Summer at Catterick camp 1947 - Billy was goofing off talking to his corporal friend in the company office and in walks a tall handsome officer, a picture of sartorial elegance with his splendid uniform and leather accessories. A stunning private ATS girl, whose natural attributes would be apparent covered in a potato sack, followed him. You might say that they looked like Barbie and Ken, because that’s what they did look like and they deserve those names for the rest of the story.
"I wish to borrow a car for the afternoon," announced Ken.
"Yes Sir" replied the corporal, who then asked Ken where he was going and how many people would be involved.
"Darlington" Ken replied "and there will only be myself and my secretary".
The corporal made out the worksheet and handed it to Billy, saying to Ken, "Your vehicle will be here presently sir." Billy went for the ‘Tilly,’ which was the British army’s answer to the Jeep for small run about vehicles and was a bare bones car with a removable canvas top and celluloid side windows.
"Thank you, let me have the keys, I won’t require you any more," Ken uttered in a dismissive tone.
Wow! - now Billy had to say no to Ken twice and officers don’t like to hear that!
"I can’t do that", advised Billy in his best respectful voice reserved for officers. "The car doesn’t have keys, it only has a switch permanently attached to the dash board" continued Billy. "Also I am assigned to the vehicle and no one else is authorised to drive it," Billy concluded with satisfaction.
Ken did a smart about turn, marched back into the office and proceeded to explain to the corporal that he did not wish to be chauffeured and require a vehicle, which he could drive himself. The corporal politely explains to Ken that it doesn’t work that way and that all army vehicles in the RASC are assigned to drivers, who receive the necessary training, to take full responsible for the vehicle and it’s maintenance.
Ken returned to the vehicle with an annoyed look on his face and Billy responded with a ‘told you so’ look. Barbie and Ken climbed into the back of the Tilly with the top rolled down and off they went on this beautiful summer afternoon. Arriving at Darlington about 15 miles away, Ken asked a policeman for directions to a stationers and the attractive couple entered the store leaving Billy in the car.
Very shortly afterwards they emerged with no visible evidence of a purchase and Ken directed Billy to drive to the picture palace, where all three of them entered, compliments of the exalted one. The military trio seated themselves in the back row, one each side of Barbie in an almost empty cinema and enjoyed a few hours of entertainment. Things were more relaxed in those days, when there was always two films, the news and an interval for ice cream – And don’t let anyone tell you that they didn’t put the heat up 10 minutes before the interval to improve ice-cream sales!
When the working day was over, the trio returned to the Tilly and Ken insisted on driving back to camp. At that point Billy would normally follow army procedures which he knew well and have the satisfaction of asking the officer to sign the back of the worksheet and take full responsibility for the vehicle. However this time for whatever reason he elected to avoid a confrontation and climbed into the back seat with Barbie. Yes, we know what you are thinking and you may be partially right! Billy looked up at the sky, which appeared to be ominous, and asked Ken if he wanted the top up, because it looked like rain. Ken replied in the negative and off they went back to camp, with the officer chauffeuring the driver and the ATS girl who, in case you didn’t get the picture, was exceptionally attractive!
Convinced that it was going to rain, Billy was ready to pull the canvas top over him and Barbie, (how could he leave her out!) when before you could utter another ‘told you so,’ a dark cloud opened up and drowned everything beneath it. Instead of stopping to put the top on, Ken kept driving and the rain continued, with the two in the back seat snuggled up under the dry canvas. Yes, he was tempted to try his luck, but not sensing the right vibes, decided against it.
At the camp Barbie and Ken climbed out of the car looking less elegant than their arrival and departed without a word spoken. Ken was absolutely soaked, looking like a wet fish wearing a Sam brown, with his beautifully tailored uniform never to be the same again. The trip was an embarrassment to all concerned and a strain on Billy, because there was absolutely no dialog the whole afternoon except a few directions from Ken. Barbie never opened her mouth, confirming the suspicion that she wasn’t chosen for her eloquence.
Billy could understand Barbie and Ken’s unfortunate tryst with the exception of why Ken insisted on driving back and not stopping to put the top on. Could it be that he was sulking because his day with Barbie didn’t go according to plan and was he just too stupid to get out of the rain? Little did Ken know that had he crossed Billy’s palm with a little silver, he would have gladly performed his disappearing act for the afternoon!
The saying "two's company, three's a crowd" is very profound!