Sunday, 21 April 2013

At the Cutting Edge

The Bonfiglioli ABC  (continued)

B: Bangs, loud.   Balls, crystal.   Brighton?

Bangs, loud.

     Sergeant Don Fisher, the Depot's physical training instructor, taught fencing with foil and sabre to the four of us in the Gordons' fencing team - yes, even Bonfig.  Bonfig's expert knowledge of classical swordsmanship, including the Old French or Italian nomenclature, was a perfect complement to Sgt Fisher's athletic, competition-based teaching.

     For a masterly fusion of both, read the opening of Bonfig's All the Tea in China, where Mortdecai's ancestor, taking ship to China, also has to take on the bullying second mate.  It's cutlasses for two on the main-deck.

              " . . .rushed in with a great smash at my head, which I met with the high St       George's guard . . .next attack was a slow, clumsy molinello, commencing with a       feint at my side under the sword arm, another at my head which carried no conviction at all and finishing with a slice at my breast.  

     I performed a salto in dietro - the elegant leap backwards - at the latest possible moment and he missed by a foot; then I pretended to stumble and, as he rushed in to destroy me, dropped into the long Italian lunge, knuckles on the deck.  He ran straight into it and, instantly, the front of his (canvas) frock was a terrifying mess of blood."


   It was unfortunate that what should have been a felicitous co-operation between these two accomplished teachers, Fisher and Bonfig, developed a sharp competitive edge.  This led to at least two tit-for-tat practical jokes, one of which could have been extremely dangerous.
 The first was down to the PTI.  Bonfig's Sunday morning sleep-ins were legendary.  They also happened on weekdays when he could get away with it, that is, whenever I was taking the first class

    of the day. As Education Sergeants, not counted as real soldiers, we were not obliged to "get on parade" every morning. Our attendance might well have called into question the reputation and resolve of the whole British Army.

     The Fish decided to wake my snoozing colleague with a bang one Sunday.  He climbed onto the roof and dropped a thunderflash down Bonfig's chimney.  A thunderflash is a training aid designed to provide "donner und blitzen" moments for troops supposedly under fire.  Thrown in open fields, they're safe enough, unless they land in your back pocket, in which case you qualify for an immediate stretcher-ride back to base - face down.  They are not meant to be used in enclosed spaces.

     This chimney was an enclosed space.  It led straight down to a cast-iron cylindrical stove (not lit since this was summertime) with a trap-door at the foot for removing the ashes.

     Came a thunderous explosion that rattled every window in the building.  After a few seconds came out a dazed and temporarily deafened Bonfig, soot-encrusted and vowing vengeance.  We found later that the trap-door had been blown off its hinges and flung across the room, making a mighty gash in the wall a couple of feet above his bed.  Had he been sitting up, it might have taken his head off.

     The following Sunday, footsteps appeared, stencilled in white paint, left foot only, leading from the doorstep of the PTI's married quarters (that's house in civilianspeak) all the way to the gymnasium, finishing at the door with the legend "Hopalong Cassidy was here."  The Bonfig had struck back.

Next week: Balls, crystal