Writin' Blues

Well the blues, give me your write hand.

Archive for the tag “america”

It Was 13 Years Ago Today…

Tuesday September 11 2001 – I was a Warrant Officer in the Royal Navy serving at HM Naval Base Clyde at Faslane in Scotland. At the time I had less than 6 months left of my naval career and was looking forward to beginning the next phase of my life as a civilian. At 3:30pm I was sitting in the office reading through some nuclear safety documentation when a colleague walked in and said “Someone’s flown a plane into the Twin Towers in New York.” At first I thought he was talking about a light aircraft; then I saw the TV footage…

I can still recall the feelings of shock and disbelief at the carnage being played out on the screen and then the lumbering collapse of both buildings.

The world had changed.

That night I was on duty as manager of the jetties. An American Los Angeles Class nuclear submarine had arrived a few days earlier and was due to stay for another week. Unsurprisingly, orders chafed and it sailed later that night and as Duty Manager I was responsible for organising the jetty staff as we helped the submarine load the stores (and later on cruise missiles) that arrived by the truckload in preparation for her immediate sailing.

I remember the mood on the jetty was sombre but there was a definite sense of purpose as everyone pitched in. I spoke to an American submariner and I remember the look on his face when he told me that a couple of his shipmates came from New York and hadn’t been able to get in touch with anyone at home.

This was real. Events in New York City had reached across the Atlantic (as they would reach across the world) and affected all of us there that night in Faslane.

I wished him luck as he walked onboard, then the gangway was lifted, ropes were slipped and tugs eased the submarine away from the jetty and escorted her down the Gare Loch. As I watched her disappear into the darkness my thoughts were with the crewmen and I wondered where the submarine would go, what part she would play and most of all, what would happen next.

I knew for certain that nothing would be the same again; 

In the days following, a media maelstrom blew up as the footage was played and analysed and replayed and analysed and replayed again. That weekend I was flying home and as I arrived at Glasgow Airport I saw the first signs of how air travel was to change forever.

I left the Royal Navy the following May, found a job and began my transition back into civilian life. The time has flown by and I’m a different person now; working for myself and trying to make my way in the world.

In that time there has been a second Gulf War, a prolonged, intense and bloody campaign in Afghanistan and an increase in terrorism across the globe, including the bombings in the heart of London in 2007 – all of which, in some way are linked back to that night in September 2001.

Every year at this time I pause to reflect on my own tiny connection with history; and as I relive the thoughts and emotions that I felt standing there in the darkness on that rain-lashed jetty on the west coast of Scotland, I wonder what became of the people on that submarine.

Thirteen years ago today the world changed; and I remember it like it happened yesterday.

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Apaches, Blues and Cadillacs – the ABC of growing up with American as a second language

In recent times, the USA has a bad press when it comes to world opinion. As ever, the actions of the “few” – those in charge of foreign policy – has created a backlash of bad feeling towards the “many” – ordinary Americans just trying to get on with their lives.

America, it seems, is like Marmite. But whether you love the place with a passion or hate it and all it stands for, there is no denying the huge cultural impact the United States has made on life in Great Britain since the end of WW2. Opinion varies as to whether this is a good thing or not, but what follows is my personal viewpoint. As a writer, people often ask me why, as an Englishman, my stories contain so many references to American culture. Well, you could say I had no choice in the matter! Despite growing up in the backwater of a small market town in rural Herefordshire, I’ve been around Americans all my life.

I was born in 1962 and my g-g-generation was (I think) probably the first to be subjected daily to the American way of life without ever having to leave British shores. In the early 1960’s, television technology advanced and TV sets became accessible to more and more UK households; the numbers of channels and programmes increased and TV influences from across the pond came thick and fast. As a result of this, I, like everyone else in my age-group, grew up with American as a second language, absorbing an influence that reflects strongly in my writing.

My earliest memories are of watching John Wayne movies on our old black and white TV and then playing cowboys and indians (I always wanted to be Geronimo, leader of the Apaches). I watched Neil Armstrong step onto the moon and news reports of the Vietnam war. There were countless US TV shows: Bonanza, Kojak, Starsky and Hutch, The Rockford Files, M*A*S*H, Taxi and many more.

When I began to take an interest in music I learned that blues men from the 1930’s inspired the Beatles, the Rolling Stones (also in their 50th year), Led Zeppelin and other British bands who took this music back to America to a white audience who were largely unaware of their own musical heritage.

American movies introduced me to classic American cars: Steve McQueen’s 1969 Ford Mustang (Bullitt), Gene Hackman’s 1971 Pontiac Le Mans (The French Connection), Jim Rockford’s Pontiac Firebird and Barry Newman’s Dodge Challenger (Vanishing Point).

Someone once said; “if you can’t see the beauty in an old American car, then you’ve got no soul.”

Well, if that’s true then my soul is alive and well and my love affair reignited with a recent tour around Memphis in a 1955 Cadillac (more of that to come).

So, American influence – good thing or bad thing? Well, my personal view is that I’m British and proud to be so, but I can also speak American, because I grew up with it. At the end of the day we are all just people.

Ordinary Americans just want a quiet life, like we all do, and are among the friendliest people on the planet. In the town of Kingfisher, Oklahoma, I was honoured to meet a WW2 veteran who, it transpired, fought in North Africa around the same time as my late father. He shook my hand with an iron grip and said: “In North Africa we had everything and the Brits had nothing. I got nothing but respect for them; you push ’em back and push ’em back and push ’em back until they’re up against the wall and then they come back at you like tomcats…”

These words from an American made me proud to be British.

Oh, and I love Marmite.

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