When in Soest, time after dinner usually was your own time (unless you were on patrol duty), which you could spend outside the barracks (although you had to make sure you were back before lights out at 11pm), or most of the time people stayed in their room or went to the canteen.

I can’t remember too much of the details of said canteen, except that it was rather sparsely filled with some wooden chairs and tables, had cheap (presumably subsidised) beer and the only entertainment was mostly what you made of it yourself.

The one thing that I clearly remember though was the jukebox, one of those contraptions containing vinyl 45rpm singles – remember, this was in the days before CDs became more common, and i doubt whether the transition to the new medium would have been that quick even when they did.

The main thing I remember about this jukebox was that only one line of songs actually worked; i.e. if you tried to select something else the mechanism somehow wouldn’t do anything until you selected from the only active line of songs. That meant a rather restricted selection of tunes, two of which have stuck in my head : the first one was Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love”, which I hated from the moment go and which didn’t become more palatable on numerous replays; the second one was Kim Wilde’s “Cambodia” which, although admittedly a bit cheesy, I never disliked even after many repeat plays.

As far as I’m aware the available selection never changed throughout my 7 months in the Soest barracks, and the fact that only a limited selection of the singles was available was never addressed in that time either. Hence why quite often I played some cassettes on my cassette player in our room, even though towards the end its amplifier appeared to have gone wonky.

But then again, the Belgian army presumably didn’t see the entertainment of their miliciens as one of their priorities, and jukeboxes wouldn’t have featured on their to-do list. Still, we all survived without any lasting ill effect, apart from an increased aversion of Soft Cell – even now I can’t hear “Tainted Love” without thinking back to my army days.


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