In the Catterick NAAFI the atmosphere brims with tension as the first ever ‘Meet The Plebs Q&A Session’ between high ranking Army officers and the ‘rankers’ - the soldiers who’s lives (the existence of) are quite literally affected by those taking the stand.
Unusually for the British Army, privates, corporals and sergeants have the opportunity to question their superiors without fear of reprimand. Your loyal correspondent has been invited to witness this most unique occurrence and never one to pass up such a rare chance to see military democracy in action, TheUrbanMonk had little choice but to attend.
Events get under way as Major General Rupert Lloyd-Arbuthnott enters, stage left, and takes up his position at the podium.
The gathered troops, worn from their recent tour in Basra, mutter amongst themselves seemingly unreceptive but, perhaps, not quite trusting top brass’s assurances that they may express themselves freely.
‘Righto,’ says Lloyd-Arbuthnott, taking the lead. ‘As you all know, we’ve been brought together tonight mainly to talk honestly about some of the issues you’ve faced at home on your retuern from fighting abroad. Perhaps I should introduce myself first. I am Major General Rupert Lloyd-Arbuthnott and without further ado I think we should open to questions from the floor. First question?’
The first hand to shoot skywards belongs to Sergeant Jim Grant from the Royal Scots. Red-faced and burly, he doesn’t seem set for compromise:
‘Arite Boss. Sgt Grant speaking. Ah just want tae say, it disnae seem fair that when we come back fae Iraq naebody gies a shit. We’re oot there riskin’ oor necks an’ aw’ we get is shite when we get back.’
‘Quite. Quite,’ respond the Major General. ‘Thought someone would mention that and you’ll be delighted to know, chaps, that the Army been working hard on a range of measures that demonstrate the nation’s gratitude for your sacrifice.’
‘Such as?’ asks Grant.
‘Well, you’ll be delighted to learn that your employer, the British Army, has arranged for all of you to receive a full 25% discount on your council tax.
‘Next Question.’ He points to a pale looking private.
‘Arite boss. Lance Corporal Tam McAfferty, Argyll and Sutherlands. Noo, Ah couldnae gie a flyin’ fuck aboot cooncil tax. Ah’ve never paid a penny in mah life and am nae aboot tae start noo. Dae ah look like a fuckin’ eejit? Naw. Mah Mum’s cousin Stevie’s in the United States Marine Corps and he sez they get a branch o’ Burger King anywhere in the world and tax-free Harley Davidson motorbikes. You gonnae sort that for us?’
Lloyd-Arbuthnott is admirably keeps it together: ‘Ah. Not quite. But we have arranged a token of appreciation from the nation, if you will.’
Lloyd-Arbuthnott: ‘Well, I thought you might ask so have a further announcement. I’m sorry to say Burger King were unwilling to open a branch in Basra, or indeed Catterick, but negotiations with Greggs Bakeries were successful and it gives me great pleasure to tell you that the first planned opening of a Gregg’s bakery in the Middle-East will take place in Basra this October. I should also like to take the opportunity to thank all those who made this greatest of achievements possible. Doubly so, given the offence that sausage rolls pose to Muslim sensibilities.’
McAfferty, a Glaswegian, seems vaguley satisfied but Sgt Grant, a canny Aberdonian, isn’t finished:
‘You fuckers never gie us anything. Fit’s the catch?’
‘Ah. Yes. Well, unfortunately, we’ve had to squeeze the bullet-proof vest budget chaps.’
‘Ah knew it,’ shouts Grant, ‘You bastards. Yer ay’s makin’ financial sacrifices wi’ oor lives.’
‘Ah. Not quite,’ says Lloyd-Artbuthnott. ‘You’ll be glad to know that the Army has secured an exclusive corporate deal with the vest manufacturers. You'll all be able to purchase them at cost price. Tax-free too. How's about that then.’
A brave and lonely voice, that of McAfferty, pipes up: ‘Ah’d rather a Bacon Double Cheeseburger and a tax-free Harley ya bass.’