Monday, 14 April 2008

Lets Rock Sandhurst

The more time I spend at Rock HQ the harder it is to leave it for any length of time.

To justify being away from our rural idyll there needs to be a good reason. We seldom go to town anymore, save for visits to the vets, or to collect feed for the beasts or to the hospital to have my arm looked at. As time goes on I find myself only leaving here to go to work.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti social, I love people visiting, especially when they want to help out on any number of jobs that want doing, but I have developed a specific type of agoraphobia that means my anxiety increases in direct correlation to the time and distance I am away from Rock HQ. We’ve even cancelled holidays abroad so we can stay and holiday at Rock HQ, I mean who wants to be on a beach in Antigua when you can muck the horses out.

There are exceptions that will tempt me out of my hermit like existence, such as a meal with good friends, the odd party ( and some of my friends do have odd parties) or a an event such as happened this last few days.

Late Thursday evening we all left Rock HQ and travelled to RMA Sandhurst to watch Ben, our son, take part in the Sovereigns’ Parade. After a grueling year, one that has tested his physical and mental endurance to the limits Ben has now been commissioned into the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd battalion.

As usual best laid plans were nearly scuppered by the animal residents of Rock HQ, just as we were leaving the farm in the very capable hands of Jill and Derrick, my in laws, Roxy our last ewe to lamb showed distinct signs that she was about to pop. An hour passed and Roxy let out an almighty belch and carried on eating.

So we left, but way behind schedule and as Tracey was feeling very tired I stepped into the breach and drove. An interesting experience for all concerned considering that I haven’t driven since 24-9-07 due to my broken arm, but my passengers showed their appreciation for my efforts by sobbing uncontrollably at every junction.

We made it in good time, despite the rain and soon we were settled in our very nice hotel eager to see Ben. He showed up very happy but very nervous as we were going to meet his girlfriend’s parents for the first time and he was keen that I made a good impression. I had just driven for 150 miles with a broken arm, how could I not make a good impression! They made a good impression on me by buying me a drink, a whole bottle of red which went down very nicely as we swapped stories of our journey, they had travelled the farthest having come over from Dublin. Ben sat and fretted during the meal, he wasn’t allowed in any licensed premises within three miles of the camp gates, he was convinced he would be found out and be stopped from passing out with the rest of his platoon.

The parade was spectacular, some four hundred cadets, officers, bandsmen and horses in an expertly choreographed display of marching and drill. The weather was equally spectacular, glorious sunshine until the last two minutes of the parade, as they marched up the steps of the Old College the heavens opened, torrential rain, closely followed by a massive hail storm that suddenly whipped across the parade square and as everyone rushed for shelter, their flimsy umbrellas no match for the wrath of the elements, an enormous clap of thunder followed an impressive lightening display that made me thankful that the steel tipped umbrella I was holding skywards had a real wooden handle.

The whole day taught me many things, the most important of which is that I am now the very proud parent of an Army Officer, but it mainly taught me that I am no longer the party animal I once was.

For me parties used to be, to use a military analogy here, like the Falklands Conflict, over quickly, in and out with minimal casualties, whereas now going to a party is like the Vietnam War, prolonged, drawn out, never ending with huge collateral damage. Even with having a bit of a kip after lunch I was seriously flagging by 1 am.

I also couldn't find an area of the Ball where I felt comfortable. Now this ball was a huge affair, different zones were allocated themes to keep the four thousand or so revelers happily entertained. The rallying point for us was The King Hussein’s Pavilion where members of Ben’s platoon had laid on free drinks for all of their guests. The table was a sea of alcoholic beverages and if you were inclined you could have drunk yourself into oblivion before even getting to the ball, this was an option taken up by a few. I must apologise to who ever it was that put the very expensive bottle of Champagne down on the table only to find that it had been liberated and drunk by yours truly. I did share it and had it been a few degrees colder it would have been fantastic but as it was free it went down very nicely and I do appreciate your generosity however accidental it may have been.

We then progressed to the ball itself, the entrance hall had a grand piano with a gentleman trying to entertain the troops with a personal tribute to Barry Manilow. This was not for me, I like something with a bit more beat to it so we went into the next room which seemed to serve as a chillout area but as there was a photographer lurking we pushed on into a huge dance hall where enthusiastic DJ’s were mixing some banging tunes. Now I have done door work at nightclubs, and have also done security work for The Ministry of Sound where my little ears have been assaulted by immense volumes. This was nothing compared to the noise generated in this hall, it almost drove the words you were trying to shout to your fellow party goers back inside your mouth. This was not the place to be if you wanted to hear anything other than a high pitched whine for the rest of your life so we hurried through the exit into the next zone which was quieter but only as in the way a Tornado jet engine is quieter than Concorde. This place had a soul band, highly entertaining and what clinched the deal as to why we should stay, the bar, it was huge, fully staffed and they were serving Guinness! Bonus points, but somehow we had lost our Irish companions so I had to drink their share as well. A challenge I accepted with some misgivings but the earlier alcohol consumption had destroyed the brain cells that would have warned me of impending hangovers so I battled on regardless of the inevitable pain that would start in a few hours time.

What saved me from too much self harm was going outside to watch the fireworks which I have to admit were a bit of a let down. Anyone who has attended one of our parties will vouch for the quality of our firework displays where we have triggered small nuclear explosions with weapons grade fireworks in a small mid terrace garden.

Once outside in the fresh air I was drawn to the pig roast, compulsory after alcohol if no bacon butties are available, where the sobering effect of the cold night air was complimented by hot pork fat and soggy bread. We returned to the DJ arena where the sonic attack had the same effect on us as shrapnel had on troops in the trenches, we refused to go over the top and decided on a tactical withdrawal to the taxi rank.

Here we had an encounter with an extremely offensive little man who thought he was onto some easy money from some merry party people. Cash up front was his first demand, no problem how much, twenty pounds, sorry mate but it was only four to get here, even allowing for the early hours it shouldn’t be more than ten. At this point the offensive little driver launched into a diatribe of incomprehensible insults so we left him excitedly bouncing up and down in his driver’s seat and got into the car behind where a very nice man agreed to take us to the Hotel for a tenner. Apparently he had lost count the number of times he had seen people get out of the other taxi in a hurry.

Back at the Hotel we got to our rooms quietly like all party goers suffering from excess alcohol and inner ear damage, lots of shushing, hand signals and very loud Good Nights or I Love You’s.

I finally located my bed at 2am where I tangled myself up in the soft duvet and deep pillows, pleased on two fronts, one that I had in some way assisted Ben in his ambition to be an Army Officer, and two, that I had not danced like a Dad at the ball thereby embarrassing myself, my wife and my family.


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