I discovered James Elroy Flecker’s verse play Hassan (1922) at the weekend. His words ring true, perhaps because they reference snow covered mountains or perhaps because they so perfectly describe my mid life crisis. Ironically, they are also much admired by the Special Air Service, with whom I was mostly at loggerheads throughout my time in Afghanistan.
Go as a pilgrim and seek out danger
far from the comfort
and the well lit avenues of life.
Pit your every soul against the unknown
and seek stimulation in the comfort of the brave.
Experience cold, hunger, heat and thirst
and survive to see another challenge and another dawn.
Only then will you be at peace with yourself
and be able to know and to say;
“I look down the farthest side of the mountain,
fulfilled and understanding all,
and truly content that I lived a full life
and one that was my own choice.”
We are the Pilgrims, master; we shall go always a little further;
it may be beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow
across that angry or that glimmering sea.
SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent 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.