How Tootsie Rolls Saved US Marines In The Korean War

First Written for Headstuff

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Tootsie Rolls are bite-size chocolate covered toffee treats. Those not from America may be familiar with the name from the 90s dance craze. These unassuming sweets have an interesting history, specifically the role they played in the Korean War, when they were credited with saving the lives of American Marines.

So how did this strange happening occur?

By November 1950 the Korean war was well underway when the People’s Volunteer Army of China entered the conflict. Coming via the north-eastern Chinese-Korean border on 27th of November, this development took US forces by surprise.

US Marines, under the command of General Edward Almond, were based in the Chosin Resevoir Area. Accompanied by UN troops, the total number of allied troops was approximately 30,000. They were soon surrounded and outnumbered by 120,000 Chinese soldiers, under the command of Song Shilu. The UN troops broke free and withdrew to Hungnam, inflicting heavy casualties on the more numerous but less well equipped and trained Chinese. This left the US Marines who were facing freezing temperatures and rough terrain as they sought to make their escape.

As the temperature hit -38°C the ground froze, roads became iced over, and crucially technology and weapons began to malfunction in these extreme temperatures. One side effect of this was that the tank fuel pipes froze over, cracking open in some places; making the US’s position more perilous. At the same time, they ran low on mortar rounds. With the situation looking dire they made a request for more mortar shells. A wait ensued as anti-aircraft equipment had been entrenched on the enemy side.

It was common at the time to use code words when making requests. Mortar rounds were code named ‘Tootsie Rolls’. After the request went through the troops waited until the US were able to make air drops. It was then that they found… Tootsie Rolls.

Actual Tootsie Roll sweets. And not the much sought-after mortar rounds.

This should have been a disaster, but some quick thinking and ingenuity saved the day. The tootsie rolls were solid lumps of chocolate toffee when they landed. The Marines soon discovered that they would melt in the mouth. If they were careful, they could soften up the sweets and put them to good use. Turning them into a sort of putty the softened tootsie rolls were then applied to the fuel pipes; acting as a seal. Surprisingly, this worked. It was so cold that the sweets then solidified around the pipes, resealing them.

With the tanks up and running again the Marines were able to attempt their escape. They took heavy causalities but made it out of the Chosin River Area. Those that survived, in part thanks to Tootsie Rolls, nicknamed themselves ‘The Chosin Few’.

This was not the first time that tootsie rolls had proved useful. They played a small part in the Second World War too. They were included in ration packs as a durable treat that would withstand all weather traditions. A fitting use for an all-American sweet.

Tootsie Rolls | HeadStuff.org
Lt. Gen. Richard E. Carey USMC with Tootsie Roll CEO Ellen Gordon

 

Charlie Savage by Roddy Doyle

First Written for Shiny New Books

 

One of the kids wants a tattoo.

-He’s only three, I tell the wife.

-I’m aware of that, she tells me back. -But he still wants one.

-He can’t even say ‘tattoo’, I tell her.

-I know, she says. -It’s sweet.

Charlie Savage is not a fan of tattoos. He is utterly bewildered when his grandson decides he wants one for Christmas. What sort of Christmas present is that? However, the reader quickly learns what sort of person, what sort of family man Charlie is. He is very much the opposite of his surname. What if he gets the tattoo instead? And then the grandson can see it and visit it whenever he wants. Charlie will even go around at night so he can say goodnight to it? It is with this flash of brilliance, that Charlie ends up having Spongebob Square Pants tattoo’d on his chest. Even though he hates tattoos.

Doyle must by now be a national treasure. He is one of Ireland’s most loved writers ever since The Commitments. With the freedom to write what he pleases it is perhaps a little surprising, that he has decided to start writing a weekly column for a national newspaper. Unlike most however, he has eschewed the typical opinion pieces and gone instead for creating a new character, and with him a new family. 2017 began with Charlie Savage’s introduction to the Irish public in the pages of the Independent. How I missed this I don’t know. But fortunately, a book has been issued, bringing together 52 weeks worth of columns into one collection. As each instalment follows on from the other Charlie Savage can squeeze into the category of novel or it can be read one chapter at a time. With each instalment readers get to peek inside the head of Charlie, and in a way, he is a barometer for what is going on in the wider world.

In one of the collection’s few more serious moments, Charlie contemplates the world he is leaving for his grandchildren.

But the news – terrorist attacks, famines, disasters, intolerance – it’s relentlessly dreadful. Even the good murder stories have become too gruesome for me. Our parents left the world in reasonably good shape but I’ve a horrible feeling we’ll be leaving it in rag order.

Unfortunately, he is probably right. However, this is offset when we learn that he has also found a positive to Trump being President of the USA. He has found the secret. Deny everything and front it out. Even if no one else believes you just keep saying it is fake news until it becomes something resembling a truth. One gets the feeling that either he or his wife could find the silver lining in the black clouds of a thunderstorm. Charlie’s wife has been searching for something to do. Book clubs and baby sitting just aren’t enough. One night in bed she discusses this with Charlie:

-Old age can fuck right off. Am I right?

-Bang on

Shortly afterwards, she embarks on her own musical adventure with a fury and energy that makes Charlie’s heart fill with pride. Even from the short quotes one can see the Dublin vernacular and humour that Doyle is famous for embracing, that makes the comedy, even in the dark, spring from the page.

What gobshite decided that serving tea in a glass was a good idea? I’m not sure if there are any references to tea in the Bible but I’m betting that Jesus and the lads had theirs in mugs. And his holy mother – with a name like Mary she definitely drank hers from a cup and she went down to the Irish shop in Nazareth for the milk. And a packet of Tayto for Joseph – salt and vinegar.

The highlight of the collection is the way in which Charlie’s love for his family seeps through the pages and into the reader. The prose is at its most potent when Charlie talks about his loved ones (although to be clear, match of the day comes a close second). The way Charlie’s love shows for his family – even when he is bewildered, exasperated and hoping for a pint – make Charlie Savage more than a novelty and add a depth and resonance that warms the reader.

 I feel like an animal and I know I’d do anything to protect them. I’d bite, I’d maim and I’d kill – I’d even miss Match of the Day for the kids and grandkids. I think of  them and I know I have a heart, because I can feel it pumping, keeping me alive for them.

There is a real tenderness at the heart of this collection. It was this that made me recommend Charlie Savage to several others. It’s not easy to find a laugh out loud book that also makes one feel content, making this a rare gem. Reading Charlie Savage felt a little like walking hand in hand with him along Dollymount Strand in the autumn breeze.

Roddy Doyle, Charlie Savage, (Jonathan Cape, 2019). 978-178733118, 208pp., hardback.

Kate Crackernuts

Kate Crackernuts, Smock Alley Theatre – Dublin

Writer: Sheila Callaghan

Director: Kate Cosgrave

 

Presented by No Drama Sheila Callaghan has rewritten the Scottish fairy tale, taking it from late nineteenth century Scotland to something with a decidedly more modern sensibility.

As with most good fairy tales’ beauty, jealously and unpleasant step parents set the action moving. Anne is the beautiful daughter of a king. His wife had a daughter called Kate – far less pretty but full of love for her sister. Unfortunately, the queen didn’t feel the same way. She placed an enchantment on Anne, turning her head into that of a sheep. This is an unusual turn of events but jealousy in fairy tales has a way of resulting in these things. Kate, furious at what had happened, wrapped Anne’s head in a green cloth, and set out to ‘fix’ her. Little did she know that it wasn’t just Anne’s life that had been changed that day. Her own future was on a new path. In practice this resulted in a philosophical sheep who feared he had lost his head (not a surprising fear given the context), an ailing moon of a boy / man called Paul who comes to life under disco lights but has lost the ability for words, an enchantress with a fondness for dead crows and much more besides.

The yearning to be needed runs throughout the production and manifests in painful, ugly, recognisable ways. It is possible to interrogate the text for a feminist reading of the nature of women in relationships and how they have been cultured into valuing beauty and being needed. It is when dancing, sickly, addicted Paul says he needs Kate, that she feels emotion pooling in her thighs, and knows that she will mind him in return for his need. The original tale ends with two marriages; two happy ever afters. In Callaghan’s version both sisters find themselves in the position of trying to change themselves, put themselves second, in order to keep the interest of the men they love. The fast pace and heightened humour ensures the action keeps moving and it is not until afterwards that one takes a moments to realise that, as Kate briefly said, all may not be well. It is a twist on the idea of a happy ending that leaves the audience both satisfied and with a small ball of uncertainty; the knowing that happily ever afters do not exist.

There was a great moment of heightened comedy near the end when everything fell into place in a self knowingly absurdist way that had the audience howling with laughter. The second half played better than the first; smoother, faster, more action and comedy. The text incorporates poetry throughout, some lines of which works better than others. The poetry Kate uses to talk about her newfound loved for the Paul, is particularly lovely and the sheep (go with it) summing up at the end, had some great lines; particularly when he reminded us all that we are always beginning and went on to liken marriage to a cotton thread of misery unravelling forward.

Kate Crackernuts takes place in the Main Stage of Smock Alley and there were a few issues with the staging. One wonders if it would have been better in the Boys School – using the old church windows to show Paul’s dancing sickness while Kate continues on her quest below. In the future it might be a good idea to rope off the side seating areas to keep the audience front and centre. From the reaction of the audience it became clear that there were things – physical comedy, gestures – that those at the sides missed out on. This was perhaps also a side effect of keeping most of the action in the centre and front of the stage and using the back to store props until needed. There were frequent scene changes that required different staging, meaning that set pieces were regularly being moved around while the action continued. Cosgrave dealt with this by integrating it into the show. Having two actors, dressed in white and pvc tutus dance and leap across the stage and at one point even interact with the cast. Although this was a good idea work needs to be done to make the transitions smoother in the future.

Kate Crackernuts was an interesting choice for No Drama, who are, in theory at least, an amateur dramatics group. I say in theory because their last production at Smock Alley, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, easily stood its ground next to ‘professional’ productions. Kate Crackernuts is a challenging piece to stage and it is impressive that they decided to take this one. No Drama certainly haven’t made it easy for themselves. There were some bumps in the production but overall Kate Crackernuts is a modern retelling of an old story; told with enthusiasm, humour and a large dash of absurdity. A philosophical comedy unlike anything you have ever seen on the Smock Alley stage before.

Runs Until 13th July 2019.

 

kate crackernuts

The Lonely Luchador

Writer and Director: Conor Duffy

Presented by Head Above Water Theatre Company

 

The Lonely Luchador is Head Above Water’s contribution to this year’s Scene and Heard Festival at Smock Alley Theatre. Given the chance to present a work in progress, the stage floor is open for risks, novelty and new ways of storytelling.

 

El Hombre, the worlds greatest wrestler, is in Mexico to compete for the Mexican Championship Wrestling Heavyweight Title. In spandex and blue face mask he is ready to rumble. Or is he? Perhaps the time come to retire? To live a gentle life in the countryside with his beautiful wife Anna Lucia (Nathalie Clément). However, his manager Dexter (Tom Doonan) and Anna Lucia  have other plans and insist on him taking on this last fight. Sure, all he has to do is take on the monster among men that is Mister Muerto. His black mask and deadliest finishing move in Combat Sports are legendary. Young, powerful and deadly Mister Muerto is El Hombre’s greatest challenge. As the two titans of wrestling come face to face, the plot unwinds in a series of twists, turns, surprises and daring feats of physical comedy that make The Lonely Luchador a festival hit.

 

With The Lonely Luchador Head Above Water have succeeded in their aim of bringing original theatre and physical comedy to the Dublin stage. 30 minutes of riotous fun The Lonely Luchador features sharp and precise physical comedy at its finest. Compere and referee Joe Clinton, as Earl, kicks off the performance by inviting the audience to join in with boos and cheers; to involve themselves in the play like a real wrestling audience would. This was set upon with Friday night joy by the audience; who took little persuading to cheer on the good guy. As Conor Duffy’s El Hombre and Gavan O’Connor Duffy’s Mister Muerto face off tightly choreographed physical comedy is on full display. Body slams, kicks to the face, fighting off stage in the midst of the audience, this action – packed scene is excellently coordinated to draw as much entertainment as possible from the raucous fight scene. It will turn even the disinterested into a wrestling fan for the night.

 

Writer, director and El Hombre Conor Duffy shines throughout; imbuing his character with just enough emotion to make the audience root for him. Clément, armed only with her sharp tongue and hand fan, manages to utilise props and accents to great effect. Rounding off the group is Tom Doonan as El Hombre’s manager: a Texan with a cowboy hat and heeled boots, he is a chancer on the make. The accents are hammy and the action fast and physical. Every opportunity is mined for laughs in this ensemble piece.

 

Fun from beginning to end The Lonely Luchador was a very enjoyable part of this years Scene and Heard Festival. It will be very interesting to see what Head Above Water are planning to do with this in the future. Whatever they decide, it is bound to be cracking good fun.

Boy Child

First Written for The Reviews Hub

Boy Child, Dublin Fringe Festival, The New Theatre – Dublin 

Creators: FeliSpeaks and Dagogo Hart

Boy Child begins with a dark stage. Performers are dressed in black and the use of props is kept to a minimal. It was clear from the off that this is a production that sets out to paint a story with words. The background is kept clear to avoid distracting from the poetry on display. Created and performed by two of Ireland’s premier spoken word poets – FeliSpeaks and Dagogo Hart – Boy Child draws on Nigerian influences, storytelling, and history to create a picture of a man trying to find his way in the world.

We often hear that it is difficult to live in the modern world and that men are trying to navigate the path between following in the footsteps of their fathers whilst also embracing feminism and changing the way the world works. Boy Child brings these real-life dilemmas vividly to life; as poetry, philosophical ideas, adolescent confusion, and desire stalk the stage. The play, however, begins with a woman who falls in love and gives birth to her beloved son. She draws on the generations of women who came before her for strength and fears that her beloved child will grow up making the same mistakes as his father. Yet at the same time, she works to maintain the same system and way of being that draws her son into his father’s life. Is a young man supposed to forgo all that came before and say that his father and father’s father were all wrong; that the soul-destroying back-breaking work they did was for nothing?

At the heart of Boy Child is a wonderful portrayal of a boy evolving into a man. It is nuanced, relateable and absorbing. This is a quietly beautiful image of a man a motion. A man being made and constantly remaking himself. Boy Child is a thought-provoking addition to the fringe festival that can open one’s mind up to new ideas and to seeing familiar ideas in a different way.

The performance poetry scene in Dublin comes and goes in fits and starts. Hopefully, this is a sign that it is being taken seriously as an art form and will open the door to further spoken word performances in Dublin’s theatres.

 Image: Contributed

The Brazilian by Rosie Millard

First Written for Shiny New Books

The Brazilian by Rosie Millard Review

The Brazilian opens in a London beauty salon where the middle class and nearly middle aged (although she would be furious if you suggested so!) Jane is getting a Brazilian and discussing her upcoming holiday to Ibiza with the beauty technician. Jane is annoyed and perhaps slightly scandalised when she hears that the technician’s son is also going to Ibiza. Surely it was too exclusive and expensive for someone like him? This is an excellent introduction to inimitable Jane. In just a few lines one finds out what is important to her and how she likes to consider herself above others. Shortly after she has this thought: “fame and sex, thinks Jane. These things are important to her. She wants to have both of them. She has neither of them. And she’s in her forties. In a few years, she won’t be able to have either of them”. She is funny for the reader to be around, perhaps inadvertently so, but the humour that makes this novel skip along is demonstrated in the first few paragraphs.

Jane and her longsuffering – although not exactly innocent – husband Patrick, eight year old George and babysitter Belle are going on an ‘high class’ summer holiday full of family time and yoga to Ibiza. Although it becomes clear that no one really has any intention of ‘family time’. Belle for a start is planning on taking full advantage of the paid for holiday in the clubbing heartland. In order to be with her, boyfriend Jas is also on the island. He has tagged along with a cheap walking holiday so that he and Gemma can meet up when the sun goes down. This is unfortunate because Jane wants her to take charge of George while she sets out to get herself on a cheap daytime reality TV show called Ibiza (or Bust).

Ibiza (or Bust) features a group of not very famous ‘celebrities’ prepared to be followed by cameras for two weeks while taking part in a series of challenges for a few thousand pounds and exposure. Included in the group are two of Jane’s neighbours; Alan Mackin (a financial advisor of minor fame) and contemporary artist Philip. Philip’s unusual and flamboyant wife Gilda also makes a brief but valuable appearance. Will they be Jane’s way in to her reality show dreams? “It was just so unfair. Act like an arse and a show-off, like Philip Burrell does and that silly Alan Makin, who bought his way into the Square without so much as an invitation, just slapped his money down, and what happens? You get on television. Quietly get on with being sophisticated and stylish, like her, and what happens? You get ignored.”

Fellow contestant Gemma, a TV estate agent, is somewhat out of her depth on the show. Taking part in task one, a water challenge, she is scared and unsure, with the thought of the cameras always on her mind. “She walks to the edge of the pontoon. From this position, there is quite a drop to reach the water. Say, about three feet. Oh, just do it. You’ll be on telly, she thinks. Imagine her friends, her parents, her boss, seeing her unable to jump off a silly pontoon onto a silly lilo. It will be on YouTube forever. She’ll be a laughing stock if she doesn’t do it.” The behind the scenes of cheap reality TV is excellently done. It is funny from start to finish with show producer Simon providing a welcome injection of cynicism; his feet are firmly on the ground.

Each chapter is told from a different perspective which keeps the story fresh and helps to round out the narrative. The Brazilian is a fun filled satire that takes on fame, celebrity, middle class families and modern sensibilities. Anyone who likes reality TV and for those who like to complain about them or ridicule them will enjoy this aspect of the novel. Full of action and drama from the start it is difficult not to be caught up by the entertainment. Millard’s past as a journalist is reflected in her fiction writing. She picks up on the small things that tell us so much about a person and their interpersonal relationships. Jane and the Ibiza (or Bust) contestants are ripe for comedy. Characters such as George, Belle and Gemma help to soften things with their sweet hopes and kind personalities which also makes them easy to root for. Importantly each character is recognisable and although comic, not cliched.

On a small point, there were several spelling mistakes which should have been picked up before publication. The novel was otherwise very well written and paced. It got me through several days of poor health, making me laugh throughout with its clever cultural commentary. Having enjoyed The Brazilian I have since ordered Millard’s earlier work The Square which involves many of the same characters, and I look forward to her next work.

 

Rosie Millard, The Brazilian, (Legend Press Ltd, London, 2017) ISBN 9781787199873. Paperback pp251

Listening In by Jenny Éclair

First Written for Shiny New Books

Listening In Jenny Eclair

 

Listening In is a collection of 24 short stories from comedian and writer Jenny Éclair. Her last literary outing was the well-received novel Moving, reviewed on Shiny New Books here. Running at around 10 pages per story it is perfect bed time reading. Black and white illustrations by the author are dotted throughout the collection which add a personal touch.

Each story is written from the first person, giving them an intimate feeling, plunging the reader straight into the mind of the protagonist. They really do feel as though you are ‘listening in’. The secret thoughts, conversations, hopes and disappointments that would normally remain lock up inside are explored.

Although each story is unique and stand-alone the theme of revenge does run across multiple stories. Those small moments of success and comeuppance, feature throughout. As in the case of the protagonist of Margot’s Cardigans or A Slight Alteration these moments have taken a long time to emerge and have only really occurred by accident. Those serendipitous moments in life where a long-suffering wife or loving mother has the chance to rebalance their surroundings. Many of the stories are deeply funny. None more so than those in which good intentions turn in on themselves and women who seem to be one thing turn around and surprise their families.

Combining both revenge and a comedic turn of events is Christine Paints. Here a couple have moved out to the countryside so that the husband can pursue his writing career in peace. At the same time, his wife has been finding ways of integrating into the local community, of making new friends. One way she has done this is through a local art class. This one morning a week event which will go on to change her life in ways she could never have predicted. The ending had me punching the air with joy as Christine was able to do what everyone who has ever been betrayed or mistreated has dreamt of.

“It’s never easy, the first day, it it? First day anywhere really, school, new job, holiday?”. In Fantastic News, a middle-aged couple go on holiday, leaving their adult children behind: 23 year old University student Scott, and the slightly more troublesome twenty nine year old ‘spoken word’ poet Tamsin. When Tamsin sends her mother a mysterious text, imaginations start to run and hopes climb. The relationship between the unnamed woman and her husband John is incredibly realistic and entertainingly told. One doesn’t have to have had the same experiences to be able to recognise the patterns they have fallen into. The ending, which I shall be careful not to spoil, was quietly beautiful.

Anthea’s Round Robin is laugh out loud funny from beginning to end. It starts out as one would expect but quickly descends into a catalogue of a failing marriage. It seems that Anthea has only ever dreamed of one thing: “I had plans drawn up for a new kitchen extension, because let’s face it, what woman in her right mind doesn’t dream of a laundry room-cum-larder-stroke-boot room and pickling kitchen?”. She sounds middle class and middle aged. A woman who has lived for her children for so long that she has largely ceased to live herself. Her husband is another matter altogether. Their picture-perfect life falls away with each sentence and the reader is given an hilarious insight into Anthea’s life so far.

In Carol Goes Swimming a woman has been pushed into going swimming by her nurse. It is time to focus on her health and weight (although this is something that the nurse seems to believe applies only to patients and not to medical professionals). The smell of chlorine never changes and it pricks her memory into action. She is taken back to school swimming lessons, teaching her children and to meeting her best friend Sandra. Now Carol has a new life to navigate but an encounter with the past will remind her that she is not alone. This story is a testament to the importance, romance and power of lifelong friendships.

The collection started life as a BBC Radio 4 series called Little Lifetimes, which are still available to listen to online. This very popular miniseries demonstrated Éclair’s way with words and ability to craft intriguing first person narratives about seemingly ordinary women with hidden depths. This wonderful volume is very high on my list of favourite short story collections and is not to be missed.

 

Jenny Éclair. Listening In (Little Brown Book Group, 2017) 9780751567731, 246pp., Hardback. .