My father dealt in explosives. We’ve all had a job at some time that’s a bit precarious. For five years I had that kind of job.
I’d check around a dozen suspicious (explosive) devices a day over the Christmas holidays, back in the last century. We just called them suspect devices, not I.E.D.s. I covered two British cities. Oxford Street (London) was more Christmassy, and we would see millions of shoppers each day.
I remember John Lennon’s Happy Xmas (War Is Over) being played when a particularly high bomb alert was put out, I loved that song. I’m in my early twenties thinking I’m James Bond. But I’m not. Don’t get me wrong, it’s just that every day I thought I was saving hundreds of lives, and one day I did, but that’s another story, another haibun.
one hanging by sparkling threads Christmas baubles
We have to have a sense of humour to survive, don’t we? So two funny incidents in particular stayed with me. Okay, first one. I was partnered with a hot-headed guy, all tough macho stances. He’d leave his thinking head somewhere, but unfortunately not at work or at home. So we get the alert call to check out a suspect bomb, and we always have to move fast, very fast, not much time for thinking, or contemplating. We’re told “it” was moved by shop staff so time isn’t on our side if it’s for real, with its timer counting down.
whiteout how each snowflake carries its light
I was excited a few weeks earlier as I met an officer with the Special Air Service (SAS) elite unit of the British Army. He told us explosive devices aren’t bombs, as they aren’t dropped from planes. “Devices” are placed, they are planted explosives small enough to pass as a box of matches, and blow off your hands, or face, if you tripped the mercury switches (not to be confused with the planet, or the late singer of Queen, by the way).
Christmas the world of glass and yet and yet
So my hot headed partner races ahead, and I’m trying to close the gap. We thundered down blocks of stairs, jumping ten feet at a time. We’d storm across busy streets without looking too, and well, you get the idea. It was all fast. We arrive at the store called Selfridges—which has suffered terrorist attacks before. We execute a really nifty gravity-defying sharp turn into the place where the suspect device is waiting. Too fast, and we are skidding.
“It” was neatly propped up on a chair. Everyone waiting and watching. My colleague can’t stop. Time slows down. He’s going right into that chair, full force, and set it off. We are now living in a big fat second. It’s all bonkers. It’s as if he’s become some kind of soccer star. The “thing” gets kicked up into the air, and I crane my neck to watch it arc over us. Quite impressive, really.
The store staff dive behind a tiny display counter. Things get split screen, like in some movie effect. It’s all Laurel and Hardy. A wicked grin starts across my face, I watch his expression. The fact he’s sitting on top of a pile of imagined doodah. The staff realise this as well. I leave you to fill in any blanks.
Oxford Street dash Buster Keaton deadpans out of a speeding film
Days later there’s the “second incident.” I’m with my regular partner, we’d just got romantically involved. She’s brave, really brave, and sometimes thinks things out, and sometimes doesn’t. We get the call, running into a packed food hall, where a lot of glass counters, other displays, windows, and lots of Christmas treats are shining.
The suspect device is small, and if packed tightly, it could rip a hole through everything. Size isn’t an issue. “It” was covered in dirty old newspaper. We peel back the outer wrapping, gently pulling to see pink plastic. Is it plastic explosive? I’d been taught that old-fashioned P.E. (plastic explosives) smelt like wedding cake (the marzipan part), and another kind of P.E. could give you a headache if handled with bare hands.
Well it wasn’t cake; I didn’t have a headache. It had strange ridges though. It had a slot, plus a place for batteries. We must have pushed something as it started vibrating. She picked it up, embraced it to reduce the amount of shrapnel, and started walking where there was fewer people.
Christmas season I revisit the grotto this time as Santa
This all happened in one of those fat seconds. Did I tell you how long a second could be? I was going to lose my girlfriend. I started to follow. Then the split-screen thingie happened. Being a bit naive, it took a while, as I’d never seen a “sex device” before, and never even heard of one for blokes. It was the first and last time I ever handled one again.
another exo-planet Santa Claus renews his visa
My father never saw me check those suspect explosive devices, risk my life year after year. His devices were real bombs, dropped by actual planes. It was World War Two, and for his five years he physically loaded aircraft up with explosives, in various places including North Africa, but probably never Japan.
dad’s photograph-- were there cherry petals in your war?
I need an arm coming out of my head like an arcade game catching soft toys. It’s the smell of fish and chips; there’s a need to buy them, and hold a parcel of greasy things; and drink orange Fanta. The streets are lined with paper with tomorrow morning’s news, and you aren’t going to be okay. Sometimes, just sometimes you need to believe, a morning is worth getting up for, with its headache and coffee. As I tongue a mouth ulcer, and the water stays hot as I shower, there’s still some fresh clothes, and yesterday’s shirt, plus a twenty dollar note stuffed in a pocket. love letters on blue paper I count to seven too scared to get to eight or nine, or ten as I have to come out
was born in London and now lives in the South West of England. He likes dogs and cats, and birds, and Christmas. Alan is co-founder of Call of the Page, with Karen Hoy, and teaches haiku and related genres. Website: www.callofthepage.org.