Friday, August 31, 2007

Mirth and Woe: Guns (Remix)

Mirth and Woe: Guns (Remix)

This is one of my favourite stories which I first wrote several years ago, but was never entirely pleased with the end product. Here it is again, then, only with more swears and fewer spelling mistakes.

When I reached the ripe old age of fifteen, and following an unfortunate incident involving a couple of Girl Guides from Luton, I jacked in the Scouts and signed up for the Air Cadets.

The “Spacers” are essentially a youth organisation run by the British Royal Air Force to get kids interested in planes, flying and the military, in the hope that they might sign up for a career. They gave us real uniforms, free flying and gliding lessons, and if we were really, really good - guns.

We had a crumbling old commanding officer, but the guy who really ran the show was Warrant Officer Simmons. He was old-school career RAF, with a huge handle-bar moustache and was rock-hard. Discipline wasn’t the word for it. If your hair was too long, your uniform was wrong, if you forgot your place in the pecking order, or if your boots were dirty you were for the high jump.

He was also one of the lads, keep on his right side and he was a pleasure to be with. Simmo taught us swear-words and insults we never knew existed. He taught us how to make the officers' lives hell with “saluting traps”, and he also taught me how to shoot the bollocks off a fly from three hundred yards in the pissing rain. Hero.

Every other weekend we’d pile into an RAF bus and head up to the air station at Benson where we’d shoot at things.

The only problem with this was the weaponry. They gave the Spacers old Lee Enfield rifles which had (and I’m not kidding here) seen action in the trenches of World War One. There was absolutely no subtlety about them - they went off like cannons, kicked like a mule, and you’d be nursing a bruised shoulder at the end of the day.

I saw with my own eyes one particularly clueless kid from Slough Squadron (and did they ever have some thickies) trying to hold the weapon in front of him like a pistol. His first and last shot of the day broke his nose.

"I'm shot! I'm shot!" he screamed showering everyone with blood.

"You CUNT!" was all the sympathy he got.

How we laughed.

All that was to change in the early 80s. The British armed forces were to switch over to the much-maligned SA-80 rifle, a weedy thing made out of plastic, tinfoil and Lego bricks. This left them with a huge pile of unwanted L1A1 Self Loading Rifles and 7.62mm ammo.

In one of the Ministry of Defence's finer ideas, they gave them to the cadet corps.

It was a massacre.

I shot off so many rounds over a two month period, that I actually qualified as an RAF marksman, along with a reasonable number of my comrades. But, typically, there would be a price to pay...

The SLR is semi-automatic. Instead of creating a bastard great explosion and a donkey-kick like the old weapons, it used the expanding gases to eject the old cartridge and load the next one. All you’ve got to do it pull the trigger again and again, and rat-a-tat-a-tat, you get and impressive shower of empty shells flying out like the scene at the end of Rambo II. A twenty-round magazine would disappear in seconds and then, if you were a good little Spacer, they would let us have another go. Smashing.

Cadet Hawkins, bless him, tried his hardest, but the words "safety catch" and "assault with a deadly weapon" were a foreign concept to him. He was only about four foot something tall and four foot across, and the rifle was only slightly smaller than he was.

He lived in a local boarding school for "problem" children, mainly because his parents were sick to death of him trying to kill them. We named this school, as particularly cruel teenagers, The Blob Farm as they kept sending us recruits on the misunderstanding that we might be able to turn them into something vaguely resembling humans. Now, it turned out, was our turn to feel the wrath of Hawkins.

"HAWKINS!" bellowed Simmons at the mono-browed gorilla wearing an ill-fitting boiler suit, odd socks and ear defenders that also covered his eyes. "POINT YOUR WEAPON DOWN THE RANGE!"

"What’s that sir?" he said, swinging round, the lethal end sweeping an arc in front of a terrified crowd of spectators, who, as a man, dived for cover.

I remember the next comment clearly as if it was only yesterday.


Hawkins turned full circle, and just in time too. His finger tightened round the trigger and a hail of bullets ripped up the range, shooting up turf, stones, bits of wood, anything in its deadly path.

One bullet had ricocheted off something solid, proving that they really do go 'pyang-whoo-whoo-whooo' like they do in the movies, and thudded into the wall inches away from where Phil’s head had been moments earlier. I am reliably informed that he "shat his pants". Join the club, mate.

[You may, at this point, wish to endow yourself of the mental image of a number of my cadet comrades being sick inna nearby hedge out of sheer, unadulterated terror. This is optional, and your mileage my vary.]

The firing stopped. Empty cartridges tinkled onto concrete. There was a deathly silence. The smoke cleared, and we all staggered to our feet in a daze. Out of twenty rounds, nineteen had flown off to all corners of the range and back again. The twentieth had scored a perfect bulls-eye on the target. Hawkins put his weapon down, checked the chamber was empty, just as he had been taught, and shrugged.

"Sorry. Sorry, sir."

Simmons went volcanic.


"I wasn't ready, sir."

"YOU FUCKING SPACKER!" chipped in Cadet Cpl S. Duck.

"YEAH ...err... what Duck S* said. Are you trying to get us killed? Do we look like fucking Argies?"

"No, sir."

"Then fuck off out of my sight."

"Do I get another go, then?

No. No he did not get another fucking go. Ever.

* I realised this week that nobody has called me 'Duck S' for well over twenty years. My brother, who was also a Spacer, was known as 'Duck N'.

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