Saturday 03:30: It is dark and there is no ambient light. Rain comes cold, horizontal and uninvited cutting through the issued smock and shirt. It rains down the neck, down the back, meanders through the crack of the buttocks and wets the groin.
The puddle on top of a hill in which I am sitting with my sleeping bag is getting bigger. I am nearly frost-bitten and hungry and my lips are chapped. The chap in the puddle besides me is dreaming of pork pies and snoring to the heavens. And suddenly as if on cue when things couldn’t be wetter, sloppier and darker, flares go up and the skies open up in amber light, cries and shouts. We are being ‘bumped’ and must evacuate to the emergency rendezvous.
It is then that my helmet starts rolling away from me down a not-so-gentle slope, smashing at tree trunks in full view of everyone, picking up wildflowers and thistles in its buckle, rolling over what appears to be a dead sheep in a ditch, and coming to a stop in a sizeable mound of cowpat. As I stand in front of my compadres with cow-guano sandwiched between my head and the helmet, my humiliation is complete and everlasting.
I love the Territorial Army.
And everyone in the Territorial Army hates Gareth Keenan from The Office. Spindly, sallow and boastful, he is the very sort that you are not likely to find in a TA regiment. Alas, he personifies us for the chap on the street even still, at a time when dwindling regular army numbers are being supplemented by an increase in reserve forces and TV ads are everywhere showing Territorial Army soldiers to be lean, mean fighting machines.
I train at a territorial regiment in London. It is perhaps the most egalitarian working place that one can find in England; waiters, plumbers, investment bankers and eye surgeons all gather in front of the regimental house at parade time to be shouted at by a platoon sergeant who might be a novelist in his spare time. I am an Indian citizen training in the TA. For those who talk of inclusion and diversity in the workplace, they could learn a trick or two from the weekend warriors who practice it to perfection.
And yet the Territorial Army attracts nothing but derision and sniggers in the British society. Of all those that serve, none expect a pat on the back, a concessionary hug or even a “what ho!” on the street.
The only positive that one can gather from the calumny that was The Office is that pretenders no longer join up. Being in the TA will no longer impress that fetching lass in the red dress standing by the bar. The more likely reaction is rolled eyes, derision and withering sarcasm. I know.
The gibes and brickbats extend even to the civilian workplace.
How do you explain to a mollusc of an office co-worker the sheer love that courses through your veins as you look upon the chap to your right on the parade ground – impeccable, starched, in his greens as the sleet pelts his ears pink and the fearsome wind tugs at his buckles?
No they won’t understand my stirring of pleasure as the platoon sergeant shreds to smithereens any little dignity I have ever had. For yes, a deep subterranean duct of sadomasochism runs under our very boots. We sup from it every now and then as we get shouted and screamed at and are made to do our push-ups and “yes sirs” and “no sirs”.
But personally, the thought of lying on the couch on a Saturday afternoon with a box of Jaffa cakes and the telly on is one that holds absolutely no appeal. We are happy when in pain; limping to our desks on a Monday morning, the lactic acid from the night before curdling our calves and making us wince with each step. We are the blissful lot. We are the Territorial Army.
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