I blame Mr. Blair's human rights laws. Well I suppose you could say I brought it on myself and I know I'm not the only 'victim' of this stupid ruling. If you can bear with me for a bit I'll explain but I need to get my uniform pressed, I'm passing out tomorrow and there is no way I'm going on parade with a badly pressed skirt or blouse. Yep tomorrow I pass out as Private Paul Jacobs, signalperson first class ready to join the ranks of Her Majesties army.
You'd best take a seat; this might take a few minutes to tell. Comfy? Okay, can you just pass that spray? Right where was I, oh yeah, how I got here. Well....
"You really joining up Paul?"
"As soon as I leave this dump, I did the test stuff on line a few weeks ago so I know they'll take me.
"You wouldn't get me joining up, all that marching and discipline stuff." Clive snorted.
The two of us had been buds for years, all our time at St Johns College in fact. In all that time we had done everything together - well pretty much but I guess we didn't know each other inside and out or agree on everything. Like last year for instance, Clive started going fishing with his Dad. For me fish are to eat and I couldn't see any fun in sitting by the canal for hours and then chucking them back! We didn't fall out, just agreed to disagree.
"Well I've always wanted to be a soldier, it's in the blood."
"Whatever. Where're we going on Saturday?"
That was that, that's how we were.
"Alright you luvverly bunch. Its time to start turning your sorry arises into soldiers. When your name is called out you will proceed to the second door on the left where you will be measured for your uniforms. This will take exactly twelve minutes.
The corporal will then send you on to get your hair cut by which time you should proceed to the QM in the building next door. I want to see all your sorry arises back here at seventeen hundred hours or I'll want to know why.
Questions? Good" he didn't draw breath, "Adams, your first."
Well this is it I guess, from here there's no going back unless I fail basic - and there's no chance of that. This is also when I lose my hair, so okay I'm into the whole rock, long hair thing so its a bit on the long side but I knew this was coming, the standard army short back and sides.
I waited my turn, we were allowed to talk but no one really knew anyone else yet, we'd only been in the army a couple of hours! I knew I had a bit of a wait, with a name like Simpson you always end up towards the end of the list. The waiting was a bit nerve wracking and I don't think it was just me looking around the room.
I made my way to the door that I had watched all my fellow inductees enter and knocked.
"Simpson, P Corporal."
Without looking up he went on.
"Stand on the cross arms out to the side."
I thought for a minute that some fancy scanner was going to do the measuring but instead the corporal came over and started taking my measurements, pausing to make notes in one of those handheld computer things. He took loads of different sizes before asking my shoe size.
"Seven usually Corporal."
"Hmm small feet, right take yourself to the barber, three doors down on your left."
"Thank you Corporal."
I reached the door just as the guy going through in front came out with his number one cut.
"Good luck mate."
"Yeah." I sighed, goodbye hair!
"Simpson, P Sir!"
"Relax lad, sit down in the chair, lets see, hmm long, best check to be right."
Check? I sat in the chair and waited for the apron thing to be tied around me. That done I was surprised when there wasn't the immediate start of the clippers. Instead the barber bloke seemed to be brushing my hair out before I felt a shank pulled taut.
"Hmm, twenty five - looks like you keep it, just a tidy from me."
Keep it? Why isn't he chopping my hair off?
The sound of scissors distracted me as he quickly worked his way around my head.
"Um aren't you cutting it all off Sir?"
"Can't do that lad, it's over twenty centimetres long. In the old days it would already be on the floor but not now, some equality legislation."
Equality legislation? What is he on about?
The scissors stopped and once again I felt the tugging of my hair being brushed except this time there wasn't the familiar feel of it settling back on my neck.
"There you go, you'll have to learn to do it yourself but I'm sure one of the lasses will help you."
"You'll see, off to the QM now lad."
There weren't any mirrors around so he couldn't see but a quick exploration by feel revealed that his hair was now in a tight braid reaching just below his collar. What is going on? On the one hand he still had his hair, on the other the only soldiers with long hair he'd ever seen were girls.
He found the Quartermasters store, well it was difficult to miss really, and found himself in a short queue.
"Jim Parker" the lad in front introduced himself.
"Paul Simpson, waiting long?"
"Twenty minutes, see your one of Blair's Boys."
"That's what they're calling you lot."
"The barber bloke was on about rights or something."
"You really don't know do you?"
"I guess you'll find out soon enough anyhow, Blair's boys get er, special training an' stuff, could say..."
He was interrupted before he could say more.
Special training? What is he on about? And what's this Blair's boy's thing? I'm not interested in politics but there's just something about that Blair geezer though, I wouldn't trust him as far as I could throw him, which makes this all a bit worrying.
I shuffled my way into my thoughts temporarily put on hold.
"Simpson sir!" I stamped to a halt.
"What've we got here?" the QM asked no one in particular as he checked his clipboard. "Lets see now, size seven..." he disappeared into the racking behind the counter before returning with several boxes. "Lets see now, trainers," he checked the box before going on, "boots and parade shoes." he seemed to eye me up then shrugged before he headed off again.
It finally dawned on me as I eyed the growing pile of kit that from now on the army owned me. Not just bodily but all the way to my underwear. It took almost fifteen minutes for him to get all my kit at which point I signed the chit and heaved the huge kit bag onto my shoulder.
Well any of you who have been through all this will realise that it turns into a blur of instructions, hiking around the camp and so on. I couldn't even tell you what time it was that our Sargeant left us in what was to be home for the next 6 weeks of basic training. We'd already been told what we would need of this great pile of kit for the next few days so almost to a man- well boy might be more appropriate - we just stowed the other stuff without so much as opening the bags or boxes, plenty of time to look at the fancy stuff when we're less knackered.
I collapsed onto my bed with a sense of both elation and trepidation. Elation because, well I'm here! I've been dreaming of today for years and finally here I am. Trepidation? Well I know it's not gonna be a picnic and I don't really know what all this ‘Blair's Boys' business is all about, I guess I'll find out soon enough.
I slept soundly - some of the others weren't so lucky, I guess leaving home affects people differently. The wake up call was still a bit of a surprise to the system - I wonder just who dreamt up six am? At least breakfast was supplied in bulk, nothing fancy but it was eatable. We had more orientation lectures - I thought I'd left school - then after lunch we had our first gym session.
I wasn't too bothered, after all we had to pass a physical just to get this far but I think pretty much everyone was knackered by the time we hit the showers. I've never done so much running, jumping, climbing and so on. As the shower soothed my aching muscles I reflected that it could only get better.
12 weeks later...
"Simmo!" I looked up from my polishing on hearing Jim's voice.
"Tomorrow eh? Seems like years since we got here."
"Yeah" I agreed, as I worried at a mark on my parade shoes.
Like most things the reality of basic training bore no relationship to my naive expectations. For a start it was tough - not tough in a ‘Mr. Jones's long cross-country way, no tough as in a continuous barrage of mental and physical activity. I was never exactly fat but despite eating like a horse I've lost five kilo's in weight! That sort of tough.
Maddy Bell 07.03.07 © 2008