Sunday, July 24

Wheel of Fortune

Now, apparently, I'm a qualified driver. Although I'd probably need to qualify that "qualified". I'm "qualified" in the sense that I've just spent two weeks in Castel under the guise of participating in a driving course before leaving at the end without any slobbering sergeant screaming at me to be back on Monday for a second attempt. As to whether or not I'm actually competent enough to manipulate an automobile unattended remains to be seen. Those particular corpses should gurgle and float to the surface when the mandatory "confirmation" drive arrives later in the year, involving me chauffeuring an NCO all over the south of France until a certain number of kilometers have been negotiated (or a certain number of pedestrians gravely maimed). Nevertheless, the licence is firmly in the pocket (as opposed to the other snug location mentioned in my previous post).

Using the word "apparently" with regards to my newly-acquired qualification wasn't at all unnecessarily withering, despite my frequent habit of sensational negativity concerning all things Legion. Rather, during the past two weeks I drove a grand total of four and a half hours. That's right, four and a half hours. I learned to drive in the same time it takes to watch "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" (well, if you include the odd "Making of" documentary at the end). Still, does it not strike you as slightly odd? I for one was certainly left a little perplexed (if not also rather relieved) at a most bizarre fortnight spending the majority of the time engaging in every activity but driving. Allow me to explain.

First there was the 14th July. Bastille Day. Although personally not directly involved in the local festivities unfolding on the streets of Castelnaudary, the day itself was a holiday and so no work was done in camp. That rhythm-breaking interruption however did mean that the following day - the last before the weekend - was hardly the most productive. Skip to the beginning of the second week and the announcement that more than half of the trainees would be required to don their parade uniforms on Friday for the change in command of the 4RE. Not only would this inevitably prolong our departure from such a vile and disagreeable regiment as Castel, but it also consisted of two mornings spent rehearsing for the eventual ceremony at the end of the week. Joseph's Technicolour fuckin' Dreamcoat wouldn't have demanded such attention to choreographic detail! But hey, at least the afternoons would be free to drive and study for the theory test…….right? 

Sorry guys, those weeds dotted around the building are looking rather unsightly. 

Grab a spade and have at it. 

Rain? That's not rain? Rather an ice-cold liquid affirmation of your man-hood and professionalism all rolled in to one. 

Plus it accentuates the green of the weeds, making them more distinct and visible from the slimy, boot-shine-destroying mud. 

Driving? Later, later. You'll have plenty of time to drive later (with an ill-gotten licence worth less than the paper it's printed on).

Indeed of those four and a half precious hours spent behind the wheel, only three were spent on actual roads (as opposed to the purpose-built training circuit on base). The main reason for such paltry asphalt offerings centers on my "companions". From Kazakhstan and Nepal respectively, neither one nor the other inspired much confidence while out among the general motorised population. Careering down one-way streets the wrong way, stalling not once, not twice, but THREE times at the entrance to roundabouts. Changing lanes without noticing the articulated truck to the right. The instructor laid it out for me to digest.

"Those guys suck. You drive well. I've got to stick with them from now until the end."

Sure I understood the logic, but I certainly wouldn't have refused a few more hours behind the wheel. Still, once the confirmation drive comes round, I can further flex my muscles on the open roads (really open, hopefully WIDE open, for my sake and certainly that of the accompanying NCO).

The final day saw everyone reach the very end of our collective tether. The ceremony marking the change in command took up the entire day, resulting in the course being dismissed at 6pm (as opposed to the traditional 1pm). Several legionnaires were kept back until Monday, their performances being deemed unsatisfactory for immediate graduation. With such exceptional circumstances surrounding the entire two-week course, a few repeats was to be expected though. Surprisingly, my two drive-time-depriving team-mates made the cut, as did the little Japanese fella negotiating his third attempt. Our highly successful English mafia parted ways, three guys returning to 2REP in Corsica, another two back to Nîmes and the 2REI, and then little ol' me. Due to train times, I only arrived back at my own regiment at 2.30am on the Saturday morning. And my word, how happy I was to be back in my room. It's strange how occasionally-derided things can be transformed into Utopian pleasures if placed alongside something truly wretched enough as a means of comparison. I'll be back to Castel in mid-September (and for a much longer visit). I better make the most of my time now.

Note: I do apologise if recent blogs might seem to have abandoned the previous lyrical flair once frequently evident in my writing. In a week's time I embark on four weeks of long-overdue holidays. Having had no more than a mere two weeks off since returning from Afghanistan in mid-May, the fatigue has finally started to catch up with me. Once the batteries recharge though, I hope to be back to my literary best. In the meantime, the blogs will keep appearing as frequently as possible. Do bear with me, and thanks for all your continued support and interaction.

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