This is a story about the unexpected. It is set in a military context because that is how it actually happened. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, or perhaps in this case, to hide their embarrassment. But the story is true.
It happened many years ago in a land far, far away.
To set the scene, six men had managed to infiltrate into enemy territory and so were operating behind enemy lines. It was a dangerous place to be, of that there was no doubt. Any trace of them being uncovered would have meant capture by the opposing forces and at the very least a spell in prison – and probably a lot worse.
So the underlying tension was real and obvious. Everyone was on edge, always ready for the unexpected.
Of course, when I say, ‘always ready for the unexpected’, as well as being a bit of cliché, it is also a silly expression.
What you are really ready for when you think you are ready for the ‘unexpected’, are things that you ‘expect’ may happen. In this case that might have meant a civilian passing by ‘unexpectedly’, or an unscheduled enemy military patrol suddenly surfacing in the vicinity.
All of these things were the ‘unexpected’ that they were expecting might possibly happen and were ready for in so far as they had contingency plans made.
Back to the story.
The six men were split into three groups of two. They were dressed in civilian clothes, as workmen, so as not to look out of place should anyone see them when they were traveling to and from their destination.
Their task was to rendezvous at a certain predetermined point, groups two and three liaising with two sets of local people who they would lead to the meeting point. The task of the first group was to check out and secure the meeting place, and to open an entry point for the others.
The area that had been chosen was in a large fenced and gated complex that had been more or less abandoned. The lead group, who had acquired a non descript car, went directly there to check out the area and then to open a way in for the others who needed to be able to drive straight in and out of sight of the road when they arrived at the appointed hour.
The two men in the lead group arrived in good time and without challenge or incident. They made sure there was nothing out of the ordinary in the general area and then proceeded to the entry point.
As a cover for what they were really doing, one of the men started to prepare a lunch – just coffee and sandwiches – that he had brought with him. Carefully, and where anyone could see them, he laid out the lunch boxes on the roof of the car, along with a flask and two plastic cups. They were simple workers who had stopped for a bite to eat and anyone passing by would be able to see clearly what they were doing. Nothing out of the ordinary or suspicious about that.
The other guy in the team, using the cover of the parked car, was busy removing the lock and chains from the gate, which he managed to do quickly and without any difficulty.
Although the whole thing had an air of calm and normality, the two men knew where they were and the risks involved and were therefore suitably tense as a result.
The guy drinking the coffee and eating the sandwich was doing so whilst keeping a careful watch on everything happening around him, including how his colleague was fairing with the gate.
Then the unexpected, unexpected unexpectedly happened.
As his colleague opened the gate it made a few creaking noises, but it opened okay and he began to push it back to leave the way open for the others who would soon be arriving in their vans.
Just as the gate reached 90 degrees from its closed position, suddenly, without any warning whatever, there was a loud rustling noise in the long grass behind it.
The guy standing beside it froze.
The unexpected he had been trained to expect was an enemy soldier secreted in the long grass waiting to ambush him and his colleague. But this was something else.
Again before he had time to react, whatever it was bounded out of the grass, first directly towards him and then making an almost instant left turn and disappearing. The suddenness of the movement towards him made him start. He lost his balance and fell backwards on to the ground, his unusual movement startling his colleague at the car.
There was coffee everywhere but in the cups, and sandwiches everywhere but in the lunchbox, as guy number two instinctively abandoned his meal and took cover behind the car, reaching for his weapon at the same time.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” the man at the gate told him urgently, but in a loud whisper, scared that he would open fire and alert anyone within hearing distance.
“WTF is it?” the man at the car asked back, equally urgently, in an equally loud whisper.
“I don’t know, an animal, just an animal,” came the reply. “I think it was a hare or something like that.”
“FFS you idiot, you scared the shit out of me, and I damn nearly shot at whatever it was. How could you fall on your ass because of a hare?”
There was no reply. None was needed. Time was pressing and they soon gathered their wits again – and what was left of the sandwiches.
Soon the others arrived. The rest of the mission, whatever it was, went without further incident and when it was done they all left as if they had never been there.
Even the best trained men and the best laid plans can never cater for the truly unexpected, unexpected.
And in case you are wondering, the answer is ‘Yes’, from that day on the poor bloke was subjected to ‘hare on his ass’ jokes – which I suppose was to be expected!
How about a short story of love, betrayal, and revenge to end the week?
The divorce had just become final and she was preparing to remove all her remaining belongings from what had been “their” house.
On the first day, she sadly packed her belongings into boxes, crates and suitcases.
On the second day, she had the movers come and collect her things.
On the third day, she sat down for the last time at their beautiful dining-room table, by candle-light. She put on some soft background music, and feasted on a pound of shrimp, a jar of caviar, and a bottle of spring-water.
When she had finished, she went into each and every room and deposited a few half-eaten shrimps dipped in caviar into the hollow centre of the curtain rods.
Then she cleaned up the kitchen and left.
On the fourth day, her ex-husband came back to the house with his new girlfriend, and at first all was bliss.
Then, slowly, the house began to smell.
They tried everything; cleaning, mopping, and airing-out the place.
Vents were checked for dead rodents, and carpets were steam cleaned.
Air fresheners were hung everywhere.
Exterminators were brought in to set off gas canisters, during which time the two had to move out for a few days.
In the end they even paid to replace the expensive wool carpeting.
People stopped coming over to visit.
Repairmen refused to work in the house.
The maid quit.
Finally, the ex and his new girl couldn’t take the stench any longer, and decided they had to move.
But a month later – even though they’d cut their price in half – they couldn’t find a buyer for such a stinky house.
Word got out, and eventually even the local realtors refused to return their calls.
Finally, unable to wait any longer for a purchaser, they had to borrow a huge sum of money from the bank to buy a new place.
It was then that she called her ex-husband and asked how things were going.
He told her the saga of the rotting house.
She listened politely and said that she missed her old home terribly and would be willing to reduce her divorce settlement in exchange for having the house.
He was so desperate to get rid of the unsaleable house, that he agreed on a price that was only 1/10 th of what the house had been worth.
And because he knew she could have no idea how bad the smell really was, he wasn’t going to give her any time to visit the place again.
The deal was good only if she would sign the papers that very day!
Within two hours his lawyers delivered the completed paperwork which she duly signed.
A week later her ex-husband and his girlfriend stood smiling as they watched the moving company pack everything to take to their new home…….
……and to spite the ex-wife, they even took the curtain rods too!
One of my blog friends, Kenton over at the Jittery Goat, wrote a post recently as part of the daily prompt series about the first book/story he read that gave him an interest in reading and writing. His choice was a good one, “To Kill A Mockingbird”.
On a few occasions I have been asked the same thing and it is a very good question to put to anyone who is interested in either reading or writing or both.
When I was growing up the main influence as regards reading and writing was school. I’m sure that is the same for many of you. I was both fortunate and unfortunate here.
For a few years I had an excellent English teacher. Someone who was interested in the subject she taught, but someone who was equally interested in passing on her enthusiasm for reading and writing to her pupils. She was a great teacher and a great influence on her pupils. One could not but develop a taste for English literature, for exploring other writers and for writing too.
Now for the bad news.
As happens in schools, as you progress through the grades sometimes your teachers change. And unfortunately mine did.
I got lumbered with the most awful teacher there has probably ever been. Another woman, but this woman was one of those self-absorbed dullards who would probably have made any subject the most boring and tedious thing in the world.
She could take the most exciting story and just drain the life out of it. With poetry she did the very same, just killed it stone dead with her monotonous voice and her complete lack of feeling for the subject.
Watching the proverbial paint drying or concrete setting was real exciting stuff compared to this woman’s classes!
Sadly, for a few years she turned me, and I would guess almost all her pupils completely off both reading and writing. I will never forgive her for that.
However time passed and although I’m not sure how exactly it happened, I got the urge to start to read again. Perhaps to ease myself back into it I decided to start with some short stories rather than a long book or novel.
And what a great choice that turned out to be.
The first story I read in my new life as a reader once again was called “An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge”. It was a tale set during the American Civil War and was written by Ambrose Bierce, who himself was a veteran of that war, and a gentleman of whom you will hear a lot more in future fasab posts.
And so I have been reading and writing ever since, mostly for my own amusement and occasionally, as in this blog, also for the amusement of others.
I’d be interested to find out what you make of this story so I have reproduced it below. If you are unfamiliar with it, or want to refresh you memory if you have read it before, grab a cup of coffee and enjoy.
And when you are finished let me know what you make of it.
AN OCCURRENCE AT OWL CREEK BRIDGE
A man stood upon a railroad bridge in northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below. The man’s hands were behind his back, the wrists bound with a cord. A rope closely encircled his neck. It was attached to a stout cross-timber above his head and the slack fell to the level of his knees. Some loose boards laid upon the ties supporting the rails of the railway supplied a footing for him and his executioners–two private soldiers of the Federal army, directed by a sergeant who in civil life may have been a deputy sheriff. At a short remove upon the same temporary platform was an officer in the uniform of his rank, armed. He was a captain.
A sentinel at each end of the bridge stood with his rifle in the position known as “support,” that is to say, vertical in front of the left shoulder, the hammer resting on the forearm thrown straight across the chest–a formal and unnatural position, enforcing an erect carriage of the body. It did not appear to be the duty of these two men to know what was occurring at the center of the bridge; they merely blockaded the two ends of the foot planking that traversed it.
Beyond one of the sentinels nobody was in sight; the railroad ran straight away into a forest for a hundred yards, then, curving, was lost to view. Doubtless there was an outpost farther along. The other bank of the stream was open ground–a gentle slope topped with a stockade of vertical tree trunks, loopholed for rifles, with a single embrasure through which protruded the muzzle of a brass cannon commanding the bridge. Midway up the slope between the bridge and fort were the spectators–a single company of infantry in line, at “parade rest,” the butts of their rifles on the ground, the barrels inclining slightly backward against the right shoulder, the hands crossed upon the stock.
A lieutenant stood at the right of the line, the point of his sword upon the ground, his left hand resting upon his right. Excepting the group of four at the center of the bridge, not a man moved. The company faced the bridge, staring stonily, motionless. The sentinels, facing the banks of the stream, might have been statues to adorn the bridge. The captain stood with folded arms, silent, observing the work of his subordinates, but making no sign. Death is a dignitary who when he comes announced is to be received with formal manifestations of respect, even by those most familiar with him. In the code of military etiquette silence and fixity are forms of deference.
The man who was engaged in being hanged was apparently about thirty-five years of age. He was a civilian, if one might judge from his habit, which was that of a planter. His features were good—a straight nose, firm mouth, broad forehead, from which his long, dark hair was combed straight back, falling behind his ears to the collar of his well fitting frock coat. He wore a moustache and pointed beard, but no whiskers; his eyes were large and dark gray, and had a kindly expression which one would hardly have expected in one whose neck was in the hemp. Evidently this was no vulgar assassin. The liberal military code makes provision for hanging many kinds of persons, and gentlemen are not excluded.
The preparations being complete, the two private soldiers stepped aside and each drew away the plank upon which he had been standing. The sergeant turned to the captain, saluted and placed himself immediately behind that officer, who in turn moved apart one pace.
These movements left the condemned man and the sergeant standing on the two ends of the same plank, which spanned three of the cross-ties of the bridge. The end upon which the civilian stood almost, but not quite, reached a fourth. This plank had been held in place by the weight of the captain; it was now held by that of the sergeant. At a signal from the former the latter would step aside, the plank would tilt and the condemned man go down between two ties. The arrangement commended itself to his judgement as simple and effective. His face had not been covered nor his eyes bandaged. He looked a moment at his “unsteadfast footing,” then let his gaze wander to the swirling water of the stream racing madly beneath his feet. A piece of dancing driftwood caught his attention and his eyes followed it down the current. How slowly it appeared to move! What a sluggish stream!
He closed his eyes in order to fix his last thoughts upon his wife and children. The water, touched to gold by the early sun, the brooding mists under the banks at some distance down the stream, the fort, the soldiers, the piece of drift–all had distracted him. And now he became conscious of a new disturbance. Striking through the thought of his dear ones was sound which he could neither ignore nor understand, a sharp, distinct, metallic percussion like the stroke of a blacksmith’s hammer upon the anvil; it had the same ringing quality.
He wondered what it was, and whether immeasurably distant or near by– it seemed both. Its recurrence was regular, but as slow as the tolling of a death knell. He awaited each new stroke with impatience and–he knew not why–apprehension. The intervals of silence grew progressively longer; the delays became maddening. With their greater infrequency the sounds increased in strength and sharpness. They hurt his ear like the trust of a knife; he feared he would shriek. What he heard was the ticking of his watch.
He unclosed his eyes and saw again the water below him. “If I could free my hands,” he thought, “I might throw off the noose and spring into the stream. By diving I could evade the bullets and, swimming vigorously, reach the bank, take to the woods and get away home. My home, thank God, is as yet outside their lines; my wife and little ones are still beyond the invader’s farthest advance.”
As these thoughts, which have here to be set down in words, were flashed into the doomed man’s brain rather than evolved from it the captain nodded to the sergeant. The sergeant stepped aside.
Peyton Farquhar was a well to do planter, of an old and highly respected Alabama family. Being a slave owner and like other slave owners a politician, he was naturally an original secessionist and ardently devoted to the Southern cause. Circumstances of an imperious nature, which it is unnecessary to relate here, had prevented him from taking service with that gallant army which had fought the disastrous campaigns ending with the fall of Corinth, and he chafed under the inglorious restraint, longing for the release of his energies, the larger life of the soldier, the opportunity for distinction. That opportunity, he felt, would come, as it comes to all in wartime.
Meanwhile he did what he could. No service was too humble for him to perform in the aid of the South, no adventure to perilous for him to undertake if consistent with the character of a civilian who was at heart a soldier, and who in good faith and without too much qualification assented to at least a part of the frankly villainous dictum that all is fair in love and war.
One evening while Farquhar and his wife were sitting on a rustic bench near the entrance to his grounds, a gray-clad soldier rode up to the gate and asked for a drink of water. Mrs. Farquhar was only too happy to serve him with her own white hands. While she was fetching the water her husband approached the dusty horseman and inquired eagerly for news from the front.
“The Yanks are repairing the railroads,” said the man, “and are getting ready for another advance. They have reached the Owl Creek bridge, put it in order and built a stockade on the north bank. The commandant has issued an order, which is posted everywhere, declaring that any civilian caught interfering with the railroad, its bridges, tunnels, or trains will be summarily hanged. I saw the order.”
“How far is it to the Owl Creek bridge?” Farquhar asked.
“About thirty miles.”
“Is there no force on this side of the creek?”
“Only a picket post half a mile out, on the railroad, and a single sentinel at this end of the bridge.”
“Suppose a man–a civilian and student of hanging–should elude the picket post and perhaps get the better of the sentinel,” said Farquhar, smiling, “what could he accomplish?”
The soldier reflected. “I was there a month ago,” he replied. “I observed that the flood of last winter had lodged a great quantity of driftwood against the wooden pier at this end of the bridge. It is now dry and would burn like tinder.”
The lady had now brought the water, which the soldier drank. He thanked her ceremoniously, bowed to her husband and rode away. An hour later, after nightfall, he repassed the plantation, going northward in the direction from which he had come. He was a Federal scout.
As Peyton Farquhar fell straight downward through the bridge he lost consciousness and was as one already dead. From this state he was awakened–ages later, it seemed to him–by the pain of a sharp pressure upon his throat, followed by a sense of suffocation. Keen, poignant agonies seemed to shoot from his neck downward through every fiber of his body and limbs. These pains appeared to flash along well defined lines of ramification and to beat with an inconceivably rapid periodicity.
They seemed like streams of pulsating fire heating him to an intolerable temperature. As to his head, he was conscious of nothing but a feeling of fullness — of congestion. These sensations were unaccompanied by thought. The intellectual part of his nature was already effaced; he had power only to feel, and feeling was torment. He was conscious of motion. Encompassed in a luminous cloud, of which he was now merely the fiery heart, without material substance, he swung through unthinkable arcs of oscillation, like a vast pendulum. Then all at once, with terrible suddenness, the light about him shot upward with the noise of a loud splash; a frightful roaring was in his ears, and all was cold and dark. The power of thought was restored; he knew that the rope had broken and he had fallen into the stream. There was no additional strangulation; the noose about his neck was already suffocating him and kept the water from his lungs. To die of hanging at the bottom of a river! — the idea seemed to him ludicrous. He opened his eyes in the darkness and saw above him a gleam of light, but how distant, how inaccessible!
He was still sinking, for the light became fainter and fainter until it was a mere glimmer. Then it began to grow and brighten, and he knew that he was rising toward the surface — knew it with reluctance, for he was now very comfortable. “To be hanged and drowned,” he thought, “that is not so bad; but I do not wish to be shot. No; I will not be shot; that is not fair.”
He was not conscious of an effort, but a sharp pain in his wrist apprised him that he was trying to free his hands. He gave the struggle his attention, as an idler might observe the feat of a juggler, without interest in the outcome. What splendid effort! — what magnificent, what superhuman strength! Ah, that was a fine endeavor!
Bravo! The cord fell away; his arms parted and floated upward, the hands dimly seen on each side in the growing light. He watched them with a new interest as first one and then the other pounced upon the noose at his neck. They tore it away and thrust it fiercely aside, its undulations resembling those of a water snake. “Put it back, put it back!” He thought he shouted these words to his hands, for the undoing of the noose had been succeeded by the direst pang that he had yet experienced. His neck ached horribly; his brain was on fire, his heart, which had been fluttering faintly, gave a great leap, trying to force itself out at his mouth. His whole body was racked and wrenched with an insupportable anguish! But his disobedient hands gave no heed to the command. They beat the water vigorously with quick, downward strokes, forcing him to the surface. He felt his head emerge; his eyes were blinded by the sunlight; his chest expanded convulsively, and with a supreme and crowning agony his lungs engulfed a great draught of air, which instantly he expelled in a shriek!
He was now in full possession of his physical senses. They were, indeed, preternaturally keen and alert. Something in the awful disturbance of his organic system had so exalted and refined them that they made record of things never before perceived. He felt the ripples upon his face and heard their separate sounds as they struck.
He looked at the forest on the bank of the stream, saw the individual trees, the leaves and the veining of each leaf–he saw the very insects upon them: the locusts, the brilliant bodied flies, the gray spiders stretching their webs from twig to twig. He noted the prismatic colors in all the dewdrops upon a million blades of grass.
The humming of the gnats that danced above the eddies of the stream, the beating of the dragon flies’ wings, the strokes of the water spiders’ legs, like oars which had lifted their boat — all these made audible music. A fish slid along beneath his eyes and he heard the rush of its body parting the water.
He had come to the surface facing down the stream; in a moment the visible world seemed to wheel slowly round, himself the pivotal point, and he saw the bridge, the fort, the soldiers upon the bridge, the captain, the sergeant, the two privates, his executioners. They were in silhouette against the blue sky. They shouted and gesticulated, pointing at him. The captain had drawn his pistol, but did not fire; the others were unarmed. Their movements were grotesque and horrible, their forms gigantic.
Suddenly he heard a sharp report and something struck the water smartly within a few inches of his head, spattering his face with spray. He heard a second report, and saw one of the sentinels with his rifle at his shoulder, a light cloud of blue smoke rising from the muzzle. The man in the water saw the eye of the man on the bridge gazing into his own through the sights of the rifle. He observed that it was a gray eye and remembered having read that gray eyes were keenest, and that all famous marksmen had them. Nevertheless, this one had missed.
A counter-swirl had caught Farquhar and turned him half round; he was again looking at the forest on the bank opposite the fort. The sound of a clear, high voice in a monotonous singsong now rang out behind him and came across the water with a distinctness that pierced and subdued all other sounds, even the beating of the ripples in his ears.
Although no soldier, he had frequented camps enough to know the dread significance of that deliberate, drawling, aspirated chant; the lieutenant on shore was taking a part in the morning’s work. How coldly and pitilessly — with what an even, calm intonation, presaging, and enforcing tranquility in the men — with what accurately measured interval fell those cruel words:
Farquhar dived — dived as deeply as he could. The water roared in his ears like the voice of Niagara, yet he heard the dull thunder of the volley and, rising again toward the surface, met shining bits of metal, singularly flattened, oscillating slowly downward. Some of them touched him on the face and hands, then fell away, continuing their descent. One lodged between his collar and neck; it was uncomfortably warm and he snatched it out.
As he rose to the surface, gasping for breath, he saw that he had been a long time under water; he was perceptibly farther downstream — nearer to safety. The soldiers had almost finished reloading; the metal ramrods flashed all at once in the sunshine as they were drawn from the barrels, turned in the air, and thrust into their sockets. The two sentinels fired again, independently and ineffectually.
The hunted man saw all this over his shoulder; he was now swimming vigorously with the current. His brain was as energetic as his arms and legs; he thought with the rapidity of lightning:
“The officer,” he reasoned, “will not make that martinet’s error a second time. It is as easy to dodge a volley as a single shot. He has probably already given the command to fire at will. God help me, I cannot dodge them all!”
An appalling splash within two yards of him was followed by a loud, rushing sound, DIMINUENDO, which seemed to travel back through the air to the fort and died in an explosion which stirred the very river to its deeps! A rising sheet of water curved over him, fell down upon him, blinded him, strangled him! The cannon had taken an hand in the game. As he shook his head free from the commotion of the smitten water he heard the deflected shot humming through the air ahead, and in an instant it was cracking and smashing the branches in the forest beyond.
“They will not do that again,” he thought; “the next time they will use a charge of grape. I must keep my eye upon the gun; the smoke will apprise me–the report arrives too late; it lags behind the missile. That is a good gun.”
Suddenly he felt himself whirled round and round — spinning like a top. The water, the banks, the forests, the now distant bridge, fort and men, all were commingled and blurred. Objects were represented by their colors only; circular horizontal streaks of color — that was all he saw. He had been caught in a vortex and was being whirled on with a velocity of advance and gyration that made him giddy and sick. In few moments he was flung upon the gravel at the foot of the left bank of the stream — the southern bank — and behind a projecting point which concealed him from his enemies. The sudden arrest of his motion, the abrasion of one of his hands on the gravel, restored him, and he wept with delight. He dug his fingers into the sand, threw it over himself in handfuls and audibly blessed it. It looked like diamonds, rubies, emeralds; he could think of nothing beautiful which it did not resemble. The trees upon the bank were giant garden plants; he noted a definite order in their arrangement, inhaled the fragrance of their blooms. A strange roseate light shone through the spaces among their trunks and the wind made in their branches the music of Aeolian harps. He had not wish to perfect his escape — he was content to remain in that enchanting spot until retaken.
A whiz and a rattle of grapeshot among the branches high above his head roused him from his dream. The baffled cannoneer had fired him a random farewell. He sprang to his feet, rushed up the sloping bank, and plunged into the forest.
All that day he traveled, laying his course by the rounding sun. The forest seemed interminable; nowhere did he discover a break in it, not even a woodman’s road. He had not known that he lived in so wild a region. There was something uncanny in the revelation.
By nightfall he was fatigued, footsore, famished. The thought of his wife and children urged him on. At last he found a road which led him in what he knew to be the right direction. It was as wide and straight as a city street, yet it seemed untraveled. No fields bordered it, no dwelling anywhere. Not so much as the barking of a dog suggested human habitation. The black bodies of the trees formed a straight wall on both sides, terminating on the horizon in a point, like a diagram in a lesson in perspective. Overhead, as he looked up through this rift in the wood, shone great golden stars looking unfamiliar and grouped in strange constellations. He was sure they were arranged in some order which had a secret and malign significance. The wood on either side was full of singular noises, among which — once, twice, and again–he distinctly heard whispers in an unknown tongue.
His neck was in pain and lifting his hand to it found it horribly swollen. He knew that it had a circle of black where the rope had bruised it. His eyes felt congested; he could no longer close them.
His tongue was swollen with thirst; he relieved its fever by thrusting it forward from between his teeth into the cold air. How softly the turf had carpeted the untraveled avenue — he could no longer feel the roadway beneath his feet!
Doubtless, despite his suffering, he had fallen asleep while walking, for now he sees another scene — perhaps he has merely recovered from a delirium. He stands at the gate of his own home. All is as he left it, and all bright and beautiful in the morning sunshine. He must have traveled the entire night. As he pushes open the gate and passes up the wide white walk, he sees a flutter of female garments; his wife, looking fresh and cool and sweet, steps down from the veranda to meet him. At the bottom of the steps she stands waiting, with a smile of ineffable joy, an attitude of matchless grace and dignity. Ah, how beautiful she is! He springs forwards with extended arms. As he is about to clasp her he feels a stunning blow upon the back of the neck; a blinding white light blazes all about him with a sound like the shock of a cannon — then all is darkness and silence!
Peyton Farquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of the Owl Creek bridge.
If you prefer to listen while you do something else, here is an audio version of the story:
An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce, narrated by Robert Englund, part one of four
An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce, narrated by Robert Englund, part two of four
An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce, narrated by Robert Englund, part three of four
An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge by Ambrose Bierce, narrated by Robert Englund, part four of four
I did a few posts recently about the resignation of pope Benedict and the election of Francis I (here and here ) and that reminded me of something that happened in the way distant past of the internet. In fact it became the first internet hoax.
I am sure a great many of you are far too young to remember this, so here is the story.
Sometime in early 1994 a press release began circulating around the internet claiming that Microsoft had bought the Roman Catholic Church.
The press release, allegedly from the Vatican City itself, announced that this was “the first time a computer software company has acquired a major world religion.”
The release also quoted Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates as saying that he considered religion to be a growth market and that, “The combined resources of Microsoft and the Catholic Church will allow us to make religion easier and more fun for a broader range of people.”
The deal would allow Microsoft to acquire exclusive electronic rights to the Bible and would make the sacraments available online.
Similarities were drawn between the business practices of Microsoft and the Catholic Church’s historical conversion efforts, claiming that throughout history the Church, like Microsoft, had been “an aggressive competitor, leading crusades to pressure people to upgrade to Catholicism, and entering into exclusive licensing arrangements in various kingdoms whereby all subjects were instilled with Catholicism, whether or not they planned to use it.”
At the time very few seemed to get the joke. Stained Glass Windows 3.1 was not in fact about to be launched, but still many people telephoned Microsoft’s public relations agency to inquire if the news was true.
In the end it got so bad that Microsoft had to issue a formal denial of the release on December 16, 1994.
A follow-up hoax release announced that in response to Microsoft’s acquisition of the Catholic Church, IBM had bought the Episcopal Church.
Since then hoaxes on the internet have gone from strength to strength, from end of the world scenarios, thru Nigerian 419 scams to the plethora of “warn all you friends about this new deadly virus (that doesn’t really exist)” hoaxes.
People were dumb, are dumb and will get dumber!
I have reproduced below the original hoax announcement.
Would you have fallen for it?
If you are reading this blog I doubt it. But read it anyway for amusement value.
By the way, the authors of these hoaxes remain unknown – good for them.
Here it is:
MICROSOFT BIDS TO ACQUIRE CATHOLIC CHURCH
By Hank Vorjes
VATICAN CITY (AP) — In a joint press conference in St. Peter’s Square this morning, MICROSOFT Corp. and the Vatican announced that the Redmond software giant will acquire the Roman Catholic Church in exchange for an unspecified number of shares of MICROSOFT common stock. If the deal goes through, it will be the first time a computer software company has acquired a major world religion.
With the acquisition, Pope John Paul II will become the senior vice-president of the combined company’s new Religious Software Division, while MICROSOFT senior vice-presidents Michael Maples and Steven Ballmer will be invested in the College of Cardinals, said MICROSOFT Chairman Bill Gates.
“We expect a lot of growth in the religious market in the next five to ten years,” said Gates. “The combined resources of MICROSOFT and the Catholic Church will allow us to make religion easier and more fun for a broader range of people.”
Through the MICROSOFT Network, the company’s new on-line service, “we will make the sacraments available on-line for the first time” and revive the popular pre-Counter-Reformation practice of selling indulgences, said Gates.
“You can get Communion, confess your sins, receive absolution — even reduce your time in Purgatory — all without leaving your home.” A new software application, MICROSOFT Church, will include a macro language which you can program to download heavenly graces automatically while you are away from your computer.
An estimated 17,000 people attended the announcement in St Peter’s Square, watching on a 60-foot screen as comedian Don Novello — in character as Father Guido Sarducci — hosted the event, which was broadcast by satellite to 700 sites worldwide.
Pope John Paul II said little during the announcement. When Novello chided Gates, “Now I guess you get to wear one of these pointy hats,” the crowd roared, but the pontiff’s smile seemed strained. The deal grants MICROSOFT exclusive electronic rights to the Bible and the Vatican’s prized art collection, which includes works by such masters as Michelangelo and Da Vinci. But critics say MICROSOFT will face stiff challenges if it attempts to limit competitors’ access to these key intellectual properties.
“The Jewish people invented the look and feel of the holy scriptures,” said Rabbi David Gottschalk of Philadelphia. “You take the parting of the Red Sea — we had that thousands of years before the Catholics came on the scene.”
But others argue that the Catholic and Jewish faiths both draw on a common Abrahamic heritage. “The Catholic Church has just been more successful in marketing it to a larger audience,” notes Notre Dame theologian Father Kenneth Madigan. Over the last 2,000 years, the Catholic Church’s market share has increased dramatically, while Judaism, which was the first to offer many of the concepts now touted by Christianity, lags behind.
Historically, the Church has a reputation as an aggressive competitor, leading crusades to pressure people to upgrade to Catholicism, and entering into exclusive licensing arrangements in various kingdoms whereby all subjects were instilled with Catholicism, whether or not they planned to use it.
Today Christianity is available from several denominations, but the Catholic version is still the most widely used. The Church’s mission is to reach “the four corners of the earth,” echoing MICROSOFT’s vision of “a computer on every desktop and in every home”.
Gates described MICROSOFT’s long-term strategy to develop a scalable religious architecture that will support all religions through emulation. A single core religion will be offered with a choice of interfaces according to the religion desired — “One religion, a couple of different implementations,” said Gates.
The MICROSOFT move could spark a wave of mergers and acquisitions, according to Herb Peters, a spokesman for the U.S. Southern Baptist Conference, as other churches scramble to strengthen their position in the increasingly competitive religious market.
It had accident and emergency, medical, surgical and all the other usual departments and wards. It also had an Intensive Care Unit, well staffed and managed, just like any other.
Except that this Intensive Care Unit wasn’t just like any other. Patients kept dying in this unit.
Not only that, but they always died in the same bed, and at the same time, on Sunday mornings at about 11:00 am, regardless of their medical condition.
It had been that way for a while and doctors, nurses and the hospital management were not only puzzled, but rather nervous too.
What could possibly be the reason? The laws of probability made this occurrence way more than one in a million.
Some even thought it had to have something to do with the super natural.
Had something terrible happened in that ward sometime in the past?
Was the hospital built on the site of some awful tragedy that had taken place years ago?
Was there some kind of portal to another dimension where evil entities could enter and leave?
There were many more questions than answers, but no one could solve the mystery as to why the deaths always occurred in the same bed and around the same time, 11:00 am Sunday.
Eventually a worldwide team of experts was assembled to investigate the cause of the incidents. It included scientists, medical experts, a crew with electronic detection equipment, several clergymen and even a medium.
They were prepared for anything and everything.
Or so they thought.
The next Sunday morning, a few minutes before 11:00 am all of the doctors and nurses nervously waited with the team of experts outside the ward to see for themselves what the terrible phenomenon was all about.
Some were holding wooden crosses, others prayer books and other holy objects to ward off the evil spirits.
Then, just when the clock struck 11:00 am, the ward door suddenly burst open.
The crowd of watchers gasped.
Pookie Johnson, the part-time Sunday sweeper, entered the ward.
He walked over to the wall beside the offending bed, unplugged the life support system and plugged in his vacuum cleaner.
Turns out the culprit was Pookie and not a spookie after all.
When I sat down at my laptop this morning I was going to do another selection of obituaries, many of which I find very amusing whether that was the originators’ intention or not.
But then one thought led to another and I remembered little Jimmy, so now this post is about him.
Little Jimmy lived in the town where I was born. He was small, about five feet tall or possibly 5 foot 1, no more than that. He wasn’t what you would call stupid, but he was definitely a bit odd – a few cents short of a dollar you might say. Clinically I think he probably had a mild case of autism. He was our own little Rain Man, you could say.
When I was a kid Jimmy would have been in his late 50s, but he acted more like a kid than a grown up. And as I grew up Jimmy didn’t. When he was in his 70s he was just the same and acted just the same. He always wore a big pair of leather army boots and a Crombie type overcoat, even in the summer. Both were slightly too big for him. I think someone had probably given them to him.
To earn himself some cash little Jimmy would do odd jobs and errands for people around the town. He was honest and reliable. And people were generally good enough to him, letting him do things they could easily have done themselves. Sometimes they would get a bit of harmless entertainment out of it too.
I remember one occasion a friend of my Dad’s had a bicycle with a puncture. Rather than wheeling it all the way to the bicycle store, or fixing the puncture himself, he called little Jimmy over.
“Jimmy, I need you to take my bicycle to Joe,” he instructed, Joe being the bike shop owner. ”And tell him,” he went on, “that the puncture is either on the back tire or the handlebars.”
He also handed him a couple of dollars and away little Jimmy went with the bike.
Sure enough we found out later from Joe that little Jimmy had arrived with the bike and duly announced to the shop and its customers that, “You’re to fix Billy Simpson’s bike and he doesn’t know if the puncture is on the back tire or the handlebars.”
But apart from his odd jobs, little Jimmy had three real passions in his life, delivering newspapers, collecting lost golf balls and attending funerals.
My Dad used to say that Jimmy was the oldest paperboy in the world and we should write to the Guinness Book of World Records. Of course we never did, but we enjoyed the joke all the same. And we enjoyed watching him collect his newspapers.
The scene never changed.
When the newspaper delivery van arrived at the newsagents the guy would open the back doors of the van and lift a bundle of papers to take into the shop. That was the cue for little Jimmy to make his way into the shop in front of him.
“Let the man through, let the man through,” he would shout with great urgency, at the same time pushing his way to the shop counter and scattering all the real kid newspaper boys out of the way as he did so.
It was chaos. But, as if by magic, this always got little Jimmy to the counter first and meant that he got the first lot of newspapers all to himself. Like I said, you couldn’t really call him stupid, just a little bit odd!
However, these semi-violent outbursts aside, when he wasn’t collecting his papers Jimmy was a gentle soul and everybody liked him. He was a fixture of the town, a real character, the type of people that don’t seem to be around any more, mores’ the pity.
He made some extra money for himself with his second passion, collecting used golf balls. In fact he had quite a successful business going. As soon as it was daybreak little Jimmy was on the golf course and searching in the rough and long grass for lost balls. Luckily for him the local golfers mustn’t have been much good, except at slicing, because there seemed to always be an endless supply of wayward balls.
Little Jimmy collected thousands of them, cleaned them up and then sold them back to the golfers, all of whom knew Jimmy and were happy to pay him. His price was substantially below new cost so everybody got a good deal.
However, little Jimmy must have taken Yogi Berra’s advice literally (see opening quote of this post) because his main passion became attending funerals. He went to every funeral in the town, whether he knew the person or not.
Not only that, but he kept a journal and logged the date, the time, possibly the number of people attending and so forth. It was one of those overly excessive obsessive qualities that makes me think now that he was probably autistic.
For bigger funerals, and although he couldn’t drive and never had a car, he also took it upon himself to direct traffic into and out of the cemetery. And he could be quite cross and demanding with the drivers as he was doing it.
It was thinking about the obituaries and funerals and such that led me to write this post because it was at the funeral of one of the town’s ‘big-wigs’ that my best and everlasting memory of little Jimmy occurred.
A lot of people had gathered up for this particular funeral. The guy had been a prominent businessman in the town for many years. Everyone knew him and respected him and therefore naturally wanted to pay their final respects by attending his funeral. There were probably also one or two who were there just to be seen to be there. No matter, it was a big turnout.
Eventually the mourners, including me and my Dad, made our way to the cemetery and sure enough little Jimmy was there, directing and organizing the cars. And there were a lot of them, not only because of the number of people but because it was a wet autumn morning.
Everything was wet including the ground around the graveside. Muddy and very slippery too. Luckily we hadn’t far to go, the open grave was just at the edge of the car park.
Little Jimmy was still directing the traffic. The more cars the more frustrated he seemed to become, anxious for the whole thing to start so that he could make the relevant entries in his journal.
“Come on, come on,” we could all hear him shouting impatiently at the drivers, as he waved them left and right and forwards into the few remaining parking spaces.
And then it happened.
As almost the last parking space was being filled, and little Jimmy was hurrying things along as best he could, he was walking backwards signing with his hands at a car in front of him to guide it. His concentration was focused solely on the car in front of him. He had no idea what was behind him and what was behind him was the curb at the edge of the car park. Just beyond that was about two feet of wet muddy grass that marked one end of the open grave around which we were all gathering for the interment.
No, little Jimmy didn’t see the curb behind him. Nor did he realize what it was when he tried to take another step backwards but found he couldn’t.
I watched the whole thing take place, knowing what was going to happen yet thinking somehow that really it wouldn’t. But it did.
Little Jimmy’s momentum backwards knocked him off balance, his feet left him and he sat down rather fast and very hard on to the muddy patch of grass.
If he had left it at that he would have been okay I think, but of course he didn’t. Shocked by what had just happened and trying to get up again as quickly as he could – the way we all try to do as if nothing has happened – he put his hands out behind him to push himself up on to his feet again.
The trouble was there was nothing for his hands to lean against, just the space of the open grave.
I never will forget the look of complete bewilderment on his face as his hands disappeared from view and then, pivoting on his backside, his head and shoulders disappeared too. In part of the same not so graceful movement his legs shot up into the air momentarily and then quickly slid down out of sight into the open grave to join the rest of him. The last that was seen were the big army boots which somehow added to the comedy.
It was truly one of the funniest things I had ever seen in my life and despite the solemn occasion I found it impossible to hold back the laughter. Thankfully several others were similarly afflicted which helped to take the bad look off me.
Jimmy was so short that he had no chance of ever getting out of the grave on his own. It would have been near impossible even for a much taller person because of the conditions. And so the fiasco continued.
Concerned citizens realizing what had just happened went to assist little Jimmy. A few of them almost meeting the same fate as their dress shoes were no match for the mud and they slithered dangerously close to the chasm in front of them. There were a few flailing arms and funny dance steps and ‘Ali Shuffles’ as they tried to retain their balance, all of which didn’t help me regain my composure.
Eventually little Jimmy was hauled out of the open grave, a bit wet and dirty – like a drowned rat, my Dad said later – but apart from a bruised ego, not much the worse for wear.
The whole debacle didn’t put him off. The next funeral little Jimmy was back with his book making notes. He didn’t have the same enthusiasm for traffic duty though.
Not too many years after that little Jimmy attended his last funeral – his own. No body bothered to log it into a journal, but for an ordinary little guy a surprising number of people made the effort to be there. And some of them, like me, had smiles on their faces.
Safe and secure is the wish of all of us and we pay other people to make sure that we are. In fact in today’s world hundreds of thousands of people are employed one way or another in the security business.
Looking at the macro-side of it, despite the fact that we all hate being treated as suspects when we go to the airport, most of the time the security people seem to get it right. After all, although many have been planned, there have been very few successful terrorist attacks since the infamous 9-11 in New York City and The Pentagon.
Nevertheless we have to be vigilant and cautious no matter where we are in the world. This is particularly so for American citizens and government employees, who are potential targets overseas.
Even in the most unlikely of places.
On July 31, last year, for example, Norwegian Police blocked off the area around Oslo’s royal palace following the discovery of a suspicious object beneath a nearby automobile outside the U.S. embassy.
The embassy was evacuated.
So was Norway’s royal palace and part of downtown Oslo.
Authorities even temporarily suspended subway service.
An international children’s soccer game was canceled at nearby Voldslokka Stadium so that the field could be used to land helicopters close to the embassy.
The Oslo bomb squad, emergency services and other agencies responded to the bomb alert. They examined the ‘device’ but were quickly able to determine that it was in fact a fake, much to the relief of everyone.
However, the incident then raised further questions.
Who had been responsible?
How had the perpetrators managed to breech Embassy security and plant the device, even a fake one?
It wasn’t too long before an “Oh, oh…” was heard.
Keen to make sure everyone was alert to the possibility of an attack, security staff at the U.S. embassy in Oslo had carried out a safety drill earlier in the week. That safety drill had included placing fake bombs on vehicles to rehearse their emergency-response operations.
However, they forgot about one of the ‘bombs’ and a few days later the practice bomb was spotted on an embassy vehicle as it tried to enter the embassy grounds just after 11 a.m. The eagle-eyed security guards on duty leaped into action and the bomb alert was declared.
Of course the officials concerned apologized for their mistake in leaving the fake bomb, regretting any disruption caused by this incident, and essentially calling a bomb scare on themselves.
They call it Black Friday nowadays. It could just as easily have been Red Friday or Purple Friday or Green Friday or Any-Color-You-Like Friday. But the marketing men called it Black Friday and we’re stuck with it.
This is the day when people queue up for hours in the hope of getting something they don’t really need at a discount price they can’t really afford. And sometimes they lose their minds and fight and trample on each other for the dubious privilege.
Ah, the dumbing down of the dumb and the dumber!
When I say dumb and dumber don’t just think I am talking about the uneducated. Not in the least. Some of those for whom schooling was anathema have a lot more street savvy than most, something they have learned in what is sometimes known as the school of hard knocks – in other words, life!
I have learned that idiots come in all shapes and sizes and with all forms of learning and skills. There are smart football players and there are dumb ones. There are smart doctors and there are dumb ones. There are even smart academics and there are the well educated fools who may be exam passing machines but who haven’t the common sense to go to the local store and buy a loaf of bread.
A friend of mine, let’s call him Fred, was a guy like that. He had degrees by the yard, undergraduate, master’s degrees and even a PhD. I suppose I should have called him Dr Fred.
Academically he was brilliant. And a great teacher of academic subjects. He traveled the world and lectured in various schools and colleges to great acclaim.
But Fred hadn’t the common sense of a gnat when it came to commerce. All his life he bought things far too dear but always thought that he had bought them cheap. He was a car salesman’s dream customer, manna from heaven for a realtor, and bread and butter – and chocolate cake with icing – for any shopkeeper selling computing or electronic gear.
The reason Fred comes to mind today is that he was also one of the idiots who would queue up half the night for a sale bargain, particularly where rare books were concerned. Fred was an avid collector.
Every year our local University bookstore held a one day sale where most of their books were discounted by at least 10 or 20 percent, but where one in particular was discounted by a massive amount, at least by half and sometimes by even more.
One year Fred spotted a book he had been after that was in the sale. It had been reduced from $500 to little over $100 and Fred was determined to have it.
So he spent the night and day before the sale getting as much sleep as he could. Then he made a flask of coffee and a few sandwiches, got a sleeping bag and set off confidently about 3 am in the morning to go to the bookstore to camp out until it opened.
When he got to the store there was no one around, in fact nothing at all on the street, except for a large cardboard box sitting at the entrance to the shop. Fred quickly surmised that it was extra stock that had been delivered after hours for the sale.
He rolled out his sleeping bag, climbed inside it and settled down for the night. It was about this time of the year and cold, but not freezing or anything too extreme. He was comfortable enough.
The time passed slowly as it usually does at night when you aren’t able to get to sleep or when you are nervously anticipating some event that will happen in the morning. Four o’clock and five o’clock came and went, and at around six o’clock Fred ate his sandwiches and drank his coffee. He was very content. Just another couple of hours to go and the book would be his.
By seven-thirty it was just beginning to get light. Traffic had started to move along the main streets as people began to make their way to work. The side street where the bookshop was however was still deserted, apart from Fred and the big cardboard box.
And then about ten minutes before eight the staff of the bookstore started to arrive. They smiled at Fred as they walked past and opened the door of the store. They switched the lights on and closed the doors again. Fred knew that they would open them again soon, when they had got themselves organized. Just a few more minutes he thought. Fred stood up and rolled up his sleeping bag, ready to enter the store.
That was when he heard the alarm. It wasn’t very loud and at first Fred thought it was coming from another street nearby. It wasn’t. Then he thought it was coming from inside the bookstore, possibly part of their security system. But it wasn’t that either. And then, before he could think up any other possibilities the alarm stopped just as suddenly as it had started.
Then to Fred’s complete and utter amazement the flaps of the cardboard box flew open and a head came out. It was a young man and as he got to his feet and stretched his arms he looked over at Fred and said, “Morning. You here for the book sale too?”
It was a classic ‘WTF’ moment. But Fred was having trouble grasping what had just happened and he couldn’t get any words from his brain to his lips. So he just stood there, mouth slightly open, trying desperately to piece together what was happening in front of him.
“I’ve done this before,” the young man said cheerfully to Fred. “Best place to be on a cold night is inside a cardboard box. Those old homeless guys know a thing or two I can tell you.”
This time words started to come to Fred. “Were you… did you… have you been… were you in that thing all night?” he eventually spluttered the question out.
“Sure thing,” the young man replied. “Had to get that first edition of..” and he named the book that Fred had his heart set on. “There’s only the one copy, you know.”
Fred did know, boy did he know. But it never occurred to him that someone else might know the value of the book or that they might want it too. It never occurred to him to look at the cardboard box, even though he had been there beside it for most of the night. And it certainly never occurred to him that there might be somebody inside it!
“FFS!” Fred exclaimed, more to himself than anyone else. He didn’t say another word after that. He didn’t go into the bookstore either. He turned and walked away, still not entirely sure, I think, what had just happened.
As for me, you wont get me near a shop tomorrow, bargains or not. If you are going shopping then good luck, this might be what you are letting yourself in for.
“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”
Sir Winston Churchill
By and large the above statement is true. History does remember Sir Winston Churchill well. He was a remarkable war leader for Britain and indeed for the Allied nations throughout World War Two, and prior to and after the war years he had a remarkable political career.
Churchill was also an accomplished writer and historian, although he could afford a team of researchers to help him with his books. His multi-volume memoire of the war are remarkable and well worth a read for those interested in this period of history.
Inevitably a lot of what went on during World War Two was of a top secret nature. These things covered a vast range of topics from spying and counter espionage, thru code-breaking and intelligence analysis, to developing a variety of gadgets that had the potential to be used for defense or as weapons against the enemy.
One of the groups involved in this work was given the nickname “Wheezers and Dodgers”.
They were commanded by a man named Goodeve, who was given to say to all new recruits something like, “You’ll have no set hours and no official leave. You will often be required to work all night as well as all day and seven days a week if necessary. You’ll see many secret documents. Don’t talk about what you see.”
One of their pressing tasks early in the war was to work on camouflage problems, because Goodeve had found, to his astonishment, that in spite of the increasing threat of German air power no serious attention had been paid to camouflage in the Royal Navy since the First World War.
His intervention led to a surprising incident.
One day into the department stamped an irate officer who introduced himself as Commander Pouter. Marching up to Goodeve, he said angrily, “What’s this I hear about your section meddling with camouflage?”
Goodeve told him that they were, “looking into it to see what can be done to make our ships less visible,” and that ” If no one studies these new conditions nothing will ever get done “
Pouter was one of those insufferable people who had no idea how stupid he was and who abused the positions he had been given by trying to control everything and stifle any outside input into his little empire, especially intelligent input.
“I’ll have you know that I am entirely responsible for all Admiralty policy regarding camouflage” said pompous Pouter, “and that policy is that there shall be no camouflage . . . and no experiments either!”
Apparently startled by the outburst, it took Goodeve a few seconds to recover from this. As he got up to open the door for his visitor he turned to the others in the room saying, “Our way is now perfectly clear. You’re to go straight ahead with the experiments.”
Then addressing his remarks to Commander Pouter he said, a little brusquely, “Our report will go to the First Sea Lord. If you wish I will send you a copy.”
This story highlights yet again that if an idiot is put in charge very little, if anything, productive will get done. But it is interesting for a reason other than that.
This confrontation also led to the coining in the department of a new term for the measurement of the Unit of Obstruction. This unit became known as the ‘Pouter’.
However, on further reflection, this unit seemed altogether too large to have any application inside the Admiralty, since it was fervently hoped that this degree of obstruction would rarely occur.
So the term ‘micro-pouter’ was introduced and has been used ever since to assess all such absurdities. Such was its popularity that its use spread to other parts of the military and even further afield.
Sometimes idiots get the fame they crave, but for entirely the wrong reason.
It isn’t often that there is the opportunity to report a victory of the common man over the banksters. But a few years ago one did happen when a 71-year-old British farmer, from Northumberland, won a £300,000 settlement from his bank after what he described as years of frustration and pain.
Although the bank settled, shortly before the case went to the British High Court, the farmer, Mr David Cannon, said he still felt as though he had not got justice. “They could give me every penny on the planet, but it still couldn’t put it right. It’s taken 10 years away from me. To them it’s monopoly money, but to me it’s all I’ll get.”
His problem was with the National Westminster Bank plc, and began in May 1990. It centered on £70,000 which Mr Cannon claimed went missing somewhere between his own account, his son’s personal and business accounts and an account belonging to his son’s business partner.
He is convinced the money had disappeared gradually during “dozens and dozens” of transfers between the accounts. Naturally the NatWest Bank always strongly denied that the money went astray.
The legal proceedings started way back in 1991, and the Cannons were forced to sell their 300-strong herd of prize-winning Ayrshire cows to fund their case. Mr Cannon said: “It was heart-breaking having to sell the herd, and soon I, and especially my wife, had problems with our health.”
After four-and-a-half years of deadlock with the legal proceedings Mr Cannon decided enough was enough. He borrowed a muck-spreader and chugged into Newcastle-upon-Tyne on his tractor.
In a little over two minutes, he blasted four tons of slurry over NatWest’s Mosley Street branch.
Stonemasons spent two weeks clearing up and Mr Cannon was fined £2,000. But undeterred, a year later, he subjected the bank’s Ponteland branch to the same exterior decoration.
He really was giving them shit!
Still the dispute dragged on, until December 1998, by which time Mr Cannon had lost patience once again. This time he blocked the door of the Grey Street branch of the bank with his tractor.
Ten months later he returned to the Ponteland branch, baffling staff by measuring the entrance. The next day he forced the doors open with his tractor and barricaded himself inside, nailing fence rails across the doorway. This bank job cost him another £600.
His final fling occurred the following June 12, when he dumped a five-ton load of shit on the doorstep of the Ponteland branch and returned to his farm – pursued by police. Amazingly, he managed to reload and chugged back to the bank, where he made a second five-ton deposit. A low-speed chase ensued, the police puncturing the 10mph tractor’s tyres with a ‘stinger’.
Mr Cannon was charged with criminal damage, dangerous driving, driving without an excise licence and failing to stop for a police officer. He was given a 60-day suspended sentence and ordered to pay £845.60 compensation plus £250 costs.
Mr Cannon, a former bare-knuckle boxer, said: “But fortunately it was in my nature to fight them. Breeding cattle was my life.”
The bank, NatWest issued a token 63-word statement which denied any admission of liability. They refused to add to it when questioned by reporters.
Simon Pitkeathley of the British Bankers’ Association, says angry customers would do better to follow the conventional complaints procedure or move your account elsewhere, said: “Mr Cannon’s behaviour obviously can’t be condoned.”
But I liked it. Good one Mr C.
The big question is, by awarding £300,000 to a man who has taken direct action, has the bank set a dangerous precedent for those distressed customers contemplating direct action? Wouldn’t it be great if they were in for loads more shi……I mean, bother?