Life as a tankboy

One great thing about the decline of the British Empire has been the steady trickle of old war toys that wash up on English shores. I bought my Daimler Ferret Mark 3 tank in a deal that was a bit shady really, kind of an exchange. I paid some money and swapped some, um, "things" with this guy I knew in Cornwall. He gave me his tank (well, technically it's an armored scout car). He'd gotten it from some guy who used to rent it out to movies. Before that the Ferret was, I am told, used on missions in faraway places like India, Indonesia, Northern Ireland, and South Africa. "Crowd control."

My tank was made for the British army right after World War II. It's a big toy—larger than an ice cream truck, heavier than 9,500 pounds when combat-ready, with big fat wheels. And a gun. I like the Ferret not for its place in history, but for the place it occupies in my parents' backyard. (I moved from Cornwall to London and haven't sent for it yet.) When I lived in Cornwall, I'd drive it around town. It's easy to get carried away when you're raving down the thoroughfare in a steel-hulled tank. You become the colossus of roads. You don't even have to signal—people simply get right out of your way.

I've fooled around in it, but I haven't actually had sex in it. For one thing, it would probably be pretty painful. Every time I get into the tank I bang my fingers on something. But without any question there's a sexual quality to being in there. Maybe controlling all that heavy metal—being able to force your way through most any hedgerow or barricade with very little effort—is some kind of subconscious sexual compensation. For the record, my gun is at least thirty inches long, and, not to brag, but it's pretty powerful. You have to be careful not to hold your finger too long on the trigger. If you fire too many shots at once and the barrel gets too hot, it melts.

The vehicle pisses over virtual reality or any computer game I've ever played. It's an all-encompassing environment. You can't listen to any music inside—the engine's too loud. You have to listen to the tank's own sounds, which I've really come to like and have used on lots of records. The engine generates quite a nice noise when it's turning over, but when you're revving the Ferret, you get sort of scared.

Usually when you're in a car you learn to be concerned about damaging the vehicle you're driving, but in the tank you only worry about the mayhem you are about to inflict on others. All you have to do is touch another car as you drive and you've totally demolished it. Once, I sort of took the front end off a sedan that was parked unattended near my house. One of the good things about the Ferret is that it can attain speeds of up to forty-five miles per hour, forward and backward. I got out of there pretty quick.

If you move just a fraction of an inch too far with the Ferret, you're going right through somebody's wall. Steering a tank is a lot harder than working a mixing board in the studio—I never knew turning a sharp corner could be such a sweaty job. But once you get over your fear of losing control, being in the tank gives you a feeling of great security. There's a nice sense of inner peace, because you know that nothing is ever going to hurt you. It's like a womb...with a gun.

Written by: Richard D James, July 1995, Details Magazine