Thursday, June 04, 2015

Beatles, Bilko, Ben Casey, Brands Essence, Bic Pens And Bicycles

           The Beatles 'You've Really Got A Hold On Me' (Smokey Robinson: 1962)

August, 1965 RAF Changi, Singapore:

When the RAF Police were called in, our friend was having a Rolling Good Time.  Allan Thomson's at it again with his Tiger and Reckless Group.

Dear Andy,
This is yet another story from my time at RAF Changi in the 1960s.  Like one of my previous ones, it ends up with personal injury caused by too much Tiger Beer and a youthful reckless streak (which the following incident cured).
Writer and This Blog's Contributor Allan Thompson RAF Changi 1960s.
In August, 1965, one of my friends (Michael) spent a week in hospital undergoing surgery to correct his sight. On his release, he suggested having a small party to celebrate the success of the operation.  Four of us (Michael, Geordie, Jay and myself) went to the Chalet Club at RAF Changi for a few quiet beers. The bar staff were playing "With The Beatles", the second album by the group, and we all sang along as it played.  

After a few minutes, one of the club's committee members came across to our table and asked us to stop singing because it was against regulations.  We did so, but, a couple of songs later, we started up again and were warned that they would call the RAF Police if we did not stop.  Michael protested that we were not doing any harm, and we carried on singing.  A little later, two RAF Police corporals arrived and told us to drink up and leave, which we did.  

We walked into the village and went into the Airfield Bar for another drink.  There was no music in the bar so there was no incentive for us to start singing again. I think it was only the infectious sound of The Beatles' music which had prompted us to join in at the Chalet Club. 
As we left the Airfield Bar, Jay produced a bicycle from somewhere and Geordie immediately took it and asked if I wanted a lift on the crossbar.  In the madness of the moment, I climbed on and we set off down the village street. As we approached a roadside makan stall, Geordie suddenly lost control and we hurtled into the stall, scattering tables, diners, crockery and food before us.  Geordie stood up and tried to placate the angry diners while I tried to disentangle myself from beneath the bicycle. 

I was festooned with rice, strips of pork, squid rings, bamboo shoots and prawns, which I tried to brush off my clothes as I rose to my feet.  We apologised to the diners and offered them some money to buy more food, and gave the stallholder a few dollars to replace the broken crockery.  We decided to leave the bicycle leaning against the wall of a building and walked along to the Changi Millie Bar (formerly called the Changi Milk Bar) where we met our two friends and had another beer.
When we left that bar, Geordie suggested that we go back for the bicycle which we mounted with me on the crossbar once again. We cycled along the village street and Geordie said he was going to enter the camp by the side gate.  He turned right to go in but, on finding the gate was locked, he went straight through a tall hedge beside it.  We removed the bicycle and ourselves from the hedge, brushing twigs and leaves from our hair, and wiping the scratches we had received during the mishap.  Instead of abandoning the bicycle there and then, we foolishly decided to continue along the main road towards the main entrance to the camp.  
"You can ride on the bar this time," I told Geordie. "I'm tired of you crashing into things."  
And so we set off along the road until we were simultaneously blinded by the headlights of an oncoming vehicle and almost frightened out of our skins by the sudden blare of a motor horn from behind us. I was still steering us straight, but Geordie, presumably in a panic, grabbed the handlebars and we shot up on to the grass verge and into brief oblivion.

The next thing I knew, I was looking up at the stars through the branches of a tree with something heavy lying on top of me, and warm, sticky liquid dripping on to my face.  Where was I, I wondered?  Then the heavy weight moved and I heard Geordie cursing as he moved off me.  We were in the bottom of a deep concrete monsoon drain, and the sticky liquid was Geordie's blood from a gash in his forehead.  We struggled out of the drain and saw that the front wheel of the fallen bicycle was still spinning slowly, and the car (a taxi) which had been behind us was sitting at the roadside, the driver looking anxiously in our direction. When he saw both of us emerge slowly and painfully from the drain, he waved to us and drove off.  

Presumably he had been waiting to see if we were still alive, and when he saw we were all right, he left so that he did not have to get involved with the Police.  I had a very painful head and my right nostril was blocked.  Geordie's wound was still pouring blood so he tried to staunch the flow with his handkerchief.  We hobbled back to the village and asked one of Sher Khan's taxi drivers to take us to Sick Quarters where the Duty Medical Orderly looked at us in alarm and called out the Duty Medical Officer.
Soon afterwards, a young doctor in white slacks and a floral shirt arrived and listened to our sorry tale as he cleaned up Geordie's wound which turned out to be superficial, and then examined my head and nose. He told me to report sick the next morning and to request an X-Ray to be carried out on my jaw. When he heard that the bicycle did not belong to us, he sent for the RAF Police who turned out to be the same two corporals who had cautioned us hours earlier in the Chalet Club.  "Rough justice," one of them chuckled as they helped us into their Land-Rover and took us to the Guard Room. We each made a fairly incoherent statement and then they drove us to our block where we stumbled upstairs to our beds.

 The next morning, my nostril was completely blocked and my right jaw was in agony. When I looked in the mirror my face seemed to be lop-sided and, if it hadn't been for the pain, it would have struck me as rather comical.  I reported sick and was sent up to the RAF Hospital where an X-Ray confirmed that I had broken my right jaw and an operation was required.  The operation was carried out that same afternoon and when I regained consciousness I was lying on top of a bed in a ward containing about eleven other patients, including two fellow Scots from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
We had a TV set in the ward but we only watched some of the early evening programmes.  The News was read in four languages, as I recall, and I remember frequent broadcasts by a choir singing "Malaysia Berjaya" with great vigour.  "George Of The Jungle", "Bilko", "Z Cars", "Ben Casey", "Dr Kildare", "The Third Man", and, of course, "George Of The Jungle", were some of the programmes which spring to mind.  I can also still remember a few of the adverts: Brand's Essence of Chicken, Kao-Wonderful, and Bic Pens (with the cartoon of a pen drawing a lassoo while the voice-over called out "Bic, Bic, Bic, Yippeeeeee!" or some such cry).  

I spent a week in hospital and I passed much of the time reading: "The Singapore Story" by Kenneth Attiwill, about the Fall of Singapore, and "A Thread Of Scarlet" by Bruce Marshall, a novel about a Roman Catholic priest.  In the air-conditioned Intensive Care ward next to ours, a young man lay in a coma with several tubes attached to his body.  
Popular TV Shows In The 1960's
One day, when I was standing on the verandah outside my ward, a very pale, very pretty young lady emerged from the young man's ward, tears streaming down her face.  I wanted to go over and offer her some comfort, but I hesitated because I was not an attractive sight with a stitched shaven area above one ear and wearing bright blue pyjamas. Fortunately, a nurse came along and led the young lady away.  I learned later that the young man, her fiancé, had died of his injuries  (sustained in a car crash) earlier in the day.

When I was discharged from hospital, I called at my place of work and was told to take the rest of the day off.  I had a severe haircut to make the shaven area above my right ear less obvious, and went to Changi Point to relax in the sun with a book and some cigarettes. I felt much better after a swim and I was pleased that the tide was full and there were no clouds in the sky.  

When I returned to work the following day, Geordie and I were called before our Commanding Officer who told us each to write a letter of apology to the owner of the bicycle (which had not been damaged in the incident) and said that he would regard our self-inflicted injuries as punishment enough.  We both felt very ashamed of our stupid actions and it was a great relief to have been let off so lightly.  I went to a married friend's house the following week-end to rest and let my shaven patch grow again.  

There was a disappointing postscript to that foolish escapade when I went to RAF Biggin Hill a couple of years later for an aircrew selection board. I passed all the medical examinations, the aptitude tests, and the interview, and I was feeling quite confident and optimistic. Then I was recalled and told that I was being turned down because, although I had suffered no after-affects from my injury, they felt they had to err on the side of caution.  

I quite understood their reasons for this decision: it was expensive to train aircrew, and, since head injuries could sometimes cause problems in the future, it was better not to risk such a thing happening during operations in the air.  Rough justice, indeed, as the RAF Police corporal remarked back in 1965, but I have to admit that I thoroughly deserved what happened to me.

To all the people of Singapore I should like to offer my belated apologies for behaving so stupidly and irresponsibly while I was living in your fine country. Sorry!

The attached photograph was taken of me recuperating at my friend's house a few days after my release from hospital.  The shaven area above my ear is plainly visible and my face was still very swollen from the surgery. As a matter of interest, that is a soft drink in my glass!

Good wishes, 

An SG50 contribution from Allan Thompson, RAF Changi, Singapore, 1960's.


YEN CHOW said...

Haha...humorous piece indeed. I wasnt living on the earth yet. His adventure is something i wouldnt go into. Lol.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

I guess Allan wanted to boost Beatles, bicycles and booze.

YEN CHOW said...

Very interesting! Thanks for sharing, Allan n Andy. It was adventurous and memorable time to laugh at. Surely all those songs sung and heard that day will remind n bring u back to the old good days. I wouldnt take such adventure so i just tune in for more blogs. Yen :)

Bird Dog said...

1965, the height of Beatlemania. Who dont love them & those who dont, all had a favourite Beatle tune stuck in their brain. It was the year their 5th album Help! & 6th album Rubber Soul were out.Need not be guilt conscious after so many years to apologise for those 1965 antics. In fact we were grateful for your country's military presence when ours was still in our infancy & unfriendly neighbour countries were giving us pain. You had a ringside seat to what happened to us in August 1965 or you guys too stoned to remember.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Thank you Bird Dog for your humorous style but generally serious comment. I agree that Allan should not apologize for his antics. It was done in fun and they needed to R and R.

Yes our unfriendly neighbors were giving us problems but with the RAF, other military presence and our own resilience, we pulled through. The Beatle craze with their songs were very significant those years.

Please visit us again. Appreciate the sparkle and wit in your writing.

Chakap Chakap said...

Selected piece from Album: WITH THE BEATLES. First track recorded. A 1962 song by Smokey Robinson but released in 1963 by the Fab Four. Originally by the Miracles. One of only 500 songs selected for Songs that Shaped Rock n Roll in its Hall of Fame.

E. Angullia said...

Great piece for SG50 Changi Milk Bar cute.

HAPPY TAY said...

Hello Allan, I was at the RAF Changi Base during that period. Was with the RAF Police, and later transferred to RAF Tengah. Those were good times indeed. My older Bro. was a "SAC" with the RAF too, and based in Changi. Cheers mate!


Dear Andy,

Thanks for including the bicycle misadventure which has turned out well. I am still following your blog and I must apologise for not being in touch as often as I should have liked. I will have some more (less painful) stories for you in due course.

best wishes, Allan.

Allan Thompson said...

To Happy Tay: I left Singapore in January 1966 but returned in late 1968 to join 74 Squadron at Tengah where I was stationed until 1970 when I left the RAF. Good wishes, Allan Thompson.