I think I'll start April with a story about my dear old Dad.
Those of you who actually knew him will realise that when it comes down to it, he was a bit of a rogue (Not rouge, as I originally wrote there - Although in fairness, I cannot actually guarantee that he didn't repeatedly rub himself on an innocent young lady's cheek in some far-flung foreign land in the middle of the last century.)
As you may remember, he was a a Flight-Sergeant in the Royal Air Force in his younger days and did, like so many others, avail himself of certain 'opportunities' to supplement his meagre government income. That would have been frowned upon by his superiors if they had ever found out.
For instance, He used to quite regularly fly between North Africa and South-east Asia (or 'Bloody Chindit Central' as he lovingly referred to it on occasion... Usually after watching Bridge on the River Kwai on a Sunday afternoon) and he set up a string of laundry services along the route. He would collect dress shirts and suchlike from the men at whatever RAF Station he happened to land at, then take them with him to the next station where he'd set up a franchise and hand them over to one of the locals.
The honest native type would then drag the bundle to the nearest cow-dung infested river, beat them to within an inch of their lives on a nearby rock (The clothes that is, not the cows), do a bit of the old invisible mending and give them a brisk going over with a charcoal-filled flat iron before returning them to Dad on his way back. He would then deliver them to their rightful owners, and make half a crown profit on every bundle.
Why didn't he just employ the local population at the same place at where he picked up the laundry you may ask? Well, he did try that once, but one of his customers found out and decided to 'Cut out the middle man' and go direct as it were - Very bad for business.
However, his business boomed, and it wasn't long before he started getting requests like, 'Here Our Kid, You going to [Insert exotic sounding place in Burma or Singapore]? Can you get me some [Insert difficult to get hold of item] whilst you're there?' Then there'd be some complicated 'nudge-nudge, wink-wink' style communication and the deal was done.
For the first three-quarters of his burgeoning business empire, his most popular (and therefore profitable) line was, believe it or not, ballpoint pens. This was closely followed by strange-smelling oriental tobacco (No... Actual tobacco) and sweets. In fact, this new endeavour proved so popular that he gave up his interest in the laundry business and concentrated on the Del-Boy style buying and selling... One hesitates to use the word smuggling, although I don't suppose that there were a huge number of customs officials involved in any of the transactions.
Then the order came that was to take his assault on Mr Selfridge to the next level - And also see it come crashing down again.
The UK based customer had heard tell of a certain mythical beast that strode through the deserts of Egypt with gay abandon, fading into the background at the merest hint of danger and grabbing it's prey without warning, like a Northern Lass who's finally got to the front of the queue in the kebab shop. He asked if it would be possible to hunt down one of these creatures and return it to Blighty to be displayed as a curio - What we would now call an 'Exotic Pet'
The next time that he and his crew visited the land of the Sphynx and the Pyramid, he loaded himself up with water and tinned corned beef, rolled up his trousers to the knees, tied his combat knife to a broom-handle and set off into the high desert. It was days before he sighted his prey, basking majestically on a huge boulder, outlined by the first primordial rays of the rising sun. As he approached, he dislodged a small rock which clattered to the ground. The beast reared up at him and clacked its razor sharp jaws in defiance. He raised his pole-arm and...
Actually, I can't keep this up, what actually happened was that he wandered off the base, found the first dodgy-looking Egyptian fellow he could, (Which, according to him, didn't take as long as you'd think) gave him a hessian sack and said something along the lines of 'Abdul, take-o this sack-o, fill-o with-o Chameleon-os, quick-smart, jaldi-jaldi.' (I like to think that he said it in a Captain Jack sparrow voice, but he probably didn't)
So, some time later, a bag of incredibly angry chameleons was winging its way by military cargo plane, to the UK. One was delivered to the original customer, others were distributed to the customer's friends and close family and the last one, the sickly looking green one, cowering at the bottom of the sack was adopted by my Father. (In fact, it's possible, if you are currently the proud owned of a captive-bred chameleon in the UK, that it is a decendent of one of these very animals) It both kept him amused during boring flights doing that 'Leg in the air, rocking backwards and forwards thing' that chameleons are so good at, and acted as an advert for his new pet supply business.
All went well, for many months until one fateful day, as my Father's plane was starting to taxi towards the runway, he stood up, patted his pocket and shouted 'Basil!' (Actually I don't know what he called his chameleon, but I imagine it was probably something like Basil, or Peverill, or Cholmondely.) There was vexation amongst the rest of the crew, but with the judicious application of a few dead-arms and a particularly vicious Chinese-Burn, he got the pilot to park up and he ran back to the billet to fetch him.
But it was too late, by the time he got there, the next set of flight crew had already moved in, some sweaty radio operator had his stuff all over the bunk and didn't take kindly to my Dad going through it trying to find the errant colour-changer, so in a fit of spite, he lay down trying to cover as much of his own gear as he could.
And that's when he heard the crunch and felt the small, warm, damp patch creeping through his shirt.
Poor Basil... (or Peverill, or Cholmondely.)