Skinback Fusiliers, Episode Six

We present the sixth of ten weekly episodes from a brutal novel by an acclaimed British author

We present the sixth of ten weekly episodes from a brutal novel by an acclaimed British author. 

The book is available on Kindle and through Amazon here.

Visit the Skinback Fusiliers page to read all published episodes, an introduction to the book, and a foreword by the author.


GOOD TOOL, GOOD TOMB, GOOD LUCK

Four:

I got a call from Sha that night, from Sha and Ashton down in the soft south.  I was feeling pretty pissed off anyway – and hung over from mad old Ken next door – and it didn’t bloody help, no way.  They sounded high as kites, and Ash was up to his old giggling.  Sha said the crack was excellent, the weather was fantastic and they were “really, really missing you, know wha’ ah mean, ya wankah!”

Fuck off, I thought, that’s all I need, me best mates turning gay.  Oh yeah, I said, pull the other one, why don’t you, it’s got bells on.

“No seriously,” he said, “you’re doing a great job up there, ain’t you?  Keep an eye on him, keep the bugger in your sights.  We’ve only got a few weeks more down here, then we’ll have the bastard proper.”

“What bugger?  What bastard?  What the fuck you on about, Shahid?  The only job I’m doing is getting in the shit.  What you on about?”

“Goughie,” he said.  “The great big streak of yellow piss.  He’s been telling people you beat up a cop girl.  That’s why you got busted back.  He’s been on the phone to Bollocks Bowyer.  He’s been telling people I’m a fucking terrorist!”

“You fucking are!” goes Ashton in the background.  “Osama Bin Liner, you fucking Paki twat!”

“I’ll stick a rocket up your arse if you ain’t careful,” Shahid told him.  “Listen, Tiny, what do you think?  That ginger SAS bloke that went on the train with you is definitely an undercover man, Goughie told Bollocks.  And Goughie’s told him everything.  Straight up.”

“But I didn’t hit the cop girl!  It was the Colour!  Fucking Goughie saw it!  I was with him!  Why would he say that?”

“Because it’s true!” went Ashton.  “Confess!  Repent!  Sing halleebleedinglujah!”

“Ash,” said Sha, “fuck off.  This is serious.  Look, I’ve got a strawberry condom in me pocket.  Go and get some tart to suck it for you.”

“But I didn’t hit her, Sha,” I said.  “I fucking didn’t, he knows it.  What did Bollocks say to him?”

Bollocks, apparently, had told Goughie he was barking, and liable to lose his face.  But Bollocks was a friend of Martie, wasn’t he, so Martie would get fed the stupid tale in any case.  That was Sha’s theory.

“Yeah,” I said.  “Sounds dead on to me.  But no one’s going to believe it off of Goughie, are they?  I mean – you a terrorist!  You joined the fucking army!”

“Yeah, and I did it for the cover, didn’t I?  Even I can see how that would sound.  I’m a Muslim, therefore I’m a terrorist, so I join the army and no one’ll know.  To the Intelligence Branch that probably sounds intelligent, and to put the tin lid on it, I’m always eating bacon and hanging round outside Mecca drinking lemonade and praying.”

“You don’t drink lemonade,” went Ashton.  “You drink like a fucking fish.”

“I don’t play bingo either, you prat!  Or pray to Allah, come to that!  Ashton – go away!”

Sha wasn’t really worried, in the end, he’d just rung up to have a laugh.  But it explained why Gough was avoiding me, I spose, and I wondered if there’d be any comeback.  I tell you what though – next time I saw him he’d get my toecap up his arse. 

Next time I did see him, in fact, was quite a long time after, when the trogs had been trained up enough to fire a live round on the ranges.  I was Williams’s sidekick as per usual, and all us spare squaddies were there for safety, like, to “keep an eye on things.”  It wasn’t dangerous, though, they were always telling us there’d never been an accident, and quite honestly, most new kids thought it was the funfair, with real guns and bullets to make it pretty cool. Plus the added bonus there was lots of live rounds lying in the dirt to take home to impress your mates and family afterwards.

Sarnt Williams was showing off as usual, and beasting me to show he was the boss.  He’d got them all sat down in rows, and lectured them on how guns could kill you and crap like that, and when it wan’t their turn they had to be like cunts in a kindergarten, not move a fucking muscle.

“Most of all, no talking, yeah?  I want dead silence or some one of you’ll end up really dead, geddit?  See that range-flag over there?  Well if you talk, you crawl to it on your belly, then fucking back again.  You don’t believe me?  Hassan!  Come ’ead and tell ’em ’ow it’s fucking true!”

I was sitting on me arse but I got up to answer, I knew his funny little ways.  Oh no I didn’t though.  I wasn’t even fully on me feet before he screamed at me in a mock rage dragged up from nowhere.  Hopping up and down, he was. What a bastard.

“Are you takin’ the piss, Hassan?” he yelled.  “Do I look like I’ve got all day!  Well you can give us a demo can’t you, you fucking asked for it!  Range flag – go!”

They were all goggling at me, half-smiling at the sergeant’s fun because they had to, and I noticed the one called Jeff, his “Al Bino,” was the only squaddie there who showed no interest.  I’d noticed already that he was pretty miserable these days, and the night before, old Ken had told me why.  It turned out that his “mother,” the one that he’d been fool enough to say had bought his coat for him, wasn’t his real mum after all, she was a sort of carer.  He’d been in a kid’s home till eleven, then farmed out into foster, and it was round the camp like wildfire.  He was “Billy No-Mum,” now, or “Little Orphan Annie.”  He was “such a fucking loser, his folks gave him away.”

“Well,” said the sergeant.  “What you waiting for?  Go!  Not on your legs, you twat!  Crawl, you knob-end!  Crawl!”

In my best combats too.  Creases like knives.  Boots bulled up to buggery.  I crawled.  It was when I reached the range flag I saw Goughie, over with another lot of trogs on another section, and I had my choice.  He’d been avoiding me like mad, and there he was – so I could either shout out the big hello from Sha and Ashton to show I knew what he’d been up to, or I could let him get away with it.  If I shouted and Williams heard, I was in the shit. If I said nowt, how would he know I knew?

Logistics. Tactics. Easy.  I went on one elbow as I crawled, and made like I were flipping open a mobile, and clamped it to my ear and sneered at him.  Then I snapped it shut (my fist), and pulled a finger across my throat, like a butcher’s knife.  All done in deadly silence, and even Goughie, thick as pigshit, would get the message.  But he’d seen me crawling, he’d seen me being beasted by the sergeant, and he couldn’t keep the smile off of his face.  Right, you twat, just keep on fucking smiling.  A knife across the neck won’t be the fucking half of it.

The rest of the range-time was just boring.  It was the crap-hats’ first go at it, so they were interested for a while, like you always are, but it soon wears off.  Ashton reckons that if all the English “Yardie twats,” the would-be Jamaica gunmen, the black doods and rappermen who make it impossible for a “good class niggah” to walk down the street without a stop’n search – if all of them was given guns at school, by the time they was eleven they’d be bored titless of the fucking boring things.  I can strip down an SA80 in three seconds in the pitch black dark with six fingers up my arse.  And if I never saw another one again it would be much too bleeding soon.

One little laugh at dinner-break, though, if you like that sort of thing.  There were two veggies in this new mob – two who admitted it anyway, slow learners – and when the “range poo” containers were opened up, the only stuff the cooks had sent out for them to eat was leftover veg from yesterday.  One of the daft bastards, a Wigan lad, dared to half-complain, so the sergeant tipped it out onto the grass, for both of them.  Then his lancejack got out some spare cheese sandwiches, and made the veggies reach for them.  They never got close enough though, did they?  Sandwiches on ground, boots on sandwiches, “apologies” all round.  Ooh, how we all giggled at his brilliant sense of humour.  I tell you, it’s like watching savages.  It’s like watching people with no brains.

I did another piss-up with old Ken that night, and asked him what he thought of the army, honestly.  I went into his room to do it, and I took a bottle of brandy that I’d gone down and got at Tesco’s.  He was sitting on his bed in a pair of tatty boxers, fat as a Buddha wreathed in smoke, and about half pissed already.  I went in cautious, in case I wasn’t welcome, but he didn’t give a bugger, you could tell. 

He raised a buttock first, to ease one out, and just said “You married are you, Hassan?” as if we’d been in the middle of a conversation.

I shook my head, but didn’t answer.  I’d had a text off Bridgie earlier as it happened, asking for the money that I owed her, lying cow.  I waved me bottle at him, opened it, and found a cup for me.  His guitar was on the floor beside his bed, but he was doing nowt when I went in.  Twiddling his thumbs.

“Bleeding right too, son,” he said, “you keep it that way.  It don’t go together in my experience, marriage and the army.”  He took a drink, and coughed.  He sucked on his cigarette till the filter went red hot and nearly melted.  He coughed some more, and dropped the dog-end in an ashtray, where it smoked and stank.  He laughed.

“Marriage and anything, in actual fact,” he said.  “Men and women, that’s the problem.  Without them two ingredients it would be a damn good thing all round.  We’re incompatible.”

“I won’t get married, Ken,” I said.  “I can guarantee it.  No normal girl would even look at me.”

His belly jigged about a bit at that, and he lit another fag.

“No guarantee at all, that ain’t,” he said.  “There ain’t no normal girls in Catterick to start with, they’re so desperate they’ll fuck anything that moves.  It’s the wives you want to go for, though, the wives are easy, ask your Uncle Ken.  The secret is to screw ’em when the old man’s posted, and drop ’em fast when Johnnie comes marching home again. Deny everything, and if anyone gets hurt it isn’t you. Are you with me?”

Not really, but what do I know, eh?  Sure as shit unfaithful didn’t mean a thing to Bridgie, and if I got hurt, well fuck my luck. But Ken had lost his interest now. He’d picked up his guitar and was strumming through the last verse of a song I’d heard before.  A soldier’s song about a lad that’s buggered off and left his wife and kid to starve while he goes finding glory.  And then comes marching home again. Well, not exactly marching…

            You haven’t an arm and you haven’t a leg,

            Haroo, haroo.

            You haven’t an arm and you haven’t a leg,

            Haroo.

            You haven’t an arm and you haven’t a leg,

            You’re an eyeless, noseless, chickenless egg.

            You’ll have to sit out with a bowl and beg –

            Johnnie I hardly knew ya.

It was a brilliant tune, and the words were fucking awful, when you thought about it.  An eyeless, noseless, chickenless egg.  Christ.  Cooked up inside a Warrior that’s caught an RPG.  You could see it in his face, what Ken Rogers thought. It seemed to say it all for him.

“I did four years in Northern Ireland when I were your age,” he said, when he’d finished.  He put the guitar down and picked up his fag, and smoked it quietly for a good long while.  “I drove Land Rovers, it was easy in them days, they were a good tool for the job – in and out quick as a flash, and the IRA bullets rattled off the armour, even MG rounds.  We still use ’em now against the Taliban, and they can blow ’em inside out for fun.  They’re bastards, Tiny, and I don’t mean the enemy.  They’ve thrown us to the wolves, mate.  They do not give a flying farting fuck.”

His mood was moving to the black again, any fool could see that.  And I didn’t have a thing to say. We knew all about our weapons and equipment, we talked about them all the time. We knew that we were being lied to.

“I drive a Warrior,” I said.  “Good tool.”

“Yeah.  Good tool.  Good tomb.  Good luck, Sunny Jim.  You’ll fucking need it.”

What could I do?  I couldn’t get up and just walk out, could I?  But he was sinking pretty fast.  He lifted up his mug and drank like it was water.  Then he filled it up again.

“D’you know what they used to call us when I went to Iraq?” he said.  He raised his face and focused on my eyes.  “They called us the Borrowers.  The Yankee soldiers did. They thought we were pathetic, and they give us everything, they’re generous, the Yanks, incredible.”

He stopped. He coughed. He carried on.

“Our issue boots were crap, they melted in the heat,” he said, “so the Yanks bought Spanish, then passed them on to us, proper bastard boots that didn’t let the sand in. We didn’t have no night goggles, no body armour, no radios that worked, no creams and lotions for sore eyes and bollocks, no proper fucking tents, so the Yankees give us everything, or sold it if they didn’t want to show us up.  The country fucking cousins, eh? Jesus, I spent most of my pay on non-issue gear, and some storemen even stock it in our stores now, so they can take an extra fucking cut!  And all the time in Parliament the lying bastards say that our kit’s wonderful, the very very best.  We used to sit and pray, sometimes. That they’d send some politician out to war, John Reid or Hoon, or that funny little fucker with the Hitler moustache.  Just for a week.  In British gear.  In a snatch Land Rover.  With an SA fucking 80.”

Down goes another cup of brandy.  Maybe he’d drink himself to death.  Maybe I would, ditto.  He blinked at me.  I smiled.

“SA80.  What d’you think of it?  Okay rifle is it?” he said.  “Not that you’ve ever fired one up to your balls in red hot sand, I spose.”

I hadn’t.  Please God I’d never have to, neither.

“First ten years in service it was scrap,” he said.  “British designed, British developed, British built, unusable.  When I first started, our lives were on the line day after fucking day because it wouldn’t work.  Would they admit it?  You tell me.  It had to be dragged out of them, disaster after disaster, cock-ups galore, until you could hear the bastards lying right across the world – it was the future, it was wonderful, it was the very best.  Fire it twice, it jammed.  Dust, sand, damp, garlic on the fucking breath, it wouldn’t fire.  They lied, and lied, and lied and fucking lied.  And when the game was up, they got it redesigned and built by Germans, all hush-hush.  Good tool now.”  He took another swallow of his brandy.  Had another cough.  He looked at me. 

“How much did you have to spend on proper gear then, when you joined?” he asked.  “Can you put a figure on it?”

I said nothing, but I knew it was all true.  I remembered how it was last year, and I knew damn well it hadn’t changed.  The storemen kept the good stuff alongside the issue, and the choice was yours.  Spend money, or freeze to death, or boil, or get pneumonia and trenchfoot from the damp.  Gordon Broon’s Fashion Accessories the storemen used to call the proper gear, although I’m fucked if I know what they call it now that cunt’s been forgotten.  It’s a scandal really.  A complete dis-fucking-grace.

But it was time to go, at last.  No answer needed after all, because Ken was now unconscious, or asleep.  His mouth was open, his dog-end drowned in dribble, his plastic mug all nestled in his hairy tits.  I didn’t tuck him up or give him a kiss goodnight, surprise surprise.  It was bayonets in the morning.  Five bloody thirty up.  That was enough shit to be going on with.  More than enough.
Five

Only a complete pillock would have gone on the piss the night before a bayonet day, so you can work that out yourself.  I wasn’t being trained, of course, and nor were Williams’s lot in theory – new trogs don’t get bayonet till Week Thirteen or so.  But the fact he’d swapped duties with another sergeant so he could be part of it should have been warning enough for me to lay off drinking.  Williams wanted fun.  And he wanted fun at my expense, an’ all.

He kicked into my room at five o’clock and this time didn’t bother just dragging me covers off. Before I was even half awake he gripped the bed frame under me and heaved it so I smashed onto the floor, then let it go so that it crashed down again and bounced.  My side locker went over, a glass of water and my alarm went flying, and Williams shouted: “Get up, get up, get up, you cunt!  I told you five o’clock!”

He’d told me half-past five, but what the fuck, no arguing.  I forced myself to jump up to my feet and this time I had underpants on at least, because I’d guessed he’d pull some sort of stunt.

“Floor Three!” he yelled.  “We’ve got Tankie’s lot!  I want them all out and in their gear ready for inspection at five thirty five!”

Oh yeah, likely.  They’d not been warned or anything the night before – part of the technique was to keep them guessing till they actually saw the dummies hanging there – but if I didn’t get them moving the shit would hit the fan, for me.  I was halfway dressed before he even left my room, and I heard him banging on Ken’s door to wake him up too, the spiteful bastard.  Ken was on the sick, remember – offically bonkers, declared unfit to even look at a loaded rifle let alone have hold of one – so drag him down the ranges with us, that’s army humour.  When I got down to Sergeant Tankerton’s lines his corporals were already on the rampage, it was a bear garden.  Squaddies were racing through their block jobs, kicking over mop buckets, swinging brooms, and in every room you could hear shouting and swearing and beasting, big time.

The general idea some sergeants had of bayonet training was a sort of throwback to them films you see about the war.  Big Knob reckoned it was psychology – to drive lads into a frenzy of fear and hate to make them realise what it would be like to fight somebody hand-to-hand – and he refused to do it.  He said it was stupid, because people who could go mental would go mental anyway, they didn’t need play-acting, and the rest of us would “learn it on the night – or die.”  Sarnt Williams, though, surprise surprise, was a wind-’em-up-till-their-eyeballs-popped merchant.  He loved bayonet training.  He got his rocks off on it.

My job was to back up Williams, and his job, as he saw it, was to beef up some of the corporals, who might be soft.  The best way, in his view, was to reduce the recruits (not crap-hats any more, they’d passed off the square) to jelly, and to make them exhausted before they even got out to the fields.  At first we barged into their rooms, shouting if they weren’t in their combats, shouting if they were, messing up their beds if they’d got them made already, the whole general thrashing routine.  Then they got three minutes to muster outside in the corridors in full gear, “parade ground smart,” and anything, real or not real, would do to send them back, to come out again in PT kit.  Once out in shorts they’d get blasted back again to “dress proper,” and if they took too long – three minutes, say – they’d start it all again, with press-ups thrown in for a bonus.  Some of them were as hungover as I was, on account they weren’t trogs no more so could drink in the Naafi or go out into town, and he targeted them the worst.

The canteen opened at six o’clock on bayonet days, but the idea was to give them fifteen minutes for their breakfast, then make them too late to eat it, like.  That was easy – when their uniform was right, you told them it was wrong, and go the fuck and change it.  Other groups got off earlier than ours, so by the time we got to the canteen there were ten minutes left and queues from here to Kingdom Come.  The food was shite in any case, so people didn’t mind not eating it, except that they’d get damn all else until some evil bastard (Sarnt Williams) said they could have their dinner on the ranges, and you know what  Bob Marley said about an ’ungry man.  His dad was in the British Army too.  And a fucking Scouser!  So my lot copped for breakfast right at the complete last minute, and before they’d got a mouthful down Williams screamed at me to scream at them to get it in the swill and get their arses back outside.

“Too slow!” he shouted, as the last few stumbled out.  “Frog hops, the lot of you!  That building over there!  Yeah, thass right, the fucking lot of you!  If you’ve been waiting don’t blame me!  Blame your so-called mates for keeping you!  They’ve done it on purpose, can’t you work that out?  They fucking hate you, that’s why!  Your fucking mates’d fucking kill you if they had the chance!  You’ve missed your breakfast.  Frog hops!”

Squaddies are like politicians.  When in doubt plead ignorance and hope you’ll be all right, you could see it in their faces.  They didn’t know what frog hops were, they’d never heard of them they said, which was bollocks but it must be worth a try.  So guess what happens now?

“Hassan!  They’ve never heard of frogs!  They don’t know how the little fuckers jump!  Show ’em, Hassan!  That firehose and back!  Yeah, that one, la’.   Now!”

It’s hard work, frog-hopping, it’s a killer.  No way of faking, neither.  Toes out, heels together, hands clasped behind your back.  And every hop, your body’s got to go right down between your open knees, then you bounce up again, like a puppet on a spring.  About two hundred metres I had to go, and Williams made me do it on my own, so that “they” could see me.  So that he could, more like, so that I couldn’t use the other bastards to shield me if I eased the bounces off or moved my hands in front.  When it started raining I took it as a sign that God existed after all, although the others thought he was a bastard.  But it was cool, and the alcohol in my blood was on the boil.  I reckon you could of bottled my sweat and sold it to the Jocks.

When I got back to them I was glowing like a red hot stove, half blind with rain and sweat.  I’d got the hang of the sergeant now, so I didn’t get to my feet until he told me to, because I didn’t fancy frogging there and back again.  I got reprieved, and the other bastards gave me dirty looks when he told them to go without me, as if I was getting off of something!  They did it in batches, split into threes, and while the first lot hopped off, the other two thirds marched on the spot or took up the usual range of stress positions, with me to check if they unbent their legs and arms or tried to put one foot down or any con like that.  I must say their faces were filling up with hatred pretty fast, which was the whole point in the sergeant’s warped mind.  There were always fights in Catterick after bayonet days, in the camp and in the town.  I made a note of the best ones to avoid if I was going drinking later on.  Not that I thought I would be.  I thought that I might rather die.

An hour and a half all this went on, and by that time some blokes were almost fizzing, you could see it.  Then it was “collect rifles,” with constant harrying and yelling, and once you’d got yours it was line up again then break off in groups and run round and round the parade ground with your SA80 held above your head, both arms, intermixed with press-ups, stress positions, and marching on the spot.  After that they were all formed up and marched off the actual barracks through a gate that led out to the fields, where – surprise surprise – there was a hill they could be beasted on, marching up it, running up it, hopping up it, crawling up it, sheer blue bloody fucking murder.

The dummies were in lines on sort of gantries – a gallows was the real idea – with some in one row, some in the row behind, and so on.  The method was to rush down screaming, skewer a dummy from arsehole to breakfast-time, then charge on to the next one, still screaming like a schizo on a big day out.

Before the charge you had to fix your bayonet – out of webbing, on to flash eliminator, twist, check – which struck me as the danger part.  The rifles weren’t loaded, but some of the lads were, they’d have stabbed their Auntie Mabel given half a chance.  Some of them were damn near foaming at the mouth.

 

“You’re going to kill ’em!”  Sergeant Williams screamed.  “It’s life and death, you poke cold steel or die yourself!  It’s not an easy death, it’s not a bullet or a nice big bloody bang, it’s a piece of rusty, twisty metal stained with your best mate’s blood.  They’re going to kill you!  They’re going to turn your mother inside out, and rape your sister, they’re going to force-feed you camel shit and curry!  And they don’t drink alcohol, they’re not human!  So kill the bastards!  Kill!  Kill!  Kill!”

I swear to God that most of them had swallowed it.  They raced off down the slope screaming and bellowing, and stabbed and tore and dragged out in a frenzy.  Not everyone.  I saw two or three lads who looked sick, embarrassed, who felt they were being proper fools, pretending.  That’s how I always was, when I was trained to do it.  Every three weeks, or a month or so, I went through the motions, the big lie, and I wondered how I’d be if I ever had to do it for real.  Dead, I guess.  Or maybe cool and calm and dead effective.  Who knows?

I remembered one thing, though.  The gay lad, who’d been mocked and hit and bullied till he went unit and went crawling back to mum – he’d been a dervish at the bayonet field.  He’d been like a whirlwind of hatred, frothing at the mouth.  Maybe that’s the answer.  Get the enemy to call you bumboy, or treat you like a fairy, and you’ll stab their tripes out and drink their pissing blood.  Oh yeah.  Psychology.

“You’re rubbish!” shouted Sarnt Williams as they staggered out the other end.  “You’re dead!  You’re like a gang of fucking poofs.  D’you want a bayonet with a girlie-button, is that it?  D’you want one with a bunch of roses at the end?  On the spot!  March!  And you six – press-ups!  Go on, faster!  Faster!  Put some fucking balls in it, you wankers!”

As the next lot came off he abused them too, and then the next lot, until there was room at the start again.  The marchers on the spot were then shot round to go again, then the push-up gang, while the latest team to stagger off were thrashed and beasted in their turn.  The screaming at the dummies was constant, it never stopped, and the teams went round and round and round and got madder and madder and madder, far as I could see.  The yells were hate-ist, sexist, racist, gayist, you name it-ist.  Even I was shaky, and I hadn’t done a thing.  And after three hours Williams called a halt to have some scran.  For fifteen bleeding minutes.  Just fifteen.

There were fights and scuffles from now on, nothing serious, but the sergeants and corporals didn’t try to break them up unless they looked like going OTT.  On the march back to barracks at the end there was more trouble, and most people missed their food and went straight off for a shower then to the Naafi or the outside pubs.  There were punch-ups in the showers, then in the laundry and the drying rooms, because lots of blokes’ clean gear that they’d done earlier had been nicked from off the hangers as usual.  You could smell it in the air, like tigers in the zoo.  There’d be trouble in Catterick later on, for certain.  No wonder the locals were like Shaun and the fucking dead.

When I got back to the lines with Sergeant Williams, though, things got much worse, faster than the speed of light.  The place was buzzing, with older squaddies, NCOs, RMPs, even officers inside the block.  Something must have happened, and the Sarnt raced off to get the lowdown off his mates, and left me to it.  No one was saying much that made a lot of sense, but I worked out soon enough that someone had shot himself – and not one of our official lunatics, because I saw two of them ghosting round the corridors, and the other one had been carted off by the men in white just the day before.

And then I got it, and it made me go completely sick.  Ken had been on the ranges, barking mad or not – and Ken had not come back.  He’d been in a total state last night, pissed up, passed out, and he’d been going on about women, wives, the government, the bleeding lot.  He’d not seemed suicidal, but what the fuck did I know?  It was Ken.

I don’t know what was going off with me.  I tell you straight I ran back to my room and fucking cried.  I sat down on that fucking awful bed and fucking howled, like a little baby.  I’d done it once before, when my grandad died, and that had shocked me, too, because he was just a nice old git, but not my best mate in the world or Father Christmas, like.  I kept thinking to myself, over and over again, they don’t have accidents on the ranges, no way!  Well they had now, so fuck them!  Except they hadn’t, because Ken had topped himself.  The bastards!  Ken had shot himself.  The fucking, fucking bastards!

His room was locked, so I couldn’t get a drink in there even if he’d left some brandy going spare, and I couldn’t go down the Naafi, I was too fucking scruffy, never mind the puffy eyes and snot.  My other combats were filthy from the ranges yesterday and the ones I had on had at least two days crap on now, but I couldn’t be arsed to clean them for the morning neither.  I tore the trousers off and folded them up underneath my mattress, which is the idle bastards’ method – leave ’em for the fairies.  I put on trackie bottoms and old trainers, and I rubbed the fucking tearstains off my face.

I felt like death, like shit, like bloody murder.  I felt like getting blasted, pissed as a total fucking rat.  So watch out Catterick.  God bloody help you.


The next episode of Skinback Fusiliers, AL BEANO AND RICK O'SHEA, will be published on Saturday, 7 May.