The Army was obsessed with cleanliness. We’d crane our necks around the bottoms of toilets and plumbing pipes until we could see our tired faces in them. We’d show off our pipes to the other lads and say ours were better. Corporals wearing white gloves would test them with fingers. They’d carry dust in their pockets to sprinkle for when we’d cleaned too well. That was the game. You could stay up until 0400hrs cleaning, sleep for an hour, get up for reveille at 0500hrs, and by 0600hrs it was never clean enough for the corporal.
The guard shift would note when our lights went out. The corporal mentioned that we’d been up until 0400hrs cleaning, so we’d sleep with the lights on to get Brownie points. Room inspections were scary at first, then funny, then ridiculous. The time between finishing the cleaning process and getting ready for a room inspection was when we’d do the ablutions, washing ourselves before getting into uniform and standing tall for the two stripes to come around. Frosted glass shower doors never hid lads masturbating before the inspection; others would curse if they’d forgotten their flip flops and chase the spermy mess away with the shower head before they got in. They’d shout at the masturbators, who would shout back to not forget your flip flops.
A recruit would stand outside the room and bring the others to attention on seeing the corporal, while others made finishing touches to their lockers. T-shirts had to be folded so they sat perfectly in the locker and touched both sides of the box. A sheet of A4 paper would get them just right, but leaving the paper in there would get you push-ups, so you had to remember to remove it. The towels matched the T-shirts. On top of the towel would go a toothbrush, razor, and a bar of soap you never used. It would be perfectly clean, but the corporal would still find hair on them that was never there before. All our time and effort would mean nothing as the corporal tore the lockers apart, throwing everything into a big pile in the middle of the room. We all knew it would happen but still stayed up all night preparing.
Lads would obsess about their lockers and their uniforms in those last long minutes before the shouting came through the door. Boots polished, creases sharp, pockets flat, berets shaped, hair short, sideburns to be no lower than the middle of the ear, and faces shaved—not a hair missed. Corporal would lean right in and eyeball around your chin, aching to find a hair you’d missed, so before he came in, your friends would do that for you. Recruits were like monkeys preening each other before the corporal came. Bits of fluff on berets would end up in pockets, and loose threads would catch fire as recruits burned them away. The cotton would carry a small ball of fire and make a satisfying smell until it died when it reached the rest of the cloth. It would congeal into a small black shiny mess which you could pick at, giving you something to do while waiting.
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