18 MAY 1991, Page 48

Low life

Across a crowded room

Jeffrey Bernard

Aman came into the pub the other day carrying one of those awful mobile tele- phones. I asked him if I could use it and he kindly obliged and asked me what number I wanted. I gave him the number of the pub. Norman was standing no more than six feet away from me and when he answered the call he barked, 'Coach and Horses. Hallo.' I said, 'Is there any chance of being served a bloody drink in this ghastly pub?' My language was a little stronger than that. He twigged immediate- ly, spun round and said, 'You bastard.' Then he laughed and served me. He rarely does that but he was unnerved for a second or two there. So these telephones do have their uses. It could be interesting to phone a woman in a pub and watch her as you chatted to her.

I remember once being served by an Irishman at a Derby lunch in the Dorchester when I spotted Sally, the Begum Aga Khan, a couple of tables away. I asked the man to deliver her a note with- out a word in her ear. I had written on it, `Although I am only a humble Irish waiter, I think I am in love with you.' She looked astounded when she read it. Her face was a picture and always was. But I gave it away by smiling when she looked up. Even so when the waiter served the pudding he handed me a note in the royal writing which said, 'I love you too.' Would that it had been true. Anyway, it was nice to catch Norman off his guard and that is about all I can remember in what has been a week of boredom transcending even the week I spent locked up in the guardhouse years ago in Catterick Camp.

They not only taught me how to drive up there, they taught me how to wash and pol- ish coal and to paint the fireplace in the sergeant's mess white before lighting the fire with the gleaming coal. Surprisingly they let me out of my cell one night to lis- ten to the commentary of the first Randolph Turpin v. Sugar Ray Robinson fight on their radio. What strange people they were. I seem to remember that the regiment, the 14/20 King's Hussars who have just performed in the Gulf, only had one trophy to speak of and that was a silver chamberpot that once belonged to Napoleon. I believe the officers drank champagne out of it on special occasions. It would have to be a very special occasion indeed for me to drink even a single vodka from the pot which once supported those historic piles.

But what a dreadful place Catterick was and probably still is. Freezing in the winter and shaving in almost total darkness with cold water. Cold fried eggs resembling jel- lyfish for breakfast. We had the dubious honour once of heing inspected one day by the Duke of Gloucester, King George VI's brother and a right old pisspot by all accounts. He had the trooper standing next to me put on a charge for not having pol- ished the back of his cap badge. The said trooper might have got a little bit more sympathy if he had said that he couldn't have polished it because he had run out of Brasso due to having drunk it all. Never tried it myself.

What any of this sort of nonsense has to do with soldiering I shall never know. When a medical board asked me what I intended doing after my discharge and I said, 'Write,' they promptly stamped my paybook with the legend, 'Mental Stability Nil'. Quite right.