Welcome to the cupboard of broken toys — Part 13
THE GREAT ESCAPE — 1
They have found a summer job for me working at the Royal School of Artillery on Salisbury Plain. There is going to be a big ‘Artillery Days’ military festival with bands and demonstrations and motor-cycle teams and gymnastic displays and many other things. They need someone to help with accommodation and ration returns and the like. I am issued a three-month pass and a travel warrant.
On arriving at Larkhill Camp I report to the Duty Sergeant. Then I report to the ‘Blazers’ Battery Sergeant Major. Then the Adjutant. Then the Quartermaster. Then the Chief Clerk. Then the Medical Officer. Then the Accommodation NCO. And finally, The NAAFI.
They all know my story (apart from the NAAFI) and, plainly, have been briefed that I am not likely to explode, or anything. Most are sympathetic or, at least, not openly hostile. The Chief Clerk has arranged for me to work with the Quartermaster and the Accommodation NCO in preparations for the forthcoming events. There will be over 800 people requiring food and accommodation for most of August and I am to help.
Also, I will be attending regular therapy sessions with the Medical Officer, who fancies having a go at psychiatric work. Plus, I have to return to Woolwich every fortnight for assessment. I have a bag full of my various medications.
Larkhill is a modern camp with good facilities. It later has a claim to fame as the interrogation centre in the V for Vendetta film. It is about half-a-mile North of Stonehenge. Unfortunately, there are no public transport links. If I want to go out I will need to get some personal transport.
One evening, in the NAAFI I encounter a gang of bikers. They are all permanent staff at the Royal School of Artillery and, on first appearance, seem to be completely deranged. I am automatically drawn to them.
“You’re the nutter.” Announces one of them at the top of his voice and they fall about laughing.
“Thank you,” I say. I can’t deny it, even though it hurts me to be viewed in this way.
“Listen,” I tell them, “I’m pretty lonely here and could do with some friends.” I cringe inwardly at how needy it sounds.
They are surprised at this candid approach. I have judged them well. Despite being noisy and stupid, they are actually nice people. Very soon, I am taught how to ride a motor-bike. I get a bank loan. I buy a bike. It is a Suzuki GSX 250 T. A cute little chopper.
The MO doesn’t like me having the bike but decides he’ll do nothing about it for the moment. Besides, he is having too much fun learning about how to deal with a mental patient. His analysis technique is a bit basic, but I forgive him as he is new at this. Lucky for him I am now being much more cooperative than I once was. I find it easy to deflect his line of examination but chose not to do so. I answer his probing personal questions with, what he finds, an almost shocking openness.
Preparations for the Festival take a lot of work. I have to type out nominal rolls of all the participants and then amend them as people keep dropping out and getting replaced. From one day to the next there is never any clarity. The moment I have completed one list it is already out of date and superseded by another. I try to do a good job but it is impossible. I am getting annoyed and frustrated.
THINGS I HATE
1. Ration Returns.
2. Accommodation Returns.
3. Nominal Rolls.
4. People reciting Monty-Python sketches.*
5. Being Introduced as “That Nutter from Woolwich”.
6. The Adjutant. He keeps calling me for interviews and inspections. It’s a bit creepy.
THINGS I LIKE
1. Buzzing down to Salisbury on my bike.
2. The St Edmund’s Arts Centre.
3. The Larkhill Bikers Club.
I am coming back from Salisbury one evening and I come off the bike. I ‘fling it down the road’ as the expression goes. I spend the night in Salisbury General Hospital. The bike is undamaged but I am hurt and spend the next week hobbling around to my duties.
The medical Officer calls me in a week later.
“Apparently, you’ve got a fractured hip.” He tells me, squinting at an x-ray. “Can you make anything out on this?”
I look at the x-ray but have no idea what I am supposed to be looking for.
“Damned if I can tell.” He says, “I really can’t make head nor tail of this. Not that it makes any difference. There’s nothing we can do about it.”
Thank you so much. No, really, thank you. Thanks a bunch.