Thursday, 22 December 2011


This book begins: "After Puckoon I swore I would never write another novel. This is it . . ."

It is a comic recounting of Spike Milligan's time training as a soldier in the Second World War. It is frequently very funny:
We had 'Saluting Traps.' A crowd of us round a corner smoking would get the tip 'Officer Coming.' We would set off at ten-second intervals and watch as the officer saluted his way to paralysis of the arm.
There is much of this kind of military fun, including, interestingly, an early and informal Puppetry of the Penis. Penises aside, this is perhaps the saddest comedic book I have ever read. The book is suffused with a sense of loss.
A week's duty in the hut all centred around the gramaphone lent by Nick Carter, and jazz records I would bring back from leave. Happiness was a mug of tea, a cigarette, and a record of Bunny Berrigan playing 'Let's do it.' Sharing it with a friend like Harry rounded off the occasion. What's happened to us all since then? The world's gone sour. Happiness is a yesterday thing.
Spike Milligan suffered profound shell shock during the war, and went on to have multiple mental breakdowns. Often in the book he tells us that he has returned to such-and-such a minor location, in a way that does not strike this reader as terribly healthy. He is quite explicit about all this, early on:
There were the deaths of some of my friends, and therefore, no matter how funny I tried to make this book, that will always be at the back of my mind: but, were they alive today, they would have been the first to join in the laughter, and that laughter was, I'm sure, the key to victory.
My friend and yours Wikipedia tells me that at the end of his life he corresponded frequently with Robert Graves, whose GOODBYE TO ALL THAT I read earlier this year. That book, a grim memoir of shell shock in the First World War, is a perfect partner to this one, set in the Second.

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