… being a fresh-faced recruit in the Royal Australian Navy, would be it. In three months you learn more about starch, creases, pleats, and folds then you’d ever learn in a dry cleaning business. You learn very quickly about the holes you can make in polyester shoulder flashes, those lovely iron burn ‘patterns’ in white cotton/linen shirts, and how shiny you can make your collar by melting all the polyester in it! Laying out all your Navy kit (uniform) for presentation – every night – in precise recruit-school fashion, is an exercise in complete and utter, finicky frustration. Until you’d been shown, you’d never believe that shirts – when starched appropriately – can stack on top of each other like pancakes (or flapjacks) on a dinner plate!
If you get it right, you get to do this so that they stack PERFECTLY – every time! I mean it… all edges WILL be crisp; not a single ‘railway track’ (double crease) will you EVER see; there will be NO iron marks; and everything WILL align perfectly – one on top of the other! So damned perfectly in fact, that if you were to x-ray this ‘pile’ of shirts, the buttons would appear to be directly on top of one another. You’re taught to do this so well, your mates will never ask you to play a game of cards, ever again. It’d take an hour alone, just to get the deck right!
Why? Well, it’s all rather simple really. If you didn’t, someone ripped it apart for you – and you had to repeat the whole process – all over again! If it was REALLY bad – you got the lot thrown out the window, and apart from having to race downstairs to fetch it – you’d have to wash your kit all over again – only to repeat the whole mind-numbing process in the morning.
Oh… okay – you mean why DO this in the first place, right? Well – I had someplace I needed to be you see – and at the time – recruit school was simply one of those places I had to pass through, on the way to getting there. There was a ‘game’ to be played first, and you played this particular game at a place called HMAS Cerberus – RAN Recruit Training School. A miserable, wet, cold, hovel of a location – situated half way down the Mornington Peninsula, down the bottom of Victoria. It wasn’t precisely the backside (ass) of the world down there; but we often thought that if we stepped up on the toes our spit polished boiler boots, we’d see it – just a hint of ‘hairy’ – on the edge of a dark horizon, in the far southern sky.
The things we do right? If any of you have experienced an apprenticeship, or a trainee-ship, a cadet-ship, or any junior level training preparing you for the next chapter of your life – you know exactly what I’m talking about here. I HATED Cerberus! I froze my arse off there! There were people there that annoyed me like I’d never been annoyed before. Previously – you’d normally have to be a family member to begin to ‘annoy’ me in that way! Sometimes though – in our lives – we want things. I mean we REALLY want these things! So bad in fact, that we put ourselves through all kinds of hell, just to get get a mere glimpse of ’em! We’ll suffer all kinds of abuse, deceit, discomfort, trauma even – just to be in the running for it. We’ll worry ourselves sick for it, dream of it, crawl over a mile of broken glass just for a whiff of it. You name it folks – we’ll do it! Worse still, we’ll ‘grin and bear it’ – because it’s good to pay a price for these things. If you want it badly enough, you’ll suffer for it, and wake up in the morning demanding more!
Did I mention the possibility of burns in rather sensitive places? It just so happens that an ironing board – for all manners of short or tall peoples – just happen to have the ‘working parts’ at a rather precarious height. This becomes even more apparent when you’re ironing in a hurry, with only your undies on! Don’t let anyone fool you – for all the burn resistance cotton might have over anything resembling polyester, it still hurts like a bastard when that’s all that happens to be between your iron (on it’s ‘Linen’ setting), and any patch of skin that might reside between your belly button and where the top of your legs are! If it’s not that, it’s the steam – do I really need to explain those particular hazards in detail any further? I thought not! The ‘dangle factor’ aside folks; I’m afraid I have to tell you that ironing in your duds, isn’t necessarily a healthy thing to be doing – but ‘needs’ tend to necessitate all manners of odd behavior.
Cue left Recruit training school – HMAS Cerberus. Odd behaviour? Over a thousand recruits running out of a building at 0500 in the morning, just to be sure we’re all out of bed. Then racing back inside to get dressed in your PT (physical training) gear, so you can go for a lovely little morning jog, see the sun rising, take in the lovely lilting tones of nature as it wakes up all around you – you know – that sort of thing. It’s not as if you’ve got something more important to do at that time of the morning you know. Like – oh, gee I don’t know… SLEEPING sort of springs to mind! Odd is running to your room to get changed into the next bit of kit (clothing), passing the brass strip on the floor and up the walls in the hallway – saluting it for saluting practice on the way past it, and saluting it on the way back – just so you can get back outside again, in double quick-time.
People ask me all the time – how’d you do it? How’d you put up with so much bulldust? They say things like: “Man – I couldn’t do that”. “I couldn’t live my life being told what to do all the time”. “I couldn’t stop myself from telling those bastards to F… OFF!”. I’m forever amazed at the sorts of things people say to me when they discover I’d spent a life once, in uniform. They look in on my life and wonder on the reason’s why I might have done some of those things. Often they can’t believe that I put up for it for so long. I sometimes wonder these things myself too – but only SOME of the time! Mostly though, I end up looking at them and wondering many of the same things myself – how do you live the life you do? What ODD things have you done, experienced, put up with – just to get you, to where you need to go?
I bet you’d be surprised at the things you’ve put up with in your life – just to get what you think you needed. Once upon a time, I thought I needed a life in uniform. I made it so – and enjoyed it – and then things changed! This happens in people’s life all the time. If anything I’m a lucky bugger – I’ve had a choice, and I wonder constantly about those who don’t. A life in Recruit School was a picnic compared to some of the lives I know other’s are living. ‘Odd’ is not knowing how bloody lucky you are sometimes, and THAT isn’t a lesson we should be forgetting in any hurry!
Belongum – Out!