Harry Turner's Episodes of Personal History
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Melville, part 2

Did I ever look as though I was cast for the role of Browning instructor? I guess 'Melville' put that on all his reports in the hope that he might find someone to take his place at Langham... My qualification seemed forgotten when I was posted overseas shortly after that episode. Fortunately.

Can't actually remember the sergeant's name after all this time, but for some reason a fragment of Herbie Read came to mind "Melville fell/forty fathoms Melville fell" when I was casting for a name, so Melville he became. It was after I finished that I remembered that one of the corporals in our billet was called Melville—a white-faced, Liverpudlian of limited vocabulary, who made the words 'fuckin' and 'whorin' work hard for him in conversation, so much so that after a while they just didn't register with the listener.

I recall we had a version of Deep in the heart of Texas, sung by the hut choir after extended NAAFI celebrations, which had a verse for every member of the hut by name, with the refrain 'on Melville's fucking bed-space' replacing that of the original.

The only bit that now comes to mind is: 'It was Osbaldeston/ who pissed in the mess-tin/ on Melville's fucking bedspace'—the gent named having once been the worse the wear, and got out of bed in the dark, lost his way to the ablutions, found his way to Melville's locker, opened the door and let it go, then found his way back to bed; the dread crime was not discovered until Melville went to get his mess-tin to go for breakfast...

Most of the verses perpetuated some such escapade. Don't ask me about my verse—it is mercifully erased from my memory. Melville, I seem to remember, was an electrician who worked in the radio school, a firm believer in the legend that exposure to the micro-radiation from the big transmitters made you temporarily sterile, and used to lie on top of the amplifier end before he disappeared on a crafty weekend home.

When I think back to the power of same of that old gear, it's a wonder he wasn't cooked. As a snap check that you were transmitting, mechanics used to hold a thumb-nail near aerial leads: a crackling blue spark meant that it was working (and usually meant a hole in your thumbnail).

However, this practice was discouraged after some mechanics tried it when a faulty condenser meant that they got a hefty DC charge running through them with fatal results. Thereafter, all testing had to be done with a neon at the end of a wooden stick....

I haven't written that episode yet - not sure what reception it would have with the respectable lady writers at Jim Burns' writing class. ■

© Harry Turner, December 1993.

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