Welcome to the cupboard of broken toys — Part 15

THE GREAT ESCAPE — 3

It all kicks off at the beginning of August. The groups participating in the Military Display start arriving.

THINGS I HATE

1. Junior Leaders.

2. Musicians and Bandsmen.

3. Horses.

4. The Adjutant.

5. Monty Python.

6. My internal dialogue.

7. Arguing with myself. I’m not arguing with myself.

8. People giving me funny looks when I’m arguing with myself. I told you, I’m not arguing with myself.

We have staggered the arrival dates of the various groups so as to make things manageable. Not only do we have to allot accommodation but I have to check the ration returns and nominal rolls with the arriving groups. I have hit on a strategy; I won’t even let them get off the bus until the senior NCO has double-checked the lists.

By-God!! It works! There is a lot of grumbling and irritation but I get them all signed off even before they have been issued with bedding. RESULT!! The Accommodation NCO looks mightily impressed and congratulates me on being a COMPLETE BASTARD. I smile broadly in acknowledgement at this accolade.

All of the preparation has been worthwhile. Bedding and rooms have been laid out in advance of arrivals and band-stores and uniform-stores set up in spare rooms. The Catering Officer has numbers that he can work with and he makes a point of calling the Quartermaster and congratulating him on a slick operation. Kudos all round.

On the downside, the NAAFI is always full and you can’t get to the bar to order so much as a pickled egg. The Packhorse on Wilson Road is chock to the gunnels. You can’t even get into the Junior NCO’s Mess. The queues for the cookhouse stretch out of the door and down the road. This is hopeless. I have started missing breakfast altogether and going into Amesbury for lunch. And other people are doing the same thing. I see the “Blazers” Battery Sergeant Major driving into the village. We meet in the same café and nod to each other.

“How are you getting on, Bombardier?” he asks me. This is the first time we have spoken since I reported to him on arrival.

“A bit stressed, Sir.” I tell him. I know it might sound like nothing but this is actually huge. When I was still fit, before I was downgraded, I would never have dreamed of saying things were less than perfect. Nobody would. Everything was always perfect. We were all in tip-top condition. Suggesting that things may not be perfect would have been professional suicide. Being pessimistic could seriously affect your promotional prospects. Now I had no promotional prospects I could be as negative as I liked. Sheer luxury.

“Let me know if things are getting on top of you.” He advises. “You don’t have to take the burden of everything by yourself.”

I thank him gratefully. I have heard that he is a reasonable man and now have all the confirmation I need. However, I do make sure to sit at a different table. I don’t think his civil nature would extend to sharing a table with pond-life like me.

I catch myself doing my internal argument again. This is depressing.

About the internal dialogue/argument. I’m not even sure when or how it started. I think I was trying to pluck up the courage to have a word with the Ward Sister about the way she nagged some of the patients and other staff members. I thought I was mentally rehearsing what I was going to say and then debating with myself how I might improve it. Mulholland and others were giving me funny looks and it turned out I was actually having my personal debate out loud, albeit muttering half under my breath. And now it has got worse. I find I have added hand gestures and other body-language tics to the package. And I don’t know how to stop it. I can’t stop doing it.

The Medical Officer has already expressed his concern about this development and tells me he has conferred with the psychiatric team in Woolwich. They want me to go back there.

In some respects, I suppose it is not unreasonable. My time in Larkhill is nearly up and I would have been due to return in a couple of weeks anyhow. I have fulfilled my responsibilities. And what with everywhere around here being so congested and overcrowded, I should snatch at the opportunity. But I want to see the Junior Leaders band in action before I go. Just to remind myself of a time when things seemed so much easier and so much fun. I ask the MO and he agrees.

The Junior Leaders buses arrive. I badger the Trumpet Major into signing off the nominal rolls without even reading them. I remember him from when I was in the band. He used to call me a ‘Bloody Crow’, but he doesn’t recognise me.

They start rehearsing their routine that afternoon. Holey-moley! They are even worse than I remember from my time in the band. They all look to be about 14 with sullen, sulky expressions. I do remember that bit.

I am ready to go back to Woolwich now.

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