Saturday night was the Christmas doo for the Serjeants Mess which was held at a Hotel and Spa near Bristol. My Wife had decided that she did not want to attend and so I had asked `Dobbsy` if he would mind driving me, a free evening out a posh doo but unfortunately no alcohol for him. He agreed to take me which was great news, and so at five in the evening he arrived at my bungalow for a cuppa and a chat before we would leave. Last Christmas was the first Mess doo I had attended since my promotion, it was by choice that I had not attended before as I am not the kind of person to sit down in a dinner suit and dickie bow and try to curb the language over a three course dinner. I am not really comfortable in the environment, do not feel I can have a good drink in case I say something wrong an upset someone. Now away from the dressed up environment I was never worried about saying the wrong thing as anyone will tell you, but as there are peoples wives and girlfriends there which means I have to be more diplomatic…I looked up diplomacy in the dictionary and it is definitely not my thing and that is why I have not bothered before.
This was the last mess doo I would be able to go to as a member of 6 Rifles and so I had decided to go, it would also be one of, if not the last time that I would see some of the people. There was little to no traffic on the way up to the venue which meant we got there in plenty of time so we parked up and st-rolled to the reception area where we directed to where drinks were being had at the bar. A quick visit to the call of nature room and we joined those at the bar to see who was there. There were a couple of guys there who I had not seen for a while but generally it was quite quiet, still a little early I guessed and that people were probably still getting ready. I sat (no change there then) with `Dobbsy`at a table and just chatted as the bar area started to slowly fill with those who had been getting themselves ready. I recognised the faces but it was too crowded and awkward for me to try to manoeuvre around people to go and chat and I thought that some may actually pop over to say hi, and so I chatted to `Dobbsy` and a couple of the guys did indeed come over to see how I was. I made a point of saying that it was a bit difficult to roll around all the people and that I appreciated them coming over. After a short while everyone started to make their way in to the room where the main function was being held. We let the crowd die down and then made our way in also.
I found my parking place and with a few “Excuse me please” being said as I made my way to the table, I got to where I would be. Our table filled up as everyone gradually found their seats and without too much delay our table was fully seated. I was pleased to be sat at the same table as `Joanah`, a friend who was badly wounded on our first tour of Afghanistan but who also performed outstandingly in his medical role before he even recognised his own injuries. He has been to see me a few times at the bungalow and keeps in touch be it via the social network sites, e mail, text message or a call, it is always a pleasure to chat and meet with him and it was great to spend some time with him at the function. Another guy on our table was `Tucks`. He is quite a quiet chap most of the time and although I don’t trade texts or calls with him, we speak for a good amount of time when we do bump in to each other. Those times are few and far between unfortunately as he does not drive, nor do I at the moment obviously and I am unable to deploy on weekend exercises which is where I would normally bump in to him. There was another guy who I was really chuffed to be sat with, and that was `Bully`. So, who the hell is `Bully` and why would I be so chuffed he was there on my table? `Bully` was my Platoon Serjeant when I first joined the TA in 2001 and the way he taught, the humour he brought to the lesson and the ease at which you were able to take the information in because of how he taught was something that would stay embedded in my mind even to this day. I enjoyed his lessons, and I looked forward to the parade nights to learn more.
When I had passed my infantry soldier course and had `passed out`I was asked if I would attend an instructors course to learn to teach, or at least the method and format of how to which I agreed to do. Upon successful completion of this course I was given opportunities to teach which meant I had to research the subject to ensure that I was able to teach it confidently. Now I knew I would never be able to teach like `Bully`but I did know that I had to have my own way or style of teaching, in fact I remember `Bully` telling me once that I had to develop my own style. He said that you could look at different instructors and take different aspects of them that you liked but you should never try to be someone who already exists. I took this on board and developed my own `out of the box` way of teaching which most did not like or agree with…but it works, trust me and the hundreds of recruits I have taught over the years, it works. Now I know I have raved about `Bully` a fair bit there but he is someone I have always looked up to since I joined, and in fact shortly after I had completed and passed my instructors course I was sent on a promotion course. I was promoted not long after my report had come back and it was at this point that I decided that I wanted to rise through the ranks and when I ended my career, whilst I hoped I may make the dizzy heights of Company Serjeant Major, as long as I reached Platoon Serjeant I would be happy. I wanted to be that man who cared about his blokes and worked for them and hopefully would gain the respect of his soldiers. I know that I fulfilled my side of the plan and I live in hope that at some point along the way I may have gained the respect of those whom I have taught and commanded.
I had a good catchup with `Bully` over dinner which was not too bad. The starters `Dobbsy` and I gave to those who wanted extra as they were not exactly what I had expected or to my memory ordered but this was the starter so no great shakes. The main course was fantastic. The beef literally fell apart and required almost no chewing as it simply melted in your mouth and then came the pudding. Again, not what I had expected as I know that I ordered the same for both me and my guest and yet they were different but as `Dobbsy` liked Christmas pudding and I was happy to try to the chocolate thing it worked out fine. I was more than a little pissed off with the fact that there was no non alcoholic wine as had been requested for my guest but it just meant that `Dobbsy` had cola. Not the cheapest place in the world for a drink but it is a hotel and it was a Christmas function so to be expected really. I had always regarded the military as families, people who you would support and stick with, people who you would build relationships with that would continue even after your time in the military was up. I had seen such things through people I knew who had served and that was one of the things that drew me to the military in the first place. I had formed what I thought to be really strong friendships with more than a few people from the battalion and had had some incredible laughs with as well as getting in to some right little states with of various types whether it be drinking or during recruit training or exercise. These would be the things that you would talk about at the bar or when you caught up. Two people in particular I had really good friendships with to the point that I would have put myself in harms way for, two people who were quick to treat me as though they had seen me only the day before and greeted me in the way that would have been had I been able bodied but it did not mean the same for me, I struggled to even be polite and that may seem more than a little rude but the thing that I could not get out of my head was the question that had been asked of me. “How you been mate?”
That question played and played and played, the answer that I had, the answer that I did not give though was “Do you mean now or over the past year since I last saw you”. I guess the evening turned from being a chance for me to catch up with people to a realisation that I perhaps had not had as many friends as I thought which was gutting really if I am honest. It also shattered what has become clear that is an “illusion” of the battalion being a family. I can only hope that it is because it is not a regular unit, the other alternative is that I actually have less friends than I first thought! It was only around a half hour after food had been finished and cleared away before I said goodnight to a few people and `Dobbsy` and I headed back out to the “Chucklebus” to head back to my bungalow, I was really quite disappointed that I had not spoken to more people or more to the point that people had not been too bothered about catching up with me. I was not looking to be the centre of attention, but I had hoped that some “friends” would be interested in how I was getting on, the fact that the only “friends” I spoke to were those who I stopped and spoke to on my way out of the function with the exception of only a couple. I did however make time to speak to someone else who I have always looked up to, he too has stayed in touch including visits and it was great to speak to him before we left. There was of course one really good friend who I see a lot, “Me Val”.
We got home just after midnight and had another cuppa while `Dobbsy`ran his car to de ice the windows, the frost was quite hard even at that time!
Today, (Sunday), has been a day where my Wife and the kids have been sorting the Christmas decorations for outside. My late Father in Law used to do his house up, or rather we all did as he was unable to climb the ladders and such until he got too ill to even sort the lights. He used to raise money for different causes by putting a notice outside the house. When people used to stop to admire the lights they would put money through the letterbox which was great and then at the end of the festive period, the lights would come down and the money would be counted and given to the cause that had been chosen that year. We have since inherited many of those lights and so our bungalow is lit up for our kids, they love it. My Daughter has also been busy washing my car bless her, or bless her is what I thought until she told me the price that she had agreed with her Mother! Well, I guess there will be works Christmas parties over the next few weeks, so if you are going to one, enjoy it. There is always going to be someone who tries to put a serious note on the fun and this time it’s going to be me. It is going to be pretty chiily people so make sure you have a warm coat when you leave, you can still look all glamorous while you are there but you won’t look right glamorous if you pass out pissed in little more than a skimpy dress or short sleeve shirt so be sensible, and it goes without saying that if you are gonna have a sherbert, get a taxi!