One day driving to school, the Grenade was chirping to me about the eating habits of ceratopsians. I looked at him and I said, “You know what mummies don’t think about dinosaurs hardly ever.”
“Really, mummy!” said the Grenade, genuinely, astonished. ” Little boys, think about them all of the time.”
“And, of that, I am acutely aware.” I replied.
I guess the point is that Modernmilitarymothers don’t think about Afghanistan all of the time either. In fact as a wife of a serviceman, for some reason I am supposed to have loyalty to the service, to which I am wedded. The thing is though I am not in the military, so I struggle to get my head around the difference between your Pongos, Matelots, Bootnecks and Crabs. I struggle sometimes even to care. Everyday is a school day for me.
From what I can work out, the Navy is the senior service, the Army are next – these two consider themselves to be the real military – and they both hate the RAF because they are civvies in uniform. But it doesn’t matter what service you are in they all hate ‘movers’.
One Bootneck, said to me dissmissively once, “don’t tell me you are one of those types that thinks the Second World War was won by the Battle of Britain?”
“Er no..I thought it was won because Hitler fought it on two fronts.”
I was surprised at myself, digging deep into the annals of GCSE history circa 1988. Why would I think the RAF won WWII because I am married to the RAF?
I grew up in Warminster, a garrison town. A military haven. Kids came and went. As I hit my teens, I avoided pubs filled with infantry soldiers, fighting and flirting with locals. I watched girls in my tutor group, swell with soldier’s babies and drop out early to become a squaddie’s wife. I waitressed in pubs serving those Rupert Bear Officers that clippity-clopped in with blakey’s on their brogues, covering their yellow mustard chords, topped with bright red roll necks. In my limited experience the military was something to be avoided at all costs.
I still can’t believe that I am married to it. After 12 years of relationship and almost 10 years of marriage, I still don’t get the rules of which there are many. Age and kids have worn me down. I less have the energy to care, challenge or object.
But the military is a Club (still predominantly a boys club), by which membership is only allowed by the actually serving. Wifes and partners are given unfettered, exclusive access to the club but as they don’t have full membership, and only have dependent’s membership, they have permission only to observe, support and applaud. There is to be no joining in from wives of any type of misbehaving, under any circumstances, what-so-ever.
These rules are un-written and un-spoken. Most of the time you don’t know if you get it right, until you get wrong and then it’s difficult to know if you got it wrong because they were totally egging you on in the first place. I am an old wife now, so I am hoping that I can handle it and won’t be lured into anymore bad behaviour because I am wizen, sage and mature. The last couple of Summer and Chritsmas balls of have passed without incident. In my youth, this was not usually the case.
The challenge for me as a boozy, mischevious, youthful free spirit is that when you add alcohol I morph into a fearless, easily persuaded, troublesome tike. Now young, mischevious officers loved it, and they completely encouraged me to be as naughty as they were. They invited me in to the inner sanctum, because it was funny and we had a hoot, partly because I can get away with breaking rules easier than they can.
The bastion of military social functions with rules is the Dining-in Night. This a dinner in the Mess that is generally serving only but occasionally once in a blue moon, they have a ladies guest night, which means that the wives are allowed to come and watch the serving misbehave. In 12 years I think I have been to about 4 and I have not been to one for about 3 years, for no particular reason. All of the ones I have attended have been epic in incident.
The rules are simple – you can’t leave the room until the speeches have finished and the top table depart. The challenge here is that once you enter the dining room, you have had a skinful and during dinner, you have a skinful and dependent on the guest speaker’s fine presentation, or unwanted wittering, you have a further skinful. By the time the top table departs, everybody is bursting beyond belief. Therefore, if you have to go and you can’t pee in a bottle under the table the aim is to sneak out unnoticed and then re-enter undetected. (The rules are also that the PMC (President of the Mess committee) can fine a bottle of port to any rebellious faction attending.)
Hagar’s famous Dining-in night Dit from Northern Ireland is when he and two muckers crawled out under the PMC radar after dessert and hid behind the mess staff’s screens so they could sneak off and go for a pee. On their return they discovered the screens had been removed and re-entry unnoticed was nigh on impossible. Hagar and mucker 1 headed to the ante room. Hagar grabbed a standard lamp and mucker 1 stripped off the cover of a chair. Mucker 2 completely disappears. Hagar and mucker 2 surreptitiously re-enter as moving furniture, are applauded for creativity and then fined heinously for rule breaking. Mucker 3 is still nowhere to be seen. At the end of the speeches, Hagar looks up and sees mucker 3 in full chef’s uniform talking to the guest at the top table being thanked for a marvelous meal.
There is a Dining-in Night in two weeks time and Hagar and I are attending, subject to sorting out a babysitter. The food is good, the booze is cheap, I’ll let you know if, in my now more senior years, I can manage it without any kind of misbehaving. I know one thing is for sure – if anyone says to me ‘would you like a ‘Shambles’?’ – Champagne, Red Bull and Vodka – I shall say ‘no, thank you.’ It’s not called ‘Shambles’ for nothing!