I had barely warmed my seat on the bus when I was struck by the notion that I had left my oven on. Possibly. I did some quick arithmetic in my head and worked out that three hours would be the price of my obsessive compulsive habits. I stewed on this all the way to the train station before resigning myself to a week carrying a persistent mental itch. I expect you're all eager to hear of a disaster that made local news. Something along the lines of “Local man denies knowledge of dwarf in baggage.” or “Man attempts to board plane with paperback of 'Casino Royale' instead of passport”. None of those things happened.
The trip outbound was smooth. I'm sorry to disappoint you all. The worst thing that happened was the cab driver mistaking my accent for that of an Australian. Don't worry, it gets better. But don't expect me to spark an international incident just to spice up the AAR. Just sayin'.[Slacky enjoying a pre-flight brew]
Travel lends me a special, rumpled disposition once I stray beyond a few hours cooped up in a confined space. As I basked the Atlanta sunshine, Shane asked me if steak was OK for dinner. I was wrecked from a bad mix of shift work and air travel and had been subject to plane food. I'd have cheerfully accepted an offer to boil up a leather sofa and garnish it with diesel oil. Steak was fine and I mumbled an affirmative in the slurred yet enthusiastic speech that signals I'm running on fumes. We're running a little late for the reservation, so Shane phones them up and asks if that's OK. I've been late for plenty of reservations at restaurants and I've never felt the need to phone them up and seek forgiveness. I put this down to Shane's impeccable southern manners and returned to staring out of the window, glaring at downtown Atlanta with bloodshot, itchy eyes. We turn into a car park entrance and a very polite man in a red waistcoat approaches the car, triggering a debus from Shane and his charming wife, Megan. I follow suit and hastily clamber out, watching mutely as Shane's vehicle is driven away to a forever mysterious location. It is a very strange experience to watch a stranger drive away with all your stuff without at least running after the vehicle in impotent rage. Shane is entirely non-plussed by this event, but he's aristocracy now (a by-God-Lieutenant-Colonel and aide-de-camp to someone gosh-darned-important) and thus is sworn to forever be non-plussed at everything, from the placement of butter knives into the marmalade jar, up to and including the invasion of the Earth by giant insects that continuously drip slime from their quivering, fanged maws.
We shuffled through the door and were greeted by a crisply formal man in smart attire. Shane exchanged a few words with him confirming our late arrival and we were ushered to our table. It was clear now that something was different. The gentleman waiting our table (I hesitate to call him a waiter) was knowledgeable about the food, its preparation and cooking, and delivered answers to all our questions with manners that would make an etiquette coach weep with pride. I opened the menu and cast an eye over the modest selection available, then allowed my gaze to sweep to the right, where it encountered the not-so-modest prices. This was not an establishment that counted McDonalds or International House of Pancakes among its competition. I was suddenly very aware of a lack of tie. Or jacket. I was wearing beige, loose-fitting, multi-pocketed trousers, a hooded top and a t-shirt which said “I've had it up to here with midgets” marking a line around my waist. Casual taps on the surrounding furniture revealed hardwood rather than fibreboard, varnish instead of laminate and bespoke art on the walls, rather than prints. This establishment had probably only just relaxed its rule on the compulsory dinner suit for men. Probably that morning. Bread arrived while we were deciding what to request from the chef. It was, we were told, fresh from the oven. I can confirm it was delicious. The butter was no doubt sourced from a cow that ate pre-washed grass in a meadow in which Julie Andrews would have sung, danced and escaped from the Nazis. As the bread was cleared away in preparation for the main course, I watched open-mouthed as a chap scraped the crumbs from the table with a special tool, leaving the table clear of debris and floor untouched by errant flakes.
Tea was ordered. I generally maintain low expectations of American tea. They make it with coffee water, decidedly cooler than boiling water, and usually with a blend of tea that would stopped at the border by UK Customs so as to avoid riots and letters to the Times from retired Army officers named Buffy. Tea arrived in a solid silver tea service that probably cost more than my car (Actually, all of my cars. Put together.) The blend was delicious. The empty tea pot was heavier than me. The steak arrived. The waiter asked me if I wanted a differently coloured napkin. I looked at the immaculately folded napkin on the table in front of me and could not see anything wrong with it. As far as napkins go, I would say that it was the best presented napkin I had ever encountered, woven from thick linen. My best suit is made from cheaper material than this napkin.
“Why would I want another napkin?”
“I see that Sir has chosen not to use the napkin we provided. I presume that this is due to the colour clash with Sir's clothing. I can fetch a darker colour if Sir would prefer.”
I looked down at my poor-taste T-shirt and rumpled trousers. The idea that a colour clash with my wardrobe was a source of any concern was plainly out of the question. This was an exquisitely crafted order-by-request that I conduct myself less like a straw-chewing bumpkin and rather more like somebody who both owns and wears a tuxedo. I realised that compared to the clientèle of this establishment, I was raised by wolves.
Suitably napkinned, a Huge Lump Of Meat was placed in front of me. Many, if not all, of the steaks I've eaten have been flat enough to have holes where the laces had been removed. The thickest could have concealed itself behind a deck of cards. This thing was massive, towering alone on the plate. I'd picked a small steak, but it had excellent posture. Mashed potatoes and assorted vegetables arrived in separate pots. Not the boiled-into-mush-yesterday-and microwaved-into-life vegetables I'm accustomed to. These were different. These were a meal unto themselves. I mentioned the mashed potatoes. I'm not sure where to start when it comes to the mashed potatoes. I've cooked my share of potatoes. I've eaten many of them. Other were consigned, smoking, to a fiery grave. I've never, ever encountered mash that doesn't have random hard matter in it, or occasional greenish tinged lumps. Had I not been assured by the waiting staff that my mash was indeed made from potatoes, I would have denied it outright. Fluffy, rich, buttery... my eyes are misting up at the memory. I'll never see or taste mash like that again in my life. Its a bit like knowing that the best bit of your life was ten minutes ago, and that the long, gradual slide downhill to death and pestilence begins now. There were mushrooms as well, but laws about outraging public decency bar me from describing the mushrooms. Only the most graphic, obscenely sexual metaphors would even approach the subject with any justice. I've had to have a small cry and a glass of water just at the memory. They were the most emotionally engaging mushrooms I've encountered.
A brief interlude to answer nature's call. The bathroom looked like it cost more than my house. Outfitted with bespoke art and an eye-wateringly expensive selection of aftershaves and scents left casually by sink, I wasn't entirely sure I could even use it without prompting a waiter to pop out of the bin to offer courteous advice on whether gentlemen shake twice or thrice. Having washed my hands (using what appeared to be custom-made soap), I cast about looking for the paper towels. There weren't any. There was, however, a modest pile of neatly folded linen towels. I'm not making this up. Linen hand towels. I sleep on thinner bedsheets.
I'm a fast eater. When inclined, I inhale my food as fast as my hands can transport it into my face. Disgusted relatives have commented in the past that I 'eat like a dog'. Suitably chastened by the Napkin Incident, I figured that if I conducted myself in that manner, I'd be escorted from the restaurant and given my food in a bowl on the floor at the staff entrance. My hands shaking with the effort of not throwing the food at my face and snapping all I can out of the air, I chewed and swallowed and made involuntary grunts and whistles of pure, undiluted pleasure. This was eating as an event. I don't recall saying much during this meal because my mouth was always full. Then something unusual happened. I can only describe it as the uncomfortable sensation of having eaten a hot air balloon. There was food still on the table. I once ate a whole pound of cheese to avoid leaving food on the table. The mash? Still there. I think there may have been a mushroom or two that survived the holocaust. No survivors from the carrot camp.
The idea of pudding was just too much. I was full. Like eggs are full. The restaurant would probably refuse to sell me a pudding as I had not cleared my table of the savoury items. Even if I did beg a pudding from them, I'd probably eat it while sobbing with nausea, before bringing everything up and being obliged to commit ritual seppuku in front of the staff for soiling their food and the carpets.
My memory is somewhat hazy, possibly owing to the influence of mushrooms and mash. Shane asked if I wanted to be tazered. I thought back to all the people I've encountered that I would have cheerfully tazed and thought that it was only fair that I experience that which I would do unto others. So, almost without bidding, my mouth opened and enthusiastic agreement fell out. Later that evening, I thought back to all the people I'd encountered who had been tazed. Every one had an appearance of abject misery. Nobody was terribly mouthy or cocky. Their spirits were crushed. Their will to resist, carefully excised. A germ of unease was planted, and there it stayed.
The decision was made to leave. My stomach had commandeered enough blood to render me hypoxic. My brain, already handicapped by too many blows to the head, air travel and sleep deprivation, was now released from what loose ties it had on reality and demanded to be introduced to the owner of this fine establishment. On asking the maître de for an introduction, I was graciously put before a refined looking lady with a faintly worried expression. On reflection, I think that her first impression of this swaying, unshaven, stale-smelling creature with bloodshot eyes and a T-Shirt that mentions midgets may have less than generous. I proceeded to tell her that despite a long day that would fray the gentlest disposition, the food that her establishment served should be considered art and that it was the best meal I've ever eaten anywhere. She wasn't to know this was a small fib. Shane's wife, Megan, makes pork ribs and corn casserole that would make the head chef of this establishment hang up his apron and get a job washing cars.
I'm now starving hungry. I hope you are, too.[Shane running a drill on the night shoot]
The following day was spent on the range preparing for a low-light shoot. It is possible that some shooting took place, purely in the name of research. That afternoon, the usual suspects started to arrive. Dan, now a sworn peace officer, whose chief work-related complaint is that “all the big scary looking dudes just turn bitch the moment you lay a hand on 'em”. Court, the taciturn death machine recently voted “Man most likely to survive the zombie apocalypse sat atop a hill of human skulls”. Several attendees arrived at the sports hall that afternoon and were treated to a short session of the Liverpool Gutterfighter experience prior to our trip to the range. [A two-officer night shoot drill in progress]
Later that evening, the one and only Nick Hughes arrived from Charlotte, NC, with several of his crew.[Slacky with Big Nick]
Shane's wife earned the undying gratitude of everyone on the course the next morning by paying attention to the weather forecast. While Saturday was going to be scorchio, Sunday was set to be somewhat damp. So, off to the range for day one of Instructor Development. Special mention goes to the cafe who served me a full cooked breakfast in a pint cup. Bacon, eggs, grits, the lot. In a cup! It contained more calories than cake mix. [Briefing for the course]
Den ran the morning session, with a number of drills that don't usually appear in a basic qualification course. Everyone was obliged to concentrate from minute one and pay special attention to safety, calling one's shots and muzzle awareness. Further hazard was posed by the “fine weather”, local parlance for pitiless sun and humidity. For the afternoon, all students were to present a firearms drill of their own devising. This proved to be most illuminating. Topics as diverse as long gun failure drills, fire and movement, aggression and forward drive (a memorable one, that!), Condition-Three method drawstroke and recovery of a sidearm from the floor were all present. Somebody threw in a particularly gruelling fatigue drill just to keep Den happy, I'm sure. [On range during the Instructor training]
Suitably cheerful, covered in Georgia's fine dusty soil, we shambled home and spent the evening laughing at one another's jokes and war stories. Word had gotten out about my volunteering to 'ride the lightning'. The general response was that of low whistles and shaking of heads.
“You're doing that for fun?” More shaking of heads. I confess that the more I saw of kind of thing, the more my sense of impending dread mounted. More than a few guys on the course were law enforcement and had nothing but bad memories of their own qualification that demands a similar exposure. The idea of doing this without being compelled by authority was clearly akin to that of clipping one's toenails with a tree chipper. Megan seemed especially keen to witness this. She always seemed like such a nice lady.
Day Two was damp. I say damp. Georgia rain is different from British rain. I can hold a conversation in British rain. Georgia rain is not just wet, but noisy. It roars. If you try to talk, you drown. Being indoors is only a marginal improvement in that you remain dry. The noise of rain on the roof of the sports hall was astonishing. A wide array of presentations were given by those present, including quite possibly the best Powerpoint presentation put together in mere hours that I've ever seen. I've only ever put together one Powerpoint presentation and it took days to find ONE photo. [Steve presents his topic]
Lunch came and Megan had a baby shower to attend. This meant that my date with an X26 Tazer was brought forward so she would have something to show and tell an expectant mother. I've not attended a great many baby showers, but it struck me that footage of people getting tazed cannot be a traditional feature of such gatherings. Megan assured me that it was quite the done thing around these parts and had been an established part of local childbearing celebrations since before the War of Northern Aggression. I was somewhat flustered by this stage and did not notice the errors in the timeline that separate the American Civil War from developments in less-than-lethal weaponry.
Shane appeared with an X26 tazer and a smile so wide, the top of his head was in danger of falling off.
“Are you ready, Slacky?” He sounded so cheerful.
“You'll get five seconds only. Got that?”
Two gentlemen then stood on either side of me and took a gentle hold of me under my shoulders. This was to prevent me falling over and splitting my head open. Or maybe it to prevent me from running away and provoking a Benny Hill style chase sequence.
“Are you ready, Slacky?”
Wait. More waiting. Followed by a pause before the main wait kicked in.
“Sorry, Slacky, this 'aint charged. Gimme a minute.”
Doing my best to manage the adrenal surge that has coursed through my system, I put every effort into appearing placid and non-plussed. I was told later that this was a wasted effort.
“OK! Here we go. Are you ready, Slacky?”
I croaked a hoarse syllable of assent. This was quite possibly the stupidest thing I've ever had in my life. Stupider than the time I told Canadian Customs I was bringing a weapon across the border. Stupider than the time I lost my passport to a light fingered stripper. Stupider than the-
Two stout thumps struck me on my spine. On. My. Spine. I was just wrapping my head around quite how much that hurt when my whole back caught fire. I'm not given to blasphemy, but words fail to convene quite how intensely painful I found the following moments. My back hurts now, just remembering it. Take the worst cramp you've ever had in your life. Multiply it by five. Add the sound of a whip cracking next to your ear over and over again. Now add the inability to do anything about it. You just have to wait for it to be over. So I waited. I counted down from five. And I waited. And waited. Then a voice in my right ear said:
“You're halfway there, Slacky!”
Halfway? What? Two and a half seconds? Was no-one paying attention when the huge BANG signalled the start? I remember opening and closing my fists in a vague and pointless attempt to ventilate the pain. I hissed an obscenity and tried to concentrate on not folding myself in half backwards as my back muscles tried to touch the nape of my neck to my coccyx. Fully ten to fifteen seconds passed inside my head. And then it was over, as quickly as it had begun.
I confess, my self control had frayed somewhat under this harsh treatment and I had a small moment of vexation. This quickly passed as relief that the whole ordeal was over flooded my system and a great mass of soothing words reached my ears. I've never, ever felt the urge to hit something as desperately as I did then. Not even when I've been trapped behind people driving at 30mph on 60mph roads have I ever been quite so intensely driven to flail wildly at something in order to make myself feel better. The adrenal dump was significant and I suffered significant shakes for some time afterwards. I vividly recall the sensation of the barbed prongs being pulled out of my back with the same ripping you hear when a leg of chicken is pulled from the carcass. I was shortly thereafter presented with a small pile of paper dots some plastic detritus. Together with my scars and an ache in my spine that lasted for months, these would comprise of the sole proof that I did something very stupid for no money.[Slacky rides the Taser]
Partly to purge myself of the nightmarish memory of that ordeal and partly because I've realised that this review is less about scrapping and more about things I ate, I'll tell you all about Giggles. Giggles is a magical place that, in just one shop, sells a larger of variety of frozen yoghurt than you'll find in the entire United Kingdom. I'll admit, diabetics might not find this place to their taste. Dentists make a lot of money on the back of their customer's patronage, I'm sure. As well as the mighty range of flavours, the topping selections would shame the most generous Pick 'n Mix in this country. Chocolate sprinkles. Gummi Bears. Cookie chunks. Little sour things that taste like cherries. It was obscene. There is so much good food in the US of A, I'd end up the size of a waterbed within a year if I stayed.
So, anyway, back to training.
The presentations continued as all participants continued the ordeal of learning by doing. The afternoon was spent with everyone presenting a drill of their choice. Nick Hughes gave an extremely interesting presentation on the reticular activation system (I remembered that without consulting notes) and how one can structure drills around this to speed up orientation to unfolding circumstances. Fascinating stuff. [Nick teaching]
Another presentation covered the extraction of ringleaders from violent crowds. Everyone did very well and rose to the challenge admirably. By the end of the course, it seemed that everyone felt sorry it was over. As is usually the case in this field of endeavour, the guys who turn out are usually excellent company and easy to spend time with. Most of my memories of the weekend are that of listening with rapt attention to casual conversation between experienced, capable guys, or laughing uproariously at the fund of anecdotes that surface around a dinner table. I'd encourage anyone as yet undecided about attending a course in something related to this field of interest to do so. I've been fortunate to meet a lot of people and learn from a lot of instructors. I can honestly say that you won't meet a nicer, more affable demographic who will push you to your limits and support you to surpass them.
[Slacky demonstrating a technique]
The course over, there was some time for a bit of fun and relaxation. So we went to the range. I'd tell you about breakfast, but you've heard enough about that. [Megan during range training]
Spent an interesting few hours working on failure drills, ball and hammer and drawing from concealment all against the timer. I'm told that Glocks will feed just about any kind of ammo you can chuck at them. Proving once more why I cannot be permitted to have nice things, I found an ammo type that will not cycle in a Glock. I'd been keeping my spare magazines in a rear pocket and during one drill, dug deep and pulled forth a loaded mag to replenish my pistol. I fired one round, and then the Glock stopped. I tried to make my gun work by banging it like an old TV, but to no avail. Shane had noticed that something wasn't quite kosher and was shouting at me to stop. Seeing that my ignorant attempts to breathe life back into my gun were getting me nowhere, I handed my exotic paperweight to Shane for inspection. It was clear that this wasn't a typical malfunction as listed in virtually every user's guide. You may be surprised to learn that not a great many people encounter the failure commonly known as “Loading half a pound of pocket lint into the place where the bullets go.” Quite how the first round came to fire without causing my gun to explode and have me pick bits of plastic out of my face for years to come is something that science has yet to answer.[Fluff]
I regret to say that this is where the embarrassing and noteworthy finish and the mundane events of travel begin. Shane and Megan shipped me back to the airport with a responsible adult, where tearful goodbyes were notable in their absence. Coffee and tea were enjoyed with wild abandon in the prelude to the flights, which were cramped, tiring and filled to capacity. Here endeth the journey.