A book selling web site asked me to do a piece that would interest soldiers and their families to highlight their special offers for the military, so I wrote this. The website, (SLR Books) is no longer going but I thought I’d put it up here for the sake of interest. There’s no story as such, but it is true.
Richard, if SLR Books is still going, put the link up here mate 🙂
Books from Home.
It took my family a long time to click on to sending me books.
I read a lot in school but at age sixteen I lost contact with the academic part of me to become a soldier. We wouldn’t see each other for a long time to come.
My first years in the Army were spent in Dorset and Essex and to be honest, I wasn’t such a big reader at that time. In the formative years of the man I was to become, socialising and sports took up most of my free time and all of my money. Reading never really stood a chance.
It wasn’t until we were posted to Germany that the pleasure of literary escape placed its weighty mark on my person.
In Germany, the British Army of the Eighties didn’t bother with two week exercises. Oh no, if we went on exercise, we went out ON EXERCISE. Two months in the field and all done in one go.Two months of Compo, (field rations), radio stags, (I was an operator on a command vehicle) and shovel reccies, (don’t ask).
The food I could eat, sort of. You had to or you’d go broke buying a bratwurst and chips three times a day.
The shovel reccies did take some getting used to. Everybody can do it once or twice but try it every day for a week and let’s see how commando you are then? You’ll be begging for Armitage Shanks and Andrex inside of three days, believe me.
Radio Stags, though, were a nightmare. During the day all would be fine; we had codes to sort, reports to log, maps to mark out, people to communicate with etc. etc.
However, during the cold wee hours, tedium and weakness brought on the wretched nightly struggle with the tender arms of Somnus. Hours crept by in mocking apathy as eyelids gathered weight like mud on boots.
It was on such a fatigue-blasted dead man’s stag, (between one and three in the morning) that I rediscovered the written word.
With nothing to do except listen to the white noise of the HF radio, I turned to a parcel my Gran had sent me. I’d impatiently ripped it open earlier but now, cloaked as I was in absolute boredom, I decided to go through its contents once again.
The letter was written in the square, almost Gothic print that I knew so well. One glance at the writing would whisk me back to easy backyard Saturday afternoons and careless, spoilt-rotten summers at my Gran’s. The letter spoke of long forgotten aunties and never-met cousins, the Church, the town, Mam and Dad and all the minutiae that make a family a family.
Gran really knew how to write a letter.
Under it, as if in hiding, was a book.
That book turned the water torture of radio stag on its head. It was like finding someone who had left town a long time ago and was now back to help beat up the bullies. It was the final goodbye to the creased sweethearts and dubious health tips of the men’s magazines. It was my key to the defeat of the slit-eyed beast, sleep.
The reader in me was back and the mind killing ennui of radio silence was no more.
I’d be a liar if I said I could remember which book it was she sent me. I do remember being surprised that my Gran even knew what I’d enjoy reading. I suppose our families know us all better than we give them credit for.
What I can say is that every exercise I went on after that, I was loaded with reading material and none of it had pictures.