James goes commando
The worst night's sleep I ever had was, perversely, as a guest of the SAS.
I should have felt perfectly safe. I'd spent a pleasant day looking at trophies, mucking around with kit and firing their ‘weapons' (they're never guns) at cardboard cut-outs of fleeing insurgents. There then followed an evening of drinking and good-natured ribaldry, and, provided I remembered not to call anyone a poof, I knew I was in good company.
And then it was time for bed. I was given one of the officer's rooms, which meant a simple affair of army bed, stiff sheets, a sink, a mop and bucket, and a stand-alone wardrobe big enough for one set of clothes, but a lot posher than the communal blocks the lads slept in. I slipped gratefully between the regimentally arranged bed linen and closed my eyes. ‘Well,' I thought to myself. ‘They're not going to let me get away with this, are they?'
Obviously, they'd wait until I was asleep and then burst in wearing balaclavas and throw thunderflashes all over the place for a laugh. So I braced myself in the inky darkness to make a break for the door and lock them in. Ha!
Nothing happened. Then I realised that, obviously, they were planning something better than that. I heard a noise outside my first-floor window and decided that they were going to abseil in through the glass, hold me at gunpoint and steal all my clothes, and then demand a donation to the mess account before giving them back in the morning. So I hid them under the bed.
The night continued, the moon smiled benignly at the dozing world, and nothing continued to happen. I'd now been in bed for several hours, which is exactly when they would strike. That's what I would do if I was in the SAS and some ponce from the telly had blagged the best room in the barracks. An owl hooted in the distance. That was clearly the signal to attack.
"I arranged the pillows in the bed to look as though I was still in it, and then hid in the wardrobe so I could escape after the SAS had gone"
What they were going to do was come through the door, throw stun grenades, hood me, tie me to the bed and then lift it through the window. A helicopter would carry me away and then deposit me in the nearest town square so I'd have to walk back naked. Then I'd be told I couldn't have my clothes back until I'd retrieved the bed.
So, having watched some spy films, I arranged the pillows in the bed to look as though I was still in it, and then hid in the wardrobe so I could escape after they'd gone, but before they'd discovered the deception. Still nothing.
And so it went on, my fevered and lager-addled imagination concocting yet more elaborate SAS ‘jokes' in which I was the victim, while outside the window everyone else in Britain slept the sleep of the just and good, knowing that people like the SAS were there to protect them should the tranquillity of our ordered society be threatened in any way. When a perfectly pleasant and totally unarmed man came at Oh-Christ-hundred hours to ‘wake' me with a cup of tea, I almost rammed the mop bucket over his head and bolted for the gates.
"How come," I asked over breakfast, "you didn't blow me up in the night for a laugh?" The man in charge of the force fully occupied in combating extreme terrorism looked at me incredulously. "Why the bloody hell would we do that?" he asked.
In fact the enemy I presumed to be outside the door was actually in my mind, which made not being blown up by the SAS for a laugh a very effective form of psychological torture. And this brings me to the point I actually want to make, and with which I may need some help.
Often, I ride along on a motorcycle perfectly happily all day long. But sometimes, I ride along on a bike, especially one I've put back together, and I think to myself ‘What would happen now if the front wheel bearing suddenly seized?' This sort of thing simply doesn't happen except in some corner of the mind, but once the idea has lodged in my head it won't go away, and I ride home at 5mph.
Similarly, I own an old Triumph saloon on which the brakes once failed completely at the end of a long dual-carriageway stretch, requiring buttock-quivering evasive action. It's been fully and expertly repaired, but sometimes I drive along in it and wonder if they've gone again. Once that idea has burst into the room I have to put it away until I've forgotten about it.
Does anyone else do this? I hope not, because it's totally ridiculous. You may as well drive around worrying that the SAS is about to burst out of some bushes and throw grenades at you.
And, take it from me, they're not.