When it isn't prison, it's hell - or at least that's the belief of conscripts Jonathan Browne and Mike "Ginger" Brady. For this is the British Army in the days of National Service. 'This novel has the ring of complete authenticity ... the mingling of horror and farce are all brilliantly evoked' A N wilson in the Spectator 'Vivid, funny and with a compassion made all the more moving by the harshness of its military setting' Selina Hastings in the Daily Telegraph p>Frowning, Mark went into the kitchen for his customary cup of cocoa. It was late, but Mrs Mallory was still ironing, the line of her mouth grim and purposeful in a face that was unusually tired and unhappy. Mr Mallory was smoking behind a newspaper, sunk in the depths of his armchair. Patricia was at the table in her dressing-gown, eating cornflakes - her favourite food. The creaking of the ironing board, the crackle of cornflakes and the occasional rustle of the newspaper were the only sounds. Mark sensed a tension that was like static electricity in the air. 'Hallo, Pat,' he said. 'Been working late?' Patricia pulled a face behind her mother's back. 'No she hasn't, the more's the pity,' rapped out Mrs Mallory. 'She's been roaming the streets, worrying the life out of her mother and father.' 'I told you I went to the pictures,' said Patricia into her cornflakes. 'I suppose you think that your father and I have scrimped and saved to give you children a good education so that you can waste your time and money down at the pictures,' said Mrs Mallory, pressing down fiercely on a handkerchief. Patricia's spoon dropped into her bowel with a clang, and she left the room. Mr Mallory flipped down the top half of his newspaper. 'You shouldn't have said that.' His wife put down her iron with a thump. 'Now don't you start. I've had quite enough.' She stopped abruptly, remembering Mark's presence. He shuffled awkwardly towards the door. 'Well, it's getting late. I'll be pushing off to bed I think,' he said, glancing at the clock and his watch. 'Clare's gone already. She was feeling tired I think. Good night, Mrs Mallory. Good night, Mr Mallory.' 'Wait till I get you a cup of cocoa, Mark,' said Mrs Mallory. 'No thank you, really.' 'But you always have a cup of cocoa.' 'Thanks, but I don't really feel like one tonight. Thanks very much.' And he managed to make his escape He climbed the dark, tortuous stairs heavily. A roar of falling water as a door opened and closed indicated that someone had just emerged from the lavatory. He hung back in case it was Clare. But it was one of the twins, in fluffy pyjamas, who flitted across the landing like a moth, eyes half-shut under the electric light. He had scarcely closed the door of his room when there was a tap on it. 'Come in,' he called in a low voice, expecting Clare and steeling himself for a long and exhausting reconciliation. But to his surprise, Patricia slipped into the room.