Sunday, 7 April 2013

'Fish out of water' meets Speedy Gonzales

The Bonfiglioli ABC (continued)

A: Aberdeen.   Arms, skill at.

     He was Cyril at school, it seems, and Bon almost everywhere else, but Bonfig was the version he chose in Aberdeen.  Until we were both replaced by a Major Walker (of whom I recall only an enormous moustache and his noisy and prodigious intake of the smoke of Capstan Full Strength), Bonfig and I taught the three Rs, map-reading and current affairs to farm-fresh recruits from Aberdeenshire and failed Teddy boys from the tenements and terraces of the city.
     The classroom was often enlivened and sometimes embarrassed by the incursion of a few non-commissioned officers (corporals, sergeants and the like), anxious to qualify for another rung up the promotion ladder before their final pension entitlement was totted up.  Being older and fundamentally hairier (as Bonfig himself might have put it), they presented the awkward problem of a separate group within the class.  So often we had to tread a nervous tightrope, a wary balance between correcting their gaffes and maintaining respect for their rank and seniority.

     For a while those classes also benefited from the more delicate presence of two members of the Women's Royal Army Corps, one of whom became my wife a few years later.

     I guess that most of the Education Sergeants at that time would have been somewhat at odds with the usual denizens of the clubland of the Sergeants' Mess.  We were much younger, with little experience of military life or even of the wider world, and necessarily of a higher academic achievement.  As an 18 year old school-leaver, I wore the fish-out-of-water label for all to see.  Bonfig's extra years of maturity, marriage and previous military service eased him much more comfortably into that milieu.

     He threw himself into Mess life with gusto, never more so than when he would hold an audience's rapt attention with a long, involved and brilliantly acted pornographic comic story (dirty joke, to those without the handicap of a grammar school education).  I can see him now, leaning against the mantelpiece brandishing an antique pistol, his dark Mediterranean looks and black moustache effortlessly portraying the famous Mexican bandido Speedy Gonzales, the fastest man with a woman in all Mexico.  ('Senor, take-a your beeg hand off-a my arse!')

     Many years later, I worked for a magazine in Aberdeen and once wrote an article about my time at the Gordon Barracks, which of course included stories of Bonfig.  It brought a letter from a reader in Jersey, enclosing the death notice and obituary of 'Count Kyril Medici Bonfiglioli'.  I was already aware of his early death at 56 but not of this exalted status.  Later it became apparent that the main purpose of the title was to delay payment of his newspaper bill.  To raise any doubt as to its authenticity would clearly be churlish.
(to be continued)

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