My new best friend, Number 24, the blunt Yorkshireman, really came into his own during the leadership tests. These comprised a variety of apparatus including scaffolding towers, planks and ropes, and unwieldy objects such as oil drums and ammunition boxes to be transported across gaping voids, all without touching the ground. Each of us in turn was taken aside from the group, briefed on the task to be performed, then ordered to gather our company together, pass the instructions succinctly on to them and lead them through to a successful conclusion. That was the theory, at least.
Two Majors were in charge of this part of the proceedings, one an impatient, elongated ghoul and the other a frightfully well-spoken middle-aged gym mistress. The latter kept us jogging on the spot (there’s an awful lot of that going on in the Army) as we waited to be summoned to tackle the next asinine challenge. She also made each of us complete a verbal assignment whilst we were idling. Number 24 was invited to tell a joke. This was going to be good, I thought to myself, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Given the circumstances, an obedient drudge eager to please the aristocratic Major might have resolved to tell an innocuous “Knock, Knock” joke, or a cheeky, “Doctor, Doctor” pun – something involving the words, “bonkers”, “old Etonian”, or maybe “tally-ho”. Number 24 blazed a trail with, if not the funniest, certainly the most magnificently inappropriate gag imaginable. Here is his contribution, verbatim, to be read in a
Little Red Riding Hood’s walking through the forest, and she sees a wolf in the bushes. She goes, “My, Mister Wolf, what great big, bulging eyes you’ve got!”, and the wolf replies, “Piss off, I’m having a shit.”
It was one of those moments where you feel you’ve been sat on by a prop forward and a sound you didn’t think you were capable of producing involuntarily roars from the depths of your belly. I wanted to buy Number
It was all downhill from there on. I briefed the group on my task with such haste and lack of clarity that anyone watching the frantic pandemonium that broke out on the apparatus might have thought we were workers in a Chinese fireworks factory where a sneaky attempt to break the no-smoking rule had resulted in a tragic industrial accident of shocking, yet uncommonly entertaining, proportions.
By the time we came to the planning exercise, I was already fighting Custer’s Last Stand. The scene of carnage presented to us was this: we were one of three crew members aboard a yacht in a round-the-world race, and an unexplained explosion on board during a storm had apparently blown both the engine and the Captain to smithereens, and hideously maimed the 17-stone salad-dodger of a boatswain. There was a motorised dinghy aboard, but only with x amount of fuel and a top speed of y. The current was pushing the yacht towards a nearby island to the east (where there was a telephone) at z knots, and the other boats in the race were n nautical miles behind, traveling at s knots. There was also another archipelago nearby to the west, but to reach it we’d have to fight against swirling tides, represented by the variable t. A distant lighthouse had a broken radio. The question was: which course of action did we have to take in order to save the boatswain’s life, considering that he would bleed to death if untreated within the next hour?
The logical approach was to calculate speed-time-distance relationships, eliminate the unfeasible options and get the boatswain safely airlifted to casualty. After an hour and a half of mental tumult, the only conclusion I’d arrived at was that I’d be sheepishly avoiding eye contact with the boatswain’s widow at his funeral.
As it turned out, none of us had managed to solve the problem adequately, which was to let the yacht drift east on the tide to the island and call 999 using the telephone. Each of us was required to stand up in random order and present our answers. Of course, I was again last to be called upon. “Right, Number
“Sit down, Number
PART SEVEN (THE FINAL PART) TO FOLLOW SHORTLY…