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Sunday, 11 December 2011

Of mad dogs and Englishmen. Dalat. Vietnam memories 1965 1975


Post 119

Of mad dogs and Englishmen. Dalat.

In one of his songs Noel Coward referred to 'mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun'. He was referring to India. There being no more adventure in India is probably why I found myself in Vietnam in my search for Gunga Dinh. Kipling for those who do not know the reference. The regiment involved was also the Black Watch.

I don't know if I was mad. I found getting really scared was a cure for most things. I never actually looked for something to scare me any more than I looked for sharks whilst scuba diving in the Bahamas. Anyway fear is the most effective cure for boredom, nagging women, irritating bank managers or anything else you can think of. When you recover from the 'flu you always feel better than before you were sick. When you have been scared silly you always feel happier with life than before the event. That is my theory and it’s how it worked with me.

PB had been as nutty as myself. KC wanted stability and security which for me led to boredom.
One day I had been for a long walk and decided it was time to get back to Dalat. I came across a valley that I thought would be a short cut home. I descended a path and turned in the general direction of the town. My sense of direction is usually good so I continued on. At one point I came across scattered shell casings but am unsure if they were from M16's or AK47's. I don't think checking would have helped. As I progressed the path became narrower until it was only about three feet wide. The undergrowth also got higher and higher and suddenly I noticed it was up to my knees.
I decided to stop and take stock of the situation. I was utterly alone in this valley except for the sound of a woodsman's ax in the distance on the far side. It’s funny how I still remember the woodsman and the stonemason. I was only wearing sandals and realized there might be snakes in the undergrowth. Then it dawned on me that nobody ever used this path. Doubtless there was a reason. It was probably booby trapped by the Viet Cong or mined by the ARVN. I had gone too far to turn back and anyway the afternoon was getting on and I had to get back before dark.

I decided to press on and must have covered a mile with each step my last. I am able to close my mind at times to all outward circumstances and did not dwell on the fact of what might have happened had I trod on a booby trap. I do have a very fertile imagination. I am utterly useless with heights and one of my great fears is that my knees would turn to jelly. On the ground I turn my mind to a blank. Finally I found a path that led out of the valley. Fear is a great cure all as I have said and when I got back I was in a very happy mood. There is a lot to be said for the Vietnamese habit of laughing when you survive an accident unscathed.

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