Sleepwalking through my own life — Part 8


Success in the armed forces depends on ambition and competitiveness. It helps if you are accomplished at mainstream sports and that you have an aptitude for management and leadership. And are of a ruthless disposition. I have none of those qualities. None. Plus, I tend to crack under pressure. That must be a minus point.

I am in the wash-room looking at myself in the mirror. My reflection looks back at me with a sour expression on his face.

“You are a mess, Gunner Lamb,” he says. “You need to sort yourself out.”

I am a mess. I need to sort myself out.

I have decided to find substitute activities for going out boozing all the time. There are plenty of other things to do. I try to stay out of the NAAFI if I can.

I go to the garrison library. It is in the Education Centre next door to the barracks. I sign up for a couple of correspondence courses. Also, I rekindle my enthusiasm for literature and start avidly reading again. Not just your normal squaddie war stories. I have gone back to some of the books we studied at school. Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye, Silas Marner, Tess of the d’Urbevilles. I begin to appreciate it more than when I had to study it.

I go swimming regularly. There is a large municipal swimming pool just down the road. Lots of the more sober lads go there and it is quite fun.

I buy a bicycle, so now I can get out and about. I find a quiet bar in town where they do coffee, so I can sit and read.

I join the local amateur-dramatics society. Mostly I do back-stage stuff but. occasionally get speaking roles. That never goes well. I get terrible stage-fright and forget my lines. I get panicky and can’t handle it. I should change my ambitions.

I find a riding school on the outskirts of town, so I sign up for lessons.

I am managing to keep away from the drink. But I can feel it in the back of my mind all the time.

I throw myself into my work. I take a real pride in the fine details of my job. I like doing that kind of detailed stuff. I have been transferred back to the Regimental Headquartes Troop and I am working in the Documents office, assisting the Documentation Clerk. We hold all the soldier’s records. We have to keep everything up to date and as correct as possible. Permanent Record card, Conduct Sheets, Medical and Dental Records, ID tags, Education Certificates, Training Records. Everything.

They send two retired senior clerks around for an admin inspection every year. They sit down in the office and go through everything, marking any mistakes or missing information with blue marking pens. It drives the Documentation Clerk up the wall. He takes every blue tick as a personal affront. The inspectors wink at me behind his back. They are vastly amused.

One upsetting thing happens. I have started getting days when I feel useless. I have a low estimation of myself. One time I am supposed to be sitting an exam but I just can’t face it. I am sitting in the room in the Education Centre feeling sick. I get an attack of the shakes. The paper is in front of me but I can’t focus on it. I know I am going to fail.

I have anxiety issues. Someone says I worry too much.

If you are to succeed in the armed forces you have to show an optimistic front at all times. You aren’t allowed to be down. That is professional suicide. And that makes me feel even more down.

I have been nominated to go skiing. This is one of those things they always include in recruitment adverts. That and snorkelling in the Caribbean. Life in the armed forces is one long holiday.

They make a big thing about this in the Regiment. There are two or three members of the Regiment in the national Olympic Ski Team. They are attached to various units but we never see them. They are always training.

The Regiment has a hut at some ski resort in Bavaria. Twenty of us travel down in a bus. We are issued with ski equipment and head off for the piste.

I am definitely not in the mood for this. The ski-instructor is nice enough but I have no aptitude for it. Also, I have no ski-suit. I just wear breeches, thick socks and a thick woolly jumper.

That evening we go to a local pub. It is full of locals doing the Bavarian folk-thing. There is a band with accordeon, clarinet and tuba, playing those oompah tunes. Then a couple do a yodelling song. We decide to join in and sing a filthy rugby song. The locals don’t like it.

I decide not to go down the pub any more. I don’t have any money and I am not feeling in the mood for socialising. If you want to know the truth, I am feeling pretty upset. Everyone else seems to be having a lot of fun but I can’t see it myself.

I am woken when a group return from the pub. I just roll over and ignore them. They think I am asleep and I hear some pretty unflattering things being said about me. I am not offended. They are only confirming what I think about myself anyway.

I am relieved when the week is over and we return to Celle.

I don’t like skiing.