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A Shout From The Attic: Jangling Days

...It is due almost entirely to the sense of immortality and ignorance with which young men are hereditarily infected that we did not sense the dangers to ourselves and to others as we hurtled round the countryside in our metal monsters with no intimation that anything could ever go wrong...

While serving in the Army Ronnie Bray was introduced to the exciting "sport'' of jangling.

Jangling was a major sport among the young soldiers in workshops. With our little red books into which were pasted our certificates of competence to drive the main highways, thoroughfares, village streets, and back lanes of England and its appurtenances, we had the right to jangle! And, jangle we did at every opportunity. When no opportunity presented itself, we invented one.

The device was called the Road Test,” and formed a major part of our labours in workshops. If we found a lorry with a burned out headlamp bulb, we fitted a new one, turned it on to make sure it worked, and then signed the vehicle out for its Road Test. Testing a new bulb could involve a very long journey at exceptionally high speeds.

Sometimes we would merely race up and down the airstrips and runways of the old airport in salutation to the second finest cars ever made, and in a youthful exaltation to the gods of speed and rapture, both of whom rode along with us as we cab-jangled our way through the otherwise dull routine of our days.

Sometimes, when we collected our job sheets from the office, we found that the faults identified for repair were not to be found, and so we road tested the vehicles pretty thoroughly to see if they would appear as we ground the gears and threw them around corners at high velocities. Most often they did not, so we marked them off as ‘completed,’ parked them in the completed compound, and went in search for another victim.

It is due almost entirely to the sense of immortality and ignorance with which young men are hereditarily infected that we did not sense the dangers to ourselves and to others as we hurtled round the countryside in our metal monsters with no intimation that anything could ever go wrong. How could it? We were highly skilled, we told ourselves, technicians and drivers, trained to understand the machines on which we were set loose, and having been trained to be highly accomplished drivers in X Platoon at Barton Stacey and, thus, we represented the pick and flower of high speed heavy transport drivers, and we drove accordingly.

Later, when I came across the mangled wreckage of an Army vehicle at the confluence of two roads in the Egyptian desert, I wondered how anyone could get themselves into such a mess. The driver had been killed as he took the bend too fast, and the rusting wagon left to serve as a grim reminder to other young soldiers who may be inclined to jangle injudiciously.

Some young men survive their own folly, and that may be put down to sheer good fortune, or to unmerited blessing. As the Mormon poet, Evan Stephens, wrote, “Forgive the folly and faults of youth,” to which he could have added, “and let them live long enough to grow up to sagacious manhood.”

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To read earlier chapters of Ronnie's autobiography please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/a_shout_from_the_attic/

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