Thursday 15 November 2007

Working insecurity

The SAS and SBS are both elite bodies of trained killers. So how come SCS is a shed full of cut-priced sofas? When it was just a local business in the North East, I used to murmur “I served in the SCS” to suggestible young women at London parties, confident that they would never twig what it meant. Now that that grinning bloke out of Eastenders is endlessly on the box nationwide, advertising their unrepeatable bargains, that particular line in harmless mendacity is closed to me.

I had dinner on the train from London years ago with a bloke on his way back from a meeting of a high level working party on foam. As in the stuff they use to pack sofas, rather than the stuff they use to put out fires. At that stage, the two sorts of foam had completely different properties, with the sofa kind being inclined to burst into flames whenever a slumbering member of the working class casually allowed a cigarette to drop from his or her fingers. Served them right, I thought, until my dinner companion pointed out that it was a bit hard on their innocent kiddiz, asleep in their cots upstairs, who tended to perish from the resulting toxic fumes.

Anyway, this bloke claimed to have founded SCS, so I asked him what it stood for. “Sunderland Suite Centre”, he replied. Yes, I’m still trying to work it out, too.

The nearest I’ve ever come to contact with the SAS was in March this year. I’d spent an agreeable evening at the theatre in Newcastle with an attractive young lady, then we’d driven back to her remote home in the Northumberland countryside. She’d cooked me supper and we’d drunk a couple of bottles of wine. As bedtime approached, she announced that she had something she felt she had to tell me. This proved to be the hitherto unsuspected existence of what she described as a “f***-buddy”, who had moved on from the special forces to international security, and who had promised her that any man who ever hurt her would “disappear”.

My throat went very dry.

“Does he have much of a track record of making people disappear?” I enquired, as casually as I could manage.

“Oh yes.”

“You don’t find that in any way troubling?”

“Quite the reverse. Knowing that he’s around makes me feel very secure.”

Funny, I thought. It’s having precisely the opposite effect on me.

“Tell me,” I said, reflecting that I was about three times over the drink drive limit and that in any event my car contained about half a pint of petrol. “If we go to bed together now, what are the chances of this fellow kicking your front door down in the middle of the night?”

“Absolutely none whatsoever. You can set your mind at rest on that.”

All my tension left me in an instant, like the hydrogen exiting the R101 as it ploughed into that French mountainside.

“Thank Christ for that,” I said. “He’s on an assignment overseas, is he?”

“No,” she replied. “He’s got a key. Why would he kick the door down when he’s got a key? He’s not some sort of idiot.”

It was a very long and sleepless night. I never got to meet the SAS man, but I still look over my shoulder far more often than I ever used to.

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