Cardigan

3 Aug

“You might need this, son” said my dad handing me his old cardigan. As it happens it saved my bacon a week after my 60th birthday.

IMG_3310

Here it is, hanging out to dry after a careful hand wash in the kitchen sink. It kept me warm in all senses of the word after an unexpected swim. I had been thrown from a twelve foot dinghy into the tidal river Alde (Sussex) after the boat owner misjudged a jibe in heavy wind and turned his craft into a submarine.

Dad’s cardigan proved doughty when we were rescued by the RNLI.

The name Cardigan derives from the Welsh place name – Ceredigion. When it was invented the open fronted sweater was named to flatter James Brudenell, the 7th Earl of Cardigan, and English toff famous for his recklessness at Balaclava, celebrated in Tennyson’s poem of the ill fated Charge of the Light Brigade:

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

One of the most famous follies of British Military History celebrates a romantic establishment view of bravery in the face of insurmountable odds.

For my father and I Balaclava epitomised the suffering of the ordinary working man at arms compared to the relatively pampered lot of of the officer class, the aristocracy, and the failure of leadership due to hubris.

The order from the Earl of Cardigan, Lord Raglan, was for the Light Brigade to charge the Russian positions and secure artillery pieces that had been captured. The order was ambiguous, because there were two positions.

Lord Lucan received the dispatch from Captain Nolan and it was interpreted as a full frontal assault. In the event Lucan led 673 cavalry along the valley between Russian batteries into the waiting gun emplacement.

The Light Brigade was cut to ribbons by an enfilade of canon fire.

Marks_the_grave_of_John_Brown_Trumpeter_from_the_Charge_of_the_Light_Brigade_at_Balaclava

Reckless courage and miscommunication. A lethal brew.

For the common man, simpler tools of warfare consisted of a musket, bayonet and Shanks’ pony. No cardie’s lads, make do and die.

My dad was interested in Military History – particularly when his so-called betters screwed up. Quite probably because his dad, Arthur Littlewood had fought at Ypres.

Leadership means paying attention to those that depend on you for their livelihood and happiness and in the end, for their very life. Not poncing about shouting orders and giving off an aura of unflappable authority.

When drowning, flap – a lot, and thank God for the RNLI. Or opt for an orderly retreat and a cup of tea.

Wear your cardie’ lads and avoid reckless endangerment of a grandad, father, husband and a beloved first born son.

That is the song of my father, whi gave me all his tools and his cardie’.

What more could a boy want?

For my brothers:

Tim

Nathan

Simon

and my departed sister Abi, who is no doubt introducing him to Frankencat right about now.

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