Ask a soldier of my era what new development had the biggest impact on their daily lives and they will bore you to tears for hours and all will have a different answer. Some will say it was the switch from DMS boots and puttees to 'Boots, High Combat.' Others may say the introduction of Clansman radios from the antiquated A41's while others will simply say, "Mrs Thatcher." Some contrary souls will allude to the BATCO battlefield code rather than the old Slidex while others may point to the SUIT rifle sight for use in Ireland. The wits amongst them however will probably say either 'promotion,' or 'leaving!.'
The item though that had the biggest and most meaningful impact on my daily life was the invention and sale in 1980 of the Sony Walkman. Obviously, life as a soldier involves living in close proximity to other men; travelling, sleeping, working, relaxing. Sometimes, life can get very 'cosy,' indeed. Accommodation in most Security Force bases in Ireland for example tended to be cramped and rudimentary with triple bunk beds crammed end to end. I was lucky on one tour, sharing a small attic space of an old rural police station with three others, 'at least we'll be first to know when the mortars hit,' we used to joke. Travelling by truck, train or t'plane as a unit was never much fun. For reasons best known to itself, it seemed to take the Army five times as long to move anywhere than it takes anyone else. That could mean 12, 18 or even 24 hours on troop trains moving from one part of Germany to an exercise in another part.
Everyone has their own stories but the Walkman, well it was a godsend. Suddenly, despite being in the (usually very smoky), confines of tight places with the unique combined smell of wet leather and '58 webbing, rifle oil, brews, beer and bodies one could put the headphones on, close the eyes, and drift away to another place listening to a tape that the girlfriend had put together and given to you on your last leave. It gave me, and our generation, a first taste of temporal escapism and I promise you, what is now taken for granted was first greeted with sheer, deep and meaningful joy. That is apart from one commissioned ex RSM who I shared a tent with at an American training area called Grafenwohr in Germany. Although we were non-tactical he didn't take well to this instrument of the devil. He started by accusing me of being a 'mongrel punk rocker,' who would, 'have your brained fried into mush, if there was anything in there,' and who would end up being 'bayoneted by a charging enemy through the flaps of the tent because I had my head up my arse.' 'Thank you for the advice, David,' I said, 'Shall we go to the Mess Tent for a beer where you can tell me more about all my shortcomings?' Funny isn't it.... all anyone says afterward is, 'I made lifelong friends.'
I haven't lost the habit of listening to music through earphones so it came as something of an unwelcome shock to discover that Apple are to stop production of the iPod Nano and whatever the wee small thing the size of a stamp is called. This is an unwise and calamitous move by Apple, if not for them then certainly for me. How do they expect me to listen to music on my telephone when after only six months the wretched things have a battery life of about four and half minutes? Size, shape, usability it's all wrong, wrong, wrong. I simply can't see me fishing, standing in a river listening to the 79th Farewell to Gibraltar on my phone... too risky if it goes in the drink. And falling asleep to music? Well, there are a whole different set of consequences for Mrs Flashbang to my tossing and turning while attached to an iPod than there is to a clunky iPhone. It's not going to end well. This is what happens when you sell your soul to a single manufacturer..... they all let you down eventually..... bastards. I'll say that again, utter bastards.
Of course, those egg-head Geeks in Cupertino may think it's very smart and clever doing away with the trusty iPod but what about the lads stagging-on in outposts far away or on or deep under the ocean in ships and submarines. There's not much use for a mobile telephone on a submarine. Of course, mobile phones give an easy give away electronic signature to the enemy... especially in identifiable clusters. Question.... exactly who's side are Apple on?
'So, enjoy it while you can Crumble,' I hear you shout. I intend to but I am going to go one better. Just for all you three loyal readers I'm going to share part of my current sleepy-bye, night-night play list. I have a few. This week I'm passing through the Sixties and while I rarely get through the first five or six tracks before nodding off there are some absolute beauties here. As they say on the Upper East Side, 'Enjoy!'