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21 October 2008

When my Uncle Ron was in the army in 1942 ... [More:]

... he was stationed for a time during basic training at a garrison in the north of England, quite possibly Catterick, although I couldn't say for sure.

The King and Queen were due to visit the troops before they were sent abroad, and so there was much running around like headless chickens by all and sundry to make sure everything looked perfect for Their Majesties' inspection.

Because he'd been late for drill, Uncle Ron was ordered as a punishment to paint the markings on the parade ground. So, he got some white paint from the stores, and made his way around the parade ground, re-marking the lines that were almost faded away.

As he stepped back to admire his handiwork, he kicked over the tin of paint, leaving a huge splodge of white paint, as if a giant pigeon had crapped in the middle of the parade ground.

There was no way he could clean it up, and he knew that if his Sergeant-Major saw it, he'd end up in the glasshouse and not get to meet the King. But my Uncle Ron was a bright lad, and, after a moment's panic, he had a flash of genius.

He ran back to the stores and got four planks of wood, all the same size. He set them out around the spilled paint, and spread the paint out to the edges. When the planks were removed, there was a perfect white square in the middle of the parade ground.

Fast forward 50 years. In 1992 Uncle Ron attended a regimental reunion at his old garrison. Much had changed about the place, the old tin sheds they used to sleep in had gone and the food was better but there was one thing that was exactly the same.

Right there in the middle of the parade ground, exactly where he'd spilled the paint 50 years earlier, and pristinely repainted for the reunion, was that same white square.
Oh my gosh, that is too funny. I can see all the poor privates (or whatever they are in the British Army) down the years laborously painting over that white square!
posted by muddgirl 21 October | 12:38
That is awesome. (I've got a funny story about that but involving a joke street sign for my high school's driveway. When the county put in a light so people could actually make the left to enter the driveway, THEY THOUGHT IT WAS A REAL STREET and therefore made a sign to hang from the light thingy. Apparently it's also on ADC maps too, but I've never checked for it. The school's address is correct though.)
posted by sperose 21 October | 12:44
That's an awesome story.

Reminds me of the Spanish king's lisp that became part of the Castilian dialect.
posted by jason's_planet 21 October | 13:14
Oh, man. I love that story.

I always tell the one I read somewhere about a woman preparing a family-favorite dish of rump roast or something, and she always cut about a quarter off one end of the meat before cooking it. Eventually her friend asked her why she always cuts that bit off, and she says, "you, know... I don't know. That's just how my mom always made it." So the next time she talks to her mom, she asks her why they cut the end off the meat, and her mother answers, "oh, my pan wasn't big enough to fit the whole thing."

This story, like Jan's uncle's square, amuses me greatly.

Is the Spanish King thing true? I've never heard that, but I love it too!
posted by taz 21 October | 13:33
Ha! That's great.

My mother and all of her many sisters, my grandmother, great-aunts, great-grandmother and some of my cousins cut bacon rashers into smaller pieces before cooking. I asked my great-grandmother why just before she died (at 97) and she said it was because her grandmother had a wee frying pan which didn't fit whole rashers, and the practice had just carried on. There are now at least a couple of hundred women who think bacon needs to be cut before cooking, all because my great-great-great-grandma had a wee pan.

And, on preview - heh, taz! It's certainly not apocryphal in this case.
posted by goo 21 October | 14:07
That. is. awesome.
posted by Specklet 21 October | 14:09
I've heard about the Spanish king's lisp also. And this: The dance the Merangue was invented because a Spanish king had one leg shorter than the other, and this dance made everyone equal.

Essexjan, I love that story!!
posted by redvixen 21 October | 14:10
That's such a wonderful story! Did he manage to take any pictures at his reunion?
posted by mightshould 21 October | 15:38
Awesome story!
posted by dg 21 October | 15:41
Do you guys have a British equivalent of Reader's Digest? If so, this story definitely deserves a prominent spot in the "Humour in Uniform" section.
posted by Atom Eyes 21 October | 16:34
that is awesome! Reminds me of a bit in Terry Pratchett where the ceremony of the keys at Unseen University has a traditional Losing of the Keys.
posted by By the Grace of God 21 October | 17:54
That is an awesome story, and would be a great addition to your blog, Jan.

Seriously, personal stories like that are great blog fodder. Not that it doesn't belong here, but it belongs there too.

(Do I sound like I'm nagging or encouraging? Because encouraging is what I'm shooting for.)
posted by Doohickie 21 October | 23:06
Heh. It's like the way that the dance Anthony Quinn made up for Zorba to do, because his foot was recently broken, that has become this emblematic "Greek" dance. (Well, maybe it does have Greek origins, but Quinn was of course no Greek.)

Or so innumerable movie trivia sources tell me.

The Castilian lisp thing, though, is pretty much bunk.
posted by stilicho 22 October | 01:32
I didn't know that about the Zorba dance, stilicho! Though one thing rings false; after looking it up, I keep finding this, "When asked by director Cacoyannis what kind of dance it was, Quinn merely said it was a traditional dance and made up a name on the spot." Not likely. Cacoyannis was Greek, and the names of dances mean things... I mean, to a Greek, they don't just sound like strange, unusual words. For example, one traditional dance (there are thousands) is called "Plataniotiko Nero", meaning "Water of Platanos". Platanos is the name of a certain village, and it means "maple tree" - so the village was probably named after a particularly venerable maple there, and the dance was probably inspired by a river or stream running through the village.

Anyway, in Greek you have to know whether a word or what it describes is masculine, feminine, or neuter, and if something is possessive ("of" something else) that's also included in the construction of the word itself, in various ways... etc.; does it end in an "A"? an "I"? "OS"? an "O"? an "ES"? an "OU"? They all indicate something in particular, and there are all sorts of rules. Greek is really hard; faking Greek (to Greeks) would be pretty much impossible. So I don't believe that he "fooled" Cacoyannis by making up some name. I also tend to believe that they probably worked out the makeshift dance together (or with locals or whatever). Still fascinating.
posted by taz 22 October | 02:41
PS: Apparently, if it weren't for Ben Franklin, we'd probably be reading the internet in Greek today.
posted by taz 22 October | 02:55
We made puppets! || omg, I killed my dog.