Sunday, February 16, 2003


We were drunk, as usual. We were also at Craig’s house, which saved us the necessity of staggering home after closing time. Craig’s parents had a pretty relaxed attitude to college students sleeping on their floor just as long as we made it to the toilet in time. On this occasion, convsersation swung back and forth, but soon settled on the pros and cons of law and order.

“Christ, I’d never want to end up in prison,” I said, “sounds like hell.”

“It is,” said Craig’s Dad, “I’ve been there.”

This was a major shock to us all, not least to Craig, who after ten pints of Old Bastard was just about to find out something unsettling about his old man. We cracked another six beers, and he told us the story.

It was the 1950s. Ray had just left school, and had been called up for his National Service. He ended up in the Royal Air Force, invariably doing his best to look menacing while guarding an airbase from the Red Menace which would come surging out of the Russian Steppes at any moment. Ray likened it to a Butlins holiday camp, where the entertainment, such that it was, consisted solely of getting shouted at by your Sergeant and peeling potatoes in the cookhouse. And that is why they valued what little time they had off-base so much.

And so it happened that Ray and three of his barrack-room mates went out on the piss one night, where they got mind-numbingly drunk in the way that only young men let off the leash can manage. And when you’re drunk, you do stupid things. The first of these was someone deciding to take a short-cut home from the pub across the airfield instead of tramping several miles around the perimeter road. Halfway across, they stumbled into the runway controller’s hut, where bladders were relieved, and two cans of paint - one red, one white - were found.

It was only when the reached the Canberra bomber sitting on the apron that drunken stupidity really took hold. They looked at the aircraft. They looked at their two catering-sized cans of paint which were meant to be used to paint the hut in a checker-board pattern. A decision was made. They would paint the plane. And several hours later, it was done. The Canberra, the cutting edge of the UK’s medium range combat capabilities, was pink. All over. Inside and out. All over the controls, inside the air intakes and up the jet exhaust. All over the control panels and up the incredibly expensive sensor tubes. It was a work of art.

Pink Canberra
Geniune pic of the pink Canberra. Honest.

The following morning, the entire base was made to parade in front of an enraged station commander. Heads were about to roll. An important piece of military hardware had been more or less written off for months, and there would be no rest until the culprits were found. They didn’t have to look far. Ray and his mates had hardly had the chance to sober up from the night before. And they were also the only four men on the entire parade square covered from head to toe with pink paint. It was a fair cop.

Ray got six months in the military clink peeling spuds in the cookhouse and scrubbing the toilets until they gleamed, watched over for every minute by NCOs that were in practice for the world shouting championships. Then they let him go home with a stern warning about not painting any more planes, where he forged a career with British Rail where he managed not to paint any trains either.

I still don’t know if he was making the whole thing up or not, but it’s the kind of story you desperately want to be true. Ray swore on the dog’s life that he was speaking the truth, and who were we to doubt the words of an ex-con? And besides, a pink bomber - it’s symbolic on just so many levels, isn’t it?


Know your enemy

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