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T. E. Lawrence, The Mint


 

23:  COOK'S MATE

Again unlucky. I've been picked for kitchen fatigue which we know by experience to be the worst, after shit-cart, of our drudgeries. No P.T. anyway. Kitcheners crawl out of bed into overalls and go straight over at the dark reveille, unwashed, to work till the guard have had their suppers after seven at night. These are long hours, and the tepid dishwater: the smooth evil of grease: the having to hump great quarters of chilled beef, smelling like corpses, from meat lorry to cutting bench: the inevitable sodding of hands, and hair and clothes with a reek which will cling in them for days: all these are particular miseries to anyone who hates kitchens and the apparatus of flesh-food. In a bakery, now, there is not such foulness.

As extra, wanton misery today for me was a young cook whose voice in the clangorous kitchen could very well take off the yap of a puppy. He was proud of this mastery and had studied to find from which corner it was loudest. Already the place was discordant as a boiler factory and his 'Wow Wow Wow Yap' every few minutes seemed to craze my brain, like someone stitching it through and through with steel needles. If, as I think, I most fear animal spirits in this world, so do I most hate noise, which jangles me till I thrum like a tautened string.

My body has been unpleasantly taut since I enlisted and silly accidents have further extended me. A fortnight ago I broke a little finger stumbling on the wet tarmac at P.T. and last Friday I sprained my instep carrying a double sack of flour down the steps to M. cook-house. The dim lights of the hut make first my eyes ache, and then my head, while I pencil these notes. So the whole state of man is presently miserable. I feel my unfitness, not for the Air Force life which I have tasted and found good, but for the severities of this recruits' course. Also I am failing to write down its power, as signally as I fail to live it. The thing is alluringly big: but how put back the clock of my body so that I may have carelessness to see it? How spin words when I am afraid for myself all day?

The weakness of will and body, which let the barking cook distress me into shiverings, also put me across the disfavour of the tubby chief-cook, a dung-beetle in shape and manner - but a crimson dung-beetle - who busily conveyed and caught and hid from the orderly officer his pickings of our food. It sickened me to be made part of a superior's felonies: and as I stole for him, so I let what I thought show in my eyes. It was hard to keep it only to my eyes. Once again my fists were crisping. For relief I worked hotly, scouring his beastly coppers and pans till they shone with an excess of surface: and that was a new offence. He wanted them only to pass the casual scrutiny of daily inspection. He knew my painstaking was a defiant judgment upon himself. 'You're good at bull-shit' he wheezed, knowing that word of praise would insult any airman: 'now come and set out my knives and forks.' This was reprisal: he wasted two hours of my day sizing and dressing in futile ranks the cutlery they were about to use. Yet I'm glad the fat hash-slinger was peeved into reaction.

We served dinner to the queued-up orderlies. My puppy-cook charged himself with dishing out the custard, whose yellow suavity was to ease the sharpness of boiled apple. He leaped thighs-astride the warm copper that held it; riding up and down with 'Ah, Ah, Ah' and heaving loins, in pretence it was a woman. Intermittently he licked round the ladle's rim with his slobby tongue. Because we did not laugh, he cocked an eye at us and declared loudly, 'There are three sorts of turd: - mustard,' with a whack at the aluminium cruet on the table: - 'custard,' flinging a splodge of it upon Madden, who stood by me: - 'and your bloody little self.'

When, very late in the evening, I opened the door of our shining hut there met me such noise as if a lodge of demons were revelling within. Sailor took me under the armpits and jazzed me past the basin and comb band to the far door and back. 'We're for inspection tomorrow by Squadron-Leader: that means squadding. Thank Christ, O thank Christ.' Behind me Peters, the sarcastic, came in from London. 'You're all very happy' he sneered. 'Go and fuck rattlesnakes' retorted Garner, 'I'm always happy when I'm broke and have clicked a fire-picket.' Then we told him the truth, but he would not believe it. 'You're pulling my pisser: our mob's on fatigue for the duration.'

Something of the sort we had begun to whisper, as week followed week without respite. Had the Air Force forgotten its promise when we enlisted, in its need of a maintenance party for the Depot? After the sixth week there had been acid protests in the hut: suggestions we should do this or that to assert ourselves. Rebellious again? Not on your life. I think it is hundreds of years since the Commons of England had a grievance that did not purge with grumbling. But now we had our wish, and the prospect of square was relatively golden. We had seen enough of it from our distance to dread it wholesomely. No recruit left Depot without a hatred of drill to last him his seven years. But square had an end: fatigues never. Squadding means escape, one day.




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