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Used to work for AVIVA offshoring IT to India.  Now retired through ill health, writing my life story as a series of blogs chronologically from birth to current time.  At www.jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Off to Germany Und the Frauleins! - 1983

Going home on leave was always something to look forward to.  My Mum had slowly but surely entered the human race again after the loss of my Dad and had even joined a singles club in Norwich and I would happily pass time taking the piss out of the blokes she bought home for dinner, or who collected her on the way into town.  Mum was in her early fifty’s by this time and had discovered verve and energy for life, which had been repressed as she dealt with the dramatic changes the loss of your partner must bring about.  Both my brother Richard and I had left home and Julian had become the “Rastafarian about Town” as he had developed a majestic set of dreadlocks over a few years!  He resided mainly in his bedroom, playing the bongo drums, at which he became very adept and he became a very talented drummer and percussionist.   

He was none the less a trial at times and kept Mum, and my brothers and sister entertained as his smoking habits developed in a more floral direction (!).  He also had very green fingers and I recall hearing how my brother Mark had gone to visit my Mum one afternoon and they had taken a walk down her garden.  At the very end, Mark found a species of plant that is more commonly grown in warmer climates (or in artificially lit attics and warehouses in Manchester), which produces a valuable cash crop.  Mark set about ripping up the plants with gusto and would have been at home demonstrating against Genetically Engineered crops some years later, had the thought entered his head.  Julian was very disappointed by this turn of events and took a stand by remaining in his bedroom for some days, appearing as he did to occasionally make a brew (of tea) and then retreat.  He was fast friends with a few of the local lads, Michael Walsh and Mick Harrison (Gary’s brother), who was also a drummer.  

I was somewhat distanced from the world Julian lived in, but would sit with him in his room and listen to his latest tirade against the establishment (Mum, Mark, Helen, Richard and I) and try to understand what drove his opinions and attitude, but to no real avail.  My leave was mainly spent at my sister Helen’s house, spending time with my nieces, Claire and Katie and my brother in law David.  David was very healthy, achieved through years of boxing training and he and I would regularly go on runs around the local parks and open spaces.  We would also go to the Crome Health Club in Norwich, which had an outdoor trim track with various exercise points, ten press up’s, squat thrusts, pull ups etc.  In those days I could run for fun, all day there and back.  I was very fit and healthy and David and I would sprint on our runs together, just because we could.  David had become a brother to us, he had moved “beyond” brother-in-law.  He had changed as well, with responsibility had come a maturity and a work ethic that meant he worked hard for his family and constantly sought improved salary and opportunities.  I looked up to David as he was a decent, consistent friend and he adored my sister. 

My leave was over and I was headed back to military life and training to become a Combat Engineer and soldier.  Just for the record I was joining; 3 Training Regiment, Royal Engineers at Minley Manor, Camberley Surrey.  My training party was 82B Ex AT (Apprentice Tradesmen) Party, 3 Troop 55 Squadron.  I was there from January to March 1983, phew!  Mick Hayes was in my troop, but we were a mixed bag, as members from various other companies’ at Chepstow made up the party.  Upon arrival we were met by our training instructors, who we were to find out, had tremendous skills, in the area of dishing out bullshit and orders to clean, scrub, buff and bull anything fixed down or moveable.  They (the instructors) were Corporal (Tank) McCann, funny and easy going, but able to sort out the wheat from the chaff, (I was still definitely classed as chaff at this time, whereas Mick was definitely wheat), Corporal Styles, a straightforward type of guy, Lance Corporal Laing (Steve), who was over 6ft tall and loved beasting anyone, anytime (especially late at night), Lance Corporal’s Perrens and Harvey and Staff Sergeant Smith.   

The Lance Corporals were assigned platoons, within the troop and once we had settled in to our dorms commenced the daily rituals of early morning wake ups and late night inspections.  What I considered hard work, as regards inspections at Chepstow, had nothing on what these guys could dish out.  The idea was that they were turning us from soft apprentices who had never known hard work into proper soldiers, who worked as a team and worked hard, very hard.  The Royal Engineers are usually amongst the first into any battle, as their skills and equipment ensure that the infantry and other army regiments, as well as the Airforce can do their bit.  The Engineers, amongst other things, carry out; Mine Warfare, (clearing and laying mine fields), Demolitions, (bridges and obstacles), Bridge Building and gap crossing, general construction, (using the artisan trades we learnt at Chepstow), provision of clean water, use of hand and power tools, operation of boats, basic bomb disposal and construction of field defences’.  In fact all the good stuff. 

The problem with Minley Manor and the training area in particular was that in winter, it was a mud bath.  No matter where you went, you tracked mud around with you and back into the dorms.  Marching as a squad, you would walk through the puddles, (usually a foot deep in the woods), as these were formed by the tracks left by tanks and personnel carriers.  The training consisted of learning to use all the equipment and lasted around 9 weeks.  Corporal McCann was quite a character and once we had been broken, mentally and physically, of our poor habits ingrained at Chepstow and had begun to act like soldiers instead of kids with trades, he relaxed and we settled into the steady rhythm of learning.   Among our number was a lad from one of the Parachute Regiments.  9 Parachute Regiment, Royal Engineers, work alongside the Parachute Regiment and there is also a Commando Engineer Regiment, (59 Commando).  This guy had taken his wings, but fancied joining the Royal Engineers rather than staying with the pure Para’s.  He was the embodiment of a Para, confident, cocky, sure of himself, unfortunately he was also a bit of a twat.  

The Falklands War had ended in victory for Britain, he had never even been there, but felt he was able to comment on the qualities of the Royal Engineers who had served in the war, mainly (in his opinion) the poorer qualities.  We were working with McCann and had taken a tea break, when the ex-Para spoke up.  Cpl McCann was having none of it and after saying that he had lost a few mates in the war, proceeded to smack him in the mouth.  Fair enough I thought and Cpl McCann even helped him up and bought him a tea as well.  What I was really looking forward to and enjoyed a great deal, was the disco, in the nearby pub.  There I settled into my now well tuned act of chat up lines and offers of walks home, by moon light.  It was a long time ago and as we were only there 9 weeks or so, I cannot recall any special names or events, but I did my best to leave on good terms with the local girls and very bad terms with the lads.  

More than anything though, was the eagerly awaited flight to Hannover Airport and on to Neinburg Weser, 1st Field Squadron and 21 Engineer Regiment.  The day arrived and I passed out of training and went to the airport.    Arriving in Hannover, I was met by a soldier from the regiment and a number of us, including Mick Hayes were driven to Neinburg.  It was fairly late on, so Mick and I were bunked together overnight in transit accommodation.  The NAAFI was open so we went over for some food and a beer, and then crashed until the following morning when we reported to the company office.  Whenever you travel anywhere with the army (this was back then anyway), you could request a packed meal.  The box was always white and a good foot and a half square.  It would contain a really grotty sandwich (cheese or ham), a bag of nondescript crisps by some unknown manufacture, a small piece of fruit cake and a boiled egg.  

Why a boiled egg, I cannot say, but you knew who had a packed lunch as they were generally miserable with constipation for a good 4 days afterwards.  Mick and I were introduced to the CSM (Company Sergeant Major) and escorted down to the block housing our new squadron.  Our Commanding Officer was Major Whittington RE.  That’s all we ever knew of him until he left, except that he considered it fun to have us run around in our Nuclear, Biological, Chemical Warfare Suits, (NBC Suits) at every opportunity and that he would call us out on Active Edge (Night exercise) at a whim.  He was marched out of camp on a white horse, our squadron symbol and paraded down the main street outside camp, the Berliner Strasse, but I am getting ahead of myself here.  Just that I was glad to see the back of the bugger I suppose.  

We were taken to our block and up a flight a stairs to our end of the block housing my new comrades.  Typical of the army, there are always those who want to make a quick impression on the new guys, which are treated like shit for the first few days anyway.  There was the comedian; who will make a joke at your expense, the hard nut; who will show himself to be the hard nut by glaring threateningly and make it clear as to the exact dimensions of his bed space, (cross that line and you are dead), the green brain (so called because they even think in army terms when on leave) etc.  The lot I was introduced to included a guy called “Titch” Winder so called due to his lack of height, Ads (Adcock) who I mentioned before as he thought he was Suggs from Madness, Ian Mills, who had a fantastic bushy moustache and Allan Tonner, who I remember as being a decent guy and had better say that, as he reads this.  He, Ian and I would spend nights on guard duty writing and singing songs, using the bogs as a studio due to their excellent echo qualities.  

Our block was laid out as follows; first and foremost the Squadron Bar was in the Attic, because those with the need to get mashed most nights could roll down stairs and into bed!  The wash rooms, laundry, drying rooms and showers were in the centre of each floor with dorms and rooms either end and the stores and troop offices were in the basement.  The armoury was in the attic as well, but safely walled off from the bar! The cookhouse was just down from our block, next to a hall and the guardroom was next to that, by the camp entrance.  The square separated our block from the other squadron blocks and the NAAFI was opposite the cookhouse.  Just outside the camp gates, across the road was a Grosso Market (supermarket) that did a fine line in cheap Liebfraumilch, (1 deutsche mark for a litre about 25p back then).  There was also a fast food place just down the road that did a fine half chicken and chips with mayonnaise (Hahnchen mit Pommes unt Mayo, the Germans put mayo on chips way before we thought of it!) as well as Currywurst and bratwurst (bratties) and Bockwurst (bokkies), all mit pommes unt mayo.  

We were given a bed space, a locker, a bedside locker, a bed and a mattress and that was it.  However, noting the hard nuts words of wisdom, I found that unlike in training, where everyone had exactly the same amount of space, in the “real” army, you got what was left or was to be sacrificed by another squaddie.  And so, I lived unable to fully open my locker doors for a few weeks until I became better known and some other unfortunate sap joined our troop and became the centre of attention.  What I did notice very quickly was that there were some very attractive German girls, who quite liked the Soldiers.  Typical me, you may think, and you'd be right, I was to get very attached to some, not too attached to others and into some very funny situations with most of them. I will stop here as to relate the story of my first foray into downtown Neinburg and a trip to the Weser Bar and the Treff Punkt Bar to drink my first and only “Engineer” requires more space. 

Sunday, 28 November 2010

A Punch in the Guts never hurt anyone either! - 1982-1983

The pulse in Sergeant Cameron’s temple was visible as he paced up and down the line. He was fuming and we were the cause, in fact he was so angry that the rage almost appeared as a vapour evaporating from him, in much the same way as a dog turd steams when laid in fresh snow on a cold winter’s morning. There were at least ten of us, lined up in one of the dorm rooms, a gathering of our Trained Soldiers Cadre (TSC) looked on as Sgt Cameron vented his spleen and those lined up alongside me, quaked in their boots. One of those looking on had managed to tunnel so far up Sgt Cameron’s arse, that he was still wiping his brown nose whilst we stood there watching, a smirk playing on his lips. He knew, that we knew, who he was and what he had done to ensure we were now lined up facing certain physical retribution.

I admit to two things: - (a) yes I (we) had disobeyed a direct order from Sgt Cameron and (b) I was not in the least bit scared anymore, of him or anyone else. Of the latter, this was because I had been bullied, pounded, beasted, charged to the tune of over half a year’s salary and endured more than 60 days physical punishment during the past two years. The bullying, mainly from NCO’s, who should have known better, like Q Cadre, (see blog “Those are my Nipples you know”) had in fact made me grow up and stand up for myself, so thanks for that, but more over I had developed what the Spaniards term “Cojones” or Balls.

As for disobeying orders, if the reader refers to the blog entitled “To shave or not to shave, that is the question!” you will find reference to the Trained Soldiers Cadre carrying out their “beasting night”. To recap; senior boy soldiers would gather up squads of previously sleeping new intake boy soldiers and march them around camp, covering them in camouflage cream, boot polish and shaving foam. They would be taken to the various messes for inspection by the officers and NCO’s. I had been soundly beasted once or twice and so was firmly of the opinion that a little bit of beasting back was justified. I am not condoning my behaviour by the way, I was an idiot to do it, but at least I took the punishment to come. The “order” Sgt Cameron gave was that under no circumstances was anyone in the TSC, to beast anyone. My brain responded with “eh? What? What did he say? Eh?”

But I should give a little bit more background to Sgt Cameron, as I do not want him to come out as being unfair, as he was far from it. Sgt Cameron was posted to the College as a Drill Sgt and arrived as I was well into my second year. He was very sporty, (as long as the sport was football) and quickly set about forming a team from our company. I was a Goalkeeper through and through, I had tried the right winger role, but felt I was better placed between the sticks and so I tried out for the job. Sgt Cameron formed 2 teams from those trying out and we played a game, in which, although I do say so myself, I pulled off 3 superb saves. One, a flying jump and dive to the top right hand corner, to tip the ball round the goal, was rewarded with the Sgt running over (he was referring the game), hugging me and saying in his Glaswegian drawl, “Anyone who can save a shot like that, is in my team, you’re in son!” I was so pleased that I was distracted enough to allow the opposition to then score 3 goals in succession, one even going through my legs, but he said they were defensive errors and not my fault, so there!

But I had made an impression and so made the team. He was a tough but fair guy and made our TSC fun and a great learning experience. I admired him and respected him right up until the order regards “beasting”, and actually felt I had let him down when lined up with my co-conspirators. He was generous with the smoke breaks we asked for as we were drilled on the square with our rifles (which I really enjoyed). The TSC was all about getting us ready to join the “proper” army, where we would be serving alongside men, not boys and expected to get stuck in should the opportunity arise and be required and it very nearly was, had I been passing through Chepstow a few years earlier.

The “opportunity” that passed me by due to my age was the Falklands War. In actual fact, I was going home on leave during May 1982 and as I travelled between Paddington and Liverpool Street stations in London, I spotted signs and police officers telling all “Regular” Army soldiers’ and members of all the armed forces, to return to their units straight away. I called Chepstow and was told to go on leave, so I did. I do not intend to relate the whole story of the War, merely to say that, I have only the utmost respect for those serving then and now and we are fortunate to have a Military such as ours to protect us.

Our kit was starting to resemble not only its original state, but an improvement upon that, as the creases were sharper than knives and our bulled boots shone like mirrors, and woe betide you if they didn’t! We were taken to the ranges near Newport to shoot our rifles and then clean the buggers, which as I have said I hated. The great bit was working the range targets in what is called “the butts”, operating mechanical boards, with two targets affixed, when one was raised, the other target lowered, to be marked, pasted with a new target and readied for the next shooter. There was always an urn of piping hot tea in the butts, you could smoke freely, it was sheltered from the elements and you usually ended up having a real laugh.

Sgt Cameron had called us to attention and delivered his order in our final week of the TSC. Under no circumstances was anyone to beast or even look at any new recruits, if anyone was caught, there would be trouble, big trouble. I was left in no doubt, nor was anyone else, that he was serious. A few days later, having had a few beers in the NAAFI and feeling rather relaxed and pleased with ourselves, my co-conspirators and I wandered back to the block, it was not late, around 10pm. The final week of TSC was fairly easy going, we’d done our work and apart from daily drill sessions and kit inspections, we had plenty of time on our hands, to polish our kit and think about home, as we had a few weeks leave prior to going to Minley Manor, Surrey and 3 Training Regiment, where bullying, beasting and brawling, were all part of the daily pleasures coming our way! How ironic!

Whilst we were sitting, smoking, messing with one lads CB radio, drinking tea and telling jokes, someone mentioned (no it was not me) paying a visit to the new guys rooms and saying hello, “what harm could be done getting them to buff the lino on the stairs, wash the loo’s again, run them around a bit, and administer a bit of cam cream to their faces”? “No harm whatsoever”, we all said, although someone may have mentioned Sgt Cameron’s order, we ignored them, dolts! I do not intend to defend myself here; it was a stupid act and deserved punishment. To be honest, it was nothing like the treatment metered out to me and it was over and done with pretty quickly, as it turned out to be boring.

The following morning, we were up and about as normal, then the guy who’d spilt the beans came and told those he knew who were responsible to get down to his ground floor dormitory. I was totally calm as I entered the room, Sgt Cameron pacing about, swearing and pushing each arrival into line. He said we’d let ourselves down and were wanker’s etc. He said that were we not leaving that week, he would have charged the lot of us, but decided the punishment would be for each to take a punch in the guts and if we backed off, there would be more to come for each one who moved. So punishment was more violence, fair enough. I was the last in line and he started with vigour, catching the first guy a beauty, knocking the wind from him and down he went. Everyone looked shocked that he was actually doing it. I stood there and watched as he moved along the line and observed a couple of the guys step back, move and bend forward a bit, only to be shouted at (screamed at) to stand still and given the benefit of a generous pasting.

I resolved to stand my ground, look him in the eye and take it. Fuck it, I had been through worse than this over the last two years, one punch to the midriff was sod all and I was not about to let the dickhead who ran to the Sgt, (the lickspittle), take any pleasure in seeing me bleat or beg or cringe. Fuck it, stand up, shoulders back and take it for once! He moved along with a certain √©lan; “oof”, “argh”, came the noises and I pulled myself straight and looked directly at the twat who’d grassed. I should have stepped out and looked at myself in retrospect; I was there because of my actions not his. As the Sgt moved along the line, some stepped right back and a couple even cowered down, to these he really lashed out, shouting and punching like a dervish and not holding back at all, fuck me!

My turn; I look at Sgt Cameron, he looks disappointed. I stand still, he pulls his arm back, I brace myself and tense my stomach muscles, he paused and said “you fucking idiot, I expected more” and aimed his fist into my gut. I did not flinch, would not give anyone the satisfaction of seeing me move let alone groan. I stood there and stared right back at him, so he did me another one for good measure. I said “Sorry sarge”, he turned away and walked out of the room. I turned to the grass and said...................nothing, what could I say?

The Passing Out Parade involved lots of marching to the band, past the Camp Commandant, Colonel W.M Addison RE, who took the salute and inspected the parade. None of my family made it there, but many parents and friends of the others did and it was a well attended day. The next time we would meet was at Minley Manor in a few weeks. Prior to the Parade, we were informed of where we would end up once our Combat Engineering Training was completed. The process was one similar to many parents choosing schools for their kids, three preferences in order and you’d usually end up with the one you least wished for.

A couple of real examples; I asked to be posted to either: Waterbeach in Cambridgeshire, Tidworth in Wiltshire or Ripon in Yorkshire, as these were Combat Engineer Strategic Reserve regiments, meaning you would invariably travel overseas quite a bit, to varied locations. I got Neinburg Weser, 21 Engineer Regiment in Germany, near Hannover. Meanwhile, Rick Manning asked for 28 Engineer Regiment in Hameln as his brother was there or any other German base and he got Tidworth, stunning! Mind you the benefits for me would be that Mark Cameron was based in Neinburg and Mick Hayes a mate from my company at Chepstow was also posted there with me, so a few familiar faces would be about.

One of the final acts was to sign on when you reached the age of 18 years old. This meant you were a “man” and therefore ready to sign again on the dotted line. You could sign for 3, 6 or 9 years; the Company Corporal always had 9 years written down against your name. I said I would sign for 6 years, to which he said, “They don’t do that anymore mate”. So I said “3 years then”, to which he started swearing saying, “why join up for only 3 years you prick, do you want to be an Engineer or not?” etc. I am sure he was earning bonuses linked to the number he got to sign on for 9 years. In the end I signed for 6 years. It was all smoke and mirrors anyway. I just felt that to sign for 9 years was too much, but as it happened, my actual length of service was to be taken out of my hands anyway by circumstances way beyond my control, circumstances that were to have repercussions on my life to this very day.

It was quite strange leaving Chepstow; I had survived in spite of myself, (my family had expected me home within 6 weeks apparently) and I had grown up, dramatically. I had made a lasting friendship with the guy who was supposed to kick the crap out of me, (yea right!) and had lost my inhibitions, my cherry and my temper. I had moved on from drinking Cider, Cider and Blackcurrant, Lager and Blackcurrant, Pernod and Blackcurrant and variations on the theme of Blackcurrant and was drinking simple pints of Lager, with the occasional splash of lime or lemonade top. I looked forward to the training to come (as I was totally unaware of the aggravation it involved) and headed home on leave to spend my money (what little I had left) and to relax.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Stupidity, Strippers and Sign Writing - 1982

The famous philosopher Forrest Gump once posited that “Stupid is as stupid does”. During my lifetime I’ve seen, I’ve done, some stupid things. Whilst at Chepstow, I witnessed possibly one of the more extreme examples of stupidity that, were YouTube around, would have been ranked up there for hits with “Charlie Bit Me”! The winter of 1982/3 down in south Wales was a beauty, loads of snow and really cold. Our military leaders saw this as a chance for us to experience Arctic Warfare, by taking us up to Sennybridge in the Brecon Beacons and force marching us around for a few days. Our kit was not the most waterproof and thus we suffered from horribly cracked feet and cold aches as the gear was never going to dry out under a tarpaulin overnight. The exercise resembled orienteering, in so far as we were given maps and compasses and sent on our way to locate various items placed about the moors. It was not that bad actually, not until we arrived at the SAS Training assault course, whose obstacles were located in a series of ditches and ponds and consisted of long concrete tunnels half or fully submerged in water, through which we had to go. I was a little claustrophobic but not excessively so and made my way through these gamely.

It was the snow and ice, freezing wind and desperate cold that pissed me off. I am and always have been a summer man, hate the winter, love the summer, rather too hot than cold me! We completed the exercise and headed back to Chepstow, only to find that the camp was some feet under a blanket of snow. Fair enough, I like a bit of snow, in fact the more the better, as the odd flake or two tends to turn to slush too soon and is crap, so if its got to be winter, then bloody snow properly or don’t bother. My brothers in arms were ecstatic and did not hesitate to get involved in snowball fights and the like. One evening, with a gale blowing outside, the snow was banking up against the rear of our building. Our block was three stories high and the back of it looked across a small grass area, which then dropped away through trees towards the River Wye and the trade shops. Two blocks were on our side of the quadrangle, end on end and the grassy area was level with the buildings, then banked up some 10 feet out and then flattened out again as it approached the trees.

The snow was drifting and laying very thickly between the building and the banking and presented an opportunity that one of our number found hard to resist. A Scottish lad from Glasgow had decided that it would be a “clever” idea to leap from the secondary storey window into the snow drift. The first we knew of it was a loud cheer reverberating around the block as he landed successfully and headed back in for another try. Not to be outdone, a few others had a go and were successful, insofar as they did not hurt themselves. The Scot then decided he would leap from the third storey and we gathered at windows alongside and below as he summoned the courage to leap, egged on both those behind. Off he went and through some miracle landed again in a deep drift.

By now, the block next to ours had woken up to the commotion and one or two of them had come into our block to watch, with one of them leaping out after the Scottish lad from the third floor. He then returned to his own block and tried the same feat from their third floor, only to find upon landing that there wasn’t a drift below him, the ground was flat and he snapped both femurs quite nicely. So nicely, that they were compound fractures. Amid the fracas that followed as the guard was called out, ambulances ordered and the poor sod whisked off to Newport Hospital, the evening's stuntmen skulked off, assuming they had escaped sanction, but the following morning their names were called and they were all charged.

Stupidity amongst young men with too much time on their hands is one thing, but the ineptitude of leaders to foresee the impact of poor decision making is quite another.

The Saturday night disco’s were always popular with the lads and the NAAFI, in partnership with the camp had a committee, which organised events such as movie nights, the disco’s and matches between our Pool and Darts Teams and local Public Houses and Clubs. Our Apprentice Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM), the most senior ranking apprentice, was on the committee, as were other apprentices and “grown up” Sergeants and Officers. They had all obviously had a combined brain fart during one meeting, as in their “wisdom” they decided the apprentices would enjoy an evening of “adult” entertainment. They went ahead and booked a “blue” comedian and a selection of strippers and sold tickets to the evening, which I believe was held on a week night.

Due to my ongoing battle with authority, I was without the funds required, i.e. I was skint through being fined; and so did not go. But, as with all such things, where things go wrong and unplanned events take place, the grapevine shall provide and so it was that the following morning, stories circulated around the camp as to what happened that evening. Instead of the expected "subtle titillation" and gentle banter that accompanies such evenings, the strippers were rather too enthusiastic and fellated a young apprentice right in front of everyone else.  Then continued to enter into the swing of things providing "hand shandy's" to any youngster brave enough to drop his grots and take to the stage (and there were quite a few takers apparently). It was even muted that a couple of lads got to park their bikes backstage after the show.

Now all this might be seen (and could have been taken) as mere boisterousness, to be dealt with by the Leadership with a quick slap behind the ear and a “think about it lad”, had not the strippers decided that the story presented an opportunity to earn additional £’s by selling their stories to the Sun Newspaper (the UK’s biggest selling daily paper). So a few days later the front page (no less!) carried a headline along the lines of, “Army pays strippers to service boy soldiers” and went on to tell of the nights events from the strippers point of view, embellished with tales of young, randy soldiers, “forcing” the women to perform “lewd and disgraceful acts” in front of a howling mob, baying for more! All true I promise you, and it carried on into the weekend’s papers as well, with questions raised at the highest levels as to the appropriateness of such “entertainment”.

The fallout meant that the Apprentice RSM was sadly demoted to Apprentice CSM, another CSM promoted to RSM in his place. The sad thing was that as App RSM, you lead the Passing Out Parade for your intake group which is an immensely proud moment for those in that position. I think a few others got a slapped wrist, but the App RSM took the brunt of it.

So, there are two examples of stupidity for you, to go along with my own, just by way of checks and balances.

Back home, Mum was getting along a little better and she and my sister were sending me regular food parcels! Very kind of them to, although I think they thought I was serving in a war zone judging by the amount of food and goodies sent to me, which always included a box of Chocolate Cupcakes, which were then, a firm favourite of mine. In the summer of 1982, a few months before I left Chepstow, there was an Open Day, with the local civilian population, parents and families of apprentices coming from all over the UK as well. My Mum, Sister and brother Julian decided they would come down from Norwich, so I booked them into the Castle Hotel in Chepstow, as it looked half decent, was bang in the town centre and on the bus route to camp. They travelled down the day before and amid torrential rain, found their way to the hotel. The hotel had some rooms with Bay windows which looked out onto the main street.

During the evening, the rain came into their room in a line between the bay window and the main room, much like a waterfall only not where you’d want a waterfall. The room was cold and soaking wet, but there was nowhere else to go, so they stuck it out until morning, but I heard all about it the next day and the Hotel staff behaved as if this was the norm and that just made them feel all the more terrible. I was really pleased that they had travelled down to see the world I was working and living in, my only real memory of it though is that I had to salute one of the officers as we walked together through the camp, down to the trade shops.

More Stupidity –
The final few months at Chepstow proved very eventful as John Steed, Rick Manning and I were firmly of the mind that there had to be an easy way to gain a qualification in Painting and Decorating and set about investigating the possibilities. The last module involved sign-writing and was a culmination of all we had learned to date. We were given a board, one inch thick, six feet high and four feet wide. On one side was a false door frame and window frame, to be painted, against a colour scheme of our own design. On the reverse was a smooth panel, which had to be prepared to a glass like finish, and then have sign written on it the words, “Army Apprentices College” and “Royal Engineers”. The sign writing had to be designed by hand, had to reflect specific styles and required hours of work, using tracing paper and various other materials to transfer the design from paper onto the panel. An old example of this work was stood in the corner of the room and it seemed the most natural thing to trace the old version onto paper and transfer it on to our boards. In other words, cheat.
Besides, I was busy of an evening, as were the others, smoking and drinking tea, dancing at the disco etc.

The strange thing is that it did not occur to my simplistic mind, that it was cheating, and so I never felt I was doing anything underhand at all. That’s me being a numbnuts again. One has to consider that the final article had to be spot on; we still had to prepare the piece, paint it and show all the skills our colleagues showed, except we did not have the design elements. Come the marking, Sgt Honess looked at mine and the others and held my tracing paper against first my work, then Ricks and then John’s, and guess what? They each matched my trace and that of the example board. When asked why I had done it, I offered the explanation that I was using my “engineer’s initiative” (a watch word in the regiment). It was a glib and immediately regretted remark and showed no respect for the regiment nor those who had worked so hard for their qualification.

Looking back, I should have been (we should have been) made an example of, but, for some reason, we were marked fairly and passed, with the design elements marks not included. We were all charged and I served the last 4 days Restriction of Privileges of my 69 days in total and was fined £60. We also got a smack in the mouth from Q Cadre for our troubles.

So, I was about to enter that last few weeks of my time at Chepstow. We had a new Drill Sergeant, Sgt Cameron, to lead us through and lead us he did. The last few weeks would finally make me grow up, stand up and mature, again through an act of ignoring an order.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

To sleep, perchance to dream? - 1982

My apprenticeship was going well, my fitness was improving, and to top it off the Brunette from Oxford, (the one on the train to Glasgow) had written to say she was going to be in Bristol on a Thursday night coming up and did I want to meet up? Too right I did, and I planned my excursion, coercing my roommates into covering for me in case I was late back. I organised a late night pass (statutory requirement) and via train made my way over to Bristol.

You may wonder where Angie figured in all of this chicanery, and you would be right to ask. I was after all still going out with her at this time, it’s just that I was back then, not the most loyal of boyfriends and in fact would go as far to say as I was downright devious if I thought there was mileage in pursuing a pretty girl for a shag. I was and remain a flirt, (not lecherous or nasty), after all, I was aiming to achieve world renown as a commentator and admirer, on and of, the female form. So Angie figured in so much as she lived in Bristol and I ran the risk of being caught with my trousers down, if you get my meaning!

So off I went, a plan safely stashed in my hip pocket that would see me delivered to the Brunettes her door and her bed and returned to my door and my bed, well before daybreak and not suffering too much as a consequence. As it was to turn out I was beyond help already, but of course did not know it. Once trade shops had finished, I dashed into my room, changed and was on the bus to the train station. I was in Bristol by 7pm and we met in her hotel bar. A quick meal, a few beers and we were back to her room for some serious shenanigans. Me being me, I totally ignored the clock in the room and my watch and rose from my exertions far too late for the bus or train back to Chepstow that night. I was also very short of the cab fare back from Bristol to Beachley Barracks; I was in the shit, big time!

In my haste to provide her with as thorough a service(ing) as possible, I had spent more on drinks than I intended and despite having my Lloyds Bank Cash point card to hand, did not have enough in my account to help. Thus, I decided to seek help from various nightwalkers, the cabbie, the truck driver, the motorist. The cabbie looked at my meagre offering and request as to how far the few pounds I had left would get me, “not worth me starting the car mate” he said. The distance to camp was near on 30 miles, it was past midnight and so I started jogging. I headed out of Bristol and kept on going, thumb out as soon as any vehicle came along and pretty sparse was the traffic; I was some way into the run, before I secured my only lift of the night, one that took me from Avonmouth to Aust services at the Severn Bridge. That was a fair chunk out of the trip, but by now it was getting on for 04:00 and I was pretty knackered already. There was only one Severn Bridge then and it ran straight over the camp, the Assault Course was actually underneath the bridge and running alongside that assault course was a line of trees, high trees, trees with substantial limbs that reached tantalisingly close to the bridge.

I jogged along the pavement over the bridge and reached the point where the closest tree stretched her arms invitingly towards me. I had heard tales of guys who had made the leap into the tree, and dropped safely into camp. I had also heard tales of those who had not been so lucky, who had met with broken legs and arms as the dropped through the branches, bouncing Rambo style down onto the grass, but unlike Rambo, requiring a hospital bed after the fall through the trees. I don’t know how long I contemplated that leap; but it was longer than I should have.

I actually climbed over the barriers and stood, wrong side, judging the distance and leaning out as if by doing so, it would give me confidence to leap. But sense, along with thoughts of being seen as a total dickhead and worse still, dead, saw me back over the barrier and jogging towards the end of the bridge. The journey into Chepstow has changed over the years, back then; it was uphill into town, downhill towards the town centre and bridge over the River Wye, then uphill again until the turn down hill towards the camp. It could have been a really nice run that morning, in fact at times I quite enjoyed it, greeting the Milkmen and paperboys, smelling the fresh air and the scents from the farms. I ran the whole way from the Severn Bridge to camp and as I approached the gates, the sun was rising and I was totally done in.

I slowed to a walk and entered camp, showing my ID card at the gate at just after 07:00 and walked towards the block, which took me past the guardroom. There, cleaning their rifles, were my platoon and as I passed, shouts of “you’re in the shit” met my ears. I was called over by a Sergeant and advised to “run” to the company offices and wait outside the Company Sergeant Majors (CSM) office. I ran until out of sight and wandered into the offices, where the Company Admin Corporal asked me what I wanted. I told him what was happening and with a grin, he sent me down the corridor to wait for the CSM, who turned up not much later. I marched in and told him I had missed weapons parade as I was just back from Bristol, why I had gone to Bristol and what my journey back had entailed. He looked at me and asked”did you shag her”? I told him I had. “Who were you thinking of when you shagged her” he asked, “I was thinking of you, Sir” I said. “Good, now fuck off and get changed into your kit”. So, a right result, a tale to tell and all’s well that ends well. Only, I was not to be that lucky, oh no, not me, I had to make it through the day ahead yet and as I made my way down to the trade shops I was feeling a touch too smug for my own good.

The Paint Shop was made up of classrooms, a spray shop and a couple of rooms that held replica walls and doors and boards on which we practised and displayed our work. The classrooms were always warm and it was not unknown for the odd head to nod during the day, especially after a heavy lunch and a pint in the NAAFI. That morning we had a theory lesson with Mr Pope, a genial Welshman, who was fair minded and open to more smoke break requests being asked for and agreed to than the other instructors. After morning break we sat listening to him and my head gently lowered as his soft lilting voice described the wonders of varnish or gloss, or some such bollocks. I slept until prodded by a colleague and blinked as I opened my eyes, Mr Pope standing over me and scowling. I said sorry and we moved on, nothing was said then and I thought I had dealt with that pretty well all told, you know, apologising nicely. We marched back up to the blocks for lunch and paraded outside again ready to march back down for the afternoons lessons. Sgt Hume, a stocky, shaven headed, bull necked Drill Sgt called my name and asked me to step out of the group. “Mr Weaver here decided to fall asleep during Mr Pope’s class today, so I intend to wake him up on the way down to trade this afternoon” he said, “oh shit” I thought. I looked across to the offices and the CSM was looking out of his window, shaking his head, I smile back weakly, fearing and expecting the worst Sgt Hume could throw at me.

Tic Toc marching is the same as any normal marching, except that you march twice, even three times faster. Try saying the words “left, right, left, right” continually, as fast as you can, without tripping over yourself and that is the speed of Tic Toc. You may wonder how the Sgt keeps up as you speed away at a great rate of knots, simple, he orders “Mark Time”, which means marching on the spot until ordered to “Quick March” again, once has had ambled up to where you are beating a hole in the roadway with your boots.

It was around 400 metres from block to trade shop, direct route. I can only assume that Sgt Hume decided he wanted to see more of the camp that day, as we took in an interesting route via the NAAFI, Corporals Mess, Cookhouse, Gym, other accommodation blocks, the Assault Course, Sports fields, Sgt’s Mess and Drill Square, all in 15 minutes. By this time I was nicely shattered and had learned my lesson, but hell hath no fury like a bored drill Sgt with an attitude, so we progressed nicely along to the Guardroom, where whilst I marked time outside, Sgt Hume collected a rifle. The 7.62mm Self Loading Rifle, unloaded (no bullets or magazine), weighs 4.337kg (9.5 pounds), (not a swot, I looked it up). Not too heavy I grant you, but Sgt Hume’s methods of carrying the gun soon convinced me otherwise. I had to lift the gun over my head, arms straight up and off we went again, back to the square.

Sgt Hume lit a smoke and standing in the drill shed, watched as I jogged round the drill square, some 600 metres or so. I soon fashioned a way of carrying the rifle to ease the strain, which was to grasp the end of the barrel and the end of the shoulder rest (or Butt) and lock my arms at the elbow. This worked for a time, but eventually, the weight and the distance started to take their toll and slowly, inexorably, I started to flag and the gun got lower and lower. “Lift that fucking gun up, or I will shove it up your arse” or supportive type comments such as that, came from Sgt Hume. His drill boots smacked on the square as he marched out into the centre, all the better to keep an eye on me.

Commentary such as “This will teach you to fall asleep in Mr Popes class, you sack of shit” kept me interested as I tripped and stumbled my way around the square and eventually tripped right over. “Get the fuck up! If you bleed on that square, I’ll fuck you with that rifle, you.............(you get the picture)”. By this time, tears streaming down my face, I was more in need of a kip, than I was that morning; the irony was not lost on me nor him! We returned the rifle and continued our tour of camp, eventually, an hour and a half after departure, arriving at the Paint Shop. “Keep marking time, whilst I go and get Mr Pope, and if you stop, I’ll fucking know” he said, as he went in.

I did stop, briefly, to dry my eyes and sort myself out a bit, as there was no way that civvie sheep shagger was going to see me crying, just because his feelings got hurt as I'd slept through his class, the fuckwit. Sgt Hume and Mr Pope came out of the office, and I was told to apologise to Mr Pope, which I did. Mr Pope went back in and Sgt Hume came up real close to my face and said something along the lines of “don’t do it again”! It worked.

I completed that day’s work and headed back to my bed as soon as I could and for a while entertained my roommates with my tales, but eventually, retired to my pit. The only trouble being that a group of sweaty blokes aren’t that keen on keeping the noise down early doors, but I was so shattered, I was out like a light and slept the sleep of the beaten.

(Sorry for the lapse between the last blog and this one, normal service is now resumed).

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Girls, Walks, Girls, Climbing, Girls, and more girls - 1981- 1982

And so it came to pass, I was on 2 weeks leave at home in Norwich, my younger brother Julian was 16, good looking and a hit with the girls and even though he was younger than me, he was more mature, wise and confident. Jules had been boxing for some time, taught by our brother-in-law David, who had been an accomplished amateur and had seen something in Julian that he could develop. Julian had 3 competitive fights and won them all. I had money (not much due to fines in the Army), but enough to get us into Nightclubs and Julian was popular and well known. He also attracted attention from those boys who saw their girlfriends heading towards Jules and we had more than one run in with gangs of boys outside of Ritzy’s nightclub in Norwich. Ritzy’s was typical of all nightclubs, girls dancing round their handbags, boys circling the dance floor, trying to catch the eye of the girl they fancied. Those who had managed to match up and wanted to get going (if you know what I mean), were laid out around the periphery swapping tongues and doing their best to get entangled as much as possible. If you were not careful you’d find yourself tripping over one couple and landing on another.

One evening, with Mum away on holiday, I was sat downstairs at home, whilst Julian was upstairs with his girlfriend. He came down and asked me whether I would like to play cards with them both! Strip Poker was the name of the game, the prize, sexual congress with his girlfriend. Apparently, she fancied me and had convinced Jules that asking me to “pay her some attention” was a good idea. Not one to be rude, I ensured that I dealt the cards and therefore won every hand. Julian then “absented” himself and I did what I had to do and lost my virginity. It was memorable in so far as in the circumstances in which it happened, but I do not remember fireworks and a host of angels singing, more Jules coming back into the room with a bottle of cider and saying something along the lines of “you all done then?” I made my excuses and went back downstairs, but I had found something I wanted to be good at, at last. I had had an epiphany. I decided with a clear mind that I would endeavour to become as accomplished at sex as it was possible to become, after all it was fun, was exercise as it required some gymnastics and improved stamina, was pleasurable and made you happy and if you were any good, made your partner happy as well. What I did not realise, was that everyone thought exactly the same thing, I was no different from anyone else, BUT, I had decided to practice, practice, practice!

So, armed with this new found goal, I headed back to Chepstow and come the night of the next Disco, I headed towards the girl I had decided would be mine, Angie. She was tall, well proportioned and looked great in cut offs and a tight sweater. What I did not know was that she had been seeing another apprentice named Malcolm (Ozzie) Austwick, who had left Chepstow a month ago and was at Camberley, doing his Combat Engineer course. He had heard from others including Angie’s mate (Shelley) that I was now going out with Angie and he decided to pay a visit to Chepstow one Saturday, to seek out the usurper and if necessary, give him a slap. He came armed, not with knives, but with something far more dangerous, a Black Belt in Shotokan Karate named Mark Cameron.

Fortunately, prior warning was given to me by Angie, that a showdown was imminent and I sought protection from my mates, Rick, Wingnut, Gary and John Steed. We headed over to the NAAFI and settled into our routine of beer, dancing, toasties and more beer. Mark and the Malcolm turned up, the showdown was on. We met in the bar and sized one another up. Then a former mate of Ozzie came over and dragged him off for a chat, I looked at Mark, he looked at me, I said “beer?” he said “yes” and so started a friendship that continues to this day. I might add that it is a friendship that has never faltered, never sought one to outdo the other, has never questioned in its loyalty, never felt forced, never needed to be reassured, never been diminished by distance. It is a friendship that endures through honesty, a shared love of life, it has never been needy, vacuous or insincere and the longer it stays that way the stronger it gets.

We drank ourselves into a friendship that night and I continue to celebrate my luck in finding such a friend. Mark went back to Camberley and I remained at Chepstow, now safe in the knowledge that my going out with Angie was not going to cause any more trouble. There were lads who lived in Bristol and who knew Angie and Shelley who were obviously annoyed at their girls going to the army camp every Saturday. These guys used a pub called The Jolly Cobbler and were know (quite aptly) as the Cobbler Boys. Angie spoke of them in reverential terms for some reason, but when I went over to Staple Hill in Bristol to meet her parents, we went to the Jolly Cobbler and I saw nothing to worry me.

If you were an Apprentice Sergeant and higher, you were given your own room, could decorate it with posters have your own TV and were not subject to inspections. Also, (contrary to rules) you had somewhere to take girls! I had two mates with rooms, Mick Hayes, (by now Apprentice Sergeant Major) and another chap, whose name slips my mind. Both were open to my using their rooms on a Saturday night, Mick more often frequented the Ferry Pub than the disco and had been seeing a sergeant’s daughter, who lived in the family quarters. It’s fair to say that Angie and I made as much use of these rooms as possible; no sooner had the bus dropped the girls off, than we were into the block and only came out when the bus arrived to take the girls back home.

Eventually, I decided to bring Angie home, to meet my mum and brothers and we travelled up to Norwich on the train. Angie was immense fun; she was garrulous and gregarious in equal measure, outgoing and extroverted beyond a care. She fitted in with my Mum and brothers (Richard and Julian) and we went out and about in Norwich. Mum would not have any of her sons sharing a room with a girlfriend and so Angie took the small bedroom over the garage, and I shared the large back bedroom with Richard, whilst Julian had his room over the kitchen. At every chance we got, we were in the small bedroom, whenever Mum went out, we went in. Unfortunately, we became careless and mid coitus Mum walked in on us. She did walk straight out again, but we both got the silent treatment from Mum for the rest of that day, which is more uncomfortable than being told off. One morning, I was downstairs in the kitchen with Richard and Mum when Angie decided she would make me jump, by appearing from nowhere, naked as the day she was born, as I came up the stairs and onto the landing. She leapt up and jumped towards me, only it wasn’t me, it was Richard and I think they surprised one another, as she ran off into her room and Richard came back downstairs laughing his head off.

The next day, I went upstairs into Julian’s room to find Angie in his bed, with him! They weren’t up to anything, Angie being Angie, she simply wandered into his room and to make herself comfortable, had gotten into his bed for a chat, (yea right JW I hear you say). However, Angie and I were starting to drift apart and I remember a horrible argument as she wanted me to spend Christmas in Bristol, and I was dead against that idea. She decided to go back home early and I was quite determined to let her go alone. After she had left, I worried myself stupid, until I knew she was safe back home, and I admit crying to my Mum that I had hurt her a great deal. However, that was that, we were finished and I was soon looking around for someone new.

Being part of the Climbing Club was probably my fondest memory of Chepstow. Staff Sergeant Grenville Christopher, a true Cornishman, was our leader; he treated us as adults, dispensed knowledge, not bullshit, gave us opportunities to learn and make mistakes and was fun. He nicknamed me Willie Weaver (because I got the willies when climbing) and I looked up to him. Every Wednesday afternoon he would take us along the Wye Valley, to climb the cliffs over the River Wye. On weekends, we would go farther afield, to Cheddar Gorge for instance and as we became more experienced, we started to go down to Cornwall to the farthest point, Lands End and the exciting challenges that Sennen Cove held for climbers.

Mind you the lure of the nightclubs in Penzance and the women on holiday was also an attraction in itself. His enthusiasm was contagious and we were enthralled by his ability to climb and to get us to attempt climbs that we would never have approached had he not prodded and cajoled us. He gave us courage to try and it worked, as we began abseiling down sheer cliffs and then climbing back up and I even bought a pair of EB’s (climbing boots) and have since passed them down to my nieces husband, who has now passed them down to his son! One of the civilian trade teachers was into hill walking and approached the climbing club looking for guys to accompany him on a walk through the Scottish glens. It “seemed” like a good idea at the time, so I signed up. The plan was; train to Bristol, train to Birmingham and onto Glasgow, another train to Rannoch Moor, then walk over hills, mountains and around lochs to end up at Fort William, via Ben Nevis, taking in the mountains of Aonach Mor, Aonach Beag and Binnein Beag by way of the Blackwater Reservoir.

All this seemed far off as we clambered aboard the guards van on the train at Bristol, with the instructor asking us to “not wander too far”. As if we could, we were on a train! I ambled through the carriages towards the buffet car and the bar, the others, settled into the seats in the guards van (sitting on their back packs). I bought a can of beer and spotted a seat, bang opposite a very pretty brunette and by Cheltenham we were firm friends. By Birmingham we were sitting side by side and by the time we pulled into Glasgow, we had managed to stop kissing long enough to swap details and we arranged to meet up in Bristol. She was from Oxfordshire and travelled to Bristol with work sometimes, so she’d write (how quaint, no mobiles back then remember) and tell me when we could meet up, which hotel she was staying at etc. Date secured, and much to the disbelief of my chums in the guards van, we set off across Glasgow to Queens Street Station, to catch a train out to Rannoch Moor.

On the way up!!

We went past Rannoch Moor station which is a small building; and travelled onwards until we got off the train at a raised wooden platform – nothing more, no buildings and a vast desolate moor stretching out towards the hills beyond. Oh Great! We set off to find a Bothy; these are small basic shelters, usually made of stone, left unlocked for use by walkers and ramblers. They usually come with a few candles, something to hold water and a fireplace for heating and cooking. We trudged along and up the hills we went, lead by this slightly eccentric bloke, amid terrible weather. Soaked through we spent 3 days wandering around getting lost and wetter and wetter, sleeping in Bothies when we would find them (usually well after dark).
I am second left, looking knackered!!
At one point we were walking across the sloping summit of Aonach Mor, it was sheet ice and the plan was to traverse across to Ben Nevis. We were slipping and sliding all over the place, we hadn’t any ropes to tie us together, had walking boots on but no crampons for walking on ice and I was firmly of the mind that someone was going to go over the edge. I decided that it was far too dangerous and went back down to the Bothy we had dumped our stuff in and waited for them to return. Hours later, they trudged back in, I had prepared soup and set a roaring fire and they were all pleased to be back safe. We set off for Fort William the following morning and as soon as we got into town, ate a hearty breakfast and waited for the pub to open. We travelled back, sore, bruised and knackered; I had decided that hill walking was not for me!
Civvie Instructor in the middle.  I am behind camera.
Meanwhile back in Norwich Julian had become a lounge lizard, in so far as his bedroom resembled a lounge in Marrakesh, decorated with cushions and the walls painted with pictures of churches, gravestones and fields. One design had a skeleton leaning against his gravestone, smoking a very large reefer! Julian was a rebel, rebelling against what? He stood out because he had grown the most spectacular set of dreadlocks, looked like a Rastafarian who’d been bleached and was driving my mum, brothers and sister to distraction. His pet Rat (named Trip) had freedom to roam in his bedroom and could usually be found under the floorboards. Police Constable Richard Weaver would come home on leave and carry out a raid every time on our younger brother’s bedroom. I would always be greeted by Jules, usually in tears (as Richard had ransacked his room), asking me for money. I always felt terribly sorry for Julian, as the youngest child, he had borne the brunt of our Fathers death, as he was at home with his mum and was not given any support from outside the family. Mum was very tolerant of Jules, he got his school cruise, despite the lack of money coming in now, he went to Portugal with mum, and ran riot over there and got into various scrapes and troubles as he sought to find his way in the world, via Bob Marley and Pink Floyd.

I meanwhile was still attracting the wrong kind of attention from my tutors and sergeants and I still had to organise a trip to Bristol, once the Brunette on the train got in touch, which she did and which led to one of the longest nights in my life.

Friday, 24 September 2010

To Shave or not to Shave, that is the Question! - 1981

The drill, along with the kit and room inspections and general bullshit was building to a crescendo after 6 weeks or so and we approached a parade wherein we would march across the square in front of Colonel Addison, the College Commander. Every quarter, a new intake would arrive and an intake would leave (pass out) the college and head off to their Regiments, by way of the rigours of 3 Training Regiment based in Camberley Surrey. As noted in previous blogs, the final term at Chepstow consisted of supreme amounts of drill and military bullshit and required an even greater level of determination to pass muster, given that the inspections were meticulous in their detail. An age old custom for those passing out of Chepstow, a stage called the Trained Soldiers Cadre (TSC), took place in their final week of the TSC and consisted of those elder statesmen (all 18 year olds) rounding up anyone they could find from amongst the new intake and in the dead of night delivering unto them what was known as a “beasting”. This usually took the form of dragging those unable to hide or beat them off, out of their beds, in pyjama’s or less, covering their faces in boot polish or cam cream (the green, brown and black stuff you see on soldiers faces in the movies), and marching them barefoot around camp, drilling them on the square and extracting tears where possible (which resulted in further insults and beatings for the unfortunate sod). The night before the passing our parade, they would again gather as many bodies as possible, running amuck through the barracks and then marching the throng around camp, taking in the various regular soldiers bars and messes. After visits to the Corporal’s, Sergeant’s and Officers Mess’ were complete, with the patrons of each mess coming out to review the group, they were then marched to the Commandants house. When I was amongst the sorry bunch, Colonel Addison even came out of his house to inspect us. Our group was presented to him by the Apprentice Regimental Sergeant Major and the Colonel congratulated all the Cadre present on a job well done. It is also worthy of note to say here that by the time I came to leaving, all “beasting nights” were banned, more of that to come! On the day of the TSC Passing Out Parade, parents, girlfriends, partners and other members of the Cadre’s friends and relatives would arrive at camp and watch from the stands as their pride and joy marched across the square to the sound of the Band, presenting Arms to the Officer in Command, and then marching past. I quite enjoyed the marching side of things once i had mastered it, as the sound of the Band, the noise of boots slamming into tarmac and the crack of hundreds of hands smacking their rifles at the Order to “Present Arms” would always fill my chest with pride.

Early 1981, and we finally moved from initial intake training to take up our chosen apprenticeships and with the exception of 1 or 2 military instructors, most the instructors in the trade shops were civilians and they were fairly relaxed. Our workshop was across the road from the Bricklayers and next door to the Carpenters. The “brickies” soon picked up the derogatory terms for the Painters and Decorators and wasted no time in ensuring we knew them as well. The term Painter and Decorator was shortened to P & D, or as the brickies said it “Puh & Duh”. Another “funny” was the saying, “if you can piss you can paint, if you can masturbate you can decorate”, my how we laughed. We relied on calling them “Thicklayers”, as if it mattered! Days were filled from this point on with fewer inspections (the odd surprise inspection by a bored Corporal) and were more about learning our trades. Evenings consisted of the bar, music and the disco at weekends. Occasionally, we’d try and get served in the Ferry Pub located just outside camp under the Severn Bridge, but you were in trouble if your Sergeant was there and he spotted you, as we were still under the legal drinking age of 18 and therefore drinking illegally outside the camp confines. Down by the trade shops, (I say down, as they were in an area probably 30 feet below the level of the rest of the camp) was a pie shop, where we would congregate at morning break. There was always a mad rush to get out of work as soon as the bell rang, as there were never enough pies and pasties to go round, and although they weren’t that nice, it was food. There were myriad ways in which to get into trouble, from your appearance, (kit not pressed, scuffed or dirty boots, dirty kit, unshaven chin, talking whilst marching, answering back, the list goes on) and I must have been a Corporal and Sergeants dream come true, as I was getting caught for all of these reasons and more as the months passed by and inevitably, patience ran short and the charges started to come along. Depending upon the severity of the “crime”, the punishments were varied and meant to instil discipline and act as a deterrent. Other more serious crimes, (theft from others, theft from the army, fighting others, going absent without leave) attracted even greater levels of punishment, including jail (in camp). If really bad, punishment could mean jail in Pirbright Barracks in Colchester (similar to a civilian jail, but with massive amounts of bullshit) and being kicked out of the army altogether. I am pleased to reassure those reading this that I never reached or even came close to qualifying for any of these heady punishments. Such was my lot that I attracted the attention of my seniors on a regular basis and was punished either with a fine, restriction of privileges or both. Restriction of Privileges (ROP’s) consisted of appearing in various items of dress, (overalls, PT Kit, Work Dress, Number 2 best kit etc) at various times during the day, designed to restrict as much as possible the chances of food, sleep, rest and raise the prospect of catching you out and thereby failing an inspection and being charged again, and so the cycle continued.

An example of a day on Restriction of Privileges is as follows: -

0600 – Parade at Guardroom in Works Dress. Kit, personal inspection and be clean shaven etc.
0600 – 0730 – Cleaning the camp, general work detail.
0800 – 1200 – Trade Training
1230 – 1330 – (Lunchtime) Parade at Guardroom in Overalls, general work detail, kit and personal inspection and you had better be clean shaven, so shave again before parade.
1330 – 1700 – Trade Training.
1800 – Parade at Guardroom in Overalls, be clean shaven so shave again. Up to 3 hours of general work detail
2230 – Parade at Guardroom in best Number 2 dress, still clean shaven.

If you failed any inspection, you were sent away to rectify the problem and return for re-inspection (usually within a timeframe of too few minutes to really make a difference). Let the record show that Potential Apprentice Weaver held the record (as at 1982, so probably still stands) for ROP’s at Chepstow (64 Days) and fines (£+300).

There are a few stories worth relating about my time on ROP’s, the first involves being told at the 1800 parade to go to the cookhouse to work. There were five of us and when we arrived the Quartermaster (QM) Cook (top Chef) assigned me to chopping Parsley, two catering sized boxes of Parsley. Having taken cooking at school and having worked in butchery for a time, I was quite useful with a chopping knife and set about my task with confidence. Within an hour, I had completed the job and presented myself back outside the QM’s office and knocked on his door. I told him I had completed the job and he scoffed at me and said (paraphrasing) “bollocks", I had probably done a crap job and had had better go back and do it again. I begged to differ and he walked over to where I had been working. No sooner had he seen the amount I had chopped and the fact it was chopped as required, than he had shouted out for the duty Cook (a Corporal) and tore into him. Basically, he was livid that a mere “Puh and Duh” had managed to do in an hour, what it took nearly 2 days for a “trained” army cook to do. But mainly because they had been found out to be lazy on their duty nights, probably spending most of the time smoking and drinking tea (a common military pursuit). He then said that all duty cooks would get a box of Parsley every night to chop and it had better be perfect the next day or else. The look the duty cook gave me could have killed a bull; I was dismissed for the time being and sent back to my block by the QM, whilst the others carried on working. Safe to say the next day, my name was mud in the cookhouse and I was ripped into by every cook for some time afterwards and I avoided eating anything I did not plate up myself for even longer! But that was typical of me, trying to do the right thing, but not looking at the bigger picture.

Another episode involved a Corporal who was in charge of Guard Duty one night when I was on ROP’s. At the last parade of the day (2230), he said that I had not shaved. I said I had and he told me to run back to my block and shave, which I did, shaving as fast and as best as I could in the 5 minutes allowed. I went back to the Guardroom (running both ways) and he inspected me again and said I had not shaved, I said I had, and we went through the whole rigmarole again. I returned to be told a third time that I had not shaved and I was given one last chance or I would be charged so this time; I intentionally drew blood as I shaved to prove a point. I made it back and he inspected me and again he said I had not shaved, what a prick I thought. He told me I was being charged for “stating a falser” (army speak for lying) and I told him that he should be charged for impersonating a Corporal (this did not go down too well). I was already on 4 days ROP’s for whatever reason and the prospect of more did not excite me at all. The following morning I was marched into the office of Major Cobb (Company Commander) an Australian and a Marine. Being charged involved being quick marched into the office, being brought to a halt, stood to attention and the charge(s) read out, (citing the Military rules broken). You were not allowed to wear a beret and had to salute the officer who sat behind his desk, the person bringing the charges had to attend to act as witness and say why they had decided to charge you. Major Cobb looked at in exasperation and sighed as the charge was read out. He asked the Corporal to explain, which he did and by the time he’d finished you’d have thought I had murdered someone. I was asked for my comments and simply said that I could have cut my head off and would have still been charged for not shaving as the Corporal obviously had a problem with me. Major Cobb was a decent chap and agreed that failing four times in a row to shave was stretching the limits of credibility, but said that insulting the Corporal as I had, could not go unnoticed. He did say that if I was to get anymore ROP’s, I would probably never leave Chepstow, so he fined me sixty pounds (over a weeks’ salary) and dismissed me.

My apprenticeship was going fairly well and I excelled in Colour Scheme work. Our attempts at scaffolding had proved less successful and nearly killed a few of us, as the whole 3 storey scaffold had not been tied into the building (an old drill shed by the parade square)correctly and had toppled over. That resulted in another charge for all those involved I think! I was also quick to learn how to get out of most things by signing up for every sport I thought I would (a) be good at and (b) enjoy. Sport has always been big in the Army. The Army likes winning things as much as anyone but the commitment was beyond reproach and they allowed anyone who was in “a team” time off to develop and compete. They even supported those who enjoyed the more “hobby” type sports and every Wednesday was half day sports day. Seeing this as a chance to disappear, I signed up for Football (Soccer), Gymnastics, Weightlifting, Body Building Club, Potholing (Caving) Club, Sailing Club and Climbing Club. I stopped the Caving after my first try, as I found I got a little claustrophobic not 5 feet into the cave! Sailing club was great (in the sunshine), but when it blew too hard I decided it wasn’t for me either. Body Building was a good laugh, one of the PTI’s thought he was God’s Gift, when he entered a competition in Newport, we all went along to support him and he came last and I thought it was a bit pants anyway! Gymnastics was run by a short, quirky Scottish WO2 PTI, who was a real task master so I soon slipped out of that one as it was too much like hard work. I stuck with the weightlifting as a hobby, rather than competitively and concentrated on the Football and the Climbing Club. A year after arriving I was really settling in (everyone else had settled in 6 months earlier!), I was playing lots of sport, had some good mates, few enemies, an eye on a girl at the Disco who I wanted to go out with and a sudden desperate need to lose my virginity for some reason. I would do both pretty soon, but not necessarily in the order I anticipated!

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Those are my Nipples you know! - 1981

The intake group I was part of, nicely reflected the youth of the day (1980/81). There were, New Romantics, Mods, Skinheads, Rockers and a general group of guys who looked to the Army as a career and had come from a background of Army Cadets and other affiliated groups. Among the New Romantic brigade, (among which I counted myself) were, Mark Bakewell (the runner), Mark Ashley, both who wore flamboyant clothes when not in their greens, Ashley even carried a cane and wore a hat and was quite the Dandy! I was not quite in that league, but we all liked similar music, OMD, Depeche Mode, China Crisis, Ultravox, Visage, Kraftwerk, The Human League, as well as Heaven 17, among others.

And here we are, all clean and scrubbed up, puts faces to names

My closest friends were Mick Hayes a David Bowie fan, who was very Army orientated and went on to become Apprentice Company Sergeant Major, Jon Moss, part time Romantic, nicknamed Wingnut, due to his unfeasibly large ears that stuck out more prominently due to our heads being shaven, Ian Clayton, who was a Geordie and not a Romantic, Kevin Atkinson who was from Liverpool so was nicknamed Scouse (how original)), Mark Madden (Madge), Rick Manning, who wore his jumper tucked into his trousers better than anyone I knew (it was the fashion, come on!), Garry Cuddy, from Barry Island in Wales and a strong Romantic fan, Jon Steed, a comedian amongst us, and Mark Cassar, (Casper), who was really into Soft Cell. There were others, whose names unfortunately slip my mind, but we made a fairly good group of mates, who were supportive of one another by and large, until promotions started to happen, then the colour of another’s cloth really stood out.

After 3 weeks of our induction we were taken on our first exercise. Normally, whenever you went on exercise, rifles were taken. I do not recall carrying my rifle around on that exercise, but the 7.62mm Self Loading Rifle (SLR) and I were to have a difficult relationship once we met, as I was useless at cleaning the bloody thing once we’d fired them. Weapon inspections, in fact all inspections, of any kind and of anything, became the bane of my life to say the least! We set out on our exercise, all dressed in our camouflage combat gear, with weighty backpacks made of canvas, that attracted and held water better than any sponge (Waterproof Bergen’s were not allowed nor issued), our webbing belt with various pouches for carrying everything from mess tins (another bane), spare rifle magazines, water bottle, mug and clothing such as a change of grots (underwear) and socks.

Clambering aboard the Bedford 4 tonner, we set out towards Monmouth, smoking and chatting away. We arrived at a camp which was amongst the ruins of an old castle or church and set about building bivouacs using our capes, which were sheets of plastic coated nylon, with a hole in the centre for your head and studs running up the sides. These could be adapted to create a shelter, big enough to get your sleeping bag under, just! All this was done in pouring rain, after which we then moved off into a field, where Sergeant Deveraux then had us sit in a group and took us through the 24 Hour Army Ration Pack (Summer). Back then, 24 Ration Packs came in two types, Arctic and Desert. Sgt Deveraux said that the stores guys normally issued Arctic rations, (which used large amounts of water or melt ice to rehydrate the contents) in the summer and the Desert Ration Packs in the winter as they required no water whatsoever to make them edible, when there was in fact an abundance of the stuff!

We thought he was joking, he was not, we were given Summer Packs and it was December in Wales! After we were each given a pack, he then took us through the contents, item by item. Each pack contained a plastic pouch holding tea bags, coffee, powdered milk, sugar, a can opener, matches and striker. The packs contained enough tinned food for a day, 3 meals, consisting of breakfast, a snack and dinner. Breakfast consisted of a thick oat biscuit, which could be crumbled, mixed with water and sugar and turned into porridge (or tiling grout if needed); Bacon Grill came in a can and was a processed meat product, somewhat like spam, pork based, with a large splat of greasy fat around it.

This could be sliced and fried in your mess tin and once cooked would stick to the tin and no amount of scrubbing would remove it. “Lunch “said Sergeant Deveraux “was a selection of Biscuits Fruit and Biscuits Plain, Ham roll and the dinner is a selection of meals in cans which could be boiled in the can or scooped out and cooked in the (by now crusty) mess tin”. He fished each article out of the box and held it up, then with either a positive comment of “this is good keep it” he would drop the item at his feet, or say “this is crap, bin it” and would toss the item as far away as he could throw it. “Beef Goulash (seriously; they had that in a tin) good”, drop, “Chicken Curry, good” drop, “Surprise Peas, what’s the surprise, they are fucking shit, that’s the surprise” and he launched the pack of dehydrated peas. I thought that was quite outstanding actually, a bit of honesty.

All chocolate became known as “Bars of Nutty”, why I do not know, and there was a Mars in each box, along with Toilet Paper (tracing paper) which gained the unfortunate nickname of Arse Wipe, as did one of the other lads, who would lick around the Sergeants’ and Corporals. We were invited to launch (throw) any item of food we did not want, but I decided to retain all mine, as (1) I was hungry and (2) I wanted to try all of it, to ensure I was not missing out on a feast. I should have chucked the lot. The packs also came in boxes holding enough rations for 10 men and we had one Lance Corporal (Lynsey Horten) in Germany, a Paratrooper/Royal Engineer (9 Engineer Regiment), who would add curry powder to every meal no matter what time of day or the ingredients. Everyone in his team would suffer a poor diet, desperate wind and the hazard of following through whenever they were on exercise. No one complained as he was a tough character, he once threw another guys washing machine out of the block window, (3rd storey) as it was making too much noise!

Cooking the contents of the tins and packets was a fun thing to do. We were provided with a Hexamine Stove, (a small, steel box that folded open to provide a stand on which you’d balance your mess tin) and Hexamine Blocks, strong smelling fuel tablets. I cooked something apparently nutritious and each guy’s meal was inspected by the Sgt, for quality, colour and taste! None of the three was ever found! The first night on exercise was pretty much the usual sort of thing you might expect; learning to read a map at night, patrol, and standing guard. Guarding against what I don’t know as the Russians were miles away; we did not have guns to shoot a marauding army so apart from a few drunken Welshmen coming home from the pub we were pretty much on our own.

Nonetheless, we all drew stag duty which was typically an hour in duration and meant wandering around the perimeter of the camp, smoking. I cannot recall what time I was on guard, but I do know that when I did get into my maggot (sleeping bag), I tied the cords around the head end tightly, pulled the hooded top over my head and tried to shelter from the rain under my cape. I must have been asleep for a while, but I woke up screaming my head off as I had inadvertently tried to strangle myself on the cords of the sleeping bag. Screaming like a little girl, I struggled to get out of my bag, not realising I was stuck. Sgt Deveraux wandered over and delivered a well aimed kick to my midriff, told me to stop bleating and walked away.

By this time I was wide awake and sobbing quietly to myself, embarrassed and in pain. What a tit! We broke camp the next day and went back to Chepstow, after cooking a hearty breakfast of Bacon Grill and dipping our Oatmeal biscuits into hot tea. I noted previously that anything cooked in mess tins, tended to attach itself to the steel of the tins, and it would take a small nuclear device to dislodge it. I later learned to my betterment that anyone with any idea of what they were doing (everyone else), used a separate set of tins on exercise and kept a pair for best (inspections). Not me, I persevered with scourers and various cleaning products and even wire wool, to no avail and within a day of being back at barracks, a kit inspection was called, at which we would lay our gear out on our perfectly made beds, and it had better be shining as bright as a new pin.

Starting at the head of the bed would be a Bed Pack. This consisted of our two bed sheets, folded and pressed to an approved thickness of about an inch high and 2 feet wide (rulers were used so measurements could be taken) . Above and below was a blanket, again folded to the same width as the sheets. Both sheets and blankets had to present a smooth fold outwards. Another blanket was wrapped around the blankets to form a sandwich of bedding. This block had strict dimensions, as did the width of items laid out in your locker and the counterpane was used to cover the mattress, hospital corners all round and tightly tucked in. So tight you could bounce a coin on the bed.

The bed pack was placed at the head board end and placed upon the bed, in previously determined places would be eating irons, cups, mess tins, webbing, back packs, Combats (camouflage clothing), highly polished boots (polishing of this type is termed as bulling) and various other items to be inspected. Everything had to appear as though it had just been handed over from stores, except the boots of course. Any slight blemish, scuff, stain, particle of food would be found and noted. Even the space in between the tines of the fork was inspected. Almost everyone would get pulled up for something; I just had the knack of making sure I was at nearly every inspection. I did not set out to fail these inspections; I was not a minger (stinky person), I just was not cut out for the work and besides, I enjoyed lying on my bed far more, listening to my Walkman Cassette Player, smoking, drinking tea and chatting as I watched my mates cleaning their kit!

Still, my failures provided plenty of talking points for my mates as they watched the follow up to my kit and I being inspected. I should point out that the kit was not filthy, it just did not sparkle as much as it probably should have and when questioned as to why my gear was not up to scratch, questions that would include jocular cross referencing, such as “did you use your kit to mop the floor, wipe your nose” etc, I would smirk or smile, as I was immature and thus attract the wrath of those inspecting me. Being in the Army was probably one of the better things that could have happened to me as I had to start growing up, but it took a lot of punishment to kick off the move into adulthood.

Any area of my kit, (mess tins, bed pack, eating irons, bed space or me in general) would fail to pass muster and I would, in the early days, be given extra cleaning duties, drill or further kit inspections. The later in the vain hope that I would improve given enough time and chances. On occasion, I would pull my finger out and pass, but the problem was that, instead of being able to knock off and go to their own room, (or house if they were married), the Corporal assigned to keep inspecting me, by a Sergeant who had long disappeared, would have to hang around, coming back every ten to fifteen minutes, until I got it right. In most cases there would be others who had failed, sometimes the whole room. Other times, the entire floor, so I was not alone. It just became more likely that I would always be amongst the group to reviewed and after a while, this moved to the point where an example would need to be set. Anyone else would have seen the opportunities to seek help and assistance, but not me. I seemed destined to provoke and cajole my trainers until they could no longer avoid the decision to place me on a charge. Before a charge became inevitable, I would be sent to the Q (Warrant Officer) or to the Company Sergeant Major for a “chat”, wherein I would be drilled further, spoken to (sworn at) or in the case of Q Carder, bullied and physically punished. Just because I did end up on a charge, it did not stop Q Carder from seeking to gain enjoyment by inflicting pain.

His favourite trick was to call me to attention, then standing very close, directly in front of me he would quickly grab both of my nipples, through my shirt and squeeze. This had the effect of making me squirm about, accompanied by noises such as “oooohh, aaargh and ooww”. Letting go, he would demand that I stood still, if I moved he would place me on a charge, and the whole process would start again. If Q Carder was feeling in a particularly vindictive mood, he would squeeze really tight and being a tall man, would then attempt to raise my feet off the floor. No amount of protesting and begging would help and he would continue until bored, or, until I cried, the evil bastard. He did not restrict this treatment to me alone and I saw plenty of others get the same close attention from him, nor did he do this away from the crowd and he seemed to revel in having an audience to perform to. The only reasons I can find that might excuse his behaviour are these: -

1. He had a very small penis.

2. He was not getting any sex as he was a fat twat.

3. His ability to influence anyone was diminishing as fast as his stomach was growing, and he used bullying as a way of deflecting his self evident failure to slim down.

4. He was a gross Fcuk head.

Oh and I am not bitter either.........................................But being placed on a charge was going to happen and I was to become a record holder in so many fields that relate to discipline and punishment in the Army. Mind you, I was to turn it into an art form in some ways, impressing a few and exasperating others!