First my tale. It was 1980. We were a small group of lads in our early 20s from southern Suffolk, scattered around Ipswich but meeting frequently to carouse and take fun. One Saturday we decided to make a lunchtime session at the Queen's Head in Erwarton, a cosy waterside pub in a small village looking southwards out over the mouth of the Stour into darkest Essex. A friend of a friend had just taken the lease, and we were trying our chance at discounted beer.
In the bar we quickly made friends with a young American Air Force Lieutenant, who like many from the nearby USAF cold-war squadrons was living off-base in a rented cottage and had immersed himself in English village life. The pub was now his local - and he loved it, and his status there, with his own pewter beer jug and folk that knew his name.
Of course we knew the USAF bases well. We would talk our way in usually claiming to be brothers-in-law to Airmen married to Brit women. They were like small bits of the Midwest transported by tornado into ancient East Anglia, with black and white Dodge police prowlers on the gates and cops with pistols on their hips. They had Main Street shops and outlets, and importantly a PX and American bars. The PX provided pints of vodka (bought by a compliant serviceman with ID) at a fraction of their UK price, and the bar provided a truly authentic American drinking experience. One needed dollars for everything, of course - and all of us carried them.
I was also at that age, not far from my pubescent Airfix model days, something of an expert in US aviation kit, as only the sponge-minded young are. I could not only identify an approaching low flying aircraft as a F4 rather than an A10 or rarely then as a Lightning from engine noise alone but could tell you which models of F4 were stationed at each base in Suffolk, their range, weapons payloads and more.
We were keen, as the young and foolish are, to let the young Loot know we were chums and that we knew all about his world and we thought it cool. The young Loot, for reasons I had not fully understood until this morning, felt obliged to report to his CO on the Monday following an encounter with some young Brits who knew a helluva lot about their base and aircraft. The result we heard from our mate's landlord mate a week later; the base security people had thrown him into jail and subjected him to three days of 'enhanced interrogation' by teams who had flown in from the States, extracting from his tortured mind every single word exchanged in the Queen's Head.
We weren't that worried. We hadn't done anything wrong and we believed ourselves untouchable. We put the experience down to many Septics being arseholes (let me tell you another time about being chased around the Three Tuns by an obese puce-faced Tech Master-Sergeant for tearing up a dollar bill into a bar ashtray ...). However, the Loot was a nice young man, albeit a silly one for reporting our encounter, and I've always held myself a bit responsible for his three days under torture / interrogation back in 1980.
Now of course it's clear that his action and their reaction was around the time of the SAS fooling the poor Septics with fake UFOs in Rendlesham Forest. Made believable by long local tradition of the ghosts of the ancient Anglo-Saxon court of King Raedwald haunting the plantations, the king whose 'palace' (read big hut) was located in that place.
Thirty-eight years on, it's good to know it wasn't really my fault.
Have a very happy New Year's eve all and drink a dram for me. And one for the Loot.