It’s Britains hottest day of the year so far, but by Afghan standards it’s positively balmy. In the summer months temperatures in Helmand Province regularly reach 50°C/122°F:
‘I WAS LYING naked in a pool of my own sweat when the men of the Light Dragoons turned up. It can’t have been a pretty sight but they didn’t seem to notice. In the stifling heat of yet another cloudless Afghan afternoon I was sprawled on my camp cot in the transit accommodation at PB Clifton trying to remain as still as possible. Even completely naked and motionless I was still pouring with sweat in the oven‑like confines of the tent, but at least I was in the shade.
Lieutenant Ed Whitten, Sergeant Lee ‘Davo’ Davidson and the men of Support Troop, A Squadron, The Light Dragoons formed a Police Advisory Team, part of the Police Mentoring and Advisory Group (PMAG), tasked with improving the capacity and capability of the Afghan Uniformed Police. Based on everything I knew about the AUP in our district it was a much needed but enormously challenging task. Ed and his men had been given just three months to turn things around.
PB Clifton was to be their base for the duration and with no time to waste they immediately set about transforming the transit accommodation into their new home. I pulled on a pair of shorts and marvelled at their resourcefulness and ingenuity. Within a few short but industrious hours they’d created a tented palace worthy of Jalaluddin Mohammad Akbar the Great, the third and greatest emperor of the Mughal Dynasty whose proxies had ruled the Upper Gereshk Valley in his name from an ancient fort just a few klicks from where we now stood.
All the grubby, salt‑encrusted camp cots were replaced with brand new models, each sporting its own integrated mosquito net and hanging shelf. The detritus of previous occupants was swept away and replaced by electric cabling with a precious power socket in every bed space. In one corner a few canvas easy chairs surrounded a low coffee table sporting an updated collection of Zoo and Nuts magazines together with a few Penguin paperbacks for the literati amongst them. Out front they even built a little private terrace complete with a couple of Hesco bastion loungers. Ed and his men clearly knew how to live and as Davo, his second‑in‑command rather pointedly observed, any fool can be uncomfortable in the field.
It was all in humiliating contrast to the squalor I’d previously been living in and I was more than a little ashamed.
If Ed and his men had formed a low opinion of my personal hygiene standards they were nonetheless wonderful hosts and adopted me as one might adopt a mangy and ill‑tempered cat left behind by a previous owner. They generously insisted that I benefit from all their equipment upgrades and included me in their daily banter. Most generous of all, they had a secret source of deliciously chilled water and would always remember to bring me a bottle whenever I was around.’
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.