I’ve just got off the phone with my dad; he’s been regaling me with a tale that means either my granddad is a fascinating man with many untold stories, or he is liar or madman. After the Cried Wolf of the whole Uncle Pak Joon-ho imaginary family history, there may be those amongst you disinclined to believe the following words. I have assurance they are all true, and I gift that on to you, dear reader.
Today my parents treated my paternal grandparents to a Sunday trip to Muncaster Castle. It’s a beautiful castle with a stately home interior, public gardens and displays of owls (and maybe other large predatory birds, if memory serves), up near Ravenglass in Cumbria. The four of them were wandering slowly around the castle rooms, gazing at the pictures on the walls. After untold minutes of this delightful pursuit, my granddad pulled my dad over and said ‘ere, look at this picture. See that little fella there? I used to be Guard of Honour for him.
What? replied my dad, slightly boggled. You used to be Guard of Honour for Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia, the Lion of Judah, The King of Kings, God Incarnate (as perceived by members of the Rastafarian movement)? Granddad was a little surprised dad had heard of the funny little African chief; Yeah, Haile Selassie, that’s him. You’ve heard of him?
Haile Selassie, known to Rastafarians as Jah Rastafari, did not think of himself as a second coming of Jesus; he was a hereditary monarch of the ancient Ethiopian throne. He lived a short while in exile in Bath, while his home land was ruled by Fascist Italy. Later with help from the British Army he regained his throne and ruled for many years. Due to his close ties with Britain he was provided with Guards of Honour from the British Army. Being a short man, he requested even shorter guards, presumably to make him feel like a giant.
While my granddad was stationed in Mogadishu (doing something Army-ish, I’ve no idea what), he was selected to served temporarily as Haile Selassie I’s Guard of Honour. His main qualification was that he was the shortest in his regiment. His chief duty seemed to be looking after Haile Selassie’s pet cheetahs; letting them out for a run, and feeding them. Granddad only worked as Guard of Honour for Emperor Haile Selassie I for a short time, and had managed to go over 50 years without mentioning it to my dad. He seemed utterly unaware of the fame and historical influence of the man; a man who almost a million pot-heads worldwide consider to be God.
In the mid-1970s a group of Soviet-backed dissidents took advantage of military unrest (due to wage disputes) and staged a coup. Haile Selassie was deposed and placed under house arrest; soon after many of his high-ranking officials were executed without trial. Selassie himself died soon afterwards, officially from complications after surgery, but possibly murdered. Until 1987 the Derg, a Communist junta continued their military rule over the people of Ethiopia, executing tens of thousands of political opponents.
Meanwhile my granddad was living in Morecambe, watching Everton matches on the telly and doing a spot of gardening. He’s a great granddad, but possibly could have done a better job as Emperor Haile Selassie I’s Guard of Honour.
P.S. I can't ignore the fact that this is blog post 303. Enjoy: