Before you go imagining bunks and boots, I was in fact luxuriating in the officers’ accommodation at Catterick Garrison with some of my oldest friends.
We’d been invited by our pal the Major to join him for MessFest and so four of us drove down to don some questionable 60s outfits for the Woodstock themed event.
My husband is a frustrated soldier, convinced his past life was ended in an air raid shelter, and obscenely proud of his military pals (including his brother who’s a Royal Navy lieutenant commander). Being in an actual barracks, with tanks nearby, the crack of rifle fire in the air and hundreds of years of military history on the wood-panelled walls, was an enormous treat for him.
For my part, I was just immensely proud. Proud of our school pal who has completed three tours in Afghanistan and reached a very respectable rank at the age of 35; proud to meet his friend Chrissy, a doctor and mother of a three year old boy, who has also completed three tours and hugely proud of Great Britain’s military history and service.
Every military person I met had beautiful manners and a great sense of humour. Those whose guests had overindulged at the free bar were very quick to act, subtly but firmly removing them from the situation before anyone could be inconvenienced. The food was outstanding, served by quietly professional staff and available in enormous quantities.
After the meal we sat on hay bales round a huge burning log with our gin and tonics, listening to the band, guffawing as our friends flopped off the bucking bronco, grinning at the outfits (three guys had decided skin tight denim shorts and nothing else qualified as Woodstock) and trying to digest the beef, salmon, hog roast and rich desserts.
Later on, a whole lounge was devoted to a buffet with tea, coffee and an enormous cheeseboard. Just sitting on the leather seats with an old drum for a table and the colours of battalions through the ages on the walls behind us was an experience. One guest, dressed brilliantly as a Beatle, remarked straight-faced “There are no landscapes – just battle scenes,” to great hilarity.
The next morning we sat among the debris clutching coffees and reliving the night’s highlights. The sun was shining, a spaniel was running about and people were appearing in various states of freshness. One even had a can of beer on the go.
“What’s the DEFCON level?” someone asked, only to be told that was American and we in the UK had the much more reserved status of “heightened”. It was a sobering thought. Our party partners were also our guardians of peace. It was our honour to meet and socialize with them.
I salute you all.