PUERTO VALLARTA, Mexico — " 'I love my wife”: Four words I practise saying constantly late into the night. I do this for two purposes. First, it is abundantly the case; and second, because I might lose all reason. I can hear you now saying the usual — “terrible old man” or “misanthrope” — but hear me out, please.
Kitty, my wife of some 50 years, has decided to invite a few of her club lady friends to our paradise here in Mexico. Not an unreasonable proposal, one would say, until the names of those arriving surface: Mrs. ffrangington-Davis and Mrs. Hynde-Quarters.
I, too, brought down one of my club friends for 10 days. The Brigadier got lost on the second day and was found, missing his shoes, on the beach with an enormous grin just before his plane departed. That is what I call a lovely visit.
Unfortunately, I anticipate nothing lovely where Kitty’s friends are concerned, for hell in my mind is being stuck on what looks like a banana being dragged by a fast boat with club ladies.
Normally, if it was only a day or so, I would claim one of my mental-health days, but I have already had an inordinate number of these because of the cats, Pericles and Bertram, infesting the place. I have a very bad feeling about the impending visit.
It is the same ill feeling I had in the army when I was a probationary second lieutenant in a group of subalterns being terrified by our regimental sergeant major (RSM), Mr. Peakes.
He was an enormous man with a voice that could be heard several counties away, a ramrod-straight individual with creases in his trousers so pronounced that he could have carved a roast with them. His shoes shone like beacons and his moustache looked not unlike iron filings.
Early on, he took an intense dislike to me, although I am almost sure he was in every young officer’s nightmares that year so long ago. The RSM was in charge of instructing us in the “pleasures” of leadership, and in my case how not to lead one’s platoon into a nearby lake, which some chaps thought I did on purpose. I simply could not think of the word “Halt”; it might have happened to anyone, I thought. I was confined to barracks for 14 days.
On one memorable occasion I misplaced my leather gloves just before the early-morning parade, but thought so little of it that I pranced out to the parade ground with an optimistic smile on my visage. However, after a minute or two of standing to attention during inspection by the two company sergeant majors (CSMs), there was suddenly a loud shout of outrage from Mr. Peakes: “There is a naked man on my parade!”
Well, I thought, this is interesting, a chap with no clothing on during an extremely sharpish morning. We all began to look about to see who must be freezing, but no one appeared to be sans uniform. Then a shadow fell over young Nigel. It was Mr. Peakes, breathing as would a mighty steam engine with a face like an angry sun.
“You, sir, where are your bloody gloves, sir?”
I quailed before this scarlet dirigible and stuttered something inane, which only brought a more forthright colour, puce, to the mountainous RSM. It was when I started to giggle that everything went pear-shaped and I was propelled by the two CSMs to my quarters in search of “Her Majesty’s property.” Then followed two weeks of marching and rifle drill under close arrest during one of the wettest periods in weather history.
Perhaps I should remember this episode more closely, for that was terror writ large, while the visit of two club harridans is more a case of dyspepsia. Could it be that this is the key to a happy life, being grateful that one’s dreadful memories are not to be re-enacted?
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