The image adorning the front cover of my SPIN ZHIRA notebook has drawn a flurry of comments – and the scrutiny of the censors.
“DURING THE FEW days I’d been away at Clifton, I discovered that in my absence someone had ‘cocked’ the notepad I’d been foolish enough to leave in plain sight on my desk.
Cocking was an obsession in the headquarters, a symptom of the sexual repression under which we all laboured. Both British and Danish commands imposed a strict no sex rule in MOB Price, which for the most part was observed. This abstinence was not the result of a commendable adherence to military discipline. Had an opportunity to engage in sexual congress presented itself I’m pretty certain that most of my colleagues, like me, would have set aside all considerations of military discipline and good order – but opportunity did not present. Price was a predominantly male, heterosexual community most of whom had wives or girlfriends waiting for them back home.
Sex, or the lack of it, was a constant preoccupation. So much so that at one of our decompression briefings in Cyprus at the end of our tour a female officer from the Royal Army Chaplains Department felt it necessary to remind us that sex involves two (or possibly more) people. By then I could hardly wait.
For the dozen or so women in Price, mostly medics and dog handlers, life in this sexually charged, testosterone fuelled environment must have been a minefield. On one occasion a female reserve officer was admonished for running wearing running shorts. This came to the attention of the chain of command who deemed it dangerously erotic. She was ordered to cease and desist immediately. In her case I had to admit they had a reasonable point, but the officer in question was incensed. When she came to seek my counsel it seemed inappropriate to compliment her on the comeliness of her gluteus maximus, so instead I offered a sympathetic ear, and tried to impress upon her the uncertain benefits of voluminous army issue shorts.
For men at their sexual peak – and even for those of us who had already passed that particular milestone – this enforced abstinence inevitably had its frustrations which were expressed in a number of ways. Cocking was one of them.
As far as I am aware this is an exclusively male obsession and involves the covert drawing of phallic imagery. This is nothing new of course. Such representations have been found dating back to the Ice Age around 28,000 years ago, and appear in many ancient cultures and religions. But the art reached new heights in MOB Price. Penis imagery would mysteriously appear on notebooks, notice boards, signage, PowerPoint presentations and operational staff work. An unusual geographical feature to the north‑east of PB Clifton was even referred to on our maps as ‘cock and balls’.
On one occasion I attended a packed briefing session in which a senior officer scribbled a note intended for Colonel James, who was sitting across the room, and handed it to the man next to him to pass down the table. By the time it reached its destination it had passed through the hands of a dozen or so officers and warrant officers, many of whom had surreptitiously cocked it. Although it was impossible to overlook the images with which it was now adorned, Colonel James accepted the note without so much as a raised eyebrow.
The towering penis that had been drawn on the front cover of my notebook was magnificent. It was a detailed and anatomically precise representation depicting an erection I’d have been justifiably proud of in my twenties and could only dream about in my forties. Phallic imagery varied considerably according to the imagination of the artist. I noticed, for example that Tom’s notebook had been illustrated with a lovingly drawn image of Winnie the Pooh being improbably penetrated by his diminutive sidekick, Piglet.
Judging from their absurdly oversized erections, which more closely resembled ancient Greek and Roman depictions of the deity Priapus than the sketches of AA Milne, they were both clearly enjoying the experience in a way that their creator had never intended.
Oh, D-D-Dear! said Piglet.
Back in civvy street, probably even back in barracks in the UK, Victorian prudishness and political correctness would not have tolerated phallic observance of this nature. HR departments would be called in, enquiries held, perpetrators reprimanded or even sacked. But in MOB Price phallophoric celebration of the Lingam, and to a lesser extent the Yoni, went unchecked.
The sexual health nurse who briefed us on RSOI had been right. None of our mucky lot was getting any and it was clearly preying on our minds.”
SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the true story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.