All of the above, but remember that you are an invited guest and you are meant to enjoy yourself - so regardless of designated "comfort breaks", if you are bursting to go to the loo then you are perfectly entitled to excuse yourself (best not done during the loyal toast though!) :
Equally, you are not mandated to get involved with any weird regimental customs, nor should anyone expect you to know them upfront. So if you put the port down while passing it and some ancient goes into a Batemanesque harumphing fit, don't worry
As long as you are employing basic table manners (don't chew with you mouth open, talk with your mouth full, eat with your hands (except asparagus), fill your pockets with leftovers or be sick over yourself - all things I have learned to my cost that even the infantry frown upon...) you are in the clear - so don't take any cr@p from these people!
In my experience, most messes are so delighted to have you (i.e. a lady) there to talk to and look at, rather than the QM bursting out of his mess kit, that they will forgive you pretty much anything!
Depends on the mess and the PMC and the event. You will be given your cue to leave if that's the case, but it's generally (in my experience) only done at a more formal Regimental Dining In (which you wouldn't be invited to) or a Regimental Guest NIght. This sounds more like a Mess Dinner, which is less formal.
Do the officers get very smashed or is it not the done thing?
Basically it depends...each mess and each mess do is different, depending on whether they have "heavy" old fashioned traditions and what sort of dinner night / party it is.
The cigar thing shouldn't happen, as you will be there as a guest of somone in the mess (presumably your man, unless he is out hosing things down!) and they should stay with you throughout to ensure that you are entertained.
Once dinner is over there will generally be some sort of move to the ante-room so that the mess staff can get on with clearing up, then get back to being proper soldiers - one thing I forgot to mention is be nice to the mess staff, chat to them (if they are comfortable, most will be teenagers from Byker and might be a bit monosyllabic, so don't push it) and make them feel comfortable. They will be even more confused than you, having spent the day training to be infantrymen, then being stuck into a dicky bow and threatened with gaol if they drop food on the Colonel's wife!
Officers get very smashed. Trust me on this. The key, however, is to play it by ear, and probably not overdo it on your first outing. There always comes a point no matter how charming and gorgeous one is, that you become a bit of a bore / liability / embarrassment (this is what my wife and a sucession of Adjutants have told me anyway!). Watch out for the single subaterns who have not managed to bring a guest along. They will be attempting to drink themselves unconscious and are not the ones to take your cue from where drink is concerned!
I am a great believer in being nice to waiting staff anywhere. A chap I once dated who was apparently perfect in every other way blew any chances with me by being rude to the waiters at dinner in a restaurant.
...as you will be there as a guest of someone in the mess (presumably your man, unless he is out hosing things down!)
Yes - with my chap. He'll have a burning issue of a completely different sort to contend with that night.
Couple of further questions - hope you don't mind ... Is there any general etiquette about speaking to the people either side of you but never across the table and generally how many will there be at dinner?
I would ask him indoors all this but he is in communicado at present. So your help is much appreciated.
I'm getting a bit out of my depth here, because without knowing the regiment involved I might make some sweeping generalisation that could be wrong. My regiment actually makes a feature of having virtually no strange traditions so I do get caught out by other people's (like the not being sick on yourself one - I mean, how unreasonable is that!).
I would guess there will be about 40-50 people there (based on the sort of size most mess tables tend to be) and as far as I know you can talk across the table (although it might be a bit wide, and the Silver Plated Omdurman Wheelbarrow might be on display in the middle, which can block your view). Also, if some kilted savage with a bagpipe is delivering a pibroch from a range of four feet this can dampen the conversation a bit!
Basically, though I firmly believe in what I said earlier: you are a civilian guest and it is meant to be an enjoyable evening for you, and, as long as you employ basic table manners, you shouldn't have to worry about the detail too much. (I'm sure your chap will step in anyway if you are about to commit a faux pas by blowing your nose on Napoleon's hankerchief that 400 men died to capture while looting the baggage train at Quatre Bras). The newest subaltern there might have to worry that he will have to remember all this nonsense (and then sing "Land of My Fathers" in Welsh while being flogged with leeks by the Drum Major standing on the Regimental Goat), but you should be able to relax and enjoy the show.
The newest subaltern there might have to worry that he will have to remember all this nonsense (and then sing "Land of My Fathers" in Welsh while being flogged with leeks by the Drum Major standing on the Regimental Goat
What are you doing in that chin-less environment with all of that polite small talk on the weather, nibbling crepes and sipping spumante. Get yourself over to the Sgts Mess in your short skirt, low cut top and wash some triple vodka's and babycham down your neck and dance on the tables until morning! you may feel a built guilty when you wake up at 1pm, but you'll have much more fun with the ruffians!
Oh Bully... you're straying into one of my biggest fantasies here....
..there's me in a Las Vegas showgirl's outfit with a gallon of baby oil, a well-thumbed copy of Roget's thesaurus, a lifesize cut out of Gary Lineker, a sheepskin rug and a dozen SNCOs in the Sgts Mess...and .. then .....
Glad to be of help, let us know how you get on (particularly anything to do with baby oil or Las Vegas showgirl outfits)
What are the second lot of smileys in your last post doing? It looks like one smiley is licking the head of the other one. What sort of sick pervert goes to the trouble of creating an animated gif of smarties going down on each other?