dubiously true stories and cartoons

Thursday, February 21, 2013


This story is based on a couple of incidents that occurred whilst I was serving in RAF Germany in the 1970s. All the place names and character names have been changed to protect the guilty.
WARNING: As this story is about RAF Suppliers in Western Germany in the 1970s it inevitably contains far too much bad language and scenes of drunkenness. It is therefore not recommended for people with nervous dispositions or narrow minds.

The Beast was crouched in the corner of the Amstel Brewery gift shop when the security guards found him.
   The Dutch had never been leaders in fashion by any stretch of the imagination, so when the two severe looking men in green uniforms turned up on the scene they naturally assumed he was one of their own countrymen. Dressed in a combination of RAF shirt, tracksuit bottoms and black DMS boots, he had failed miserably to become invisible amongst an unsuspecting group of British tourists about to embark on an organised visit of the most popular brewery in Amsterdam.
   On the occasion of his last visit, The Beast had got so blindingly drunk that he had stripped naked and rampaged through the gift shop, a complimentary bottle of beer in one hand and his cock in the other. When security eventually cornered him they threw a blanket over him and escorted him off the premises, but not before informing him that he had just achieved the unachievable – a lifetime ban. After he was dressed and before he was handed over to the police his photograph was taken several times with a cheap Polaroid camera and his mug-shot was then plastered all over the brewery so that he could be easily recognised should he ever darken their door again.
   When the two green-uniformed security guards connected the man to the photograph in their office The Beast made a run for it. They eventually caught him, crouching in the corner of the gift shop and any doubts they had harboured about his nationality instantly evaporated.
   “You’ll never take me alive, you cloggy bastards!” he roared drunkenly, waving his fist in the air.
   As the security guards led him out of the premises, his bleary eyes caught sight of a sign on the wall that read: PLEASE DO NOT REMOVE ANY OF THE ASHTRAYS OR GLASSES FROM THIS ESTABLISHMENT. 
The only language it was in was English.     

It was November and RAF Flugplatz was one of the key RAF stations situated throughout Western Germany that were geared up to repel the hoards of salivating Russian troops that the Powers-That-Be predicted, in their frequent, pointless third world war scenarios, would come pouring over the border from Eastern Germany, determined to rape and pillage their way across Europe before turning the whole planet into one massive totalitarian state. The fact that the Powers-That-Be were the only ones who envisioned this situation was beside the point. For the normal, bog-standard airman who was stationed there it was a plum posting that allowed him to drink or whore (or both) to his heart’s content. The drinking and whoring was only interrupted by the inconvenience once every four weeks of a three-day exercise. 
   Warrant Officer William Montgomery Black, or The Beast as he was affectionately called by those who worked for him, was one such airman. A hard-nosed, hard-faced, hard-drinking Geordie in his late forties, The Beast had a capacity for alcohol that knew no limits and that consistently rendered him, for the first hour of each day, incapable of communicating in recognised words or structured sentences. Instead he responded to all questions directed to him before 0900 hours with a series of grunts and low guttural growls. His grasp of the many nuances of the English language slowly began to return to him after 0900 hours and after lunch following a visit to SNCOs Mess Bar and the consumption of four pints of Amstel beer, he was able to hold erudite and intelligent conversations with his peers.    He was pleasant to everyone in the afternoon – except Squadron Leader Brittan.
  The Officer Commanding Supply Squadron, Squadron Leader Brittan, was five feet five inches tall and was, like most men of diminutive stature, a megalomaniac with an inferiority complex. He desperately wanted to control The Beast and was aware of his rampant alcoholism, but he did nothing about it because he was afraid of him. As a result, he seriously contemplated having a raised platform built in his office where he could position his desk and chair in such a way that he would always be on higher ground whenever he summoned The Beast into his inner sanctum. He pitched his idea to OC Admin one lunchtime and was promptly laughed out of the Officers’ Mess, and he returned to work that afternoon in a severe state of anxiety and depression. Later that day he moved his four-door filing cabinet away from the wall so he could hide behind it whenever he heard The Beast approaching his office.    He knew that The Beast was someone to be very very careful around, someone to avoid as often as possible in a squadron he considered to be manned by undisciplined slackers and borderline communists. This irked Squadron Leader Brittan somewhat as he considered himself a highly educated and intelligent man. He had, after all gained an honours degree in Botany from the University of Bath. 
   In a naive attempt to stamp his authority (i.e. better breeding, higher education, etc.) on The Beast when he had first arrived he informed him of his glittering achievement. It was something he was to regret. The Beast just gave him a withering look and growled, “What? You can get a degree in fucking flower arranging now?” Squadron Leader Brittan had tried to respond, but before he could The Beast had already left his office. All that was left for him to do, in the wake of The Beast’s devastating put-down, was to wallow in self pity. 
    Squadron Leader Brittan was a rabidly fanatical anti-Communist. Not long after he arrived in the Squadron he had a notice board mounted just inside the main building, which bore a sign that read THE DEFENCE OF EUROPE
   The next morning he called the squadron together and proudly announced to everyone assembled that the notice board was there for them to attach articles from quality (and he stressed the word quality) newspapers. By way of an example he produced from his brown leather briefcase a clipping from the Daily Telegraph that contained the headline WARSAW PACT FORCES GAINING GROUND
   In his naivety he truly believed that this selfless act would bring together a united display of anti-Communist feeling. That belief disappeared almost immediately as he pinned the clipping to the board, accompanied by muffled whispers of the word wanker and sniggering from unseen members of the squadron.   
   It did indeed bring the squadron together, but to his utter dismay, not in the way he had expected. Cuttings began to appear on the notice board the very next day, but they were not from the quality newspapers he was used to reading. One, from The Sun, read TAXI DRIVER CAUGHT ON THE JOB WITH NUN, whilst another from The News of the World asked the question WHY DO MEN LIKE BIG BOOBS?
   A few weeks later The Beast was idly gazing at the cuttings on the notice board in a state of post alcoholic withdrawal when the Squadron Leader bounded through the main door of the squadron with his usual early morning enthusiasm. These high spirits rarely lasted beyond 0900 hours and depression inevitably set in when he remembered that he was in charge of a squadron full of undisciplined slackers and borderline communists. Someone had pinned an article to the notice board a few minutes earlier that began with the headline I HAD SEX WITH OVER FIFTY WOMEN IN ONE NIGHT
   Squadron Leader Brittan wanted to scream, but instead he looked at The Beast and tragically mistook his fixed alcoholic gaze for one of interest.   
   “Finding it interesting are we, Mr Black?” he asked in his usual condescending tone.  
  The Beast uttered a low growl. Mornings were not a good time to ask him awkward or complicated questions like that and Squadron Leader Brittan should have bloody well known it.    
   The Squadron Leader eyed The Beast up quizzically. “It’s terrible that people think it’s funny putting up filth like this, don’t you think?” he said ripping the offending article from the board. 
  The Beast narrowed his eyes and growled again, but the Squadron Leader failed to recognise the subtle change in the tone of the growl and the imminent danger that would inevitably follow.  
   “Who’s the head of the Warsaw Pact?” the Squadron Leader asked suddenly. There was a chuckle in his voice. He was now stupidly labouring under the misapprehension that he and Warrant Officer Black would actually become friends and that later they would both retire to his office and have a jolly good laugh about it. “Oh, come on now, Mr Black,” he said cheerfully. “You should know who the head of the Warsaw Pact is.”
   The Beast turned his head towards the Squadron Leader and looked him in the eye. “LES – FUCKING – DAWSON!” he roared, emphasising every word. The Squadron Leader was momentarily pinned to the wall by The Beast’s breath. It smelled of stale beer, toothpaste and last night’s cigarettes and it could have killed a house plant from fifty feet away. He was shocked by the Beast’s sudden outburst of profanity and by the time he had recovered his senses The Beast had already strode angrily down the corridor and slammed the door to the Admin Office shut. A muffled, cheerful voice from behind the door said, “Morning sir.” It was met with a growl that was quickly followed by the same muffled voice that said, this time a little subdued, “Sorry, sir. I didn’t realise what time it was.”
   The Beast was in his lair. He was not to be disturbed by anyone – especially not by stupid arse-faced Squadron Leaders asking pointless fucking questions.

Squadron Leader Brittan’s office was directly opposite the Admin Office, where The Beast was in charge of squadron discipline and SAC Smith. He had been informed of his duties during his arrival interview when he was posted into the squadron in the spring of 1975. He immediately took umbrage and told the Squadron Leader, in no uncertain terms, that he was not a JAFA.   
   JAFA was another term for Clerk, a derogatory acronym that translated into Just Another Fucking Administrator.
   The Squadron Leader sensed that this man was going to be trouble and kept his eyes focussed on his desk. Without looking up he said “SAC Smith will show you the ropes. Now get out.”
   Senior Aircraftman Paul ‘Shagger’ Smith liked The Beast. He knew exactly where he stood with him and the days were never dull when he was around – especially when he started to go psycho. But it was not just that – The Beast had looked after his back on more than one occasion.
It was not long after The Beast had arrived at Flugplatz that the Squadron Leader tentatively poked his head around the door of the Admin Office and noticed the empty desk where Shagger should have been sitting. 
   “Where’s Smith?” he asked.
   “Not in, sir,” replied The Beast.
   “Not in? Why? Where is he?”
   “He’s late, sir.”
   “I can see he’s late. The question is – what are you going to do about it?”
   “About what, sir?”
   “About Smith?”
   “Do you want the short answer or the long answer, sir?”
   “The short one will do fine, Mr Black.”
   “Nothing, sir.”
   “That’s not quite the answer I was looking for, Mr Black.”
   “That’s as maybe sir, but it’s the one you’re getting.”
   “And why, may I ask, is that?”
   “Because, sir, when he’s in he does a bloody good job and so I don’t care if he’s a little late once in a while. I may have a quiet word with him when he gets in, but that’s about it. Let’s face it, we all lie in every now and again.”
   “I don’t.”
   “Yes, well, you’re perfect, aren’t you, sir.”
   “I’ll ignore your impertinence, Mr Black.”
   “Please feel free to do just that, sir. It is, after all, your prerogative.”
 The Squadron Leader clenched his fists, took a deep breath and tried to suppress his frustration. “I want him charged when he gets in,” he said firmly.
   “Fair enough, sir.”
   Squadron Leader Brittan was taken aback by The Beast’s reply. Even after their first meeting, which lasted all of two minutes, he knew that they were never going to agree on anything, so when he heard the answer he naturally assumed that he had heard wrong.
   “I’m sorry?” he said.
   “I said fair enough, sir."
  “Right,” said the Squadron Leader. He was just about to leave the office when a terrible thought occurred to him. He turned his head around and cleared his throat.
   “Erm – when you say “Fair enough” – does that mean – erm – that you will charge him when he gets in or or – erm – you won’t?”
    The Beast smiled. “What do you think, sir?”
    “I . . . don’t . . . know. Just . . . give me a straight answer. Will you or will you not charge Smith when he gets in?”
    “I will not, sir,” said The Beast emphatically.
    The Squadron Leader suppressed the urge to scream. “Why not?”
    “Because it’s not me that has a problem with Smith. It’s you, sir. You’re the one who has a problem with him.”
     “And what on earth is that supposed to mean?”
    “It means, sir, that if you want to charge him – then you charge him. Don’t get me to do your dirty work for you.”       
    The Squadron Leader stood in the doorway and felt his knees begin to shake. In all his years as a commissioned officer nobody had ever spoken to him in the same way The Beast spoke to him. He would not have minded if it had just been an isolated case of disobedience and lack of respect, but it was continuous and malicious. He looked over at The Beast, who was staring hard into his eyes, and he looked quickly down at the floor. “Right then,” he said. “I will. I will charge him when gets in.”
    “Righteo, sir,” said The Beast cheerfully. “I’ll send him in to see you when he gets in.”
   The Squadron Leader stood red-faced and silent in the doorway. A few seconds passed before he broke the silence.
     “Don’t bother,” he said meekly.

The Squadron Leader looked across at the closed door of the Admin Office from behind the safety of his filing cabinet. He hated Warrant Officer Black. He hated his attitude towards the notice board and the fact that he had made everyone in the squadron think it was a joke. He looked over at the NBC suit hanging on a hook by the door and tried to contain the misery that was his life at work. There was only one thing on the horizon that could cheer him up.
   A Station exercise was planned for Monday morning.

Station exercises were designed to test the operational readiness of front-line units like Flugplatz and were held on a depressingly regular basis. The Station Commander was fanatical about them. He thought they were character building and good for morale. Like Squadron Leader Brittan, the Station Commander was convinced that a full-scale invasion by hordes of Neanderthal Russian troops was only a heartbeat away. In light of this misguided assumption he ordered for a sign to made and erected just inside the main gate of the station. With stark black letters set on a white background, the sign announced: THE TASK OF THIS STATION IN PEACTIME IS TO TRAIN FOR WAR – DON’T YOU FORGET IT!
   The sign immediately became a bone of contention for many, RAF servicemen and German civilians alike, who believed that the task of the station in peacetime was to train in case of war. They found it provocative and offensive and they vocalised their concerns to the highest level, all to no avail. “The sign is staying put,” They were told bluntly by the Station Commander. And that would have been the end of it if Gordon Fjaelberg had not taken matters into his own hands.
   SAC Gordon ‘Foxy’ Fjaelberg (pronounced Fee-el-berg) was an ex-RAF Police Dog Handler who had re-mustered into the Supply trade after he discovered he was allergic to dog hair and policemen.
   Foxy put his dislike of the sign into action when, one moonless night, he and two willing accomplices dug it up and hid it on the flat roof of the Airman’s Mess.
    At first no-one noticed it was missing and it was not until 0830 the following morning that a sharp-eyed sergeant pointed out to the corporal RAF policeman that was on duty that night that something may have gone amiss during his watch.
   “Oh, fuck,” was all the policeman said, before he rushed off in the direction of the guardroom.
   The RAF policeman informed the orderly sergeant, who informed the orderly officer, who informed OC Admin, who informed the Station Commander, who went into immediate fits of apoplexy and ordered a witch-hunt to apprehend the traitorous wretch who had carried out the dastardly deed.
   Foxy and his two accomplices had provided each other with alibis for the night in question and, despite a thorough investigation by the RAF police, the culprit was never found – unlike the sign, which was discovered a week later by a team of German workers who had been called in to fix a leak on the roof of the Airmen’s Mess.
   When it was replaced it was set in concrete and the Station Commander ordered the RAF police to keep a close eye on it should anyone approach it with a saw. But Foxy was ahead of the game and came up with a brilliant plan that, he reasoned, would strike a blow for all the moderates on the station. Like all brilliant plans it was a simple one. Under cover of darkness and in between the RAF police patrols, armed only with a roll of white, low tack masking tape he would blank out selected letters to create a whole different sign that contained a less aggressive slogan.
   His first attempt read: HIS ACE IS FOR YOU. Two nights later he returned and changed it to HIS WARD FOR IT. His best attempt, however, came on his third attempt and it was, he thought, blindingly ironic, reflecting the current mood of the station. It said, simply, I DON’T GET IT!
   The Station Commander and his staff were disappointed by the inability of the RAF police to apprehend the person (or persons) responsible and ordered them to keep an even closer eye on it. By this time Foxy had become bored with trying to come up with another slogan with the letters he had at his disposal. It was like trying to make a seven-letter word in Scrabble when all that was at hand was V, W, X, Y, P, Z and Q. As a final act of defiance, in the sleepy hours of one morning, he covered the entire sign in a one-inch coating of black paint. A new sign appeared a month later and the Station Commander ordered armed guards to patrol it and shoot on sight anyone who approached it with either a roll of sticky tape or a paint brush.

Squadron Leader Brittan liked the sign. He considered it to be a bold statement from a man he believed was not afraid to tell the truth. He sometimes thought he was in love with the Station Commander, although he never mentioned this to anyone, especially not his wife as he doubted whether she would have understood.
   Jean Brittan (nee Jones) was a petite, pretty woman with piercing green eyes and shocking grey hair. When she met Alfred Brittan he was five years her senior and had just graduated from RAF Cranwell as a Pilot Officer. She was an outspoken, politically motivated Art student, but fifteen years of marriage had reduced her to a shell of her former self. The raven haired beauty of her youth had gone and the only pleasure in life she had now was her regular bouts of shoplifting in the NAAFI. She did not shoplift for any material gain – it was mostly the odd orange or Mars chocolate bar that she stole – she did it for the excitement, to give a little meaning to her life. Maybe, she often thought to herself, she would not have turned out this way if Alfred had not turned out to be so boring. At home there were only three subjects he talked about – (1) his hatred of communism, (2) his hatred of Warrant Officer Black and (3) his admiration of the Station Commander.
   Jean couldn’t care less about communists and she thought his ranting and raving about how the world was not safe from them was a waste of time. Neither could she understand his loathing of Warrant Officer Black. Whenever she had met him he had always been charming and funny and, to her delight, he held the same low opinion of her husband that she did. And as for the Station Commander – each time he came come with tales of how the Station Commander did this or the Station Commander did that. Anybody would think he was in love with him.
   Squadron Leader Brittan had decided that he was going to show the Station Commander how committed he was. The station exercise started at 0630 hours on Monday morning, but he was going make his staff report for work at 0600.
   “Are you mad?” asked his wife.
  “Mad? Of course I’m not mad. Don’t you see my action will get noticed by the Station Commander. I could end up with a promotion as a result. I could go places and not be stuck in a dead end dump like this working with slackers and borderline communists.”
   “But, what about those people who work for you?”
   “What about them?”
   Jean Brittan realised at that moment that her husband was quite insane.
   “Never mind,” she said, as she scurried off into the kitchen.

“Well, I’m not coming in at six o’clock in the fucking morning,” growled The Beast as he and Sgt Collins walked out of the Squadron Leader’s office. “I’m coming in at the same time as everyone else.”
   “Mmm,” said Sgt Collins.
   The Beast gave Sgt Collins a sideways look. “How the fuck did you ever get promoted to Sgt when all you ever say is “Mmm”? Honestly, it’s all I’ve ever heard you say since I’ve been here. Your wife and kids must think you’re a barrel of laughs. They must really look forward to you getting home at night so they can enjoy your sparkling wit and conversation.”
   “Mmm,” said Sgt Collins.

The Beast was nowhere to be seen at 0600 hours on the morning of the exercise. He still hadn’t arrived at work at 0615 hours, by which time the Squadron Leader was enraged that a SNCO under his command had wilfully and deliberately disobeyed one of his direct orders. 
   This time The Beast was for it. 
   This time Squadron was going to prove that he was man enough to tackle him head on about his insubordinate behaviour.
   At exactly 0630 hours The Beast stepped into the building, unaware that Squadron Leader Brittan was lurking behind the door to the main entrance.
   “Good afternoon, Mr Black,” he said, trying his hand at sarcasm.
   The Beast just growled and carried on walking.
   “A bit late this morning, are we not,” said the Squadron Leader, blindly following the Beast to his lair. Once inside the Admin Office, he silently motioned Shagger to leave and then he closed the door.
   “Mr Black,” began the Squadron Leader, “as a SNCO in the Royal Air Force you are expected to set an example to the men who serve under you. When I give you a direct order to be at work by 0600 hours I expect you t . . .”
   “Get out of my fucking office!
  The Squadron Leader was stunned into silence. He stood by the door, unable to comprehend what had just happened and unable to speak. It was a few moments before he regained the power of speech and he stupidly decided to use it.
   “But . . . you . . . can’t . . . talk . . . to . . . me . . . like . . .”
   Squadron Leader Brittan did the sensible thing and got out of The Beast’s fucking office and went and hid behind the filing cabinet in his office.

After a cooling off period Shagger decided it was safe to return to the Admin Office.
   “Morning, sir,” he said warily.
   “What’s this?” asked The Beast abruptly.
   “What, sir?”
   “This,” said The Beast, pointing to the box-like speaker mounted on the wall behind his desk, “this fucking thing here.”
    “Oh, yeah, it’s a squawk box, sir. It was put in on Friday night after you left.”
    “Was it now?”
    “Yes, sir.”
    “Oh, was it now?”
    “Yes, sir.”
    “Well it better not go off, that’s all I can say."
   A squawk box was a simple two-way communicator housed in a small wooden container. Messages blared out of the rudimentary speaker at the front and by pressing a small button below the speaker the recipient of the message could reply. It was thought by many to be the supreme instrument of torture on an exercise as any message that was relayed through the device became garbled and incomprehensible at the other end. That was bad enough in itself, but the ear-piercing squawk that emitted from the speaker to signal that someone in the Command Centre wanted to speak was even worse. Continuous use of the squawk box was known to make grown men break down and cry, whilst others merely disconnected it after only a few minutes of torture.
   The squawk box in the Supply Squadron Admin Office went off at precisely 0700 hours.
   “Fuck me,” shouted The Beast over the ear-splitting sound. “Answer that, for fuck’s sake!”
   Shagger pressed the button on the front of the box. “Hello, Supply Squadron.”
   “WH – S – THA?”
   “I – WA – T – SPK – T – WA – OFF – BLK!”
   “I – SD – I – W – SPK – T – WAR – OFF – BLK!”
   “Warrant Officer Black?”
   “Y – S.”
   “Sir, he wants to speak to you.”
   “Who is it?”
   “I don’t know, sir?”
   “Well, tell him to fuck off.”
   “Warrant Officer Black’s busy at the moment.”
   “I – DO – CR – OW – BIS – E – S – JUS – PT – IM – ON!”
   “WAR – OFF – BLA – PU – IM – N!”
   “Oh, for fuck’s sake, if you want something doing properly you’ve got to do it your fucking self. Get out of the way.”
   The Beast pressed the button. “Warrant Officer Black here. What can I do for you?”
   “WAR – OFF – BLA?”
   “S – AT – WAR – OFF – BLA?”
   “Yes. Yes fucking yes! This is Warrant Officer Black. Who the fuck am I talking to?”
   “MI – TER – BLA – TH – EX – SISE – AS – ARTED.”
   “I – SE – TH – EXE – SISE – AS – STAR – D!”
  What? I know the fucking exercise has started! I wouldn’t be fucking here if the exercise hadn’t fucking started! What the fuck do think you’re fucking playing at telling me that the fucking exercise has fucking started. I know it’s fucking started! Now fuck off and leave me alone, for fuck’s sake!
   Shagger could sense that all was not well and that it was inevitable that The Beast would go psycho at some point quite soon. He was wary of making eye contact with him in case that tipped over the precipice. Shagger did not mind The Beast going psycho, he just did not want to be the one that caused it. Pretty soon The Beast was using profanity like punctuation, which was a sure sign of his descent in psychodom. 
   Anything could set him off now. 
   Anything at all.
   As it was ripped off the wall, the squawk box let out a sound like a parrot being strangled by a bear. The Beast carried the box out of the office and stood, feet shoulder width apart, hands holding it aloft. In his state of uncontrollable rage he looked not dissimilar to the ape-man that tossed the bone into the air in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey. A few heads popped out of doorways to see what all the commotion was about, but when they saw it was The Beast going psycho they quickly disappeared.
   “Fuck the lot of you!” bellowed The Beast as he hurled the squawk box against the Squadron Leader’s door, where it shattered into a thousand tiny pieces. The Beast just stood there for a few moments, surveying the wreckage before he turned on his heels and left the building.
   When he reached his room in the SNCOs Mess he stood in front of the mirror above the sink and looked at the bags under his eyes. He turned on the tap and splashed some cold water on his face. He quickly changed his RAF trousers for a pair of track suit bottoms and his shoes for a pair of DMS boots.
   “Fuck it,” he said. Then he left his room.
   He left the Mess and made his way to the small opening in the wire of the perimeter fence he had made for just this kind of occasion and a few minutes later he was at the local bus stop, waiting for one of the spotlessly clean coaches that would take him to the Dutch town of Roermond. From there he would catch a train to Amsterdam and another bus to the Amstel Brewery.
   He saw the low flying aircraft in the distance at the same time as he saw the bus approaching. With its long, sleek fuselage and large swept-back tail fin, it was unmistakably one of the new Jaguar GR1s from 31 Squadron. As the doors of the bus hissed open the aircraft shot overhead, accompanied by the hellish roar of its two Rolls Royce Adour Mk 102 jet engines.
   “Noisy low flying fucking bastard thing,” he growled to the bus driver as he handed over the correct fare.

Monday, February 11, 2013


The "I Forgot" Card

As we approach Valentine’s Day I often ask myself the question “What exactly is love?”  How can love be defined?

Love manifests itself in many ways; it can be different things to different men and different men will have different ways of showing it. Some men will buy expensive jewellery for their partners, whilst others will take their loved ones out for a romantic dinner for two.

Flowers from the garage on the way home from work are always a good last minute option.

I don’t fall into any of those stereotypes because I show my wife how much I love her by going to the supermarket to buy feminine hygiene products for her.

Let me explain:

As a young man I never really understood all this feminine hygiene stuff. Obviously I’d seen the adverts on the telly that featured women extolling the virtues of these products – like how they had enabled them to swim, ride bikes and play tennis – but as far as I’m aware, in all the time I’ve known her, I have never once seen my wife playing tennis.

Does that mean the ones I’ve been buying her up until now don’t work properly? I seem to have been buying her the ones that enable her to swim and ride bikes – but playing tennis? Maybe there a special tennis-playing brand that I’ve never seen. And if she ever wanted to learn how to fly would I have to look for sanitary towels with wings?

“I want regular sanitary towels without wings,” she told me as I was about to leave the house.

Before I could say anything she told me to stop moaning and then went on to explain how it was all my fault anyway, having brought her out to Saudi Arabia, a country where women can’t drive to the supermarket or the chemist.

A short time later I found myself in Lulu Hypermarket,stood in front of a whole aisle of sanitary towels, all in different coloured packages. I felt like a minion on the Death Star in Star Wars; you know, the one sat in front of a confusing array of flashing colourful lights, knowing that if he pressed the wrong one he would experience the terrible wrath of Lord Vader .

There were purple packages, yellow packages, green packages and orange packages – strangely no red ones. Then there were the different brands like Always, Kotex, Stayfree, Carefree, Whisper and Love Moon.

I didn’t really understand the reasoning behind the branding of that last one and I think they should be sued for mis-selling their product. The name Love Moon suggests the promise of some serious love-making, but in this case it means exactly the opposite.

Anyway, back at the feminine hygiene aisle, my brain was started to hurt and I could feel the first flush of panic sweeping over me. Which colour did she want? Which brand did she want? Which ones had wings and which ones didn’t? Which ones would make her better at tennis?

Nnnnnneeeeeeerrrrrrrrrr!!!!! I didn’t know!

But then I had a brainwave – I’d phone her up and ask her – that should simplify things. The conversation went something like this:

ME: Hello darling, which ones are normal?
MY WIFE: What?
ME: Sanitary towels – which colour is the normal colour?
MY WIFE: Green.
ME: Dark green or light green?
MY WIFE: Look on the packets. It’s really easy. Even you should be able to work it out.
ME: But . . .

I took two green packages off the shelf; one dark green and one light green and although the dark green one was labelled heavy, it weighed just the same as all the others. The light green package said normal – brilliant! But as I rummaged frantically through the hundreds of packages on the shelf I couldn’t find a single one that didn’t have wings!

I started to swear and mutter uncontrollably under my breath and the awful realisation of my predicament hit me. There wasn’t a single man in the FHP aisle. Not one. Instead a gaggle of abaiya-clad women were staring at me like I was some kind of raving pervert.

I grabbed the first light green package I could lay my hands on and, salvaging as much dignity as I could muster, I headed for the tills.

The male cashier ran the package through the scanner and said something in Arabic to his mate on the other till. They both looked sympathetically at me and smiled.

“For madam’s dirty time,” mumbled the cashier’s mate.

I smiled back uncomfortably and said “I get all the best jobs.”

And then, in perfectly enunciated English, the cashier said, “Did you know that lawn mowers are on sale this week, sir?”

“Lawn mowers?” I said, a little bit flabbergasted, “Why on earth would I want to buy a lawn mower?”

To which the cashier replied, “Well, your weekend’s already ruined, so you may as well mow the lawn.”

And that’s how I show my wife how much I loved her.