- Guy Martyr
'La Dolce Vita' a novel by Guy Martyr 3.
'La Dolce Vita' instalment 3 of 20.
The journey to Leek was drab and reflective. Horatio had bidden farewell to Victoria that morning in a somewhat perfunctory manner, considering the potential gravity of the voyage he embarked, a moment not helped by the incongruous presence of his brother and Dorothy. But the situation anyway did not seem real - actually to be ‘called up’, plucked from the comfort to which he was accustomed to perform at the Country’s bidding, for some greater good. Horatio would certainly have liked a ‘greater good’ to serve - he had witnessed his father's continual sustenance from religion, latterly through business difficulties and illness, with a certain bemused respect, but Horatio had so far translated his vestigial legacy only as an ill-formed principle of ‘architecture for social good’. Whether even his marriage was consummated by a principle as profound as ‘belief’, rather than custom, or social pressure was a matter of which he was yet to be convinced. The ‘Country’ was still a viable enterprise though, if only just - the government still controlled the population: administered laws, taxes - and held enough sway to move Horatio to accede to its call to Service, even if the political centre seemed all the more to revolve around the manoeuvres of Companies, including their strategic ebbs and flows between Private and Public Status.
Horatio stared absently during these musings, through spots of autumn rain on the train carriage window at the agri-industry and leisure-side, all bathed in cloud-strained light. He could have been going back to university, a solitary suitcase his only allowance, a bachelor stripped bare of his bride, his carriage and even all other vestiges.
He began to wake up around Nottingham, his university town, well remembered in fact, if not in enjoyment - a place that had somehow enveloped him in a cocoon of loneliness, accompanying the mechanical ingestion of his degree.
He turned his head back to nearer things. A few likely types entered the train. You might have imagined some 1950’s National Service scene, all trilbys and raincoats, or perhaps duffel coats, fresh faces. But not these warriors: affluent looking, expensive casual wear, the sophistication afforded of personal communicators; innocence opposed for the most part, youth too. The Country-Organisation was reaching deeper into its stockpile than you would have thought.
You might have imagined a 1950’s scene at Leek station too, and you got it: drab, cold and wet.
Confirmation at last of compatriots, there being no confusing bustle here; only a dozen lads, some dads, perhaps sad: is it this bad?
A sergeant in army uniform with a clipboard approached, accompanied by a civilian driver.
“Leek Training Camp” said the sergeant in a personable manner - shouldn’t he be yelling? - and beckoned with his board: all followed and were ticked off into the bus.
The rain got harder.
The bus was cold. After twenty minutes’ bouncing, it turned into a settlement of nissan huts and disgorged them.
A bare square; wet tarmac and old concrete; 12 dazed and confused men.
What am I doing here?
That was the pertinent question. Even the sergeant who knew everything couldn’t tell them. As a result, the proposed Training programme was confused. Camp routine was simple enough: that cold hut is where you sleep, that, wash, that, eat. But: aims? content? swearings of allegiance?
A plethora of official paperwork, all waved rather than firmly stated, over-icing’d any immediate need for definition.
Overalls for uniform: ready for any eventuality.
A week went by with all this. During that week, Horatio had made the acquaintance of his squad, a diverse bunch; had tried unsuccessfully to phone Vicki - the area was covered by permanent call-barring measures; had mentally re-designed the camp as a meaningful, nay beautiful Transitional Habitation site; while enduring as well as possible the surreal, nay sublime, timewarp which camp life enjoined - the dormitory huts filled with metal-framed beds, the cold, the bare floors, the dank smell . . .
One evening, towards the end of the first week, Horatio found himself on latrine cleaning duties, in the company of another squaddy, David. But very different from Horatio’s brother he: no natural middle class moves; a bit weasel-like, but not unintelligent; doing the necessary; not putting himself out, or forward, “ ‘course I’m just in this to keep my ‘ead down. This lot ‘ere don’t know nothing. There’s moves afoot . . . “
Horatio only realised half way through that the monologue was addressed to him.
“What are you talking about? “
“You’ve ‘ad a proper job, ‘aven’t you? I can tell. Not me. ‘Course you don’t know what it’s really like, no Credit, no Security. Me, I’m in this to keep my ‘ead down, get a few Credits, maybe see who’s who, what’s what. Be rich when I get out, you see . . . “
“You realise you only get two thirds of what you were earning when you came in, plus board and lodging. Rich? . . . I don’t think so . . . “
“Not ‘ere, after . . . I’ve got some hinformation . . . “
“Information? “ Horatio was intrigued. “Where would you get some 'information' from? “
“The Pedlar at the Gates of Dawn, my friend, for all you know . . . “
“So why are you telling me this?”
“ ‘Cos I need ‘elp. I ain’t got the ‘ardware up ‘ere “ (bonce) “or anywhere. Don’t know ‘ow to use it. But it’s worth a lot.”
“A lot? “
“A fortune! . . . “
“And you’re offering some to me, for . . . ‘hardware’? . . . “
“ ‘ardware, and . . . a place . . . “
“A place for what? . . . “
“To store the goods. To lay my ‘at. To call ‘ome . . . “
Little did he know it, but this was Horatio’s first encounter with the Resistance.
The confused ramblings held a true spirit beneath.
“They’re calling up the lunatics” thought Horatio, and edged away, with bemused reflection to the fact that his Police-Actioner status had been suspended for the duration of his Service.
Next came Training proper: but to hedge bets, even this was a cross between soldiering and Drainage technology.
Oh make up your bloody minds!
The eleven shaved and confused men (the wily David seemed to have got himself discharged) learnt the rudiments of square bashing for a morning, then received a lecture on water tables. Next day, they were introduced to the combat weapon, and the field spade.
Next, the light artillery weapon, and the mobile digger.
The hand-held anti-aircraft missile; the automatic pipe-laying trailer.
Horatio received a mail from Vicki saying how bored and lonely she was, and people were panic-buying margarine, for some reason, and apparently Dave was living behind sand bags; oh and a strange, weasely man had knocked at the outer security system, said he knew you, and left a package . . .
Horatio, not normally perturbed, felt quite unsettled at this: probably a pang of jealousy, rather than, or as much as, to wonder how David knew his address and what he had presumed to leave there. Jealousy . . . another man with access to his wife, with he stuck here . . . Was he so insecure? Perhaps their social life was a bit insular: smugly married, no children; just too lazy, or self-absorbed to cope with outside influence? Now Vicki saying she was ‘bored and lonely’ . . .
Spurred on by ur-motivation, Horatio began to apply himself to the problem in hand, namely to get out of there. The key, he decided, was the atmosphere of uncertainty and, frankly, lack of belief, which pervaded the camp: openings for suggestions . . .
Next Morning Parade, Horatio chose his moment and stepped smartly forward.
“Sergeant, I would like to apply for Drainage duty at Fairfield Farm, Butterleigh, Sussex. I suggest the whole squad be detailed for this duty.”
The sergeant’s face lit up! At last, a way out of the mist. He made a pronouncement: “All those volunteering for Drainage duty with Mr Smith, one pace forward!” in a truly sergeantly manner.
As a man.
Orders soon appeared; they left the next day, with Horatio promoted acting second lieutenant, for showing initiative! The purposeful team set off in an army lorry for an extremely uncomfortable seven hours’ bumping, made especially uncomfortable when this old dinosaur hit the conveyor-ways, and had to be linked to a drone, of the sort normally used for carting non-human cargo, and prone to violent jolts. But on the open road, merely bumpy, cold, blowy, a slight sense of camaraderie
solidified; and for Horatio descended the pleasurable anticipation of seeing his brother - for his was, of course, the farm to which they sped.