Show Salute

 In Britain, Life Junctions, Vignettes

This is one of a series of Life Junctions posts. Each tells a story from my life that illustrates a wider human issue. This tale concerns trust and security. If you’re interested in writing or publishing stories from your own experiences or from family and friends, I can help you. Just get in touch.

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I cursed him that day, whoever he was. He ruined my plans. But ever since I’ve wondered whether the mysterious person might just have saved my life.

Mark Goldfinch Gibraltar 1987It was Wednesday and a long weekend beckoned. I was studying a language course at a small laid-back barracks tucked away in the countryside near Loughborough and it was shut for the rest of the week. Two buckshee days gave the chance to skedaddle, to hoof it down to Loughborough station immediately after the course ended, and disappear on a train south. I should get to St Pancras about 7.30 and get the tube to Charing Cross for a train to Kent.

The barracks was laid back but it did have certain rules. Our tiny course consisted of just four people by that late stage but, even so, we had to march between the inner perimeter and the accommodation blocks as a little squad. It wasn’t far, but it looked neat to anyone watching. After lunch, we formed up as usual, and I was responsible for marching us down to the inner guardroom. It took about 3 minutes, and we were soon in the classroom ready for the session.

Soon however, the door opened and I was in trouble: I had missed an officer. The officer, who apparently had nothing better to do, had complained that I had not directed the tiny squad to salute him ‘eyes right’. I was perplexed, as I was good at spotting officers and calling the ‘eyes right’ or ‘eyes left’, even if they were around a corner or not looking. I was sure there had not been an officer there, nor had anyone else seen him, it was all rather mysterious. Even if they knew nobody ever revealed who the complainant was.

My punishment was to ‘show salute’ to the duty officer in the main Guardroom at 1800 hours that evening. Obviously that put the kibosh on my getaway plans. After the course everyone went off except me. I made sure I was in good time and good order and demonstrated my salute at the Guardroom then, it being too late to set off, spent the evening in the Naafi bar.

How could this tiny inconvenience be of any significance? Because this mysterious derailing of my plans did not happen on just any Wednesday. No, it happened on Wednesday 18th November 1987, and the consequences were obvious when I turned on breakfast tv the next morning. The train I should have caught from Loughborough would have delivered me into the underground passages of King’s Cross tube station at the same time as they were being engulfed by flame and toxic smoke from the tragic fire. People were killed, injured and trapped underground. Of course it is too much to say I would have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but the mysterious officer’s complaint ensured I was at least nowhere near the place near that time. If I’d known who he was I might have shaken his hand. Without a physical presence, he acquired a rather supernatural form in my memory; strange indeed.

Over the years I’ve come to view this uncanny coincidence as a lesson that we should try to embrace a new set of plans or circumstances when our original plans are blocked or derailed. Instead of being bitter and angry about the plans we are unable to move forward, it is better to be adaptable and embrace the new set of circumstances. Perhaps, as in this case, there is a good reason why the original plan should not have gone ahead.

Goldfinch Line

This post is part of the Life Junction series. Each part seeks to expand from a vivid fragment into a more general observation about values, in a way that might help the reader draw positive conclusions from events in their own life.

  1. The Shellscrape (Resolution & Temptation)
  2. Show Salute (Opportunity & Disruption)
  3. Dulce et Decorum Erat (Freedom & Confinement)
  4. Dancing on Fortress Walls (Honesty & Illusion)
  5. Inheriting a Relic (Vitality & Mortality)
  6. Karachi Hotel (Empathy & Judgmentalism)
  7. The Thunderclap (Courage & Fear)
  8. You need a bomb under your bed to get you up (Agency & Fatalism)
  9. On Meditation (Mindfulness & Confusion)
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