Many, many years ago, I was a Airborne soldier in the British Army, and obviously I have many memories from this period of my life. One thing that I often think about is the 24 hour ration pack. For those of you who have not experienced the 24 hour ration pack, it was a little box of goodies and not so goodies that you were given if you were working somewhere that had no cooking facilities available. Now I’m sure that nowadays, things have progressed and in today’s 24 hour ration pack you probably get things like caviar and salmon and Peking Duck and a white tablecloth and silver cutlery, but in the 70’s the pack was quite basic. Sometimes you would strike lucky and get the pack with the little tin of fruit salad in it, this was always a highlight for me, but two items you were always guaranteed to get were the little packet of hard biscuits and the little tin of processed cheese or “cheese possessed” as it was known. “Cheese Possessed” was like no cheese you have ever tasted, very few soldiers were keen on the hard biscuits and “cheese possessed” and you would find piles of them discarded all over the place, blokes would put them away until they were desperate but that time never seemed to arrive. Still looking back, I do have one fond memory of “cheese possessed”.
In the early 70’s we were on a tour of Hong Kong, one day about 20 of us sailed over to Lantau Island for a 24 hour exercise. I was recently reading where Lantau Island is becoming a tourist destination with fancy hotels and a Disneyland, but in those days there was not so much going on, plenty of hills, some old monasteries and lots and lots of mosquitoes. We walked up hill and down dale for about 20k’s and eventually we arrived at a deserted beach where we were to spend the night before returning to the mainland the next morning. After a clean-up in the ocean, everyone opened their 24hour ration packs and settled down for a quite night. “Froth” Beer and I decided that it was a little too quite. A few k’s back up the last hill we had descended, we had noticed a few shack’s down a little side track. We went around and collected everyone’s discarded packets of biscuits and tins of “cheese possessed” stuck them in a bag and set off in search of lager. By the time we reached our destination it was starting to get dark, we found there were about 20 wooden shacks surrounding what looked like a small duck pond. Men, women and children emerged to warmly greet us, they could not speak a lot of English and our Chinese consisted of “one sweet and sour prawns with fried rice please” and yet somehow they seemed to know that we would give them this large bag of gourmet delights and in return they would give us lager.. Tables and chairs were carried out and soon an endless supply of food and bottles of beer, its amazing how you can have an entertaining evening with people using sign language, the children kept prodding us with their fingers and muttering away in Chinese, I suppose they were saying “these are very good-looking Englishmen”, but more likely they were saying “who are these idiots and why are they drinking all our lager”
After an hour or so of eating all manners of foods that I could barely see in the candlelight, I suddenly started to get a bit of a churning sensation in my stomach which rapidly got worse. I glanced around for a sign saying “Gentleman’s Bathroom” but could see nothing, eventually I started to act out the international sign language for “Excuse me but I need to use the facilities and I need to use them quickly before there is a serious accident” They soon caught on and an elderly lady with a lantern beckoned me to follow her, for some reason all the women and children followed behind me, by this time explosions were going off in my bowels, I could barely walk I was clutching my buttocks so tightly. When I glanced behind me all the kids were impersonating my strange walk, the elderly woman led me across a wooden deck over some water to a structure which appeared to be the toilet. It was basically a piece of wood with a hole in it, there was a small wooden wall around it but you were pretty much just sitting there in the open air, still this was no time for modesty, There were some sheets of brown paper hanging from a nail which I presumed was toilet paper although in the dark it felt more like sandpaper. All the women and children stood around laughing and applauding me, I kept expecting them to hold up cards giving me marks out of ten. You have to remember that this was before cable television, so the sight of me straining away was probably the most exciting thing that had happened in many a day.
Anyway, eventually the food and drinks ran out, we all said our goodbye’s and “Froth” and I staggered off into the darkness. After a couple of minutes I walked into a small wall, fell over the top and fell into what felt like mud, I dragged myself out and we immediately realized that I had actually fallen into the sewage pit, this did not help my bowels at all and it was politely suggested by “Froth “that I follow him about fifty metres downwind. By the time we made it back to camp I had attracted every mosquito on the island and I spent most of the night sitting in the ocean cleansing myself. Still, it was a good night and a happy memory of “cheese possessed”.
So, the moral of the story is, never throw your “cheese possessed” away, it might come in handy. And the other moral is, always carry a torch when you’re wandering around in the dark. And the final moral is, if you are going to eat strange foods, in a strange place, given to you by strangers. Always carry a roll of good quality, soft, absorbent toilet paper.