Note: This is part of a series. You can read part one here.
Test week was about to start, and I was in a good mood. Some TA geezer who had gobbled off how he knew everything there was to know about SF had failed the last march and had been unceremoniously sent off. He would be that geezer in the pub telling people how he was in the SAS but “don’t like to talk about it.” Right.
The first three marches during test week are in Élan Valley. It’s not particularly mountainous, but the ground is like walking on babies’ heads; it’s absolutely hideous. My feet were already becoming unrecognisable as body parts, and this was going to light them up. The night before, I smothered them in tincture of benzion. It proper hurt, but I knew it would hold them together long enough to get to the next march. The tape on my back had grown into my skin and would eventually become part of my body, so I just put a fresh one on over the old one. Who needs a medical centre?
I woke up early—not through choice, but because someone was snoring like a hippo on its last legs. Nothing better than not being able to sleep when the root cause is some other bastard sleeping. I went down to the shower block and had a cold shower to try and reduce the swelling on my feet so I could get my boots on and get them done up—a luxury at this stage of the campaign.
I remember my mate, Daz, laughing at me as I tried in vain to pull my boots on. Instead, I would gradually kick them on whilst on route to breakfast. I would eat as much as I could carry back to the table and utilise my flip-top head to get the lot in without breathing. No sooner had I gotten there before I was off again to get my Bergan and get down to the court tonne lorries and the waiting staff. As soon as your name was called, you got on whatever lorry you were told, got your doss bag out, and got your head down until you heard the tailgate coming down again.
Crash. Get off the truck. Get your brigand ready. First man leaves in five. We were in a car park I’d never seen before, with fog thicker than pea soup and a continuous rain that never quite got you soaking, but still managed to keep you wet all day. I could see the tufts of grass known as babies’ heads. I knew it was going to hurt. Before I knew it, my Bergan had been weighed and the DS was saying, “You know where you are? You know where you’re going?” That was it. No, “Good luck,” just a “yes” from me, about-turn, check compass, and off I went.
As the day got longer, the checkpoints seemed to get farther apart. That’s bollocks. I was just getting more tired. A lot of guys thought they knew the routes, but the DS could send you any way they wanted and keep you going for any amount of time they deemed fit to. If you accepted, you would march until told to stop (and even then, be prepared to start again if told). Then there should be no nasty surprises or “sickeners,” as they were known.
At the end of the day, you were told absolutely nothing. You had no clue if you had passed or failed unless you had withdrawn early or piled in (nature’s way of telling you you’ve failed). You just had to wait until the beginning of the next march, where you either got a lorry to get on, a yellow card, or a red one and a trip home. Fortunately I only ever got a lorry number. I paid no attention to anyone else’s predicament while on the hills. Nobody cared. The first part of selection is just to see if you’ve got what it takes to continue.
At the end of the Élan Valley, it was back on the hills again. The last march before endurance was fast approaching, and the numbers were dropping, but at a slightly slower rate. Gone were the days of going off into Brekon to dump a couple of pints of the black stuff in Sarah Siddon’s down-ya-neck before doing a family-size pizza with a kebab chaser on the way home.
It was now scoff, blisters, bed. I had to go see the doctor in between the last tab and endurance, and time was not something I was wallowing in. My retina was messed up from wind damage and would not open and close. Once daylight was in, I knew I would find it hard to carry on with the eye. I waited and waited and waited for the doc, but he didn’t come. At about two in the morning, he came and declared I was going home.
“Piss off,” was all I could manage to get out. He stopped dead in his tracks.
“What did you just say, soldier?”
Again I said, “Piss off,” followed by a muffled, “Sir.”
He walked off without a word and came back with the chief instructor. This is it, I thought. Shit or bust. “Explain yourself,” said the boss man. All I could do now was declare how desperate I was to continue and plead. The boss listened and left with the doc. When he came back, he said, “Here’s the deal. The doc has explained the dangers to you, so now if you continue, it’s on your head.” I looked at him as if to say, “No worries.”
“You’ve got a place on the lorry tomorrow. Your choice,” he said. Then, he left.
“Damn, how close was that?” I thought, and went back to my basher where at tops, I had an hour’s sleep to go before I had to get up and try and get my damn boots on. Endurance was here, and I was 24 hours away from a place on the trip to Brunei if I could get ’round the course in the required four-kilometers-per-hour straight-line time.
DING DING DING DING DING.
Daz B’s alarm went off before I had shut my eyes proper. Not one to hang about, I sat up straight away and started pulling my clothes on. Forget the shower, I need food, water, and a good crap at best. I’ll have a smoke on the lorry, and we’ll be all good from there on in. On endurance, everyone is there. All the TA going at half your pace, the Scaleys going even slower, and all manner of DS not previously seen.
It’s a big day. All the guys who get all year to do it go first. So the TA and the Scaleys are out on the trucks first. They get to do the march a lot slower than regulars, but it doesn’t matter because for them, that’s it—they’re in. No jungle, just a few jumps.
I got on the truck, boots half off.
“Here we go,” I thought. Let’s get it on.
(Featured image courtesy of bistudio.com)