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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

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).

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