Wednesday, March 23, 2005
Red Lion Ambush
He said with great pride that he was in the sniper core. In and out like a flash and run off into the hills, loose himself in the deep forest or bushes. Couldn’t say where, couldn’t say when. Sworn to secrecy. Much better than building ditches, rebuilding houses. Snipe from a distance. Magnify to that fine point. The pointed crossed circle, gliding, roving amongst the camouflage jackets and black boots, take aim, fire sounding like a soft thud. Much more respect. “You know you’re somebody. People treat you with a bit more, you know - you ‘re different.” Pushing his chest out and broadening his already broad shoulders.
“You should join the army” To my friend Patrick sat opposite. Trying to be overly polite. Keeping him cheerful and at the same time being strangley interested, like reading a trashy war book and ‘seeing what some people read’.
The young man breaking into our just begun conversation.. Sidling into the chair with soft violence. Shaven headed young boy sitting snug, talking about his all consuming subject. He offered us fags: “Take one go on” as if we had to.
”No I don’t smoke, never have sorry.”
Patrick takes one after being forced to a few times by a shoved hand and an open packet, the tubular orange tipped bullets poking from the neat folds of their silver and white encasement. Forcing a peculiar brand of army bonding upon us. Crude but direct and we were trapped. Netted for that brief moment. Reluctantly in his world looking for quick exits. A closed world of structured togetherness and a long string of activities. Having to do them in order to form mates and not to be ridiculed and left out. On the whole a method imaged by ranks above, a reduction of individual worth to fit yourself like a mechanical glove into the hand of her majesties regiment. Held out to shake. Just as he, this prematurely bald chap, held his hand out to grab ours and our arms jogged with his, with our polite smiles, occasional glances at each other and then to the ceiling. We had to be on our guard. A young naïve saddened man/boy clinging on to probably the only structure that he has had in his short life so far. Talking like a mate, quickly initiating us into his nothing world of guns and bullets, threats and bullying. Even though the camaraderie on our part was forced, one could easily imagine him close within his regular platoon enjoying pints and handshakes, sniggering at jokes, talking about women as if they were toys along with Mechano and train set, Action Man and Dare Devil Doll. Women would have awkward bendable arms and you could say anything you liked, swear, chat it up and then fling it down on the carpet when bored. “Ere love what’s name?”
“Anne” she says, surprisingly.
“Anne, do you want to sit with us, come over here. I’ll buy you a drink, me and the lads here.” No response.
He then turns to us lads;
“Are you sure you don’t want a pint? Have a pint go on! I’ll get you a pint.”
“No, half a lager shandy will do me fine.”
“A lager shandy?!”
“Oh, and some lime to top it up, thanks”
He shrugs and gives a look of irritation. The glasses he insists on keeping on the table when we’ve finished “so that we can see how many we’ve had”.
“That’s five shandy’s so far, hmmn”
I tried to physically melt into the wall, to disappear. Trouble is he was squashed in next to my thigh. I was as near to him as a squaddie in the locker room. I now knew what it was like to be in the army. In the army. A cold shiver ran through me.
A small room crowded with shaven heads, the noise of heavy metal belt adjustments, the loud clicking of equipment. Then they, and I, pile into the back of a helicopter carrier and fly until a dot in the pale blue cloudless sky. Crowds of blokes ruffle about inside. Knocking over each other trying to get parachutes on. A jumble of khaki and black shiny boots. And off we fly into the distance towards the target. I missed the exit training at Head Quarters on the Saturday and my body flies out like dirty washing inside a machine swirling about in the sixty mile an hour wind. I find myself tangled up in my chute, flinging about in a desperate attempt to unwind the death grip the cords have on my neck. Ahh, al last I wind free, I check canopy and all is inflated. Floating like a toy action man with parachute, chucked from the second floor window of a little boys house. The patchwork quilt of green, brown and yellow squares below me quickly reduces to one brown one and I land in it, legs flailing about in the mud. The canopy drags my body like a plough turning the wet soil, gradually grinding to a stop due to the fact that my head is stuck into about three feet of manure enriched top soil. Back at base they’ve got me down as a fatality due to the lateness of the canopy opening. Lifting my aching, mud caked body I attempt to pull at the heavy wet material like a drunken puppeteer pulling at his strings. Suddenly the wind takes hold again and I am forced to wind surf across the sea of mud, finally getting stuck in the hedge running the side of the field. Enduring the pain of thorns digging into my flesh I somehow manage to stagger towards the target in the next field. The circular markings faded by the tramplings of standard sized service boots.