Best Beloved just finished his annual army service for 2009. Conscription is mandatory here, and every July a crop of shaven-head eighteen-year-old males is herded off to the various training camps to spend the next two years running up hills, playing about in tanks, splashing around in rubber boats and guarding the Green Line from the 40,000 Turkish regulars who still squat in the northern 40% of Cyprus.
After their two years, all men have to do a regular reserve duty (most keeping their kit, service rifle, and ammunition at home) – the younger ones for several weeks a year, the older ones gradually tapering off their number of days until they reach their fiftieth birthday when they are assigned to Home Guard units.
Best Beloved did his army service as a Lt quartermaster in an armoured reconnaissance unit back in the early eighties. He hated most of it, but was a good shot and still loves weapons. When he came back from finishing college and work in the UK, he didn’t report to the police for Army Service, and after about a year they went to his parent’s house to ask where he was. His mother gave them our address, and shortly afterwards, they showed up at the door.
“Why on earth couldn’t you say that you didn’t know where I was?” he asked her.
“It was the police, son. And for your Army Duty! I couldn’t lie about that…”
“Thanks, Ma. Send me back to the tanks!”
The Army descended on him with glee, sent him to do another officer course, and ordered him to spend a couple of days a year at war games. When he began travelling regularly for work, they downgraded him until now he is out of his old unit and only has to report one day of the year.
So around December 1 each year, he dons his (too tight) camouflage and trundles off to base to play soldiers with the other forty-somethings who are too old for much and too young for Dad’s Army. They sit around and drink coffee and clamber into a five-ton truck for a shooting session before heading back to their city offices.
Last year he forgot. Missing your Army Duty makes you liable for a fine, but someone must have signed him in, because when he arrived today (“Don’t forget to remind me on Tuesday that I have to go to the Army, Manamou!” – but of course I forgot) no one said a word about it.
I just phoned him.
“I’m back at the office now,” he said. “But we were all saying that we need the chiropractor. Climbing into those trucks without a ladder is a bit beyond most of us now, and bumping over the tracks is a little hard on bones more accustomed to a Mercedes. The trucks’ll kill us before the Turks ever get a chance!”
“So what did you do?” I asked.
“Fired ten bullets.”
“Did you hit the target?”
“Well according to me I did – you can tell when your hitting it. But the bloke who was reading our scores really didn’t give a damn – he was just saying whatever came into his head. We could tell because the guy standing next to me always hits a near perfect score and so do I, but they told us both a silly number that didn’t mean anything, so we figured that they didn’t really care.”
Oh, it’s good to feel so well protected!