Biggles Pulls it Off - id_ten_it

Biggles Pulls it Off - id_ten_it

Postby id_ten_it » 02 Sep 2018, 09:28

Algy sat, clean, well fed, rested, and glowered over his freshly ironed newspaper and around the well-appointed room. One hand, still bearing callouses but no longer reeking of gun oil, rubbed down his trousers, the roughened skin snagging on the clean, soft, wool. He had been in his new post for barely a week and was already more than ready to move on. There was a faint tingling, as of thousands of small insects crawling around, in all his nerves. Nearly a year and a half of constant war flying had caused him to need danger and adrenaline, things not often found in this sleepy corner of England, no matter what the new pilots might think.
“So I said to him, if you can’t control the kite at least you can control yourself!” Algy glanced up at the three men coming into the room. All were older, experienced officers. They wore tidy mufti and had an indefinable air of comfort and largesse. They hailed from an older Army, seasoned in battles that now, barely decades later, were a distant dream. Things had been done differently then. These men didn’t seem to notice the march of progress as they served as the Adjutant, the Quarter Master, or the XO. They couldn’t fly and had no interest in doing so but by George they could run a training unit like nobody’s business. They took pride in being the stiffest outfit going.
“Good Evening Sir, Gentlemen.” Algy stood smartly, smiling weakly and wondering how much time he had to spend here. As soon as it was apparent he wouldn’t be missed, he bade them farewell and escaped to his room.

When he’d been given a short transfer home, he hadn’t at first realised it was to a training squadron. Bad enough! Worse when combined with its proximity to his well-meaning and utterly overbearing Mother. Some weeks previously he’d caught the nasty illness going around and had somehow managed to keep flying, severity of the illness undetected, until the day when, upon landing, three men had dragged a near-insensate, chalk white, trembling, pilot from his cockpit. “Pneumonia” the M.O. had said, shaking his head, and, “best look for a replacement.”
“And go to all the trouble of training a new pilot?” Biggles had expostulated. “I don’t have it in me. If I can’t have a madman to charge into the Hun with no guns at all, then the new fellow needn’t apply.” The M.O. had been determined and Biggles’ argument was somehow not as good when the man in question was flat on his back in bed.

But Algy was nothing if not stubborn. Six days later a lean, determined, Algy had presented himself to the C.O. ready to fly again. He might have succeeded, too, if the M.O. hadn’t already presented his report and the C.O. hadn’t a family history of consumption. Algy was nothing if not stubborn. He would fly, he quietly informed the brass, and the C.O. agreed mildly and packed him off to Blighty.


Algy didn’t mind Blighty, on the whole, but he had been immediately accosted by his Mother and pressed into service as a private investigator by his middle sister – who wanted to know everything about an Officer she had met at a dance. In fact Algy had written to Biggles (the letter he sent every week even though there had been no reply yet) I think my new job, as far as Mater sees it, is to find Officers for each of the girls to marry. Gwyneth especially has gone from fussy to particular and the Mater dreads ever marrying her off. It’s all very wearying. Not being the sort of man who wanted to be married, Algy didn’t so much spend his time looking for a wife as dodging the dreaded wedding bells.

(Later, Algy would hear from Wilks that Biggles passed on some of news he wrote to the Squadron. Everyone agreed that having Algy arranging marriages for his sisters was a complete waste of a fighter ace, and the mail run was completely overwhelmed with letters from 266 to their various Uncles and Guv’nors, all explaining what a complete mess the whole situation was.)

Settling in that night Algy turned aside thoughts of the Chief Flying Instructor who – while justly proud of his role in implementing the Gosport system – didn’t seem to like Algy. He also turned aside any thoughts of the senior officers on base he had escaped in the Mess, and the student he would have to send up again in the morning despite it feeling like he had nearly killed both of them that day. Instead, Algy pored over a seed catalogue, mind’s eye alight with swathes of colour that nobody could begrudge him. As soon as this last student had earnt his ‘wings’ Algy’d hop back to France where he could do some real work.

***

The lighter mood that always came in the morning lasted as Algy drank his tea that his batman brought, dressed into his uniform, and met his student at his Camel. “No silly business this time” he adjured, “and for goodness sake don’t go and get lost and spend three days getting back!” Parsons laughed and shook his head and Algy retorted, “Some silly fool did that last week and they were within a toucher of telling his Mother that her son had bought it.” Parsons looked vaguely shocked and Algy shrugged in a sudden recognition that perhaps his choice of words was more world-weary than the older man was prepared for. Older than his instructor Parsons may have been, but to Algy he still seemed indescribably young. “Sorry.” Algy added gruffly, “but these things are fairly common across the Channel. You’ll get used to them.” He added. Parsons nodded and, giving his machine one final check, jumped in. “See you in an hour or so!” He called, waving at Algy, and then “contact!” as the ground crew watched for his calls. Algy stood and watched him go before wandering back into the Mess for a spot of breakfast.

There was a letter waiting for him, and he opened it with a sinking feeling. Sure enough, his Mother was summoning him to a fete to be held the next weekend. With an internal groan, he consoled himself with fresh eggs and ham, and was well into a fresh cup of tea before the welcome noise of his returning student was heard. The communications clerk approached as Algy stood leaning on the Mess railings, throwing him a sharp salute and passing over a slip of fine paper. “Message for you Sir.”
“Thank you.” Algy’s salute still had something of the hasty, in-the-field, lack of standard about it.

WORK UNDERWAY TO GET YOU BACK STOP HELD UP AT HOME FRONT STOP LETTER FOLLOWS STOP JB

Algy smile to himself. Good old Biggles! Of course he would pull it off.

A sudden increase in pitch tore his attention skywards and he noticed with something approaching real fear that Parsons had somehow got his bird into a spin and was now approaching the ground at a great rate of knots. Algy wanted to shout at the man, tell him how to control his aircraft, and ask him what the blazes he thought he was doing, but instead watched in a now fearful silence. All the while, the Camel was racing towards the earth like its pilot was determined to never make it to the front.

In reality it took only two – three – four turns and then Parsons succeeded in wrenching the aircraft out of the spin, taking her on a circuit before lining up and touching down as gently as you please. Algy was already running towards his errant student, hat in one hand, the other cramming his telegram into his pocket. Dirt fairly flew off his shoes as he made what was perhaps the fastest time across the airfield in the history of its operation.
“Hullo Sir” Parsons said once he’d switched off.
“Hullo yourself.” Algy shouted, jumping up on the wing and checking Parsons and the rigging over with a practiced eye, “What the dickens happened?”
“Got into a spin, Sir.” Parsons returned flatly, letting Algy haul him out and steady him.
“Yes I saw that” Algy muttered, then, perhaps realising he was being a bit brusque, “got her out again though! Here, let me help.” Taking Parsons’ scarf and thick coat, the younger man slung them over his arm, “so now you know how to get out of a spin, you’re ready to go just about!” he tried cheerfully. “That’s just about how I figured it, Sir.” Parsons grinned, following Algy to the Orderly Room. “Well then.” As they came into the room, Algy smiled a genuine smile, “let’s make it official then. How about a final exam tomorrow and then we’ll make your posting formal.”

Parsons looked rather shocked, obviously not having expected it to be this easy after months of training. “You…you really think so Sir?”
“I really think so, Parsons. Here, you go and tidy this up and I’ll arrange your exam.” Suiting words to action Algy loped off to the planning board, looking for the best man for the job on the morrow. This shouldn’t be such a surprise to Parsons, given he had only to pass one final flight – the one he had been supposed to pass the previous day – before his finals. No doubt the adrenaline was just throwing off the poor hun’s thoughts.

Algy’s planning was interrupted by a thought – he may be about to finish his last student but there was no way he could remove the home front interference Biggles mentioned if he sloped out of the party. Of course he should have realised this earlier, but the spin had rather pushed everything else out of his brain. Hastily chalking in a mark next to the senior instructor’s name, he returned to his room, sitting at his desk and laying down both pieces of paper. Parsons would be busy and the others were off teaching, so he had some time.

First, his Mother. Goodness it was a long letter. Obviously rationing wasn’t a concern for Merioneth.

…We are having a dance on Friday night – the 19th – and of course I am looking forward to you attending. Do come in uniform, it is so smart and it is time I had a new photograph of you for the mantelpiece also for you have grown so over the last two years. Please let me know how many friends you are bringing, as we have but a scant half dozen of men from your Fathers’ Regiment, making your friends particularly welcome. That delightful young man Pettigrew-Wilson simply must come, do tell him, and I am enclosing several blank invitations for you to make out as you see fit. There are plenty of rooms and we will have a light tea at 5 before dressing, so do ensure you are here before then.
I am so glad that you are no longer in France, for nobody can think you are anything but brave and knowing you are close by is a load of my mind. Now your dear Father is gone it is difficult to have you so far away all the time. You must come and visit simply as soon as you can…


There had been more and more of this, running to several pages and interspersed with comments about each of his sisters, his (singular) brother-in-law, and the hapless, ‘simply delightful’, Pettigrew-Wilson.

Biggles’ short missive was far nicer.

HELD UP AT HOME FRONT STOP - JB

Well, he could do nothing sitting in his room, he decided, and drew a fresh piece of paper towards him. Sometimes even Biggles needed a hand cutting through red tape.

***

The number of hurdles that his Mater had put in the way of him going back to France were apparent as soon as he talked with her, and what was more she seemed proud of them! So Algy curtailed his own enjoyment in looking up old friends, beseeched the Butler to tell his men to take especial care of the Army chaps, and appeared in his Mater’s room promptly, to take her down.

“Algernon!” Algy’s pains over slicking back his hair were rewarded as soon as his Mater’s beaming gaze fell on him. “You look very handsome, my son.” She continued, running her hands down his shoulders and fiddling with his (perfect) bow tie, “very handsome.”
“I had to look good enough to attend to you, Mater.” Algy grinned, holding out his arm for her, “do come down. I’m frightfully excited.”

Throughout the night he continued to steer clear of any talk about France, always dragging in one man and then another. It felt more like work than usual but when his Mother barely glanced at the plate of supper he brought her, and instead turned to see Pettigrew-Wilson tempting normally troublesome Gwyneth with a sliver of double-chocolate-y Devil’s Food Cake, Algy began to see the light.

The light brightened as Algy danced the final Foxtrot and Waltz of the night, stood for ‘God Save the King’, and escorted his Mother to bed. “Gwyneth and old Pettigrew were getting on rather well” he began, standing at the window and watching his sister put her hand on the infatuated man’s arm. “I thought so” his Mother returned, almost smugly, “I’ll invite him to tennis next week.”
“I’ll let him know.” Algy replied, keeping his eyes outside, “before I head off again. The jolly old war needs some pilots, you know.” His voice was even in a way it hadn’t been when he first told her he was going, and he was both glad of it and annoyed that he was glad. He was a grown man now, and shouldn’t be so scared of this woman.
“I thought you would stay here a while longer….”
“I’ve finished training the chaps and am quite hale and hearty again.” Algy looked back at her now, visions of Spads, Fokkers, and that glorious feeling of freedom as the earth fell away from him filling his mind, taking over his senses.
“Your Father…”
“The Guvnor would have gone off if he could have, he said so himself. Oh do let me, Mother. There’s piles of classy chaps over there now and they get most awfully bucked to hear about jolly old home. Why, Gwyneth isn’t the only one breaking hearts and at the end of the month we’re due to send some chaps back here, to instruct like I have been.”
“Is that so?” The Lacey matriarch pondered, unclipping her earrings and regarding her son with a faint smile, “It would be a good idea to have some new men welcomed into the area, for we’re sadly without them at the moment. If young Pettigrew is going to stay…”
“I should say he is!” Algy ejaculated, “He’s still down there with her and looks like he could happily stay there all night.”
“Well then.” She continued, nodding regally and then continuing almost as though he hadn’t spoken, “I’ll let him introduce the girls to the new officers then, for I don’t like the idea of people thinking you are no more than the puppet for your Mater as she tries to account for all her children.”
Algy crossed swiftly to the upright figure in front of him, kissing her forehead carefully, “nobody would describe you as a puppet master, Mater.” He reassured her, “quite the opposite, for you’re the most charming lady I’ve found yet.” She laughed a little at him, shaking her head and patting his cheek.
“You take after your Father, Algernon.”
“Then I’ll do what he would, and send you back lace and gloves to please the most discerning of ladies.” Algy smiled, fare-welling her and going to bed, noting Gwyneth’s empty room with a smile.

***

When Algy got back to the base the next day, there was a short letter from Biggles, explaining the issues he had dealt with in trying to get Algy’s ‘temporary’ posting reversed again.

…Every time the CO thinks he has your CO convinced, somebody (probably your Mothers’ esteemed Cousin Edward!) changes his mind and there we are again. I think the old boy would give it up as a bad job if only I hadn’t kept on at him. It’s simply ridiculous the number of pilots we’ve gone through since you’ve left, and I’m sick to goodness with training them up. We haven’t seen anything of Raymond since you let, which is all to the good, but there’s plenty else happening to keep us busy. Did you hear about the balloon buster that sent a hundred Huns west? Nearly destroyed himself and his kite, shooting into a balloon full of explosives. It was so low the blast hit the watching Huns. I suppose things like that all seems a bit distant from over there.
Do make sure you’re not sending any perfect fools our way. The flying is hotting up.
JB


***

It was a cloudy day when Algy took off back towards France, but the suspect weather couldn’t dampen his spirits. He was going back!
The chill wind stung his cheeks and whipped his hair around his neck until he tucked his scarf in more tightly, but still he grinned. Flying! Really flying! How he had missed it! In sheer devilment he raced low over the Mess. He then completed a tight series of circles, climbing for height, at the end of the aerodrome, and finished off the farewell with a dazzling display of tight turns and loops. Laughing heartily, he lastly dove at the ground, as bare as if some giant bird had plucked it spotless, and fired some rounds – not too many as to remove any chance of self-defence should he encounter an enemy aircraft – at their practice butts. Controls as light as his spirits responded eagerly to his touch, as though the machine knew what was awaiting it, and he tore towards the channel leaving the detested Big Three Officers to tidy up.

The steel-grey sea appeared below him, flecked here and there with the white tips of a swell, and then there was the familiar smudge of France on the horizon, growing steadily larger, until he could make out the aerodrome. Not before time, for Algy had less than an hours’ worth of fuel left. Due to the cumulus around the coast, he had had to track further north than originally planned, and the extra distance he had had to cover ate into his reserve. He was also a lot closer to the lines, and lower, than he had told Parsons to fly when transiting. This concatenation of circumstances had Algy worried, but not unduly so. This was a quiet-ish part of the lines, or had been when he was there last time.

Just as he was anticipating a late dinner, his dreams of hot food were rudely interrupted by a sudden burst of gunfire. Pushing the Camel into a right-hand turn, Algy peered up through his fingers into the sun. Sure enough, three German ‘planes were silhouetted there for just a moment, suspended, before crashing down on top of him in a wave of fury.

Algy pulled the stick back smoothly again, keeping the first in his sights and firing even as the other two came in at 4 o’clock high. As soon as he completed the turn he dragged his aircraft upwards. He climbed as quickly as he could. The aircraft he had fired at peeled away, scared or wounded he couldn’t tell. So long as Algy could keep climbing, the triplanes would drop below him. They were good, but he could fly higher.

However, to keep climbing in a straight line with two Fokkers on his tail would be suicide. He gained 500’ and then, having burst above the two aircraft, rolled into a steep turn. For one sickening second the only thing in his field of view was mud, and then he was over, guns rattling as the second Fokker stumbled into view. Not waiting to see if he made an impression, Algy was up again. He climbed higher and higher. The camel balanced on her tail and clawed into the sky. Her canvas was shredded with bullet holes but still she held. Altitude gained, the nose dropped down like a stone to search for the Germans. Again, as Algy levelled out, they fired at him. His kite shuddered with the impact. Turning to his rear, he engaged again. This time the more experienced pilot on his tail dropped below his guns. The other German wasn’t so lucky and Algy felt a familiar burst of pride and despair as a smoking aircraft fell back towards the stinking mud. Low on fuel as he was, he guessed the Huns were at least as low on fuel. In a few seconds he realised he was probably right, or the idea of one-on-one fighting didn’t please his opponent, for suddenly he was alone.
Algy circled at 15,000’, high enough that he wouldn’t have far to go if he needed to bolt, but low enough that he could keep a good watch. Satisfied that he was unobserved, he took some deep breaths. Gasping against the cold and adrenaline, he made his way back towards the airfield.


There was the strip, a muddy furrow in a landscape of mud, but clear cut and open. Algy noted with surprise that there was a new hut, close in against the others, and belching smoke right along with them. He couldn’t smell anything over the castor oil and petrol that was liberally coating the air around him but he could imagine the scent of burning wood and coal, overlaid with alcohol and fear. Smells he had missed during his weeks away, smells that crawled down his nose and wrapped around him so he couldn’t imagine life without the way they fed off each other. Then he was circling over the airstrip, looking at the flag standing proudly in their little parade ground, watching the Lilliputians run around and look up, and could almost imagine them counting the aircraft and seeing they were missing none, and being confused.
Smiling to himself, Algy tucked himself down to a low pass, leaning out the side and waving, wriggling his wings.

Buoyed by the welcome, he made a tidy landing and taxied over to his usual spot. Smyth was there, grinning and waving, shaking his head over the holes held together by canvas that Algy had brought back, and behind him but getting closer were Mac and Mahony, a clump of new pilots and ground crew he didn’t recognise, and then, just coming down the steps of the Mess, a familiar slight figure looking pleased as punch.
“Sorry about the holes, Smyth. Ran into a spot of bother. I heard there was someone here who could patch her up?”
“I reckon we can find someone, Sir.” Smyth laughed, helping the young man out and looking with critical eye at the machine, “and I reckon she’ll be up again before the end of the week.” He added more cheerfully.
“Good! I don’t mind telling you, I’ve missed that sort of service.”
“I suppose there’s not much call for it among the students, Sir.” Smyth smiled, his men already swarming the aircraft.
Algy was spared from any sort of response by the other pilots coming upon him. “I would say we missed you, laddie, but I think there’s already been quite enough missing for one day.” Biggles said, deadpan.
“But I got here alright, didn’t I?” Algy protested, swinging the bag he had tucked away in the fuselage over his shoulder. The distinctive chink of alcohol-filled bottles drew the attention of everyone there. “Greedy beggers!” Algy laughed, reaching in and passing Smyth a glowing amber bottle. “Thank you very much, Sir.” The man was clearly more than a little touched at the gesture.
“Thank you for getting her smiling, Smyth.”
“Here lad” suggested Biggles, “let me help you with that. Wouldn’t want you to drop anything.”
“No fear!” Algy rolled his eyes, “Come along everyone.” And as he sat at the out-of-tune piano, a glass of brandy at his elbow and a young, castor-oil reeking man bellowing show tunes in his ear, Algy relaxed. He was home.
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Re: Biggles Pulls it Off - id_ten_it

Postby Fairblue » 02 Sep 2018, 10:26

This is absolutely delightful, id_ten_it. An Algy story too. Most satisfying.
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Re: Biggles Pulls it Off - id_ten_it

Postby Kismet » 02 Sep 2018, 12:21

Wow. This is fantastic. A really good mix of work and family:

Algy didn’t mind Blighty, on the whole, but he had been immediately accosted by his Mother and pressed into service as a private investigator by his middle sister – who wanted to know everything about an Officer she had met at a dance.


I like speculations about their wider families. It grounds them, I think.
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Re: Biggles Pulls it Off - id_ten_it

Postby Tracer » 02 Sep 2018, 13:28

Splendid stuff! Great work, idt
pilots who had done a long tour and had that thousand-yard stare W. E. Johns
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Re: Biggles Pulls it Off - id_ten_it

Postby kylie_koyote » 02 Sep 2018, 13:43

Very, very well done. :salute:

I really like this story.
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Re: Biggles Pulls it Off - id_ten_it

Postby Foolscap » 02 Sep 2018, 21:48

Impressive writing
Such a great mix of settings and very Algy:-)
"If you're going to leave the beaten track the first thing is to make sure you've got your sense of humour with you."
--Biggles on Mystery Island.
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Re: Biggles Pulls it Off - id_ten_it

Postby alderaanian » 03 Sep 2018, 02:52

A nice read!
Reminiscent of the loneliness/ slight feeling of dislocation in the stories when Biggles is back in Blighty alone (eg the White Feather story) and always a relief to be back in familiar surroundings with friends.

I can't get that image of pneumonia in the pre-antibiotics era out of my mind though. Or was it the Spanish flu of 1918? (Google tells me that it was what we know now as H1N1 influenza). Mortality rate for the former was 30-40%, and for the latter 10-20%!
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Re: Biggles Pulls it Off - id_ten_it

Postby id_ten_it » 03 Sep 2018, 08:43

alderaanian wrote:A nice read!
Reminiscent of the loneliness/ slight feeling of dislocation in the stories when Biggles is back in Blighty alone (eg the White Feather story) and always a relief to be back in familiar surroundings with friends.

I can't get that image of pneumonia in the pre-antibiotics era out of my mind though. Or was it the Spanish flu of 1918? (Google tells me that it was what we know now as H1N1 influenza). Mortality rate for the former was 30-40%, and for the latter 10-20%!


I actually have notes on a Spanish Flu Epidemic story, but they are only notes so far (there was a big exhibition on it at a museum I visited recently). Algy did not get struck down with that this time around, never fear. I had to put him back safe and sound!
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Re: Biggles Pulls it Off - id_ten_it

Postby StoneRoad » 03 Sep 2018, 13:13

Smashing WW1 story, with some lovely touches.
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Re: Biggles Pulls it Off - id_ten_it

Postby Indian Civil Service » 04 Sep 2018, 17:23

Great war flying too... straight out of WEJ!
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Re: Biggles Pulls it Off - id_ten_it

Postby Wanderer » 05 Sep 2018, 10:09

Great story, id_ten_it! Re the pneumonia discussion, it could be caused by any number of factors, not just influenza. A simple "chill" as easily started by prolonged exposure to the cold (such as flying) could trigger it if allowed to get out of hand, as happened to a great-uncle of mine about a century ago. In the early stages of the influenza outbreak of 1918-19 it many not necessarily have been recognised as such, although in that no-one else in the squadron seems to have caught it suggests that Algy's was not influenza-generated.
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Re: Biggles Pulls it Off - id_ten_it

Postby tiffinata » 06 Sep 2018, 23:20

Great stuff!
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Re: Biggles Pulls it Off - id_ten_it

Postby Kismet » 07 Sep 2018, 00:12

Wanderer wrote:Great story, id_ten_it! Re the pneumonia discussion, it could be caused by any number of factors, not just influenza. A simple "chill" as easily started by prolonged exposure to the cold (such as flying) could trigger it if allowed to get out of hand, as happened to a great-uncle of mine about a century ago. In the early stages of the influenza outbreak of 1918-19 it many not necessarily have been recognised as such, although in that no-one else in the squadron seems to have caught it suggests that Algy's was not influenza-generated.

I had two children under four in hospital with pneumonia after they caught chickenpox. And after they had been on drips and various medications for a few days, my less than three weeks old baby caught bronchiolitis in the hospital.
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Re: Biggles Pulls it Off - id_ten_it

Postby alderaanian » 07 Sep 2018, 17:49

Kismet wrote:I had two children under four in hospital with pneumonia after they caught chickenpox. And after they had been on drips and various medications for a few days, my less than three weeks old baby caught bronchiolitis in the hospital.


Think I stumbled over a reference you made to this incident in more detail in another thread. Sounds like a horrible ordeal for all of you. (I had to stay in hospital with my 2nd when he had bronchiolitis aged 15 mths but he was a happy wheezer who was fascinated by the oxygen probe illuminating his toe in the dark.)
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Re: Biggles Pulls it Off - id_ten_it

Postby Tracer » 08 Sep 2018, 09:19

Must have been an awful time for each of you.
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Re: Biggles Pulls it Off - id_ten_it

Postby Kismet » 08 Sep 2018, 15:26

It certainly makes me sympathetic to Algy's plight! Not an experience I wish to repeat.
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Re: Biggles Pulls it Off - id_ten_it

Postby StoneRoad » 08 Sep 2018, 16:53

I think I was nine, or maybe ten, when I got a nasty bout of pneumonia. It probably developed from a bad cold or was it flu I had.
I seem to remember spending time in hospital and getting several injections into my rear end, as well as loads of tablets.
Thankfully I'm not allergic to penicillin (unlike m'mother).
It left me with a tendency to bronchitis that lasted several decades, or maybe that was just coincidence ...
As a result, I'm determined to get the 'flu jab each and every year.
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