It’s been a weird few months for us all. One minute I’ve got a great gig, interviewing the most interesting people in the game and going racing. The next, confined to barracks and furloughed for two months. Lockdown in a village in rural Devon isn’t the worst place to be but it’s still lockdown after a while it gets to you, even here.
Seeing the leader of the free world eyeing his medical advisers as if he’d just had a eureka moment suggesting injecting bleach was one thing. Witnessing esteemed trainers, top bookmakers and celebrated racing TV presenters, and even succumbing to the challenge of necking raw eggs myself, another. Those were the ‘light-hearted’ bits. The apparent unravelling of life as we know it all to the soundtrack of an hysterical social media commentary as well as getting me down got me reminiscing.
On a March Thursday back in 1986 I was watching Dawn Run win the Cheltenham Gold Cup on TV in Devon with my mate Larry. 26 hours later and just after dark I was disembarking a bus in Germany. The only newly trained REME craftsman posted to that camp. Home was a 1950’s Nissan type hut. My bag was dumped in a room no bed prepared. I was taken to the bar in the same block, as was the tradition the boys had been sinking Herforder Pils since knocking off at lunchtime. I was politely asked to stand on a chair, handed half a pint of spirits and invited to sink it, in one go of course. A ground level window in front of me opened as a precaution. I managed the challenge, chunder not needed, then ‘taken downtown’ to be shown the sights. Only courteous, me being the new guy and all. That evening ended with me and my new mates in a German police station after only hours in the country, one of my guides had chinned an Alsatian, don’t ask.
The following weekend started with another incarceration, this time in the camp nick. It was not my fault they carried my bed into the bar the night before which led to me being still in it unconscious when the guard commander called. If it started badly, it ended memorably.
I should point out the relevance of these Army stories to the opening sentences. For all intents and purposes the squaddies were on lockdown. They were only welcome in a couple of ‘nightspots’ in the local town of Bunde, in which only other squaddies would dare tread. Their alternative their own on-camp bars with other squaddies. I soon realised that there was little else for the troops to do but drink. They did this with some professionalism, every night and from Friday until Sunday, often in one session.
Sunday was the day when alcohol fuelled lockdown psychosis used to peak. Bored out of their minds and actually out of their minds, their entertainment often became competitive. My inauguration in witnessing how this manifested itself was in some style with a feat never to be topped in the sphere.
⚠️ Warning – if you are eating or of a weak disposition, please stop reading.
Sunday was a day when a certain element would decide to play games. I’m told retrospectively that it had been building to the crescendo I was to witness over a period of months. Games of eat the contents of an ashtray had been completed, pass the (dead) fly from tongue to tongue and one that involved a piece of string and a rind of bacon had all been played, but no, not the biscuit one.
The undisputed champion of this sport was a full corporal. Yes, a stripe wearing leader of men who I’ll identify simply as F. This Sunday, once witnessed, never to be forgotten, treat he had in store need the help of another soldier. We’ll call him M. This fine fellow disappeared for a short time then returned looking very pleased with himself. Held out in his hand shoulder high like a Ritz waiter with a tray of cocktails was a freshly delivered, perfectly formed turd balanced on a slice of Mother’s Pride. ‘F’ looked as the combination in a way no sane man should look as such an aberration, then deftly, added another slice, created a sandwich, and marched purposely outside as the bar emptied to follow him.
I’ll spare more detail apart from to say his stomach finally gave out with just a quarter of the sarnie left. Most onlookers, this one included lasted much less before heaving up their last Herforder. Nobody that wasn’t there really believes the story when I tell it, but I couldn’t make it up, or 34 years later, forget it.
Why am I sharing this tale of less than auspicious start to my brief Army career and unsavoury glimpse into squaddie leisure time? Well I could hardly bear to look at social media this morning, it seems the world is losing its collective marbles. Hopefully, there is normality on the horizon, after only a few months into this crisis. I reckon it took ‘F’ a couple of years to get to the stage I described. So, fear not, Covid19 will all be a distant memory long before we risk being nominated for the shit sandwich challenge.
Views of authors do not necessarily represent views of Star Sports Bookmakers.
Simon Nott is author of:
Skint Mob! Tales from the Betting Ring