Who Am I? Part Three


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This was taken when I was in the army in Germany. As you can see, I was out of it! I don’t know why I’m resting my head on a bed block. Bed blocks were unheard of once basic training was out of the way.

My time with NAAFI was mixed to say the least. On one hand I sunk to new lows, and on the other, I grew up; well.. a bit. My first posting was at the main shop in Münster-Gremmendorf. Me and the rest of the NAAFI lads lived in the staff hostel on Buller Barracks, which was home to The Glosters. Buller was attached to another barracks, the name of which escapes me, and this other barracks housed The Royal Hampshire Regiment. The Hampshires and The Glosters hated each other, and I hated both of them. I developed this deep resentment of the army and anything remotely military. The general public has a perception of the army that is so far removed from the truth. I resented the whole ethos of military life; the bullying, the hypocrisy and the sheer unfairness of it all made me despair. So, I now found myself working for a retail establishment that served the forces. I was also housed on an army barracks. The fact that I chose this myself did not enter my head; all I could feel was my cynicism and resentment.

NAAFI was an antiquated corporation staffed mainly by ex-service personnel, the dependents of current service personnel and German nationals. I started off with the job title of “Storeman”, in the foodhall section. I remember on my first day, putting packets of biscuits on the shelf whilst wearing a brown overall that was big enough to go camping in! Is this what my life had come to?

Alcohol was always on hand. Back in the UK I’d continued to drink but it wasn’t as intense. This was due to the restricted licensing hours and the fact that English beer is so gassy. Now I was back in Germany I could rekindle my love affair with the amber nectar. My drinking became very heavy once again. We used to have to work every Saturday until 12:45. Quite often, we wouldn’t bother going back to the hostel in the van; we would go straight over the road to The Gremmendorfer Hoff, which was the local pub. After copious amounts of beer in “The Grem” we would sometimes get a taxi into town before falling back into the hostel during the early hours.Or we would just stay in the Grem for the whole evening and stagger home later. It was during my time in Gremmendorf that I got to know some British lads that were working out in Germany for a company called Tylers. They did all the grass cutting on the army camps and they were paid very, very well. Far much more than I got paid, which was why it was not a good move on my part to hang out with them. My wages never lasted long, but I needed money to fund my drinking habits.

After the Saturday session I would then be out all day and night on Sunday. Most times I would not get to bed until after midnight. I would then take it a bit easy Monday and (maybe) Tuesday, but quite often I’d be out from Wednesday night onwards, either with one or two of the NAAFI lads or with one or more of the grass cutters. However, working in the foodhall was driving me round the bend so I made some enquiries about transferring over to the gifts and durables department; or “G&D”, as we called it. I went and asked the shop manager, or “Old Badger”, as we called him, if it would be possible to transfer over. He proceeded to give me a lecture, saying something like, “as far as I’m concerned mate if you don’t want to work in the foodhall then you don’t want to work for the corporation”, but he agreed that I could transfer. The G&D manager was a man called Tony Turner; he was a great bloke. I came in most mornings nursing a hangover but he cut me a lot of slack. I could hide away in the store, checking off deliveries and stacking up boxes of goods etc, and I also got out and about quite a lot delivering washing machines with Sid the van driver. I don’t know what his real name was, but everyone called him Sid.

I had a real laugh with the majority of the lads I worked with and made friends with some of the dependents as well. One of my best mates in Gremmendorf was George Topping. He was an Irish lad a couple of years younger than me. He lived in the hostel and we would drink in the Grem together. George was only young but he had some false teeth. When he got drunk he would take them out and put them in his beer. Then he would stand up on the table and start singing; he was asked to leave on several occasions. However, all the alcohol couldn’t hide the fact that something within me wasn’t right. My alcohol fueled behaviour also made some people not want to have anything to do with me. The emotional pain was still there eating away at me. So I did what I always did, I tried to run away from it. I went to see Badger again and asked for a posting to another shop. I think he was glad to see the back of me and I was on my way to Bielefeld.

At first Bielefeld seemed OK; new town, new beer! The staff hostel was a private dwelling in a residential area. It was a respectable street… apart from us. We had a block, which was separated into flats. The flats consisted of three rooms, each housing a member of staff, and a shared toilet/shower room. My room was small, but it had a balcony, so I was happy. It was pretty much the same story as Gremmendorf, although I will add that the long-suffering neighbours eventually had a gut full of me blasting out The Who at all hours, and eventually a phone call was made to the boss. We were all told that if there was any more episodes of loud music the police would be called in. How inconsiderate!

There were two pubs in the immediate vicinity of the hostel, and town was about a mile away on foot, so there was always opportunity for the thirst to be quenched. There was also a fantastic local student pizzeria place. The pizzas were absolute heaven. Unfortunately, after doing a runner from there one weekend I couldn’t go back! It was in Bielefeld that I tried to become a bit sensible. But first I had to start off again in the foodhall. That was brain numbing and it took me a little while to transfer over to the G&D section. Once I got into G&D I still went out delivering washing machines etc. and did the general store work, but I also started to wear a suit and took on a more customer facing role in the shop and on the tills. Now, I should just mention that…

In Gremmendorf there had been a Hi-Fi department. Only certain NAAFI shops had them because it was considered to be a specialist line. I developed a fascination for Hi-Fi, after all, if I wanted to blast out The Who I needed a really meaty sound system to compliment the dulcet tones. I’d also heard the yarns spun by “Hi-Fi John”, the salesman in charge. There were tales of seminars in plush hotels, free slap-up meals and booze all paid for by the reps and free merchandise. I decided that this was the world I wanted to be in, so now that I was in Bielefeld being sensible (a little bit) I set about trying to get on the Hi-Fi gravy train.

I’m going to end Part Three here, because I don’t want it to be too long. The section on my time in NAAFI is quite significant really so I will split it in two. I intend writing it tomorrow; hope I’ve not just lied to you!

Who Am I? Part Two


375811_4123703570261_303439096_nIt’s worth mentioning that I’ve called this series of posts “Who Am I ” for a reason, which will become clearer in due course…

My time in the army was very up and down. I’d wanted to join something that I thought would be worthwhile, that would give me a sense of purpose and where I could experience comradeship. I certainly had all that most of the time while I was training at Wood Green Karate Club. But to me, the army was a big disappointment. The adverts on the TV suggested that you would have real mates in the forces, but I found it to be just the opposite. Your friends would steal from you, and the animosity at times towards those who didn’t fit in was quite disturbing. I’d originally set my heart on signing for three years in The Royal Tank Regiment. But on the day that I went to sign on the dotted line I opted to join The Royal Artillery for nine years. You could sign for three, six or nine years and the longer you signed for, the higher your pay. That was the only reason I opted for the nine-year stint.

It soon became very apparent that the army in general was a very hypocritical organisation. I felt that I couldn’t trust anyone and I grew to hate it. The trouble was, I couldn’t just quit like it was an everyday job. I had to wait until I’d served over three years, then I was able to buy myself out. It cost me £300 in 1979, which was a lot of money back then. I don’t regret joining though, because I did have a hoot as well. I very quickly became a very heavy drinker (the beer in Germany, where I was stationed, is very smooth and easy to drink). I lived for alcohol and consumed vast amounts during my time in Dortmund with 26 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery. I kept the lads entertained with my impressions and pranks, but I would also become very quiet and withdrawn. The emotional pain was very intense, and the more I hurt inside, the more I tried to drink it away.

Germany is a beautiful country and I would go out quite often on my own and try to meet Germans. The soldiers had a very bad reputation, which was deserved, for causing trouble, so I tried to steer clear of all that. When I did go out with the lads we normally had a lot of fun, but I really enjoyed mixing with Germans in my regular haunts; the kind of places that, in general, the squaddies did not frequent. My moods were becoming increasingly more up and down, to the extent that it started to affect my relationships within the battery. Looking back, it would be true to say that some of my behaviour could have been considered strange and it wasn’t until years later that I understood what I had been experiencing. It got to the point where I’d had enough, but didn’t see a way out. Then one morning on parade an opportunity came my way.

They wanted a lower rank to volunteer for duties in the officers mess. I knew there was a huge regimental parade coming up that would have meant a lot of tedious work. I thought to myself, if I volunteer to go in the mess it will keep me out-of-the-way and I’ll avoid having to take part in the parade. My hand shot up, and there were no other takers. It also gave me respite from the mundane, day-to-day life within the battery. My time in the officers mess was the best time of my army “career”. Me and the other lads in there got up to all sorts; I felt like a naughty schoolboy and had an absolute blast. I couldn’t possibly relate all the stuff we got up to here on my blog. I’m obviously not the same person I was all those years ago, so a lot of what we did would not be appropriate to be shared here. However…

One thing I will share, because at the time it was just so funny. We would get the unwitting officers to pay for our alcohol. The system was that if an officer wanted a drink from the bar they did not pay cash. They had to sign a chitty. The chitties would all be added up and the total cost was taken from their salary on a monthly basis. So the trick was that if an officer wanted a gin and tonic, we got them to sign the chitty and when their back was turned we would put extra drinks on it. None of them ever checked their final monthly bills, so as long as we didn’t do anything silly we got away with it. All good things, unfortunately, have to come to an end. My emotional pain was ever-present and my odd behaviour continued to be noticed. I was in a very withdrawn state one day whilst serving some afternoon tea. One of the officers I was serving was my own Battery Commander. He was actually a very nice and genuine man, and he became concerned at how I looked. He asked me what was wrong but I didn’t answer. Eventually, after some probing I burbled an answer that indicated I was unhappy and wanted to leave. It was decided that if I really felt the way I did, then I should watch the notice board for any postings that may come up.

Before long I saw a posting advertised for the Salisbury Plain Range Detachment (SPRD) back in the UK. I applied for it and was soon on my way. It was probably one of the most dead-end jobs in the army. I think I arrived some time in March 1979 and by the end of December I was out; a civilian again. SPRD drove me around the bend, but luckily we had a great commander; a captain who’d come up through the ranks. He understood how I felt and didn’t stand in my way. So, £300 lighter, I was back in the world. I made sure I got a job before leaving; a live-in job at a hotel near Ascot in Berkshire. My relationship with my dad had broken down completely by this time so I did not want to go home to London.

The hotel was situated in an area that was a completely different world to me. Even back in 1979/1980 the properties around there cost more money than most people will ever see in their whole lifetime. The area was full of very well-to-do people, some famous actors and also royalty moved in shortly after I left. I soon realised that the hotel was not for me and that I really missed Germany. I decided that I would apply for a job with NAAFI and try to get back to Germany. I seem to remember making a phone call; where I got the number from I don’t know, and being invited to Kennington in London for an interview. A few weeks later, in March 1980, I was on my way back to Germany. I was going to work at the main NAAFI shop in Münster-Gremmendorf. Oh what fun we had…..

To be continued..