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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 38 - Stockpiling for war with dry sherry

I HAVE placed myself on a war footing. While not constructing an anti-nuclear and biological-weapon-resistant conservatory and a landscaped decontamination fountain in the back garden or helping to knit sandbags for the home front, I have been trying on gas masks.

The last time I did that was in the summer of 1939 when every member of the population was given a mask and schoolchildren were, loosely-speaking, shoehorned into them at mass classroom fittings.

War, it is said, is too serious to be left to generals and we children, feeling that war was too serious to be taken seriously, found that when we laughed - as many of us did - from our masks came curious, somewhat rude crepitations that were made more emphatic when we took part in mask-muffled, catarrhal and adenoidal renditions of Fight the Good Fight and God Save the King.

This time I advanced to Leith Army Stores, in Edinburgh, to see the latest fashions in anti-gas, biological, chemical and nuclear protection. The shop seemed stocked with enough equipment for a couple of British Army platoons: many soldiers recently bought replacements or additions to their kit over the counter to maintain combat readiness.

Alas, high style has not yet reached the anti-terrorist world. The gas masks I tried on were Russian (civilian pattern) created in a grey, rubber material. They would not have matched my Clackmannan tweed sports jacket and Herdwick wool tie. With large, circular eyepieces and a protuberant green filter they made me resemble some newly-landed, deep-sea creature thrashing about in the searing air. Doubtless effective, if only for eight hours, they cost £15 and panic-stricken pur-chasers snapped them up after the 9/11 terror attack in the United States.

I would have donned the all-purpose, NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) military suits (£25), but when Jason, the shopís helpful manager, show-ed me a nifty cotton number, with carbon-activated lining in autumnal camouflage colours, I realised that it clashed with my own chromatic vibrations and rejected it since it would have made me feel sartorially ill-at-ease at a time of global crisis.

So far, we Morrises have not been stockpiling provender but, slowly, we are building up emergency supplies of pale, dry sherry and charcoal health biscuits. I am also filling up bathroom cabinets with enough cough expectorant and chest rubs "to see me out", as the Scots saying goes.

"Trust your instincts. If you feel something is wrong, ring the police, " advises the Home Office.

An observant and public-spirited friend, who did not want to be thought over-suspicious, said he believed that code messages could be sent on neighbourhood clothes-lines. A different-from-usual arrangement of tights, pillow-slips and sheets could, he thought, be a signal for vested terrorist interests to pull up their socks, or a sophisticated plan to make Britain throw in the towel.

When I said I didnít think that would wash, he got shirty and left, breathing in short pants.

Objectives were clearer in the Second World War. After Dunkirk, I joined the Army Cadet Corps, which was being trained as a last, liquorice-allsorts and sherbet dab defence line if it came to the nut-crunch in a German invasion of this sweet land of liberty.

I was given a Martini Henry rifle, held together with wire, which had served in the Victorian Afghan conflicts and at the Zulu War defence of Rorkeís Drift. It was almost as tall as myself. People who saw me trailing it along the ground commented morosely that I was not just a scraping of the national barrel, but part of the barrel itself.

We were, of course, exhorted to go to our air-raid shelters when the sabre-scarred, Prussian-monocled Germans flew over Edinburgh to bomb Clydeside, but ours was invariably flooded so we had a choice of either getting our spirits dampened or being blown to fragments. During air-raids, the Morris family, like others, tended to stand at high-and-dry windows and marvel at searchlights scissoring the sky and anti-aircraft shells bursting like fireworks.

In that way, the war was fascinating, but all wars, no matter how just, are crimes against humanity. The author and playwright, Alan Bennett said: "I have never understood this liking for war. It panders to instincts already catered for within the scope of any respectable domestic establishment."

Many war-footing citizens will offer him hands of unflagging agreement.

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