Monday, 15 February 2010

Warwick Camp

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness ... So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth ... And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.
Genesis 1: 26-28, 31

Well, we all shine on,
Everyone, c'mon.
Instant Karma's gonna get you.
John Lennon (Instant Karma)

ONE REMEMBERS THE ODDEST THINGS. I cannot recall the obvious things. If I go to the minimart without a shopping list thinking to get Fairy original, chances are I’ll come home with Strawberry Ribena and will rediscover I am out of dishwashing liquid when it comes time to rinse out my glass. As I did just yesterday.

When I was almost fourteen, September 1963, all the boys in my form, the Lower Fifth, were drafted into the school’s Cadet Corps. I was a bit younger than most of my male classmates as I’d skipped a few forms during years of some brilliance. The bright lights had dimmed in my head, and there I was with lads of fourteen and even fifteen hearing that we had to gather on the next Wednesday afternoon, when regular classes had finished for the day, to go up to Warwick Camp to be outfitted in our military uniforms.

Next Wednesday came, and an open truck with wooden benches in its bed was waiting below the Assembly Hall. The new recruits and the boys who had been co-opted the year before (they were in their uniforms distributed in September 1962, and had nearly all grown out of those khaki shirts, shorts, knee-socks and puttees, and boots, and were to be given new clothing that would fit for a while) piled into the back of the truck, and sat wherever we could. There must have been nearly thirty of us. Health & Safety would not permit such transport in 2010.

I remember the truck passing Warwick Pond and an elderly woman walking on the side of the road. A number of the boys in our truck yelled obscenities at the poor creature. Vile obscenities, things I may have been hearing for the first time. Rough lot, the military.

At Warwick Camp, the headquarters of the Bermuda Regiment, Bermuda’s real soldiery made up of young males drafted as they finished normal schooling (it is still maintained under those conditions, females need not serve their country), the thirty or so boys from Warwick Academy queued outside a building with a hatch in the wall. As each boy reached the window, a full-time soldier took quick measurements of the boy’s chest, waist and inside leg. Asked what their shoe size might be, I imagine few of us could have answered truthfully. (In 2010 I still do not have an exact shoe size: style, material and comfort dictate anything from 7½ to 8½.) We were given boots to try on over our ordinary school uniform socks, which would prove to be thinner than the military issue we’d wear with the boots when on parade.

After a time, each boy had a bag loaded up with not just the summer's khaki gear, but the Cadet Corps’ winter uniform. Itchy, solid-green shirt with long sleeves, matching solid-green trousers. We had a beret with a badge, and a leather belt with peculiar silvery fastening devices, beret and belt to be used in summer and winter.

It was almost 1964: I was just getting turned on to British rock and roll. I had seen a few lads with long hair and had thought: That’s for me! I was discovering clothes that were not at all like my school uniform, and, God knows, light years removed from the Cadet Corps’ hideous outfits.

The Warwick Academy School Cadet Corps was abandoned a year later. I do not know why exactly, but I was certainly a happy camper when I heard that September 1964 would not entail another truck-ride to Warwick Camp for larger uniforms.

I could sit back, now, and wave an arm about, and dismiss my year in the military in a few sentences. At the time, however, it was dreary and I hated it, and rarely tired of saying so. I never managed to figure out how to march, parade or look as if I had a clue as to what I was supposed to be doing. As I was particularly awkward on the parade ground, I appreciated (and prayed for) rainy days. When we were unable to stand outside, we gathered on the balcony in the Assembly Hall and had lectures of a sort. These I did find interesting. We had a little map-reading (I recall plotting an invasion of Weston-super-Mare) and one lesson on how to survive in the Malaysian jungles (clearly something I needed to know aged thirteen).

One afternoon we were each given a Bren light machine gun, with an empty ammunition clip. We had to dismantle the gun, and then put it back together, at speed. I could not do that. (I was never any good at building models from kits, and they came with a step-by-step picture guide.) Fortunately, in 1964, I never had to assemble a Bren gun and march on an English seaside resort.

What particularly curious thing do I remember from my year serving with Her Majesty’s forces (I had left Bermuda when it came time for me to be drafted into the Regiment for three years)? It was something that took place the week following our outfitting with our first uniforms. We were being instructed on how to wear our uniforms. How to wind the puttees, how to polish the black boots and belt (never, ever, use liquid polish ... and I always did and caught hell for it), how to polish the brass cap badge and belt fastening device. (The really cool lads with girlfriends simply had the girls busy with the Brasso at lunchtime, in the Quadrangle, on the days the Cadet Corps was embodied. I wasn’t exactly cool at the time.)

The schoolteacher in charge of the Cadets, Mervyn White, who was a few years later to die of some rare and peculiar disease contracted in the Amazon jungle, held up a belt. One end had a pointy-out bit, the other end a slit.

“This is the male. The piece that sticks out. This is the female. The slot. And the male fits into the female. Like this.”

Mervyn jiggled the bits of brass together, and then pulled the belt out tight. It was securely fastened so long as the pressure was applied. If the belt had not been adjusted and was too loose around one’s waist, the male might slip out of the female, and that would be a problem. The forces on the belt buckle, acting to wrench the ends apart, would not break it open so long as the male piece was in the female correctly.

We did not have sex education classes at Warwick Academy. Our biology textbook had drawings of male and female rabbits' genitals, but not a great deal of information as to what the bunnies do with them. We had no lessons in psychology. We learnt nothing about family happiness, security or mores. For that matter, we heard nothing about contraception, abortion or STDs.

We did have Religious Knowledge classes. The master for that subject was our Cadet Corps commandant, Mervyn White. We spent most of our lesson time following Saint Paul. I disliked Paul from the start, he was too bossy. Of course, our classes covered the Ten Commandments (we had to memorize them, stand by our desks and recite one or more as the teacher demanded). Stephen Fry points out that the Ten Commandments are the hysterical work of desert tribes, and that those people have done nothing but make life (and death) a misery ever since, and to this day. We wandered in Genesis, avoiding Chapter 38 which was a bit much for teenagers. The Creation of Adam and Eve (or was it Lilith?) was, I suppose, another brush with sex education.

Male and female, created he them. Like himself. In his/her very own image. Well, that seemed odd even when I first heard it as a young boy. We knew (having seen the pictures) that God was a man. Where was the female part? Under the long robe? One may, after fifty years, think that the writer of Genesis (Moses?) understood that human males and females each have hormones that are “male” and “female”. God knows, hormones were not to be discussed in Religious Knowledge, or at our uptight school at all.

So, sex education from the Bible, by way of Mervyn White. And from the School Cadet Corps, by way of Mervyn White.

At my age, I still cannot polish brass without thinking of sex. Candlesticks, bowls and knobs. That said, I do like a brass band playing Jerusalem.
Freud might like that.

1 comment:

Ruth L.~ said...

Your memory amazes me... and your humor cracks me up. Polishing brass...:>)