Sunday, 25 March 2012

An old trick, but a good one

There comes a point in life when one has ceased to acquire major new skills, and but still have some which need to be perfected: getting out of bed without falling over, for example (or indeed doing anything without falling over).

Many of the skills which I have retained are of very little practical value to me now. Will I ever again need to stand properly to attention? I could, if necessary, because I remember very clearly the instructions for doing it, which I never saw written down but only heard bawled: Headup-chinin-chestout-stomachin-heelstogether-feetatanangleof45degrees-thumbsinlinewiththeseamsofthetrousers-standperfectlySTIW! It’s probably done differently nowadays.

Something else I could still do if asked was rarely called for even at the time. It was called Rest On Your Arms Reversed, and it went like this:

On the appropriate commands, you sloped arms, then presented them (more fun doing this with a sword, but that's another story).

You are now in this position, only in a different sort of uniform (unless you were in the Royal Scots Fusiliers) and without the bayonet, for reasons which will become clear. (Also, the position of his right foot isn't quite correct: it should have been crashed down at a slight angle so that its heel was tucked into the the instep of the left.)

Then comes the tricky bit: on the command Rest...etc., you rotated the rifle forwards through 180 degrees (first moving it away from you to avoid giving yourself a nasty knock with the butt) until the muzzle rested on the toe of your left boot. Then, slowly, one at a time, you made a big circle with each arm, following the hand with your eyes until they (your hands, that is) were clasped over the end of the butt with your elbows still sticking out. Finally, in one quick move, you dropped your elbows and bowed your head, reverently.

How you got back from this position I have quite forgotten. But given a hint or two about that, and a short Lee-Enfield, I would love to play a small part, if called upon to do so, in the obsequies of some royal person, for that is the kind of occasion when this manoevre is—or used to be—carried out. A misty autumn day with a slight drizzle, the Dead March in Saul, the black-draped coffin on the gun carriage....... Great!


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