The ensuing conversation took place between me (RB) and my school’s elderly careers master (CM), towards the end of the summer term 1968. For a well-regarded middle-ranking public school, this was the level of advice at the time:-
CM. Ah, Barnes, a little chat about your career once you leave here in a few weeks.
RB. Yes, Sir, any guidance will be appreciated.
CM. How’s it looking for University?
RB. Not good, Sir (which he knew perfectly well, due to a natural reluctance on my part to commit to a full and proper learning regime, as a result of preferring sport and the company of the inmates of local girls’ schools. What’s a 18 year old supposed to do…)
CM. Does your father own his own business?
RB. No, Sir. (no such luck)
CM. Have you thought about the military?
RB. (trying to suppress a loud guffaw) No, Sir, I don’t think that there’s any chance of that**
CM. (after a brief hesitation) Well, may I wish you good luck then.
RB. Is that it, Sir? (It was. At this point he seems to glaze over, as he had reached the end of his standard list of three questions, one of which was usually expected to elicit a positive response. He had nowhere else to go in this conversation, and waved me towards the door.)
** The Military!! Our school had a CCF (Combined Cadet Force), which was a compulsory commitment on every pupil’s part. Most, including me, joined the Army section, whilst a few joined the RAF section (I didn’t, due to less than perfect eyesight), and another few joined the Navy section, which was even more ridiculous than the Army section, especially as our school was at least 50 miles from the nearest coast.
Fortunately, as I have a musical streak in me, and was learning the horn at the time, I managed to wheedle my way into the CCF Band, which meant that apart from a bit of marching around the parade ground, meant that I could spend my Wednesday afternoons in the warmth of the Music School, in full battledress, blowing my horn with a few other shirkers. We managed to leave plenty of room for improvement, usually meaning that the entire afternoon was spent instrument in hand!
The Band also unwittingly provided me with one of my few showbiz moments, when I played for the Queen Mother at our school centenary in 1965. And when I mean played, I mean played. Under the awning where the Band was playing, that warm, sunny summer’s afternoon, I was well into my line on Moon River, playing the simple series of notes with eyes closed, when, upon opening them, Her Majesty was standing directly in front of me, with eyes fixed. I would have looked surprised…..doubly so, as standing next to her was the former Prime Minister, Sir Harold MacMillan. I haven’t had any dealings with royalty or Downing Street residents since.
The embers of my fledgling and so far totally undistinguished military career, were finally extinguished one Saturday night on Malvern Common, during an ‘us and them’ nighttime manoeuvre, where the team of which I was a member (the Band?), had to hide around the Common, and the other team had to find us. I chose a particularly thorny bush in which to secrete myself, on the premise that no-one would be daft enough to climb in to try to find a well-camouflaged soldier person. We were all carrying old WW1 rifles (presumably without ‘live’ ammo), which, of course, made it easier for representatives of ‘them’ to ascertain whether there was anyone in my bush, without getting in. A swift prod did for me, knocking out both of my upper front teeth, and slightly damaging others. A good job that it wasn’t the eyes!
So, wailing for the loss of my once-perfect front teeth, I was pulled out and shipped off to the School doctor, and on the following Monday to the local dental hospital where repairs were effected. I was never asked to participate again in serious CCF work, being ‘relegated’ to the post of Pioneer Instructor – i.e. looking after some of the 13 year olds, and teaching them a little camp craft. I had no credentials whatsoever to do this, but everyone seemed happy with my efforts, and we seemed to laugh a lot – very different from the budding soldiers in the CCF.
A career in the military nipped in the bud, and my teeth have given me problems ever since.