Friday, May 09, 2008

Mirth and Woe: Shandy

Mirth and Woe: Shandy

The Air Training Corps.

A fine, upstanding organisation that takes young men and moulds them into fine, well-disciplined potential recruits for the Royal Air Force. If they're lucky.

In fact, it was a very good reason for parents to get their teenage offspring out of the house a couple of evenings a week, and, with a following wind, every other weekend. And then, the parental bliss that must have been the summer camp. A whole week without the brats as they are taken by coach to some awful barrack block at the other end of the country, where uniformed grown-ups will shout at them as they march up and down the parade ground.

Every August for the best part of six years, I would be carted off by coach to some awful barrack block at the other end of the country, where uniformed grown-ups did indeed shout at me as I was marched up and down the parade ground.

They also shouted at me every morning during kit inspection, and this shouting would last until well after lights out because for the Cadet Officers' Corps, it was the only shouting they got all year.

Shouting, marching up and down and bullshit apart, I quite enjoyed it.

For a start, they let us fire guns. And fly planes. And run around in mock battles pretending to kill people TO DEATH with a fake Tommy Gun as you shouted out "Na-na-na-na-na-NA!" like a demented Private Pike.

So, RAF Waddington (Vulcan Bombers), RAF Chivenor (Hawk fighter jets) and RAF Somewhere Else I Can't Quite Remember (Jet Provost trainers) got the benefit of eighty cadets from Henley, Reading, Slough and Woodley squadrons.

Then they sent us to RAF Newton. It didn't have planes at all. None.

It was, we found out, where they trained the RAF Police. Every single RAF copper in the service came through the base, and as such, it was Bullshit Central. There were wispy moustaches EVERYWHERE, and on every corner you would find at least one corporal telling his mate how "I was too hard for the SAS, me".

There were also not enough barrack blocks to go around, so they put us in a row of tents. World War II vintage four man tents which must conform to Queen's Regs at all times, with blanket bundles ready for inspection at five minutes' notice.

The trouble with these tents was that they gave you no privacy at all. If you farted, some bloke at the other end of the camp would call you a dirty bastard. Those with a rampant night manipulation habit would hope for the drumming of rain on canvas before they could even attempt a quick, furtive hand shandy. However, it was the height of summer, the ground was parched, and, for some, the nightly wank was off the agenda until the following Saturday, home comforts and your favourite gym sock.

But, for some, seven days without a quick strum were seven days too many.

And so, one evening, Dan refused an invitation to come to the NAAFI club for a few diet cokes and the off chance the bar staff might forget that we were cadets and offer us something a little bit stronger.

No such luck. Worse, the female police cadets ALL had faces like a smacked arse, and strangely, they weren't interested in the attentions of a bunch of Space Cadets from the Home Counties.

As the sun set and Lights Out time approached, we made our way back to our camp.


Too quiet.

"I thought Dan was here?" one of our number whispered.

"So did I..."

And there, in the half-light we saw it.

The rhythmic rise and fall under the blanket covers from Dan's tent that explained his unwillingness to join his mates in a few drinks and a round of bullshit.

Big-Nose Rich crept round the back of the tent, and pouncing like a panther, dived through Dan's flaps (Oh ho!), and whipped back the blankets to reveal the worst.


"Oh, you wanker!"

Of course, we couldn't let it rest there. Dan, his private parts now resembling the nozzle on a deflated airbed, was tied, naked, to the flag pole until passing grown-ups told us to stop.

And, as news of his shame got around camp, his misery became complete.

We were, lucky us, allowed to visit the police dog training school on the Friday. One of our lucky, lucky number would be allowed to dress up in the special protective suit and would have the privilege of being attacked by evil, slavering RAF police dogs.

Who, then, should it be? It was a question pondered by an RAF Police instructor for nigh on two seconds as he stroked his pencil moustache.

"You. The wanker," he said, all the time pointing at poor, poor Dan.

Fair play to them, they gave him a twenty yard head start as the set the dogs on him.

Twenty yards, waddling for his life in a straw-padded suit with extra protection around all the vulnerable parts.

"Any QW-EST-EE-I-ONS?" asked the moustachioed trainer as Dan readied for his ordeal.

"Yeah, Sarge. Where do these dogs bite?"

"Well, glad you asked me that. Most dogs are trained to go for the right wrist, as that's the one in which a fleeing suspect will invariably be carrying a weapon. Nipper here, however, doesn't."

"Why's that?"

"She goes for the bollocks. Never misses. It's a bugger to get her to let go an' all."

He was right.

Poor, poor Dan.

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