Karma, the Tree Dweller
Sometimes you suffer for no fault of your own. Sometimes it’s worth it.
‘Oh, here he comes’ groaned Nobby, ‘yark, yark, bloody yark. He sounds like an argument on a duck pond.’
My mate Nobby Clarke was describing our ‘noble leader’ Battery Sergeant Major William (Gobby) Gornall. The only good thing about this short wiry man was his gob gave you a minute to get out of his way. He seemed to bark at every soldier he came across. Even junior officers feared to cross him. Nobby sighed and buggered off.
Quantan is an up-market holiday resort on the East coast of Malaysia these days. I couldn’t possibly afford to go there now. In 1963, the army sent me there for free. Of course, it wasn’t an up-market resort then, just a few fishermen’s’ huts, palm trees and miles of white sand. We were on R&R after Borneo service. We had swimming, fishing and dinghy sailing. We built a raft and played beach volleyball. In the evening we had a barbeque and a few beers whilst singing bawdy rugby songs around a beach bonfire. Life was good except there were no women.
On the third day of our five-day stay, I was sitting on a palm tree trunk that stretched horizontally out over the dazzling beach towards the emerald green of the South China Sea. I was thinking of Maureen and how she’d dumped me. Being dumped was just an occupational hazard, of course, but it still hurt. Almost two years had passed, but I still longed for Maureen and her lusty loins.
Unlike other soldiers’ families, mine was not too keen on writing, so in two years in Malaya, I’d received only two letters, a birthday card for my 21st which arrived a week late, and a request to send more money home. I was quietly mulling these things over when the Gobby crept up behind me. ‘You look a bit lonely lad, what’s up?’ he rasped.
I was immediately suspicious of his sudden interest in my welfare. ‘I’m fine sir’ I told him ‘just thinking of home, that’s all.’
He looked me up and down with his beady blues, I’d seen more sympathy in a cobra’s eye. ‘You never get any mail, do you?’ he asked. Now I was panicking, where the hell was this leading?
‘No sir, my family are not too big on letter writing.’ I said.
‘I was brought up in an orphanage, lad’ he barked, ‘I didn’t have no family, but you won’t catch me crying about it.’
This was getting serious, what the hell was he up to? I decided that, as we were on a kind of holiday, he must be a bit relaxed. Maybe this was his idea of friendly rapport. I decided to inject a little humour into the situation. Bad idea.
‘I heard a rumour that you were once seen crying, sir’ I said in a light tone.
‘Bollocks’ he snapped ‘what do think would possibly make me cry?’
‘I heard you once knocked over a full pint of your beer in the mess, sir’ I quipped.
He glared ‘Oh, funny bugger eh? Well, take four extra guard duties, you’ll have plenty of time to laugh while you’re patrolling the camp.’
‘But sir’ I protested ‘it was only a joke.’
‘Make that five extra’s, now piss off, I want to sit there.’
Reluctantly, I surrendered my seat to him and moved off. A minute later there was a hideous screech of pain and panic. Gobby was hopping about from one foot to the other vigorously rubbing his backside. A tree scorpion had stung him in the arse. Ain’t karma a bitch?
P.S. Gobby seemed to blame me for his four days in the hospital. Unfortunately, the scorpion only made the bugger sick.He gave me nine consecutive weekend guards.