One of the principal disadvantages of one school I went to was that they still found it worthwhile to appeal to that same "market segment" (horrible phrase) that Kipling's school was set up to cater to - preparing the sons of imperialistic militarism to follow in their ancestors' footsteps. It wasn't the same singlemindedness of aim of Kipling's school, being rather just one facet of their overall offering, but it existed, and it was a pain in the arse.
Partly this was because it attracted a certain contingent whose intellectual abilities ranged from the mediocre all the way down to find-the-brain-cell, and who filled in the space left by the dearth of higher mental functions with knobheadedness. Their presence raised questions like "how the fuck did they ever pass the entrance exam" and "why the fuck are their parents wasting money giving them an education they are too thick to use". Most of them would leave school as soon as they were legally allowed to, taking their shitty O-level results (many of them were so thick they only did CSE) to the Army who apparently welcomed their lack of ability with open arms and allowed them to walk into an officer's commission without further quibble. I can't help thinking it would have been better both for the quality of the Army's officers, and for their own personal development, if they had instead been told to fuck off and join as an ordinary private and try and work their way up through the ranks, so they could get some experience of other people bullying them for a change before they attained any position of authority.
But what made this much worse was that the school weren't content to simply allow a militaristic sub-group to exist alongside the non-militarised majority. Instead they forced everyone to take part in the militaristic bullshit for one year. They called it "CCF" which stood for "Combined Cadet Force" and what it meant was that everybody in the year centred around age 14 had to spend every Friday afternoon dressing up as soldiers and standing around in the playground stamping on the floor and twiddling round like a bunch of bloody marionettes.
It had an "Army" bit and an "RAF" bit; the only choice you got was between those two, with no "not do it" option - well, probably if we'd had any kids in wheelchairs they would have been let off, but nothing short of being in a wheelchair would have got you out of it. (There wasn't a "Navy" bit, fuck knows why, after all we did have a river, but there just wasn't.) I opted for the "RAF" bit because I had got hold of the idea that at least you might get to fly a plane so it wouldn't be entirely shite, but it turned out that I had only got hold of the wrong end of the stick, and the only difference it actually did make was what colour clothes you wore while doing exactly the same mind-numbing bollocks as everyone else.
And just to make it as shit as possible, they didn't allocate any actual teachers to take charge of the mind-numbing bollocks. Well, they sort of did, but you only saw them for ten minutes at the start of the session and then they buggered off to do something more interesting, the jammy shits. Instead it was done by the thick fucks who stayed in it beyond the one compulsory year because they were going to join the actual Army later on. These cunts got to play at being NCOs and it never seemed to occur to any of the teachers that it really was an amazingly shit idea to give powers of command and punishment, backed up by adult authority, to a bunch of mindless morons whose cold, lonely neurons were too few in number to conceive of any higher thought than going red in the face and bullying people, and who delighted in indulging their licence to be a shit to people to the fullest extent by way of compensation for everyone looking down on them for being total fucking losers for the rest of the week. Yes, this includes you, so-called "Staff Sergeant" Short, or Staff Janitor Short or whatever they call you now, not that you'll ever read it since I severely doubt you ever figured out how to use a computer.
No, being yelled at and bullied by some thick as pigshit waste of oxygen who we all knew was going to fail all his exams and spend the rest of his life scraping other people's shit out of piss-puddled toilets, and who worked off his frustration at knowing the same thing himself by being a cunt to us, was not a lot of fun.
(Congratulations, by the way, belated though they be, to whoever steered the real Army officer who came to inspect our parade at the end of the year, and wandered round the lines picking three kids to ask what they thought of it. They must have set him up, they fucking must have done, because the sample was miles away from being representative. First he asked one lad, who quite enjoyed it on the whole, and said so, briefly; that was the plausible deniability sorted out. Then he wandered round for a bit and after wandering a suitable distance he asked me, of all people. So I told him it was boring and shit and I fucking hated it and it was completely out of order for them to force us all to do it instead of just having it as an option for those who were actually interested in joining the Army and we were at the school to learn stuff, not fuck about playing toy soldiers. This didn't take very long because I am far less articulate in speech than in writing and probably put it really badly. So then he wandered around for another few minutes before descending on his third victim. Now this lad was articulate, and he was also one of the small minority who had put enough effort into thinking about politics to have some well-developed and sensible views as opposed to the teenage bellendedness expressed by most of us. So he delivered a full-blown lecture on the evils of indoctrinating schoolchildren in militaristic practices and how especially inappropriate it was given the present need for nuclear disarmament (which was a major concern at the time). Well, the Army chap didn't speak to anyone else after that.)
Anyway, just to make sure you had to actually swim in the pool of shit instead of keeping to the shallow end, there was this thing called the "CCF Camp". And it went like this.
For a start, it happened in the middle of fucking November. So it was cold and wet and in the pissing rain, guaranteed. They trucked you out into the countryside and then you had to squelch for miles through the soggy floodplain of the Teme carrying all the heavy crap you would need to eventually erect a camp, in a swamp. You then spent the November night shivering in this damp tent while the older lads - the abovementioned pigshit-thick crowd - nicked off to the nearest village pub, got plastered, and came back thinking it was a great idea to go into people's tents and piss on them in bed. In the morning you took it all down again and squelched for miles back to where you started, even more soggily and also now smelling of piss. Finally you got to go home feeling like it'd been weeks and have a bath, and next week tell all the kids in the year below what a fucking horrible time they were going to have the following November.
Every year had exactly the same tale of it, and the tales reported to, and subsequently by, my own year were no exception. It was ample justification for the iron determination I had conceived right from the word go to have absolutely fucking nothing to do with it, and skive it instead.
Or perhaps it would be putting it better to say that it never crossed my mind to do anything other than skive it. My intention never varied from the moment it was formed: it was that the instant the final class finished on the day of departure, I would dash straight for my bicycle and pedal the fuck away from school as fast as my legs would let me. I would start putting my books in my bag a couple of minutes before the end of the last lesson so I could be up and out the door the second it actually finished, and I would take care to park my bicycle in the optimum location for being able to get to it before anyone realised what I was doing and for departing the school by a route which would place other buildings between me and any hostile eyes as quickly as possible.
To be sure, I would probably get into trouble the following week. I didn't care. The fucking thing would be safely over by then and there was absolutely nothing they could possibly do to me by way of punishment that would even approach being as fucking horrible an experience as actually going on the cunt. Skiving it was a guaranteed win, regardless of the consequences.
And I give thanks for the way it turned out, because in the event it could hardly have been better.
The first piece of good fortune was in the letter they gave us all to take home to our parents to tell them what was being inflicted on us. You know the sort of thing. You must have had them. They go like this: "Little Johnny will be going on a class trip to Siberia the week after next. He will need a Russian hat ("ushanka"), two spare willy-warmers and a supply of vodka to bribe the local cops. Should you fail to provide these items we cannot guarantee to bring him back alive. Please sign and return the slip below to indicate your consent and absolve the school of liability in the case of him being eaten by a bear."
Only, in this instance, they missed a bit. They didn't put the slip at the bottom to be signed and returned. BONG! Excellent. All I had to do was not bother to take the letter home and there would be no missing signature slip to alert the school to my intentions. One of the things that always particularly fucked me off about schools was their habit of suborning my parents to help them shit on me, but that complication was removed from consideration by the omission of the slip.
And the other one was the Fortunate Accident for which this page is titled. On the very morning of the day it was due to happen, I was cutting myself a slice of bread for my breakfast. The breadboard was a substantial disc of wood, quite heavy, about a foot across and an inch thick but bevelled down to about a quarter of an inch at the rim. And as I picked it up to put it away again it slipped from my hands and landed plumb on my big toe, edge on.
Well, for sure it hurt like all fuck. But the initial surge of pain abated fairly rapidly, and it soon got to the point where it didn't hurt much as long as I kept it clear of the ground (flex it even a fraction, though, and it was still fucking aargh.) I could still ride my bicycle quite easily, simply by putting the heel of that foot on the pedal instead of the toe. Walking, though, was considerably more difficult. I had to kind of hirple along with that leg stuck out sideways so that only the heel touched the ground and my toes were safely in the air.
So not only was I now in possession of a super excuse not to go on the fucking camp, I didn't even have to bother explaining it. There was no need to back it up by getting a note from my parents saying "please excuse Pigeon from the camp as his foot is fucked" with the concomitant awkwardness of explaining why they hadn't heard of this camp thing already. The outrageously silly walk the injury had forced upon me was really fucking conspicuous, and by the end of the day so many people had seen me lurching slowly around the place on one and a half legs that nobody batted an eyelid when I didn't show up for the camp.
There aren't many instances where bare feet are preferable to toe-tectors when dropping things on your foot, but by fuck this was one of them.
Back to Pigeon's Nest
Be kind to pigeons