Tuesday, 26 June 2012

On Being Mr Vice

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One of the more enjoyable events in military life is the Regimental Dinner. Each Regiment or unit adheres to a series of traditions. These determine such matters as who sits where, who might say grace, which dignitaries are toasted at the end of the meal and who, if anyone will be permitted to make a speech.

The President of the Mess Committee is ultimately responsible for the smooth running of the evening, usually assisted by the junior Subaltern, who acts as Mister or Madam Vice. This young subaltern may very well face a degree of trickery from his peers throughout the evening. This may be as simple as convincing them to say the wrong name when proposing a toast or something a little more drastic.

The poem below describes a number of the things I witnessed during Regimental Dinners during my career. There were many more, such as being encouraged to remove the Spurs from someone’s boots during the evening. This task, from which a victorious subaltern might emerge from under the table clasping a set of spurs, often ended with them finding that their entire place setting and chair had been removed from the table during their short absence. The rest of the evening could be spent squatting between two peers trying not too look too short or too tall!

The poem below tells of an unfortunate Mr Vice who having survived an evening was foiled at the last when the port decanters caught up with each other in front of him, an 'offence' which often cost folk the price of refilling the offending decanters. I hope you enjoy it.

On Being Mr Vice

The Subalterns are having fun
Ribbing him about the Dinner
Mr Vice is bricking it
Knowing he’ll end a sinner.

When he pulls back his chair
Will his cutlery come with it?
Has someone used catgut
To really land him in it?

Or when shaking out his napkin
Will a cloud of talcum powder
Coat his pristine Mess Kit
make the mess laugh louder

Perhaps the dental Officer
Had doctored his wine glass
Making a tiny hole in it
Through which red wine will pass

Will his little bell chime
When he needs to shake it
Or did a fellow Subbie
stick the clanger or take it.

The President rings his bell
The Vice rings in response
And grace and later toasts are made
He does not falter once.

The port decanters are on the move
Mr Vice has not been watching
As they reach him all together
He hears the crystal ring.

Having survived all the trickery
He'd relaxed and become distracted
and now the cost of the port
will from him be exacted.

John Carré Buchanan
26 June 2012

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