The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Monday, May 18, 2015


Those were the criminal days                                   Duncan Graham
When I was a schoolboy, praying pubic hairs would soon appear like those I’d seen in the communal cold shower after playing rugby, I became a terrorist.
Or would have been if the standards of today had been applied.
First I acquired a hand gun.  It was a powerful air pistol.  It may have come through a swap with a friend.  I already had a revolver with no trigger guard that I’d found in an old air-raid shelter, useless because I couldn’t get the short .32 ammunition it needed.
 But I did have same calibre slugs for an air rifle which was used to ping squirrels and rabbits; however no-one knew of the more easily concealed weapon. 
One evening I took a friend and the pistol for a wander around the streets. Keen to show off I took aim at a sparrow in a bush, missed and shot out a window in the house behind.
We ran home followed by the shouts of a furious woman, but in those days street lighting was either absent or dim so we got away.
Today the charge sheet would have read:  Going armed in public to cause terror, discharging a firearm in a public place, having an unlicensed weapon, causing wilful damage to property, endangering life - and probably a few more.
Convictions would have barred me from travel and public service jobs as I also became a bomber.
Joining the cadet corps was not compulsory ‘but I can’t remember anyone not volunteering, Graham,’ said the fat red-nosed ex-soldier employed as the public school’s sergeant major. 
His job was to shout a lot, teach us how to bayonet sacks of straw and strip a Bren gun.  Under his tutelage I learned that violence was evil, though that wasn’t the message he delivered.
On Saturday afternoons we had to run around parkland and shoot at the enemy with our Lee Enfields.
Each cadet was issued with ten blank rounds but no-one counted if all were fired.  I kept a few and bought others from mates. The .303 cartridges had crimped ends which could be prised open to access the cordite.
When I’d accumulated enough I found a short length of old waterpipe with one end closed.  Following instructions in a book I … well, I’d better censor the details lest I’m accused of aiding and abetting criminal behaviour though it’s all on the Internet.  All this was done in my father’s tool shed.
He was at work.  So was my mother.
My younger brother and I went to a nearby abandoned quarry where perverts occasionally came to ask us to masturbate them (something we never reported because it was too embarrassing) and blew up our pipe bomb. 
It sounded like the crack of doom as the explosion bounced off the chalk walls.  The thick-walled pipe, ripped open from top to bottom like a banana skin, became an impressive trophy and lifted my peer rating. 
Today I’d have been arrested at gunpoint by an anti-terror squad.  My pixelated features would have made the TV bulletins as the flak-jacketed police pushed me into a car to face a charge sheet that would have me imprisoned for years.
Instead of going on to write the news, I’d have been on the news, denounced by shrill editorials headed EVIL IN OUR MIDST, my behaviour analysed by social scientists, my chances of a good career shredded.
I don’t know why I didn’t make more bombs; maybe I realised the dangers, but more likely having done another naughty deed, it was time to try something else.
This meant running away from home to escape my quarrelling parents, which I achieved easily after sabotaging the telephone.
This time I had no instructions, but science classes had helped. I unscrewed the base and pulled out a couple of wires. I already had a passport and friends in France, so it wasn’t difficult to escape – nor for the French police to find me and get my father to take me back to Britain.
Interpol was involved, but the incident was treated as a silly teen’s emotional escapade– though it certainly shook my parents into better behaviour.  I think I remember someone saying ‘he’s just growing up’, which I considered an insult.
Then came the Hungarian Uprising where the brave youth of that communist dominated country were risking all to seize freedom.  Or that’s how it seemed in the right-wing papers my Dad read.
Who couldn’t be stirred by the determination of boys just like me? They needed help; I knew how to clean a 1914 rifle and make a bomb, so I’d be invaluable.
Fortunately my father, having realised he should pay more attention to his offspring, disappeared my passport.  He channelled my energies into the Boy Scouts where I was given adventures aplenty and soon became a much-badged troop leader.
And eventually an Australian citizen with no criminal record.
Thank God I’m not growing up today.

(First published in On Line Opinion 18 May 2015.  For comments see:

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