Cadets Was Real

Long ago – it not only seems long ago now, it actually was quite a long time in the past that this happened – I and was on a school cadet camp. (Cadets is a bit like Boy Scouts for older boys; and yes, I know they have Rangers and other groups for older boys in Lord Baden-Powell’s movement, but this was a school thing and a bit more like the army rather than a militia; more organised and violent and redolent with bastardisation, and there was the promise of guns occasionally, very, very occasionally, although that was not the reason I was involved, and in fact I couldn’t think of one thing I liked about being a cadet and thus can’t fathom a good reason for being involved, apart from the fact that we were virtually told we had to do it, and so I did, and it turned out to be as crap as I thought it would be – relieved by good moments which turned out to be fewer and farer between than I had anticipated they might be.)

And for some reason in the early ‘90s – yes, that long ago – it seemed to be raining all the time, or at least it was in Sydney, or in the places that our cadet camps were scheduled to be held at, and so camps were postponed to the point that some of them disappeared, and we ended up going to a camp and a bivouac in a two-year period which should have included two or even three times more periods away from home, being cold, eating crap food, and sleeping in uncomfortable tents with people shouting at us.

On one of these, a war games exercise was set up and, to be honest, it was basically a modified game of catch. Of course tactics, of a kind, were employed, but it was about chasing and physically claiming control of other cadets, and them returning to a base, and the game being over when one team was all prisoners and there were no roamers any more. And for some strange reason, on this occasion, it was decided that the two teams would be cadets (OK we were all cadets, but the “cadets” of the cadets had no rank yet) versus the other ranks. This, in a nutshell, involved us running around, attempting to capture the same arseholes who made our lives hell because they were Corporals or Sergeants and we were the equivalent of Privates. And this also meant that as a result of unforeseen circumstances arising from this game there could be a situation where a Corporal had a reason to make your life a fucking misery, and he would have the authority to do it, because he didn’t like the idea of being captured as a prisoner. Or one of these maniacs could simply make something up – a concocted charge would easily have been enough ammunition to throw one’s rank around.

And yet we played the game. My mate and I moved over the broad area we were playing in – there was plenty of scope for hiding and surprise and it was impossible to clearly view the entire battlefield from any point – and we tried to smoke out some of the enemy. We caught a couple who weren’t really trying and sent them back to camp. We spotted another who was slight and swift and a year older than us (they were all older than us, that was part of the problem with this stupid game) and he was from one of the fanatical groups who went on marches for days with tiny packs and slept in the rain on purpose, or so we believed; the Survival group we had heard about, and seen enough of, who thought it piss-funny to talk about the strip search they would subject us to once we were on a camp (oddly homoerotic in the retelling, and while they were just trying to make us feel uncomfortable at the time, it’s worth noting that that is a bit of a gay idea) – the Survival people, like the Engineers and a few other groups, were outside the normal platoon structure – they had no ordinary cadets, you needed to be promoted to Corporal and then pass some sort of initiation to get in (possibly involving a Sao in this case), and these were the lunatics who most enjoyed playing with other people (us – me) as a form of entertainment. Naturally I thought twice. I was a fast runner in those days. Even in army boots and khakis and with a silly belt, I thought I could take him and bring him in. He was my size, that wasn’t a problem. I wondered what might happen, would it be bad? And thought, bugger it. They told us to take this seriously and I will. I will round up that enemy combatant presently running away from me, through the thick grass, dodging anthills. And in truth the chase was easy, I gained on him and caught him up and wrestled him down, with some resistance from behind (which sounds a little bit gay too, but I was chasing him and it was cadets and being gay is alright anyway, and that wasn’t what I meant, and, oh you know I’m not like that …). He immediately spun around, once arrested and subdued, prone, on the ground, and issued a threat. I though something like, “Oh, fuck. What Have I Done?” Then he laughed and we got up together and I walked him to the base, where the prisoners were to be taken.

(I’m reminded of another war game, perhaps from another time, when we fought against another platoon – platoon vs platoon – and I was given the task of taking out a very small bloke in their group, which I did easily, by wrapping his military raincoat over his head, and hugging his whole body together in a crumple of bent torso and legs. He wasn’t going anywhere. I should have been given a more important role in that skirmish.)

As we were bringing in our kills in the cadets vs other ranks game my mate and I started awarding ourselves awards for valour. Animal Farm was a book we had been reading for school and we ended up pinning invisible Animal Hero medals on our chests. We both bagged two second-class awards and I got a first-class one for successfully chasing down the threatening little psycho.

And a few years later, out with the chaps, again from school, drinking in alleys and parks, a bit too young for pubs, I got my first taste of neat vodka. It was oily and industrial in taste to me, me with an immature pallet – although I suspect the taste of neat vodka still does not spin my propeller. “It’s like Victory Gin or something,” I said. This comment was appreciated. It’s what we did. We didn’t just study Animal Farm and 1984 – we lived them.

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