Not so long ago now, when I lived in Suffolk, I built up a friendship with an ex-Royal marine. His nick-name amongst the taverns and sleezy clip-joints of pious Bury St Edmunds was ‘Scratch’, the view being that he was so daft that if you fed him his head, he would still be scratching his dandruff! Oh, and I use the word ‘pious’ to describe this quaint English market town because it is, if I remember correctly, the only ‘town’ in the country that has a full-blown Cathedral in it. I’m not so sure about the ‘sleezy clip-joints’ though, a bit of literary license there I admit.
Anyway old Scratch, just couldn’t get the military, or the booze for that matter, out of his system. A soldier to his core, he may not have still been in uniform (he had been honourably discharged back in the early nineties), but by God he hadn’t forgotten he was one of the country’s elite fighting men.
I remember so well, the times I had had to haul him out of the local nick. On one occasion, he had been arrested for threatening behaviour. He had implanted himself into a town centre tree (he had been a sniper in the Marines apparently), along with a brush handle, and started shouting at passers-by that he was going to shoot them if they didn’t give themselves up.
On another occasion, and mindful of his tours in Northern Ireland, he had accosted people coming out of Boots, lined them up against a wall and frisked them for weapons – the delicate sensibilities of market-town picture post-card commerce were not amused, I can tell you.
As if all this wasn’t bad enough, he had been banned from every cinema in Suffolk for disturbing the peace. Every time any action came on the screen, Scratch would be up yelling at everyone, ’to stay down!’, ‘incoming!’ and ‘dive for cover!’
I’m glad to say, that when I saw him about a year ago, he had kicked strong drink, had met a nice girl and was on the civilian straight and narrow. Boring he assured me, but at least he now had someone to keep him warm at night.
Scratch is a lovely chap, for all his drunken exploits, and there are days when I still miss his irreverent sense of humour. He appears from time to time, in The Bent Brief.
PS Before I go, I’ve just got to tell you this one. Only last week one of my other Suffolk Royal Marine pals rang me up to tell me he had been arrested on suspicion of murder – eventually released without charge I must stress. Scratches comment?,’ Bloody hell, Jim fallen off the wagon again, has he?’