An old Army comrade, we'll call him Bob X, has died. Unflappable, popular, a great regimental officer and ten years my senior, he showed me the ropes when I was a subaltern. Such services can only be remembered with thanks.
As well as teaching me a lot about what every young officer should know, he also inadvertently taught me something more philosophical about life and my fellow humans: a bit of tolerance for human foibles.
He was always known as "the late Bob X", a soubriquet which of course the dear chap now merits in full, but which formerly required explanation. Bob was always late. Now in any walk of life this can be an issue, but in the Army it rapidly becomes a disciplinary matter. When important parades were in the offing he needed to be taken in hand by his brother officers and frogmarched to his duties. And one day I discovered the reason.
He was in charge of a small, remote detachment on an extended front, and I was his 2IC. We had 'gone tactical', meaning that we would be lying low in our position and self-sufficient for 24 hours or more, cooking our compo rations on our little hexi-stoves and generally fending for ourselves.
Around dusk, a signal was sent to all units: Stand-to in 5 minutes.
Right, said Bob - just time to have supper: mess-tins out, everyone.
And at once, everything became clear: he had no intuitive concept of the passage of time. Which just goes to show. How many foibles of other people - how many of our own - are explained by some hard-to-guess weakness of that sort ?
Anyway, for the first time in my life I challenged an order. We took supper after we'd stood down.
And now he is somewhere that no-one is keeping time. R.I.P., Bob. The deep, sweet sleep of the just.