Monday, May 4, 2009

All stiff and sore...

One of the disadvantages of my misspent youth in the British military is that I have songs that run in my head and no-one to sing them to. Here's one:

Well the sailors looked out, they were all stiff and sore,
They'd drunk all their whiskey and could get no more,
Singing row, row bullies row,
Them Liverpool judies have got us in tow.

This is a British sea shanty, one of several we used to sing while getting tossed around in the back of RAF Mountain Rescue Land Rovers driving back to some campsite, bothy or village hall from some pub in the mountains of Scotland, England or Wales. It came to mind this morning when I got out of bed, since movement was painful. I'd been logging off firewood all day for two days, and my usual spring creakiness was apparent.

This spring strain is the punishment meted out for all those middle aged men with winter office jobs whose summer is spent doing more outdoor pursuits. It takes a few weeks to lick the old muscles back into shape. And every year after 40 it gets harder and harder to do so.

But we'll get there. Six cords of firewood and a 80 by 80 foot garden patch is usually enough exercise to lose about 10 or 15 pounds and tighten everything up a good deal. And I feel better already, while the area I'm logging is already more pleasant to walk through, having also been cleared of stumps and roots and seeded to clover and perrenial ryegrass.

My green gym philosophy. Man is not designed to occupy a desk all day, every day.

Another song that came to mind during the logging and clearing, rather less salubrious, to the tune of Bless em all, which itself is a British military song dating to the demob period after World War Two:

Shackletons don't bother me,
Shackletons don't bother me,
Clapped out abortions with flaps on their wings,
F**k all their pistons and their piston rings,

Now they say that the Shack is a mighty fine kite,
This we no longer doubt,
When you're up there with a Mig on your tail,
This is the way to get out...
Da da ra dada

Just stay cool and stay calm and sedate, mate,
Don't let your British blood boil,
Just open the throttle right up to the gate,
And smother the bastard in oil!

The song commemorates the little-known fact that the Royal Air Force kept flying a variant of the piston-engined Lancaster bomber, in a combat role, no less, well into the 1980s and for all I know the 1990s. That a major contributor to NATO would put a 300 mph airplane up over the North Sea in face-to-face showdowns with much faster and well-armed airplanes flying out of northern Russia is remarkable enough. The Shackleton was first an anti-submarine platform, and as long as the subs were not bait for Mig 21s or 25s, could probably do its job well enough. Later it became a flying radar platform.

No, what is most remarkable is how beloved the Shackletons were. The Shack ground crews had a mystique all of their own, a kind of string-and-baling wire approach to engineering. Some of the legends of Shackleton maintenance still circulate, like the fact that each Rolls-Royce Griffon engine had a 50 gallon supplementary engine oil tank that had to be topped off after each flight due to oil consumption. What a monster that engine was! An in-line 12 cylinder. I took the course to work on the engine, although I was never posted to a Shack squadron.

And, of course the song.

What has this to do with Maine farming?

Well, according to rural legend in these parts, the official Maine state bird is the blackfly. Whose season is upon us.

This was what was running through my head yesterday as I was merrily logging away...

Blackflies don't bother me,
Blackflies don't bother me,
Pesky small critters, such bothersome things,
F**k all their buzzing and biting and stings,

'Cos were saying goodbye to them all,
As back to the farmhouse we crawl,
All bloodied and bothered and crippled and weak,
What price for a Stairmaster now, you old geek?

The cost of a good cordwood stove is not cheap,
And the firewood fuel is itself a bit steep,
For to get four, or six, or more cords, if you would,
There's a Maine tax that is meted out in pure blood!

Obviously I have a little less to occupy my mind now that the semester is over and the summer begun.

Old time doctors used to believe in bleeding the sick to reduce the amount of blood. "Too much blood," apparently, was a diagnosis that covered a multitude of sicknesses.

I think they could have used blackflies instead of leeches if they wanted.

1 comment:

  1. My father was in the British airforce for 8 years, in the 70's/80's and he sang these songs to me and my two brothers, one of them being "Don't bother me".. another one he sang i don't think has a name but it goes:

    I was flying along in a VC10
    when much to my surprise,
    a victor tanker passed me by
    not more than half my size,
    he lowered down his HTU(?)
    and trailed his centre hose
    but when i looked around around again he shoved it up my nose.

    tank tank, tank tank,
    the crew went tank tank tank.


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