Major Gilbert Bernard Humble is oblivious to the fact that his initials form the acronym for Grievous Bodily Harm. He was a fearless (more likely insensitive) soldier who, during his career, had no opportunity to do any sailing. His postings had all been to inland bases where, as he was wont to say, he was a ‘loyal defender of the Empire’ a role similarly claimed by Zander. If either of them had been what they purported to be, there are those who might be tempted to think God help us all. Grunt maintains, disparagingly, that they were more likely referring to the Hammersmith Empire, the one at Golder’s Green or some other such near-flung light entertainment establishment of urban Britain.
On his way home from overseas to re-settle in Edinburgh, an old friend from his Sandhurst days had invited Gilbert to join him on a short sail off the south coast of England. He enjoyed the experience so much that he could hardly wait to do it again. As a result, very soon after he and his wife arrived in Edinburgh, he joined the local yacht club. There he hoped to make new friends, who would invite him to sail with them. ‘Sounds familiar?‘
Gilbert had been the Commanding Officer of a succession of small units, where during discussions in the mess, he had become used to holding the floor. From that power base he had developed a habit of barging into other peoples’ conversations, finishing their sentences for them or – impatient to drive home his own point – cutting across what they were saying.
Unfortunately, in his new civilian life, he had not yet managed to curb this insensitive trait. So when he joined the club, anyone who showed either the patience or good manners to listen to him would find themselves being assaulted with a long, boring, one-sided conversation in which he would catalogue his military record and boast about his – often imaginary – thrilling adventures. If Gilbert believed that this was the way to make friends and influence people, he was wrong. What he had done was press the self-destruct button, and any chance he had ever had of befriending a listener, died a death. As his reputation as the club bore spread, he found that the only way that he could get people to talk to him was to spend money on them. Therefore, he became ‘a buyer of drinks’.
Gilbert is 5′ 9″ tall, slim figure of bristling military magnificence. His sparsely covered dome seems permanently polished and he has grown a small thin moustache that he keeps neatly trimmed. To him, dress is almost a fetish and a cravat an essential item of his casual gear. In Gilbert’s eyes, to be improperly dressed on any ‘parade’ is a crime. Everything he does is ‘by the book’ but unfortunately, his interpretations of the book are often at variance with the book’s real intentions.
Alas, his usual affable front is soon destroyed by his inability to hold his liquor. Even his lifelong experience of boring evenings in the mess with its attendant drinking culture, has failed to provide him with even a modicum of a capacity for strong drink.
To watch his behaviour slide downward while he is ‘under the influence’ can be downright embarrassing. All dignity, scruples, moral principles and good judgment disappear, and to make matters worse, his hearing and sense of reason desert him as well.
One of the first signs of Gilbert ‘losing the place’, is when he tells about the shrapnel wounds he suffered from a grenade explosion, while doing something extremely brave in the front line, somewhere. These proudly borne scars are on his buttocks and to prove his words, whether his victims like it or not, he will drop his trousers and show them off.
On one notable occasion in the club, Gilbert in full flow had just dropped his trousers when one of the guests, a doctor, happened to witness the show. Not in the least impressed by the proud battle-scarred warrior’s claims, and believing him to be more battle-scared or even bottle-scarred, asked if he could have a closer look at the famous shrapnel fragments.
Too far gone to refuse, Gilbert with an offhand flourish towards his rear end, said blithely,
“There they are, help yourself, have a good look!”
The doctor after a brief examination of Gilbert’s intimate nether quarters, turned to the assembly with a knowing smile and gave his diagnosis,
“In my opinion, the bits of shrapnel look more like wood splinters from something like a damaged toilet seat. They’ve settled in under the skin and are not yet calloused enough to drop off.”
With that revelation, Gilbert broke the world record for ‘pulling up of trousers’ and, red faced with embarrassment, huffed and bluffed his way through wall of mocking laughter with an indignant parting shot,
“What does that quack’s opinion matter anyway?”