OP TOSCA (Part One) Getting the paperwork


Blog Episode 1 The Journey Begins

Just for the record – and putting modesty aside for a
second – I’d like to say that I think of myself as a fairly switched on cookie.
I take a huge amount of pride in successfully juggling a full-time civilian
career with a part-time military one and to be honest very little succeeds in
catching me unawares. So in all fairness I agree that it shouldn’t really have
come as a revelation to me to be informed that actually I was a soldier.

You could be forgiven for thinking that over the years
the countless weekends that have I’ve spent cold, wet and grubby in some remote
corner of the UK would have been adequate proof of that to me. The necessity to
purchase a second wardrobe to accomodate all my kit should also have provided
me with a good clue, and the tendency for my civvie workmates to avoid asking
how my weekend went ( for fear of losing an entire morning’s productivity
whilst listening to war stories ) was surely a dead giveaway. That aside surely
the tell-tale signs that long periods of training had left me with, eg: being
unable to bring myself to ‘fat finger’ a map while navigating, cringeing at the
sight of civvies wearing camo in the high street or of course that marked
tendency of mine to break into full blown voice-procedure on my mobile at the
merest hint of a bad reception, should all have rammed the point home to me.
But no, despite all this and more my awareness of my chosen vocation somehow
eluded me, that is until last summer when something happened to bring the dawn
of realisation to me. A realisation that no amount of crawling around on
Salisbury Plain at 4am whilst setting trip flares had ever seemed to succeed in
doing so.

It took a visit from a young lady with a bag of letters
for the point to finally sink in. Of course I had heard rumours of possible
mobilisation before, every so often a Government of ours would commit to an
operation in some far flung corner of the world and our not under stretched
forces would then hastily task themselves with running around filling the now
all too apparent spaces in their ranks with a liberal sprinkling of Reservists
to actually get the job done. Operations come and go, Bosnia, Iraq, Sierra
Leone, and yes everyone does know someone who knows someone who got called up
for a free suntan and adventure holiday at the Queen’s expense, but to be
honest it was never worth getting too excited about as these rumours often
passed quietly as quickly as they came. It was generally agreed that unless the
infamous ‘Brown Envelope’ actually landed on your doormat there was no reason
at all to assume you wouldn’t be home at Christmas.

And so it was that on a glorious sunny morning on the
Isle of Wight last summer I was summoned from my kitchen by the doorbell, a
doorbell clearly being pressed enthusiastically by someone who was just passing
through and had no intention whatsoever of loitering any longer than was
absolutely necessary. Clad in boxer shorts and with hair like Chuckie I
shuffled to the door, newspaper under my arm, toast in one hand, tea in the
other, and succeeded in opening the door with a succession of body parts
normally reserved for other purposes. The ever-cheerful vision of loveliness
standing on my doorstep in her regulation- issue trendy-blue Post Office shorts
seemed equally challenged in the free hand department, but after we exchanged
greetings that were muffled only by toast on my part and bubble gum and a biro
between the teeth on hers she offered me an armpit full of letters before
accelerating away with a lightened load.

With hindsight I like to think that had she been aware of
the magnitude of one of the letters that she had just dropped off, then she
might have stayed for at least one round of toast and a cuppa to make sure I
was Ok. She had of course no idea of what she was delivering, and of course at
that stage neither did I. I shuffled back to the kitchen with an armload of
letters offering me, in turn, stuff I had no use for and new credit cards with
which to afford the stuff that I had no use for, oh and an innocuous white A4
envelope. Had this particular envelope indeed been ‘official brown’ in colour
rather than white, ie: as per the mythical mobilisation papers of legend then
it might have aroused my suspicions. I dare say that my ‘switched-on-cookie’
radar would have flagged it as worthy of further investigation, and I would
probably have swallowed my toast, turned off Kylie and sat down to give it the
attention it deserved before opening it. But no, it was merely white and so it
was that on that fine summer’s morning I absently mindedly opened it as Kylie
thumped out on the radio. I read it very briefly, stopped and read it again
slightly less briefly and then read it even less briefly again, before
retrieving my toast from the floor. And then the penny at last dropped, I was
indeed most definitely in the army…

The letter was noticeably short of small talk, infact it
managed to come to the point in the very first sentence, it said who I was –
picked out in capitals – where I was to report to, at what time I had to be
there, and what I was to make sure I had with me. It reitterated this point
several times and the majority of the letter then seemed to be concerned with
the consequences of me not being where I had to be at the time that I had to be
there with the stuff that I was to have with me. It’s a curious trait with
people that if you tell someone that they are not allowed to do something in
particular then they will want to do it, and equally if you tell them that they
have no option but to do something in particular then suddenly they can think
of a thousand reasons why they actually need to be somewhere else entirely,
doing something else completely. As Army-barmy as I was and indeed still am (
after all hadn’t I religously spent my Saturday nights for many years crawling
around in the dark when the rest of the world was tucked up in bed ? ) I must
admit that right at that particular moment I was falling into the latter
category.  Did I mention that I had
volunteered for this?!

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One response to “OP TOSCA (Part One) Getting the paperwork

  1. Interesting, didn.t realise the RLC adopted the Catering Corps motto.
    PG (formerly 21 SAS)

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