Welcome to the cupboard of broken toys — Time to grow up and move on

IN WHICH I AM SPUN A GREAT BIG PACK OF LIES AND BELIEVE IT

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

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

“Enjoy it while you can,” I tell him. “You won’t be able to say that for much longer.”

It is September and I have received my Notice of Discharge.

I feel completely fucked-up. I feel more crushed than when I had been downgraded. That was the end, and now this is the bit where the lorry comes to take my tromped-up remains away. I can hardly think about it, or face myself. I don’t feel very well at all. I don’t. I really, really don’t

What do you do when you have gone beyond the end of the end?

I guess it was inevitable. I failed at the Royal School of Artillery and I failed at the Depot Regiment. There is nowhere else they can send me. This is the bit after the end. The end after the end of the end.

But I am still in full-military mode. You would have thought I could have started thinking more independently. But no. I am still just as indoctrinated now as I was 8 years ago. Idiot.

I have an appointment with the Resettlement Officer. He has a checklist of matters to deal with my rehabilitation into civilian life.

  1. Where are you going to live? “The Landlady of the Wickham Arms in Brockley has found a room for me a few doors down. It is cheap and I can afford it.”
  2. You will need to go to the Job Centre to ‘Sign On’. I have my P45. I am ready for action.
  3. What are your job prospects? “I don’t want to be a security guard or taxi-driver.” These at the top of the list for un-qualified grunts like me. (He doesn’t bother to mention the Regular Forces Employment Agency.) One of the Morris-Men has arranged that I can apply to be a sub-editor for the local publishing company. The Resettlement Officer plainly thinks this is far beyond my scope and abilities. He advises strongly against it. Because I am an idiot I agree. Months later, when it is too late, I meet some sub-editors. You complete Bastard!! I could have been a sub-editor. Thanks-a-fucking bunch, you smug, superior, half-witted, jealous, Thick-As-Pig-Shit, Sandhurst-Educated WANKER!!!!!

The British Army Officer Corps is full of smug, superior, half-witted, jealous, thick-as-pig-shit, Sandhurst-educated WANKERS!!!!!

Fuck them all!

Instead, I sign up for some courses at the local Further Education College. Big Whoop. I could have been a Junior Sub-Editor. I believed them right up to the end. I shouldn’t have. I am just as much of a wanker as they are.

Justin is also leaving. His father has signed him up for a crammer, where he will be forced to study hard to get into University.

We go out for a few drinks and talk about us and what could have been. He agrees that we could never have got it together. The gulf between us is just too wide. He is from the silver-spoon mob, who get as many chances as they like, and I am from a Council Estate outside Watford. I had one chance and that was it. I blew it. In parting, he tells me he could never have made it on Ward 9 if I hadn’t been there to support him.

As we are leaving he kisses me on the cheek. I have to go out onto the Common until I can recover.

Shane Michaels is to be sent to a unit near his home in Manchester. He never did open up. I have no idea what will happen to him but I hope he recovers in time. He doesn’t deserve to spend the rest of his life on the brink of a total break-down.

Before he leaves he comes to my bedspace.

“Thank you, Andy,” he says in his soft, Mancunian voice, “Thank you for trying to help me. I couldn’t have done it without you.” and then he goes.

I nearly die. Is it any wonder I have crying fits.

McCarthy tells me he has made contact with a Paymaster who can find work for him in Africa. I wish him good-luck with that. I later learn that he has joined the Foreign Legion, and then deserted. Not a big surprise.

Mulholland comes to wish me luck, as does Major Holst and Sergeant Black. The Ward Sister makes a point of telling me how much she holds me in professional contempt. Not a big surprise there either. I thank her for holding her opinion back until it doesn’t matter.

On the day I get my papers the Morris-men have a gig at the National Theatre at the South Bank. I arrive in my morris gear with a bottle of cava. They all have bottles of champagne. I don’t think I can stop crying all night.

MY PAPERS:

24287433 Lamb, Andrew.

Enlisted at: St Albans, on: 11 December 1972

Military Conduct: Exemplary

Date of Discharge: 15 October 1981

Cause of Discharge: Paragraph 9.387 of Queen’s Regulations, 1975. Ceasing to fulfil army medical requirements.

Total Service: Eight years, 309 days.

Signed by Major John Taylor, Welfare Officer, Royal Artillery.

Good-bye to all of that.

Post Script: Only it isn’t good-bye to all of that. I still have my internal dialogues. I was delivering a paper at the Church Building’s Council, Bells Advisory Committee last year. These people love to re-cast 600 years-old bells and I do wish they wouldn’t. I am talking about the heritage of musical sound. I am outside the venue in a corner, arguing with myself. Exactly the way I have been doing for the last 40 years. The other speakers regard me with concern and amusement up until the time I make my talk. Ha! Gotcha!

I still have panic and anxiety attacks. I was admitted to Guy’s Hospital some years later. Same problems.

Some years ago I felt I needed to revisit the unfinished business I had with the Army. I joined the Honorable Artillery Company for a couple of years and finally got it all out of my system. I was pleased to leave.

I am now a trustee of the Museum of Army Music, and Chair of the Friends. I welcome you to join us if you like. Remember, the worst band that ever existed was the Band of the Junior Leaders Regiment RA. I was a proud member. We were really, really CRAP!

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