I can’t listen to Marr’s oscillating guitar in How Soon is Now?
without thinking of Germany and RAF Gutersloh; my father in his leather jacket with all the patches, DJing in the NAAFI. This was the first Smiths song I ever heard, as a four year old careening around the canteen at breakneck speed (nothing new there), bumping into chairs and skidding across the wooden floor, breathless and excited by the elastic-band chords. I turned to my mother (who was creeping up behind me, ready to snag my jumper for lunch time) and asked her how they’d managed to get a Wokka Wokka on the song?
That was my baby-term for the twin rotors of a Chinook.
I treasure that memory, as one of those rare child-outside-the-box moments. My tiny world was embellished with the scream of flyby’s and chatter of static, the green-brown-gold of uniform. Dad worked radio Comms. on the Harrier GR3 and Boeing Chinook HC1 while we were based in Gutersloh:
Later, at RAF Lyneham, it’d be the Hercules, also known as “Fat Albert.” And bloody hell, if I’d thought the Harriers were loud when they streaked by the tower, it was nothing compared with the Hercules’ propellers.
My last Christmas in Germany, Santa arrived in the back of a Chinook, loaded down with presents for all the RAF brats (our affectionate collective.) Snow never fussed the pilots. They performed the most incredible nose-dips for an ever-adoring audience. We used to line up in the playground at my nursery school, in the parks, up in trees, and wave to them passing by, carrying supplies and personnel.
The Falklands, the ongoing war, wasn’t pinned in our mindset. We knew these great machines for the clatter and spin, the sucking rush of air, the hurtling whine. A very real presence in my life, and one sorely missed.
It’s why I perv on Harrier flyby videos, feel a sense of relief to see a Chinook throb across a pastel sky, heading back to base. Why Germany and the surrounding countries still call my blood, full of their thick pine forests and snow, brittle blue skies and ski slopes; driving through the Austrian mountains, camping beneath their diamond teeth, listening for the bubbling call of a blackbird first thing in the morning, when no one else was awake in the world.
I dream of places I may never see again, of places I may never have been in reality – a red rock canyon, full of the bodies of friend and foe; armour hanging from me in battle-weary state, my hair loose down my back in an aching wind, a sword heavy in my hand. Standing alone and alive, the last … watching the blood of all those I’d known, running into the rocks to turn them black. Wondering if it was all worth it.
I was about five. The first coherent memory of a dream; abstracts on abstracts. Slippery bubble colours.
A friend very recently informed me that she drives by a red rock canyon, en route to snowboarding. I mean to find out more about this place; to see if the sun sets there as it did in that long-ago dream, as though it would never vanish from the sky but would drip blood forever.
The dream often repeated itself in my child’s mind, but hasn’t been present for some time now. I wish it would come back, for all that it was an apocalyptic message.
It hurt in my chest, like all the best things do. Led Zeppelin got it right.