourself!”
“And what then?” shouts the pilot back to them. “Tie the strings to the window handle and have the chocks banging on the side of my beautiful aircraft?”
“Something like that,” says the senior ground crew member. “Does that mean we can we come, then?”
“No! Take them out, NOW!” in a voice redolent of, but owning nothing of the strength of the RSM’s.
**Somewhere Over Northholt Nearly An Hour Later.**
There’s a draught from where the window doesn’t close properly in the cockpit. Three pieces of string are tied to the handle and the chocks are clattering on the side as the aircraft slowly circles the aerodrome. Beneath them is a bright white cross painted in whitewash on the tarmac where the regiment is to land. What’s more, today there’s a series of red, blue and white striped tents with the royal crest on them.
The co-pilot still has his arms folded, waiting for an apology. Which means our pilot has to reach over in a dangerous manoeuvre to try and reach the aircraft’s back door handle. The problem being that it’s on the other side of where the co-pilot’s sitting. Through the cockpit window, the horizon tilts gently to one side. Ten seconds later the pilot’s forefinger’s hooked around the back door handle and the plane feels as if it’s sinking by the nose. As the pilot finally pulls the handle the engines are screaming. Sitting back up, he pulls the aircraft out of its dive without a second thought.
Ho, hum, all in a day’s work, what?
It was a different story for the ground crew who are still hanging onto the wheels.
With the back door now open, the RSM knows what to do. All the watches have been synchronized, but as this was done at closing time, not many of them are actually set to the same time because nobody actually called “time”. Never mind, the RSM is used to dealing with emergencies like this.
“ATTENTION,” he shouts and the aircraft takes a lurch as the pilot puts his hands over his ears. He’s now steering with his knee under the driving wheel.
The RSM walks over to the mascot and the band, all of whom are standing to attention. “OKAY, OFF YOU GO.”
At which one of the band raises his hand.
“The mascot’s not got a parachute”
“THE MASCOT’S NOT GOT A PARACHUTE WHAT?”
“The mascot’s not got a parachute, sergeant major.”
“THE MASCOT’S NOT GOT A PARACHUTE, SERGEANT MAJOR WHAT?”
“The mascot’s not got a parachute, sergeant major, sir,” the meek drummer says.
“I CAN’T HELP THAT, I DID TRY PHONING THE ADMINISTRATION SECRETARY OF THE REGIMENTAL BAND BUT HE WASN’T MAKING ANY SENSE.”
“Was that me you were trying to speak to?” says the administration secretary of the regimental band.
“WAS THAT ME YOU WERE TRYING TO SPEAK TO, WHAT?”
“Was that me you were trying to speak to? Sergeant major, sir”
“I’M GLAD WE DIDN’T HAVE TO GO THROUGH THAT RIGMOROLE AGAIN.” Then, after a pause, he adds, “NOW GET OUT OF THE AIRCRAFT BEFORE I KICK YOU OUT!”
And so we have the regimental band drifting down in a light summer’s breeze and the kettle drums following behind. Somewhere below them is a dot which they think is the regimental mascot. Or was?
To the regimental mascot it’s rather a different affair. His brain might be small, but without the comfort of half a bottle of scotch, what faculties there are, are working extremely well. He calculates he has around twenty five seconds to live. He counts, “a thousand and one, a thousand and two.” But by the time he gets to “a thousand and twelve,” he realizes he was out by thirteen seconds.
The stiff canvas of a red, blue and white striped tent partly breaks his fall. The thick pile of a red carpet does the rest. The regimental mascot arrives with a thump at the feet of the Queen. A little surprised by this sudden arrival some four minutes too early, she tucks a hip flask of Strathspey behind her and gives Phillip a dig in the ribs.
He opens one beady eye and says, “what the FUCK?” On seeing the mascot, remembers where he is and says, “cabbage crates?”
“Phillip, do shut up and let me do the talking.”
In the mean time, the mascot has attempted the position of attention and is saluting for all he’s worth. After all, he is the mascot and has responsibilities!